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Published on May 8th, 2020 | by Jesper Berggreen


A COVID-19 Thought Experiment — How The Exact Same Numbers Can Lead To Opposite Perspectives

May 8th, 2020 by  

There’s a lot of talk these days of whether the COVID-19 death toll numbers show the right picture of the pandemic. Elon Musk talks to Joe Rogan about parsing the data correctly, and authorities in different countries have somewhat different guidelines as to how cause of death should be registered in regard to COVID-19 symptoms. Accusations about numbers are being used as ammunition to gain trust in this or that opinion on how this all started and how to proceed.

I’m in no position to have any valid objective opinion on these issues, although the Danish forensic community, in which I am employed, is in fact beginning to look into it more deeply. So I’ll try something else. If for nothing else, then just to kick your line of thought a bit out of direction for a moment, and remind ourselves that autonomous electric vehicles won’t solve all problems.

To Dictate Or Not To Dictate

This is just a thought experiment that I came up with one of those nights watching the news about the development of COVID-19 in my country Denmark. The renowned TV-doctor Peter Qvortrup Geisling put some numbers on the screen, and this time something struck me as odd, so I wrote them down. Take a good look at them, before we start our fictional experiment:

 FACT: Total deaths in Denmark in the period from mid March to mid April 2020 on most common causes of death. Source “Lægens bord” dr.dk April 16th 2020

Now, I will shamelessly create an alternative reality with alternative facts, based on this simple and proportionally small fictional change in every Danish citizens life: The Prime Minister of Denmark would a couple of years back have acted as a genuine dictator and had put the following into law, effective immediately:

  • No consumption of alcohol allowed
  • No smoking allowed
  • Every single citizen with functional legs must walk 3 miles a day
  • Healthy food must be cheaper than unhealthy food calorie by calorie
  • No TV, tablet, or phone use in the bedroom
  • All vehicles must be equipped with emergency braking systems

Imagine such laws being in effect a couple years, and think about how that might have changed the death rate. Here’s my guess, which actually doesn’t have to be very accurate to prove my point:

FICTION: Total deaths in Denmark in the period from mid March to mid April 2020 on most common causes of death, had there been no drinking, no smoking, less accidents, cheap healthy food, lots of sleep, and minimal mandatory exercise for a couple of years.

Wow. That COVID-19 bar looks bigger now…

To Be Hailed Or Shamed

Here’s my point:

In Denmark (it would not be wise of me to have any opinion on other countries), we have a leader who is mostly hailed for her outstanding ability to stand front and center in this crisis and make people come together in the fight against the unknown, and the COVID-19 numbers show that the death toll is kept manageable.

However, had we lived in that fictional scenario a few years where it would be common practice to not try so much to die from irrational behavior, that COVID-19 number stands out and shows clearly a system completely out of control. Our leader would rightfully be shamed as someone who had not done enough!

Numbers do not lie, but they can be deceptive. 


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About the Author

Jesper had his perspective on the world expanded vastly after having attended primary school in rural Africa in the early 1980s. And while educated a computer programmer and laboratory technician, working with computers and lab-robots at the institute of forensic medicine in Aarhus, Denmark, he never forgets what life is like having nothing. Thus it became obvious for him that technological advancement is necessary for the prosperity of all humankind, sharing this one vessel we call planet earth. However, technology has to be smart, clean, sustainable, widely accessible, and democratic in order to change the world for the better. Writing about clean energy, electric transportation, energy poverty, and related issues, he gets the message through to anyone who wants to know better. Jesper is founder of Lifelike.dk and a long-term investor in Tesla, Ørsted, and Vestas.

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