Tamim Tehiyeh, Forecast Models and the Coronavirus

Divining the Curve

We have all watched the events of the past few months surrounding the coronavirus disease and the consequent quarantining and government lockdowns with pain and sorrow. There have been thousands of articles and teshuvot written over this period discussing both the public policy and Jewish responses to this situation. The majority of these approaches relied on a key questionable set of predictive assumptions: This disease would spread, infect and harm on a higher order of magnitude than anything we were accustomed to seeing, and the treatment of ‘social distancing’ would reduce that spread. Without these predictions though, would we have responded differently than we do during any other outbreak of a contagious disease? If we are relying on predictions to make decisions, how acceptable is that within the framework of Jewish law?[1]

Despite the greatest efforts and innovations of modern medicine and sanitation[2], we lose elderly and young alike every year to contagious diseases like influenza. The approach for the past century has been to react to every new disease and outbreak by monitoring viral strains, improving diagnostic tools, supporting vaccine development, and having legions of doctors collaborate on innovative practices for treatment. This methodology focuses on examining the symptomatic patients in front of us and originating or repurposing different treatment ideas for each viral strain. Early reactions to the spread of the coronavirus seemed to reflect the attitude that diseases will always have a place in our society and that we should rely on doctors to come up with specific solutions. The US Center for Disease Control originally communicated that the coronavirus would have similar effects to a bad flu season and we should remain calm and react accordingly.[3]

A key impetus in triggering the draconian government lockdowns and worldwide panic that characterized the current global response was the proliferation of forecast models predicting millions of deaths. While the most famous models have been thoroughly discredited, [4] many other models are still used to determine government reopening policies or as the basis for fear inducing headlines. The use of forecast models to determine public policy is not isolated to the coronavirus experience, and has been used increasingly to influence decision making in tax and regulatory policies, long term weather and climate forecasting, and public health, among other fields.

The human mind does not cope well with uncertainty and people are drawn to the certainty provided by these predictive models. Yet the single most common variable across forecast models in all of these fields is how poor their prediction record is[5]. While we have been able to witness the failure of the coronavirus epidemiological models in real time, the failures of other models are available for public review in other fields. The same Imperial College model that triggered the recent US and UK shutdowns also predicted deaths due to Foot & Mouth disease, Mad Cow disease, and the Swine flu and was off by factors of 75,000%, 28,000% and 14,000% respectively[6]. Millions similarly watched the failure of election prediction models during the Brexit and 2016 US presidential election. Similarly, most predictive climate models have been wrong by a factor of hundreds of percent over the past two decades in trying to predict changes in global temperature.[7]

The pertinent issue when confronting public policy and religious responses to the novel coronavirus is not its similarity to other contagious respiratory diseases like the flu. Rather, it is if forecast models should play any part in in our decision making strategies, causing us to react differently than we do other respiratory diseases. What is the role, if any that forecast models should play in making public policy and halachic decisions?

 Deuteronomy and Divination

The Torah itself expresses a dim view of forecasting and prediction in Deuteronomy 18:9-13:

When you enter the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to imitate the abhorrent practices of those nations. Let no one be found among you who consigns his son or daughter to the fire, or who is an augur, a soothsayer, a diviner, a sorcerer, One who casts spells, or one who consults ghosts or familiar spirits, or one who inquires of the dead. For anyone who does such things is abhorrent to the LORD, and it is because of these abhorrent things that the LORD your God is dispossessing them before you. You must be wholehearted with the LORD your God.

While the language of sorcerer used here may imply that specifically a magical or supernatural source is the focus of the restriction, the use of numerous synonyms referring to any possible divination suggests that the problematic issue is the simple act of trying to forecast the future. A confirmation of this reading can be seen in the next two verses:

Those nations that you are about to dispossess do indeed resort to soothsayers and augurs; to you, however, the LORD your God has not assigned the like. The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet from among your own people, like myself; him you shall heed.

It is from G-d alone, through the prophet He provides, from whom we should gain knowledge of the future and base decisions, regardless of the source or accuracy of any other prediction. While the section is short, one of the most important verses in Torah is buried within verse 12: Tamim tehiyeh im Hashem Elokecha. Based on these verses, one can conclude that to be wholesome or wholehearted with G-d means specifically to rely on G-d, and Him alone, when trying to understand one’s role and responsibilities for the future.

