Oz for Dummies: Week 37, 2021

Update on the Porter affair at the end.

(September 13–19) Different models make different predictions — who’d thunk it! / No-trade-off econs and public-health alarmists united, again / NSW still leading the way, with Victoria still following the NSW playbook, time-delayed by about 4–6 weeks / Porter finally on the ropes / How to max the number of enemies in one brilliant strike / Lies, damn lies, and ABS statistics

Aly saying the obvious was a fitting start for a week where it finally dawned on many that models, and modelling, are four-letter words. The Sydney Morning Herald’s science reporter, for example, noted that the models that he paraded in his piece, and that currently vie for the public’s attention, paint very different pictures of life after the pandemic and, more importantly, offer very different ways how to get there. Different models make different predictions? Oh my! (And no daily presser to give us guidance!? The end must be nigh!)

On cue, a new & noisy advisory group calling itself somewhat pretentiously (but quite in character) OzSAGE questioned the NSW roadmap out of the current lockdown, now headed in its 13th week. One just had to look at the econs in the group (no-trade-off specialists Edmond and Holden) and the epi/public-health types (notorious alarmists Blakely, Crabb, Duckett, MacIntyre, etc.) to be assured that this motley crew is not likely to provide “independent advice”. Former deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth called the group scientists “who found themselves on one extreme of the risk spectrum.” He also said, and quite correctly, so: “They say ‘nobody left behind’. Now, we could take that approach. But it would mean you’d have to extend restrictions. There would be a significant imposition on people’s freedoms — who have done the right thing and are vaccinated — based on this philosophy that we can’t possibly open up until we’ve spent the next six to 12 months vaccinating everyone who hasn’t been vaccinated.”

The modelling for the group, we learned, was done by Raina MacIntyre who still has to miss an opportunity not to be alarmist, one notorious example being her latest exhortation in The Conversation, another example being her exhortation last year to shut down Sydney over year’s end because Sydney was allegedly facing a superspreader event. Not so sage after all. One would think that with a record of getting it consistently so wrong, she would eat some humble pie and let others do the modelling. Alas … As Nick Coatsworth pointedly noted, in response to a modeling effort by Burnet Institute’s Brendan Crabb, “Absolutely, it was restrictions with no evidence base rather than vaccines that have 90% effectiveness and are known to reduce transmission. At what point do we ask whether the model is built to fit the proposition?

Meanwhile the NSW’s government sensibly gave a rat’s ass about the (social) media headwinds and stayed more or less its course, looking at the data, making debatable but overall sensible and data-driven decisions, and walking that tight rope of encouraging people to keep up their guard, while also indicating that there will be light at the end of the tunnel. That light became indeed clearly visible this past week when the Reff finally dropped below 1 and the moving averages hit a peak, all of that with consistently high testing rates. The 7-day average for NSW is almost 150,000 a day, almost three times the testing that Victoria does. All of this on the back of a vaccination drive that saw 80 percent of those above 15 get jabbed once by mid-week and 50 percent jabbed twice before the weekend. And these numbers are by no means a reflection of vaccination hesitancy but supply shortages (of Pfizer and Moderna) and the chaotic messaging over the Astra Zenica vaccine. NSW, in other words, is well on its way to have 70 percent of those above 15 being double vaxxed well before mid-October, at the current pace possibly very early October. Which should trigger some meaningful relaxation of restrictions in particular for those fully vaxxed. Can’t wait.

Victoria, currently on a cases trajectory similar to that of NSW 50 days ago, continues to do basically what NSW has done since it realized that it would not be able to contain this outbreak. In fact, everything that the Andrews government talking heads announce these days in their pressers sounds very familiar: vaccination as the way out, ever so slight easing of restrictions when numbers are low, promises of more freedoms ahead when certain vaccination targets are reached. The ACT is struggling to contain its outbreak and might soon also have to adopt the NSW playbook.

What happens in NSW in October will be closely watched by everyone from Victoria and ACT to Queensland, Western Australia, and ArdernLand. While the Doherty Institute modeling — by far the best documented (as incompletely documented as it is)— will continue to provide food for thought as well as ammunition for tweets of online bullies and demagogues, in the end the state government in NSW will show Australia the way out of a mess for which no-trade-off-econs as well as epi-public-health alarmists are as much responsible as a federal government that has failed vaccine procurement 101.

Reality has a way of asserting itself and the reality of the developments in NSW will show the way out. Yes, people will die — people always die in a pandemic, and as a matter of fact they die in the tens of thousands even when there is no pandemic, of coronary heart disease, dementia, cerebrovascular disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary, and may other nasty diseases —but deaths are not the only thing to take into account and it is time that the national conversation is finally had that we should have started sometime around April last year.

Greg Dore, ironically a colleague of Raina MacIntyre at the UNSW Kirby Institute, tweeted Friday, “As NSW sensibly opens-up at 70–80% eligible full [needle icon], other jurisdictions will be watching closely. If there’s a major surge in cases & hospitalizations, the “they’re letting it rip” brigade will be out in force. If not, others will definitely follow, particularly VIC.” To which my response was, “That’s exactly how it is going to play out. Only there will not be a major surge in hospitalizations (b/c vaxx percentages) and hence VIC will follow the NSW playbook once more. Delayed by about 50 days.” I take bets.

/ Porter finally on the ropes

/ How to max the number of enemies in one brilliant strike

/ Lies, damn lies, and ABS statistics

And that’s the wrap for week 37 of 2021. All facts, no spin. Oz for Dummies.

Update 20 September 2021:

Porter has resigned as minister for industry and science (but will remain on the back benches). His conscience, that pathetic and weird beast, made him do it.

“I am not prepared to seek to break the confidentiality of those people who contributed to my legal fees under what are well-known and regular legal structures, including the confidentiality attached to the Trust contribution.”

“Ultimately, I decided that if I have to make a choice between seeking to pressure the Trust to break individuals’ confidentiality in order to remain in Cabinet, or alternatively forego my Cabinet position, there is only one choice I could, in all conscience, make. Consequently, I provided the Prime Minister with my resignation earlier today. It is effective immediately.”

“I have previously stated my determination to contest the next election in Pearce and have nominated for preselection, and I have no intention of standing aside from my responsibilities to the people of Pearce.”

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Andreas Ortmann

EconProf: I post occasionally on whatever tickles my fancy: Science, evidence production, the Econ tribe, Oz politics, etc. Y’all r entitled to my opinions …