Eppur Si Muove

WHO numbers of Confirmed, Probable and Suspected Ebola cases Worldwide
What are the facts? Again and again and again – what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history” – what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!”

― Robert A. Heinlein
The above chart is from an Excel file I have been keeping.  If you check my back posts over the last couple of weeks, I have been writing about this for a while.

Now, those who know me understand that I am an Eyore.  I not only see the glass as half empty, but cracked and leaking beside.  My first thought when the news started dribbling out of West Africa was not the requisite positive thinking so cherished by the Kumbaya crowd.

So I kept an eye on the numbers coming out of Africa.  The news media was screaming "Exponential", but alas, the the numbers keep coming up linear.

As more data points are offered by the WHO, the R value of the linear curve fit keeps climbing. 0.9911, 0.9931, 0.9945.  I keep waiting for the last number to start driving up past the trendline,, but alas, there has, to date, been no confirmation of a exponential takeoff.

Look, until you start seeing the new numbers coming out on Wednesday and Friday start breaking out above the trendline, the damn thing is linear.  Linear is controllable.  Don't doubt that a lot of folks are working quite hard on this to contain it.  Entertain for a moment the thought that they might be succeeding.


Exponential? (part Deux)

Above is a homebrewed chart of the number of Ebola cases as reported by the WHO.  I ran the numbers out to the first of the year.  If the numbers start going up faster than these projections, then we may well be in a true exponential growth scenario.

Note to readers:  The orange line is the confirmed, suspected, and probable cases.  The blue line is lab-confirmed cases

There is a lot of issues with under-reporting, the ability of labs in a hot zone to deal with samples, governments and peoples trying to skew the data in their favor, bureaucratic incompetence, and other issues to many to number.

But these are the numbers available to me at the current time.

I may have made errors in data entry, this was just for my own edification.

Right now, the numbers show a tight linearity.  R-values above 0.98 are pretty strong.

This is a plain vanilla exponential curve, note the long flat run-up that looks pretty linear
So, a final caveat.  Exponential functions are tricky little bits.  They can go a long way looking like innocent little linear functions.  No need for panic right yet, but with something like this, it is definitely a good idea to keep a weather eye.

What you need to keep an eye on is the series value vs the predicted value in the system.  Right now, the series value (blue dot) is lower than the predicted value (orange dot) if the series values start breaking consistently above the predicted value and start getting bigger as they go, then Katie bar the door.

Add On at 18:38 10/15/14

Here is the exponential curve fit from Wolfram Alpha

I don't find this that convincing.

When I keep plotting in a standard excel chart and push out linear, I get something that pleases my eye more.


Hard core statistical predictions

Figure 1:  Data input sheet from the model spreadsheet

If you are serious about looking at the possible direction and magnitude of an Ebola outbreak, you could do a lot worse than starting here.


CDC has always been the good guys in my mind. Yes, they manage some pretty impressive bureaucratic foul ups off and on, but for the most part they are as good as you get.  The A-team.

Sit down and play with this thing for an hour or two or even a week or so.   Get a feel for how things move around.  See what happens if another R0 case gets through.

Numbers are hard, but working at understanding them and asking questions, lots of questions, is the only way for you to start figuring out which way to jump.


I am hoping

I went to the University of Utah in the distant past.

Stanley Pons was my P-Chem Professor.  He and Marty Fleishmann were as smart of a set of individuals as I have ever run across.  But they got something stuck in a ringer when they published too fast trying to get the scoop on the "savior of mankind" award.

It was sad though, my buddy Eric took me on a guided tour and put up with a long set of questions while we drank beer and smoked dope trying to understand the whole thing.  The upshot of this little bit of memory-dredging is that I have always thought there was something to what they said back then in the long ago.  They grandstanded and got shot down, but their results always made me think that there was something there.

Fast forward to today's world.


I think that someone is getting closer to what Marty and Stan were trying for.   I think that these results show more promise than the dicey stuff put out by the University of Utah during its golden years of trying to become more than what it was.

What always shocks me however, is the responses to anything like this being published.  The cheerleaders shouting that the game is won.  The naysayers saying that everything is a lie.

But what really bugged me was the comment over on "RiceFarmer".

This sounds like the savior of the world economy, but basically nothing would change, because — even if it really works — it doesn't change the economic system. It would just goose the global Ponzi and keep it going for a while longer, while strip-mining the planet at an accelerated rate. Although carbon emissions would be significantly reduced, renewed economic growth would more than make up for that reduced environmental burden by spurring other kinds of pollution and contamination. My prediction is that, in the long run, this would just aggravate all our problems and make the inevitable crash all the worse. Limits to growth do exist.
But to bemoan the fact that there may be a potential bridge to a system where we at least have a chance at a thoughtful and planned build-down is the moaning of a failed prophet lamenting the fact that things have a chance of not going to hell.


Hari Seldon was a fictional character

Psychohistory will never get off the ground.

As writers and essayists, the pundits of the blogosphere tend toward being a little more certain of their predictions than they should be.  The cries of it is all going to hell may or not be true, but only time will tell.  The real trouble is, when time does tell, the answers that it issues are so ambiguous that one cannot see the truth (with a capital T) that everyone here in blogoland is trying to grasp.

I read the Archdruid and Dmitry and am somewhat a fanboy, They are my favorites.  They discuss the overarching fate of the society.  Nearly everyone else just bitches that their toys are being taken from them.  But I think sometimes that these two veer a little bit toward the desire to be prophets. They are armed with a solid grasp of history and a firm opinion of the way things work, they boldly go into the future with a certainty that really draws people in.

You see, that there is the weakness.  People such as your esteemed correspondent are suckers for certainty.  They grasp the truth of the past and see the truth of the present, and they use those to show us the way to the future.  I eat that up.