Are forecast models built using the latest computer technologies similar to the forbidden divination described in Deuteronomy? Understanding this section of Deuteronomy and the role of forecasting in Judaism was the subject of a major debate in medieval times between Maimonides and many other rabbinic authorities at the time, led by Nahmandies.

Maimonides and the Scientific Method

Maimonides discusses why the Torah specifies the many types of forecasters that are forbidden:

All of these things are false and spurious, and it was with such that the ancient idolaters misled the peoples of many lands so that they follow them. And it is unbecoming to Israel who are exceedingly wise to be attracted by these absurdities, nor to even imagine that they are of any consequence…Whosoever believes in these matters, and their like, and suppose that there is wisdom and truth in them, save that the Torah disallowed them, such are none other save from among the foolish and ignorant and are to be included among women and children whose mind is not sound. But wise and sound-minded people know that all these matters which the Torah disallowed are not matters of wisdom but formless nonsense followed by senseless people for the sake of which they abandoned every path of truth. (Hilchot Avodah Zarah 11:16)

According to Maimonides, all of the listed supernatural methods of divination are spurious in nature. G-d did not make a way to forecast the future through looking at bones or fires or birds. The people of Israel are wiser than to fall for such ‘absurdities’ outside of the truth of the Torah.

In his Guide to the Perplexed, Maimonides adds other common pseudo-medical treatments to the list of unacceptable magical procedures claiming that they also reflect “the ways of the Amorite.”  Maimonides was well aware of the limits of scientific understanding in the middle ages and had to differentiate between treatments prohibited for relying on the arcane and those that would be acceptable as a medical treatment even if we do not understand why it works. He concludes:

For the Law permits as medicine everything that has been verified by experiment, although it cannot be explained by analogy (3:37:4)

Maimonides required a treatment’s efficacy to be verifiable by repeated observation in an experiment, even if the cure could not be explained. Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch z”tl, among others, argues that Maimonides was one of the original practitioners of Isaac Newton’s modern empirical scientific method, largely in opposition to the Rationalist school founded by Aristotle and later championed by Rene DeCartes.[8] The Rationalist school required only sound reasoning for a treatment method for an illness, and would continue to administer ‘rational’ treatments regardless of their proven efficacy. Thinkers like DeCartes considered the human mind the ultimate arbiter of truth regardless of what is observed in nature. Maimonides, in contrast, required experimental proof that a treatment or methodology was effective consistently and reliably in order to accept it as a valid medical approach or as something that was not rooted in idol worship. It was on this basis that Maimonides led the rabbinic charge against the use of astrological predictions by Jews, which he found had no observable reliability.[9]

How do modern forecast models fit into the scientific method, which Maimonides required for any acceptable treatment? If forecast models are not scientifically reliable, how would Maimonides view them in the context of the Torah’s command in Deuteronomy to avoid divination?

The “Science” of Forecast Models

At its core, a forecast model picks a previously observed trend or constant, and then predicts that specific trend to continue in the future. When modelling the spread of the coronavirus, modelers started by discussing the R0 (R-naught) factor, simply defined as the rate at which one person with a disease can infect others. This factor is then used by modelers to determine how quickly or widely a disease will spread throughout a population. In engineering and the sciences, we are trained to look for measurable constants designed into nature, like the spring constant as defined in Hook’s law, the average atomic weight of an element, or some biological attributes in a living being’s DNA. R0 is not a natural number though that can be measured or found anywhere in nature. Common sense and experience tell us that factors affecting the spread of a virus include the nature and extent of contact the infected have with others, the types of surfaces it can live on and the hygiene, weather, immunology and genealogy in any specific locale. As these factors are impossible to measure, let alone forecast, the R0 plug number is used to represent the estimated totality of all factors, known or unknown. By assigning or debating what the specific actual value of R0 may be, we have left the world of objective science, and are instead pretending that this plug number accurately and objectively reflects reality and can be used to predict the future.

