Flying Blind on the Origin of a Pandemic
I was always curious. An early elementary school memory is my mother returning from a parent-teacher conference to report that my teacher thought I had “an enquiring mind.” Curiosity is what led me to a life of research, as a biostatistician and population scientist. Because in research, the questions you ask are just as important as their answers. The questions... Read More
Pan-Cancer Tests Have a Long Road Ahead
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How Many COVID-19 Deaths Could Have Been Avoided? More Than 150,000
For a numbers person like myself, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is supremely frustrating. Even after 8 months, there are so many numbers that we still do not know. Even though there are thousands of researchers trying to fill in the gaps in our knowledge, the gaps persist. As the officially recorded US death toll from SARS-CoV2 approached 200,000 last month (it’s... Read More
Convalescent Plasma: Look Before You Leap
In the last few days I have been wondering how Michael Joyner and Arturo Casadevall have been feeling. Joyner and Casadevall are the first and senior authors, respectively, of the report, “Effect of Convalescent Plasma on Mortality among Hospitalized Patients with COVID-19: Initial Three Month Experience,” posted on Medrxiv on August 12. The preprint server allows researchers to make their... Read More
Do We Need Models Anymore?
Long ago, in the early days of the pandemic, models were everywhere in the news. As our lives were upended and everything became uncertain, models were there to provide some predictability in the face of the unknown. Never mind that predictions varied wildly – between models, and even within the same model at different time points. The models agreed that... Read More
Getting the COVID-19 Numbers Wrong
When I was in college, everyone wanted to major in psychology. I signed up, but switched out after only a few weeks. Why? Well, the more I read, the less I seemed to know. Psychology, after all, is an inexact science. I sought refuge in the exact worlds of computer science and mathematics. Those courses led me to build a... Read More
Giving Models and Modelers a Bad Name
As someone who has spent a career building and studying disease models, primarily for cancer, the latest update from Chris Murray and the IHME model makes me cringe. The IHME model, readers will recall, has been frequently cited by the White House coronavirus task force. On May 4, the IHME called a press conference to release the results of their... Read More
How to Navigate the Blizzard of COVID-19 Antibody Studies
What is the single thing you wish you knew about COVID-19? Here is what I wonder about most. How many of us have had it already without knowing it – either because we did not have symptoms, or because we thought it was something else, or because we thought it might be COVID-19 but we could not get tested?... Read More
Getting it Right: Walking the Diagnostic and Serologic Testing Tightrope
Last week I felt like I was coming down with something. My throat hurt and I had a bit of a dry cough. A dreadful feeling set in. Obviously, I had COVID-19. My mother and her partner, both in their 70s, are currently living with me in Seattle. My friend’s son had recently returned from New York. A few days... Read More
Why COVID-19 Can’t Be Directly Compared With the Flu
A few years ago, I was preparing for a live radio interview about prostate cancer screening, my main area of research for the past 20 years. As a statistician focused on getting the numbers right, I disagreed strongly with the new national recommendation from an influential task force that guides practice and reimbursement. Members of that task force argued against... Read More
COVID-19 Models: What Makes Them Tick?
As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, questions about its likely course are much on our minds. How long will it last? How bad will it get? And are we doing enough to flatten the curve? These questions are not about the past, but about the future. Models are now frequently cited in public by elected leaders to inform expectations and justify... Read More