But in the end, I always come back to ground.  Prophecy is a strange thing to grasp at.  Knowing where the future will be is a tempting fruit to try and pluck, but it will always remain out of reach.

I don't know where the financial world will be a year from now.  I can't say that Ebola will fulfill its role as God's RoundUp.  The decline of the West may give way to the renewed vigor of a culture.

No One Knows.

There is no flight to Stars End scheduled.


I really tend not to think this will be the one

Now for the beginning of the article caveats.
  1. While I present the numbers as the best available, they are not truth with a Capital T.  They are data sifted by teams of scientists, working in a hostile environment, funneled through a bureaucracy.  They are the best that I can come up with from my warm and dry kitchen table here safe in the Pacific NW.  GIGO is real and should always be considered as a real possibility.
  2. This may come off as a means of calming the masses and trying to start a disagreement with the latest post of the Archdruid.  Hell, nothing could be farther from the truth.  I also believe that the shelf-life of industrial civilization is approaching its "pull-by" date.  I just want good numbers to do my own analysis.
  3. I do personally suspect that the information that we have is incomplete.  The well documented truth is that that part of Africa seems to be resistant to our western desire to number and catagorize.  The questions being asked by the current public and scientific discussion may be the wrong ones altogether.
Right now, as I spend more time digging into the science behind the current concern re:Ebola, I also want to take a moment to talk about the dependence on numbers and their relationship to reality.

Numbers are dicey little things.  Useful as hell.  A hallmark of science and its corresponding trades.

But they have to be applied back to something concrete and measurable in order for them to have any particular use.  So lets start laying out the confirmed facts of the current outbreak of Ebola.

The latest numbers from the WHO show a total of 4,108 confirmed cases of Ebola. (1)

The best estimate the viral doubling time that I can find is 35 days. (2)

So, we plug the numbers into Excel and we get the following

Now we take those numbers and plug them into a spreadsheet using a 35 day doubling time for the virus.

Now you have some horrific looking numbers.  So lets put it into a historical perspective.  The worst epidemic in current human memory (3) is the Influenza epidemic of 1918 (4).  Nasty little critter. Killed 75 million folks, so lets use that as a benchmark.

So despite all the hoopla, the current set of hard numbers shows a timeline of nineteen months before the current proto-panic even gets up to the "hiccup" stage in human history.

(1) World Health Organization: Ebola Response Roadmap Update, 3 October 2014

(2) Science Magazine, Genomic surveillance elucidates Ebola virus origin and transmission during the 2014 outbreak 12 September 2014  Gire345 (6202): 1369-1372

(3) Don't get shitty with me, this is the worst epidemic that anyone alive can remember.  The folks who remember it are over 100 now.

(4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1918_flu_pandemic


Boom, best case analysis takes another body blow

John Michael:

I must admit, I like your flavor of your prose much better than I like the news you bring.  Not that I disagree with you. I just don't particularly like it.

I just wanted to be one of those "correctors" that plague all blogs. 

Now you posit a twenty-day doubling rate for Ebola.  At the risk of sounding pedantic, per the latest data from Science, August 28, 2014


The doubling rate appears to approximately 35 days.  So, most folks would say to themselves "whew, that bought us some time."

Well buckaroos, sorry 'bout that.

As copiously proved by adherents hunched over their Casio calculators in suburban kitchens across America, if one assumes one million cases of Ebola on New Years day of 2015 and also assumes a doubling rate of twenty days, the date that our buddy Mr. Marburg takes 1,000,000,000 of our family to their long home is July 20th, 2015

Exponential functions are tricky.  I deal with them better than most, when I saw the doubling rate assumption nearly doubling, I did do a little “whew” myself.

But when you plug the numbers into merciless Mr. Excel Spreadsheet, the truth is, they really don’t buy you much.  a thirty-five day doubling time takes you out to December 17th.  One hundred and fifty days. 

Oh well


Doubling time equals 21 Days

Thursday, January 01, 2015          1,000,000
Thursday, January 22, 2015          2,000,000
Thursday, February 12, 2015          4,000,000
Thursday, March 05, 2015          8,000,000
Thursday, March 26, 2015        16,000,000
Thursday, April 16, 2015        32,000,000
Thursday, May 07, 2015                64,000,000
Thursday, May 28, 2015              128,000,000
Thursday, June 18, 2015              256,000,000
Thursday, July 09, 2015              512,000,000
Thursday, July 30, 2015           1,024,000,000
Thursday, August 20, 2015   2,048,000,000
Thursday, September 10, 2015 4,096,000,000
Thursday, October 01, 2015   8,192,000,000


This has always been the hard part for us

We need to be reminded sometimes that things don't always work out in the end.

Mature leaders know when to cut their losses.

I just hope that it won't be like last time, blaming the troops and shunning them.



From a relative non-sophisticate, I am beginning to wonder when the smaller economies are going to start thinking about the idea of large-scale defaults?

Right now, everyone is tied into the basic concept that growth is required and the only way to achieve growth is the unfettered access to western capital flows.  Well, what happens in these smaller economies when the ruling class takes a hard look at the amount of money flowing out of their country to western banks and investors and decide to just say "screw it"?

We can talk about the banks having people by the short and curlies, but the truth of the matter is, once folks decide that paying a huge portion of their limited national income to western banks in order to preserve the right to borrow even more is a losers game.

Argentina has defaulted and will default again.  There are a lot of countries out there that will start realizing soon that the US and NATO militaries cannot enforce payment everywhere all the time. The truth of the matter is, multiple countries defaulting will probably end up in a system of economic flows not transiting New York for their skim of the vig.

It is going to end up there eventually.  One would hope that it begins soon.