In 2006, a complex systems computer analyst authored the “Targeted Social Distancing Designs for Pandemic Influenza” public policy paper which suggested that the spread of a disease can be modeled on a computer and that by adjusting model inputs like R0, the spread of the infection could be minimized.[10] The analyst used his daughter’s high school science project research to argue that schoolchildren have the most contact with different people throughout the day, and minimizing that contact through social distancing would somehow lower R0 in his model. The computer analyst’s simple R0 factor, and social distancing as a solution to a respiratory pandemic, was actually rejected at the time by experienced doctors and epidemiologists who had successfully spearheaded the fight to eradicate smallpox.[11] Modern medicine had largely moved away from the use of quarantining asymptomatic patients following the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, as we realized that rapid identification and innovative medical solutions were a much more effective response during the 1957 and 1968 flu outbreaks.[12]

With little empirical validation outside of a computer program, predictive models are used mostly to influence or move others to action by using graphs and numbers to imply they are valid predictions of reality.[13] The most influential predictive “model” during this crisis was an animated graph demonstrating how social distancing would lower the future infection rate of coronavirus below the capacity of the healthcare system to treat people[14]. This graphic included no assumptions behind what would cause the spread to suddenly decrease with the prescribed social distancing (aside from a supposedly lower R0), what healthcare capacity was required for a disease we didn’t even know how to treat, or what timeline was necessary to minimize the effect of the virus. Nonetheless, the portrayal of this data in graph form led many to believe it to be a scientific work with an objective analysis. It also led to many public decisions that, in hindsight, served little purpose and likely caused harm. There is no documented correlation between quarantine measures focused on asymptomatic people and reduced mortality rates, neither during the 1918 Spanish flu nor the current coronavirus pandemic.[15] While there may or may not be some small benefit to social distancing in slowing the spread of this virus over the short term, there is little empirical evidence that this strategy can prevent the spread of this disease to everyone who would be vulnerable to it over the long term. Nonetheless, hospitals and healthcare facilities were made less accessible to non-corona patients who still required care, while global industries and travel shut down causing record unemployment and economic destruction.

 Chaotic and Dynamic Realities

The reason forecast models have consistently poor performance records is because human reality has two factors that cannot be captured by mathematical equations: chaos and dynamics. Chaos theory is based on the concept that as more variables enter an equation the less predictable it becomes. A single pendulum in a box, for example, is a closed system with which nothing interacts, and its activity can be predicted with some certainty over a long period of time. This is why the pendulum has been used as the base mechanism for a clock, providing accurate and consistent time movements. Once one adds additional variables to the pendulum, like a secondary pendulum or an outdoor environment, the pendulum’s movements become much less predictable, rendering the clock unreliable. An economic, epidemiological or climatic system, with billions of independent and codependent variables cannot be predicted with accuracy. The classic illustration of Chaos Theory is the fluttering wings of a butterfly in China serving as the catalyst for a major hurricane in the Western Hemisphere, a variable no person or computer model could ever predict or account for when forecasting the world’s weather patterns. Long term predictions of climate, temperature or weather events are fraught with uncertainty as they cannot account for even a fraction of the relevant variables that affect the climate. Former climate change modeler Dr. Mototaka Nakamura writes[16] about the failure of advanced climate prediction models to account for cloud variability, a slight increase of which would counteract any predicted temperature change due to carbon dioxide concentration. Similarly, human interaction and viral spread are affected by an unlimited number of variables that are not modelable or predictable. Assigning numbers like R0 to posture otherwise does a disservice, promising predictability or a possible lever of control when none is due.

The real world is not only chaotic but also dynamic, in that living beings and complicated systems adapt to changes around them. Tax increases, for example, rarely lead to forecasted sustained increases in tax revenues as accountants, investors and consumers tend to adjust their activities or structured ownership to minimize the effect of a tax increase. Similarly, living beings tend to adjust their living style, grazing area or migratory patterns based on changes in the climate or environment. On the microorganism level, as the human body develops countermeasures to adapt to novel strains of illnesses, bacteria or viruses will tend to mutate or adapt accordingly for their own survival. When dealing with living beings, modelling how each independent actor will adapt as it interfaces with others is impossible, especially when compounded with the chaotic multivariable environment discussed above.

There seems to be an assumption inherent in forecast models that if the modeler had just enough data that was completely accurate and reliable, the model would yield a correct prediction, similar to a mathematical equation. Chaos Theory and dynamic responses both serve to invalidate this assumption.

