Nate Silver

David and Helen talk to 538's Nate Silver about how to read the pandemic data and what they mean for politics. What do we know now that we didn't know six weeks ago? How should we model the future trajectory of the disease? Where does it leave the election in November? A conversation about everything from death rates to spring breaks, and from Belgium to Biden.


Talking Points: 


Are the COVID models we are using now better than they were before?

  • People don’t always understand the conditional predictions behind different models.
  • There is still a lot of uncertainty: almost every parameter of this disease remains unknown.
  • It looks like the downward tail of this disease might be less steep than the upward tail.


What is the true fatality rate? 

  • We are still behind on testing—we don’t know how many cases are undiagnosed.
  • This number is important for making decisions about opening things up again.
  • The number of deaths as a share of the population probably tells you more than deaths as a share of cases.
  • A lot of deaths are still being missed.


Places that had cases earlier before there was consensus on social distancing will have worse outbreaks.

  • Factors such as age distribution and maybe even weather might also affect things. 
  • It’s still hard to tease out the effect of different variables, but eventually we should be able to make some better inferences.


International coverage of the US doesn’t reflect how empowered state and local governments are. In some sense, they are the most important units.

  • Despite the lack of federal response, state and local responses have been fairly good—at least in a lot of places.
  • Most countries locked down at roughly the same point in the disease cycle. The country by country differences may be more felt in the recovery phase.


How will the pandemic affect the upcoming U.S. election?

  • Trump’s approval rating improved slightly, but only slightly. It’s a smaller ‘rally around the flag’ effect than in other countries.
  • Will the fall bring recovery or a second wave?
  • Will the contingencies or the fundamentals explain the outcome?


Mentioned in this Episode: 


Further Learning: 


And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking


 

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