How to Dig for the Truth – Part 2

How to Dig for the Truth – Part 2

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Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact.
Everything we see is a perspective, not a truth.
(Marcus Aurelius)

Truth is beyond perspectives. If you want to know the truth, you have to find it yourself. You have to dig for it. You have to ask Questions. You have to question everything you see or hear. You have to look beyond what you see. That is the only path to truth, for truth is beyond pictures, words, and numbers.

In this part of the series I will show you how to dig for the truth when you see a number. As an example, we will look at two of the coronavirus numbers.

42

(Answer to the “Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything,” calculated by an enormous supercomputer named Deep Thought over a period of 7.5 million years in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams.)

A number is but a number. The art is to know what it means. For this we need to know its background and context. Where does it come from? How was it obtained? How does it connect with other numbers? Etc.

I will reference all sources. References are numbers between square brackets, the sources are listed at the end of the text.

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The website [1] shows the worldwide coronavirus counts (total and by country). The three major numbers are:
– coronavirus cases,
– deaths,
– recovered.

What do these numbers mean?

We begin with the “number of coronavirus cases.”

When we see this number, the first impression may be: This is the number of people (globally or nationally) who have been infected with the coronavirus. And by seeing this number grow from day to day, we may believe that the coronavirus spreads that fast.

Is this true?

We begin digging for an answer by asking: What exactly is a “coronavirus case”?

When a person is tested for coronavirus and the test is positive, this person becomes a “coronavirus case.” Therefore, the number of coronavirus cases is the number of coronavirus tests with a positive result.

The obvious next question is: Is a coronavirus case the same as a coronavirus infection?

Not necessarily. Like most medical tests, the coronavirus test is not precise. In every 100 tests, a certain number of results is wrong.

The website [1] does not give any information about the accuracy/error rate of the coronavirus test. Therefore, we need to dig for an answer.

photo by ThisIsEngineering on pixabay.com

To get an idea about the typical accuracy of medical tests, we check the internet and find:
– home pregnancy tests can be 99% accurate when used correctly,
– a DNA paternity test is about 99.9% accurate,
– a Hepatitis C test is almost 100% accurate,
– HIV tests after the 3 months window are more than 99.97% accurate.

Digging a little deeper, we find on [2]: “… it was discovered that 129 of the 295 people who were diagnosed as HIV-positive were actually HIV-negative. Thus, nearly 45% of the patients who received positive results received them in error.”

This is a result from 2010, ie 28 years after the first AIDS cases was reported in the US. In other words, after many years of research, rapid HIV tests still performed pretty bad.

All of these test have a long history and certainly have been intensively researched and refined. The coronavirus is on the radar of science only for a handful of months – so what can we expect from a coronavirus test in terms of accuracy?

We check the internet for the accuracy/error rate of coronavirus tests. After browsing through a couple of documents that don’t give any information, we find the following sentence in [3]: “… found that the rapid coronavirus test kits it purchased from Chinese company Bioeasy only correctly identified 30 percent of virus cases, according to Spanish newspaper El Pais.” That would be an error rate of 70%. Other documents mention an error rate of even 80%.

Given the fact that rapid tests for HIV can produce 45% false results after many years of research into HIV, a similar or even worse error rate for a coronavirus test is not surprising.

This means that a lot of the “coronavirus cases” may have received positive results in error. In other words, although tested positive, these people do not carry the virus after all.

What about the speed with which the number of coronavirus cases grow day after day? What does it mean? Does it mean that the coronavirus spreads among the population that fast?

No. It only means that more and more coronavirus tests are performed.  

Next we look at the “number of recoveries.”

What is a recovery in this context? The website [1] does not give a definition of “recovery.” Therefore, we don’t know what this number really means. In other words, we can only guess.

graphic by OpenClipart-Vectors on pixabay.com

We begin with the question: What would be a reasonable definition of recovery?

Commonly a recovery is: A person who was sick now is not sick any more.

This begs the question: When is somebody sick? But this is not easily defined. If my throat is a little sour for two days, I would not call this sick.

Furthermore, to be infected does not mean to be sick, for an infection may not lead to symptoms. And, as we have seen, to be tested positive may not even mean to be infected.

A reasonable definition of recovery in the context of website [1] is: To be recovered means to not be a coronavirus case any more.

But: How is this measured/determined?

In order to be declared recovered, one would have to be tested again.

Is this done? Is every “coronavirus case” tested again after a certain amount of time? Is this test repeated over and over until the test result is negative so that the patient can be declared recovered?

According to [1], 95% of the coronavirus cases have mild conditions. Usually, these people stay at home until they are free of symptoms.

We may expect that the 5% of people with severe or critical conditions end up in hospitals. These people are likely to be tested once their conditions have improved and the symptoms have vanished.

But since authorities are struggling to have enough test kits for people with symptoms, it seems unlikely that all of the 95% cases with mild symptoms have been or will be tested once they are symptom-free. (Even more so because a test may have to be repeated until it turns out negative. This would be a waste of tests just for obtaining the number for the statistics.)

Without a test, people who are not hospitalized need to self-declare their recovery. There is no information if there are reliable procedures in place for monitoring and counting self-declared recoveries. It is unlikely that reliable such procedures exist worldwide. And it may be unlikely that every patient has the discipline to report a self-declared recovery.

Ultimately, all we can say is that the number of actual recoveries may be much higher.

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Now we know more. But we need to be aware that everything we have seen in this process are perspectives and not truths. Finding the truth is a process that has no end.

The path is the goal.
(Mahatma Gandhi)

The key is to keep asking Questions and digging for answers.

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To be continued …

References:

[1] https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

[2] http://www.uniteforsight.org/health-screenings/hiv

[3] https://www.nationalreview.com/news/china-supplied-faulty-coronavirus-test-kits-to-spain-czech-republic/