The scientific method works best in a relatively closed system, in which actual measurements can be taken, and different targeted treatments can be hypothesized and experimented. For example, once we learned that the coronavirus affected blood oxygenation levels rather than the operability of the lungs, we were able to direct treatments accordingly by using oxygen tanks instead of ventilators. We also learned that high glucose levels and obesity were highly correlated with mortality, and therefore spent more time managing glucose levels. The effects of innovative ideas that have since proven to be the most successful at combating the virus, like oxygenating instead of intubating patients, using anti-clotting medicine, aggressive management of blood sugar levels or simply laying patients on their stomachs[17], focused directly on responding to measurements and data obtained from individual patients. The effect of these data driven treatments could not be modelled in advance by even the most advanced algorithms. Instead, a modeler is drawn to inputs in his model like R0 that he thinks are controllable based on the prominent role they play in his model, and the modeler ends up treating the model rather than treating the patients.

Returning to Maimonides

To Maimonides, reason has its limits. In The Guide to the perplexed, he states that if we cannot observe a part of nature which is beyond our reach, it is madness and hubris to pretend we have wisdom that is only known by G-d himself.[18] Maimonides was an empiricist at his core, and saw no validity in the different divination methods described in Deuteronomy based on the fact that they had never proven to be accurate in predicting the future. Forecast models, as discussed earlier, have proven to be unreliable at best in predicting the future with any accuracy. The prescribed treatment method of social distancing asymptomatic people, as designed by modelers, stems not from empiricism with successful experimentation, but from rationalism, in that the modelers reasoned that this treatment should work based on their models rather than their observations. It is doubtful that Maimonides would have considered our reliance on forecast models to have been science based or acceptable as a predictive tool within the scriptures of the Torah.

Nahmanides and the Supernatural Approach

Nahmanides famously disagreed with Maimonides and his followers on why the Torah commands us against divination. In his commentary on Deuteronomy, Nahmanides disagrees with Maimonides’ central assertion that the supernatural actions of soothsayers and magicians don’t work. In fact, Nahmanides not only claims to have witnessed the successful power of divination personally, but claims that the Torah itself provides validation of such magic. He discusses the success of Pharaoh’s magicians in replicating some of Moses’s miracles, Balaam’s role as a soothsayer for other nations and that King Solomon himself knew many of these sorcerous ways. To Nahmanides, magic and foretelling are part and parcel of the nature of the world:

When Scripture included the diviner by clouds and the other diviners with the abominations mentioned, it reverted and explained … their wisdom is to know future events, but as for thee, G-d hath not suffered thee so to do…To know the future it will be unnecessary for you to resort to a diviner or soothsayer who receives [the knowledge] from the stars or from the lower powers among the lords of above, whose words are not all true and who do not provide all necessary information… ‘Tamim Tihiyeh Im Hashem Elokecha’ – The meaning thereof is that we are to direct our hearts to Him only, and believe that He alone does everything… We are not to inquire of the astrologers from anyone else, or by any means to trust that their words will be fulfilled. Instead, if we hear any prediction [of the diviners] we should say, ‘everything is in the hands of Heaven’… and we are to believe that future events will occur according to man’s drawing closer to His service (Commentary to Deuteronomy 18)

The section in Deuteronomy is foundational to Nachmanides’ view of global and Jewish theology. Nachmanides did not believe in a world controlled by nature, but rather that G-d’s providence is present at all times sustaining the world and mankind with constant miracles. It is this lack of natural order that allows for not only G-d’s constant involvement in the near infinite variables of a chaotic world, but also the potential involvement of other supernatural participants[19]. Conceptually, this is the method that allows G-d to provide reward and punishment for our actions. If the world only worked according to ‘natural’ actions, then our consequences would be pre-determined by nature, rather than by G-d. [20]

Divination is then possible, according to Nahmanides, by speaking to the other supernatural beings to see how they intend to affect the near infinite variables in the world. And yet, for the Jewish people, this methodology is unacceptable. The future, even if knowable, should not be known, for if it were, how else would we be wholehearted tamim with our G-d? If we know there will be a specified amount rain during the year or how many of us will die and when, what commitment to change will we honestly have when looking for forgiveness on Yom Kippur, when G-d himself claims the ability to decide who will live and who will die, or how much rain will be provided in the coming winter season? G-d provided us with a guidebook, the Torah, that allows us to do mitzvot and offer sacrifices and prayer, and in return, G-d will assure us a better future, granting us rains at the correct times and longer sustained life in G-d’s land.[21]

Nahmanides’ approach, when viewed in the context of current forecast models, is even more cautionary in its guiding nature. Forecast models, even if built on valid scientific premises, should not be consulted by Jews to decide how to approach the otherwise unknown future. The way to deal with a possible negative prediction, even one that could be reliable, is to increase our prayers and observance of Mitzvot, for the future is not sealed and G-d always has it in His power to change things for our benefit with His constant providence in our lives.

