Orders of magnitude
All kinds of phenomena come in different sizes, and size matters, as a peek into my spam folder reminds me. Think of human settlements:
In a village, people know each other and can be thought of as a community. Not much infrastructure, usually, except maybe a church and pub.
In a town, people meet to do business. All kinds of infrastructure are available: shops, schools, doctors, post office, police station, recreation facilities (such as swimming pools)
In a city, people go to work, often in large companies. Special infrastructure emerges: a university, a hospital, a full-time fire brigade, a zoo. Town-level infrastructure is multiplied and has to compete for attention.
In a megacity, people… I don’t know, who cares about individual people in a megacity? Competition extends to city-level infrastructure: universities and hospitals specialize. Skyscrapers and airports appear on the scene.
We might think of a village as having 1,000 inhabitants or less, a town around 10,000, a city around 100,000, and a megacity one million or more. Look at your fingers: we are made to think in a base-10 place-value system, and orders of magnitude, for us, differ by powers of ten, i.e., by the number of digits required to represent a number in this system.
We can use the < and > symbols to indicate different order of magnitude:
megacity > city > town > village
It is also quite natural to concatenate the symbols to indicate a difference of two or more orders of magnitude: city >> village, megacity >>> village. Equal order of magnitude is expressed by the = symbol: village in Germany = village in France. Not all villages, in Germany or France, have the same number of inhabitants, but they are all comparable in size, and different from towns. Classification by order of magnitude is a little fuzzy by design (the largest villages are larger than the smallest towns), and that is a good thing. To quote Lotfi A. Zadeh, the inventor of fuzzy logic: “As complexity rises, precise statements lose meaning and meaningful statements lose precision.”
Now, back to (sigh) Covid. The thing itself and its effect on mankind can be stratified using orders of magnitude as well. Pre-omicron, it was something like:
population > infection > serious consequence > death
Omicron amped up infections. Everybody is getting it now, but it’s mostly mild:
population = infection >> serious consequence > death
In between, vaccination happened. Didn’t help a lot, but what about adverse events? Government bodies, such as the PEI in Germany, are still trying to sell us something like this:
population = vaccination >>> adverse event > serious adverse event > death
These are the numbers reported for Germany:
83 million = 150 million >>> 250,000 > 30,000 > 2,500
Now, the two relations at the bottom (between adverse events and serious adverse events, and between serious adverse events and deaths) might be accurate. The hard thing to get right, due to under-reporting, is the relation between vaccinations and adverse events (and don’t expect serious adverse events or deaths to be reported at higher rates than “normal” adverse events).
The BKK ProVita letter to the PEI estimated 2.5 to 3 million adverse-event related consultations. That might change the picture to:
population = vaccination >> adverse event > serious adverse event > death
An order of magnitude of 25,000 for deaths fits well with 2021 non-Covid excess mortality in Germany. And it might even be worse: several people give estimates of one death per 2,300 to 2,500 vaccinations, which is more like vaccination >>> death than vaccination >>>> death.
Vaccinations are petering out in Germany, and mandates (except for people working in health care) are off the table, but will we ever come to terms with the disaster we created? And what will happen next time?