Nahmanides, a doctor himself, never claims not to use medicine and science to treat diseases and make decisions.[22] His concern is clearly the use of predictions of the future for making these decisions. During the coronavirus epidemic, it is doubtful that he would have been comfortable with the focus on predicted deaths as the driver for our decision making. Furthermore, Nahmanides’ insistence on doing mitzvot and praying in order to sway G-d’s will would imply that he also would not have been comfortable with any restraints on the performance of community mitzvot as a reaction to any type of prediction.

C.S. Lewis, Jeremiah and the Yetzer Harah

While both Maimonides and Nahmanides discuss the what and the why of the restrictions of divination, neither addresses the danger or consequences in depth. C.S. Lewis, in his book The Screwtape Letters, addresses this point when imagining a discussions between two demons who try to lead good people astray:

Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present. With this in view, we sometimes tempt a human (say a widow or a scholar) to live in the Past. But this is of limited value, for they have some real knowledge of the past and it has a determinate nature and, to that extent, resembles eternity. It is far better to make them live in the Future. Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it we make them think of unrealities. In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time — for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays. Hence the encouragement we have given to all those schemes of thought such as Creative Evolution, Scientific Humanism, or Communism, which fix men’s affections on the Future, on the very core of temporality. Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future.

According to Lewis, it is in the present alone when both “freedom and actuality” are offered to man in a similar way as G-d experiences the world, for only in the present do we have actual knowledge at our fingertips. People living in the present are confronting real world decisions with their knowledge and weighing their actions carefully balancing between good and evil. It is largely in the promises of a far better utopian future, or far scarier dystopian one, in which the Christian Devil, or the Jewish Yetzer Harah, is able to convince people to stray and act against the will of G-d, by acting contrary to the knowledge sitting in front of us in the present. Unfortunately, seeking to divine the future for making good decisions rarely works out for the benefit of the seeker, and makes him a target of those who would manipulate or use him for their own benefit. This is likely why the Torah explains in detail how to recognize a true prophet speaking with the word of G-d, as opposed to one who offers false promises and rebellion against G-d.

The dangers of false prophets and diviners are recorded throughout the books of the Prophets, and their motivations are often called into question by G-d. Jeremiah discusses those who divine falsely in G-d’s name:

The LORD replied: It is a lie that the prophets utter in My name. I have not sent them or commanded them. I have not spoken to them. A lying vision, an empty divination, the deceit of their own contriving (“tarmit libam”) —that is what they prophesy to you! (Jeremiah 14:14)

The term tarmit libam, the deceit of their own hearts, is repeated multiple times throughout the book, and seems to be the focus of G-d’s anger, as the nation focused on what was in the false prophets hearts rather than what G-d wanted. Similar occurrences and comments by G-d are documented by Micha, Ezekiel and Isaiah. And yet, G-d points out to Jeremiah how much the nation and its priests love the certainty these false prophets provide:

The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule accordingly; And My people like it so. But what will you do at the end of it? ( Jeremiah 5:31)

Similar to C.S. Lewis’s demon, the false prophets of ancient Israel also knew how to comfort the masses, focusing them on their hearts desires or fears and providing a false sense of certainty of what may come. The people’s focus was turned from focusing on G-d’s will and mitzvot, essentially sacrificing the requirements of the present for the betterment of the presumably known future. Interestingly, a common biblical characteristic of false divination was that the class of priests and diviners all spoke of the same prophecy, and those who denied the consensus prediction like Jeremiah or Ezekiel were ostracized.

Focusing on predictions of the future often comes at a heavy cost to the present. Electricity prices, for example have gone up considerably with the introduction of unreliable renewable energy sources, increasing energy poverty worldwide.[23] This was justified by a forecast model’s predicted rise in temperature that hasn’t occurred as predicted. The debate about global warming continues to revolve around what other conveniences of today, even if used for a noble purpose, should be sacrificed at the behest of a forecast model.[24]

With regards to the coronavirus, it must be considered how much of our financial and societal resources were spent on social distancing at the cost of the needs of the present. How many shiva houses were left empty, weddings went unattended, and other mitzvot marginalized in the present so that we could wrangle with a predicted extreme outbreak based on unreliable models? How much of our medical, scientific and rabbinic workforce was dedicated to minimizing social contact rather than solving the immediate problems at hand largely due to a computer’s best guess of the future? Should we have allowed the predictions of computer forecast models to tip the scales, rather than a more empirical analysis of the scientific data at hand, and the careful deliberate usage of different innovative treatment methods to determine the most appropriate response to this disease? G-d’s message to the ancient prophets is that any who profess the ability to forecast the future and tell us how to act accordingly should be eyed with caution, for it is with these forecasts that we lose sight of what is required in the present.

Conclusion

When confronted with the coronavirus, forecast models played an outsized role inducing fear and stimulating extreme unproven response measures based on their precise though inaccurate predictions of the future. What science objectively would have mandated as a correct response to the spread of the coronavirus is up for much debate and discussion[25], and it is doubtful that any one answer would have been the correct one. Decision making for complicated situations like these must be based on weighing multiple factors and being aware of the tradeoffs of any decision that is made, not on a precise prediction of the consequences of our decision making. Maimonides’ scientific method can and should be used when working on patients directly in a relatively closed and controlled environment, but is not applicable to predicting chaotic and dynamic environments[26]. Nahmanides, meanwhile, felt that relying on predictions to make decisions ignored G-d’s role in the world, and likely distracted us from the needs of the present as pointed out by C.S. Lewis.

We must be on guard at all times against the influence of prediction models on our public policy and halachic decisions, driving us to respond in a different way than we do to other diseases or challenges that we always face. As the public sector and millions of private individuals continue to try and predict the shape and trends of the future, be it in the fields of epidemiology, climate change or macroeconomics, we should all be wary as Jews of G-d’s warning to us in Deuteronomy: Tamim Tihiyeh Im Hashem Elokecha.

[1] Thank you to judge Louis Kornreich, Clate Stansbury, Sarah Rindner Blum and Sarah Golubtchik for their assistance and feedback

[2] Global population has increased eightfold since 1800, while simultaneously, average life expectancy has increased from under 29 to over 71 years of age per Ourworldindata.org

[3] See New England Journal of Medicine, March 27 2020 https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMe2002387?articleTools=true

[4] See April 9th analysis finding 70% of University of Washington’s IHME predictions were outside of its 95% predictive intervals https://arxiv.org/abs/2004.04734 and see The Telegraph May 16 2020 finding large software errors throughout Neil Ferguson’s Imperial College model https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2020/05/16/neil-fergusons-imperial-model-could-devastating-software-mistake/

[5] Famous British Statistician George Box once wrote: “All models are wrong, but some are useful” in the 1976 Journal of the American Statistical Association. The purpose of this article is not to say there is no value in building models, which can be used for approximating sensitivities for example, but rather that they are remarkably poor at making predictions with any sense of accuracy, and hence have little value as a predictive tool

[6] See National Review, May 6, 2020 https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/professor-lockdown-modeler-resigns-in-disgrace/

[7] https://wattsupwiththat.com/2020/04/27/some-dilemmas-of-climate-simulations/

[8] Rambam, Science and Taami HaMitzvot by Rabbi Nahum Rabinovich in Hazon Nahum, Studies in Jewish Law Though and History edited by Norman Lamm pg187-197. Also, “Rambam as a Scientist in Encounter edited by H.C. Schimmel p244-246 1989

[9] Letter to scholars of Montpelier. See Igros HaRambam, Shilot vol. 2 p. 480. This was largely in response to the Ibn Ezra who felt that astrology was experimentally validated See Ibn Ezra, Pirush HaAruch, Shemot 33:21

[10] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/22/us/politics/social-distancing-coronavirus.html or https://www.aier.org/article/the-2006-origins-of-the-lockdown-idea/

[11] http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.552.1109&rep=rep1&type=pdf

[12] See NY times article in 1957 explaining the changed approach: https://www.aier.org/article/elvis-was-king-ike-was-president-and-116000-americans-died-in-a-pandemic/ and study finding most Spanish flu deaths to have been preventable using modern anti bacterial medicine: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/bacterial-pneumonia-caused-most-deaths-1918-influenza-pandemic

[13] 1955 Nobel Prize winner, and famous leader of the Austrian School of Economics, Freidrich Hayek famously popularized the term ‘scientism’ which he defined as the “slavish imitation of the method and language of science”. Similarly, 2018 Nobel Prize winner and former vice president of the World Bank, Paul Romer, labeled a style he began noticing in many economic papers as ‘mathiness’, which “lets academic politics masquerade as science”. Both of these terms would be applicable to the usage of R0 factors and formulas to predict the spread of a disease. Decision making for the macroeconomic issues, for example, should be based upon weighing of pros and cons, discussions of tradeoffs and the balancing of the rights of different individuals or groups.

[14] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatten_the_curve

[15] The support graphic comparing 1918 death rates in the selectively chosen St. Louis and Philadelphia deliberately avoided showing the lack of correlation between shutdowns and mortality across a broader spectrum of cities. Specifically, Kansas City and Pittsburgh had high mortality rates despite early shutdown measures, while Minneapolis and Indianapolis had very low death rates despite later implemented and shorter duration shutdowns. See: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/03/how-cities-flattened-curve-1918-spanish-flu-pandemic-coronavirus/

Similarly nowadays, no recognizable correlation has been found between social distancing policies and mortality rates for the Coronavirus. See: https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2020-opinion-coronavirus-europe-lockdown-excess-deaths-recession/ and https://www.wsj.com/articles/do-lockdowns-save-many-lives-is-most-places-the-data-say-no-11587930911

[16] The Amazon ebook also includes a full translation following the Japanese portion.  https://www.amazon.com/kikoukagakushanokokuhaku-chikyuuonndannkahamikennshounokasetsu-Japanese-Nakamura-Mototaka-ebook/dp/B07FKHF7T2

[17] For incomplete list on best practices learned in treating Coronavirus:  https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2020/05/what_medicine_is_learning_from_the_covid19_pandemic.html

[18] Guide to the Perplexed 2:24:4, For a fuller understanding of Maimonides struggle on the reliability of astronomical predictability, see: “Maimonides philosophy of Science by Gad Freudenthal in The Cambridge Companion to Maimonides edited by Keneth Seeskin pg134-166

[19] See Nahmanides’ drasha: Torat Hashem Temimah

[20] For an in depth discussion on Nahmanides view of the relationship between nature and providence, see David Berger’s  “Miracles and the Natural Order in Nahmanides” https://www.biblicalnaturalhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/MiraclesNahmanides.pdf

[21] A responsum found in Kitvei Ramban Vol 1 pg 378, and quoted by Rav Moshe Isserlis (Yoreh Deiah 179:1-2) seems to imply that while Nahmanides did not allow Jews to approach astrologers, one should consider their predictions if heard by happenstance and not rely on a miracle against a negative astrological prediction.  The Beit Yosef, in his introduction to the Tur, claims that this responsum was actually authored by the Rashba, implying that Nahmanides never allowed even this as it contradicts his commentary on Deuteronomy 18. The responsum can also be found here: https://www.sefaria.org.il/Teshuvot_haRashba_Meyuchas_LehaRamban.283?lang=bi

[22] For a detailed discussion on Nahmanides approach to science in general and how it differed from Maimonides, see: http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%202%20Buchman.pdf

[23] See https://wattsupwiththat.com/2018/06/26/poverty-and-energy/ for the effects of reliable energy sources like coal and natural gas have had on global poverty. Renewable energy sources are unreliable and intermittent, so a backup grid-wide fuel-powered generation system has to be maintained at all times. For increased costs to the consumer, see: https://i2.wp.com/wattsupwiththat.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/image.png?ssl=1 and https://epic.uchicago.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Do-Renewable-Portfolio-Standards-Deliver.pdf

[24] See my earlier article: https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/climate-paganism-and-tu-bshevat/

[25] I am not a doctor or an epidemiologist. For one of many alternative perspectives from a top epidemiologist early during the crisis, see: https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/17/a-fiasco-in-the-making-as-the-coronavirus-pandemic-takes-hold-we-are-making-decisions-without-reliable-data/

[26] Albert Einstein once said: “We should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems, and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have the right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society.”

About the Author
Etan Golubtchik is an energy industry professional with a background in engineering and financial modeling. He made the decision to join the oil and gas industry after researching the issues involved, and is proud of the work he does to help bring affordable energy to modern society.
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