Corona Bioerror: Is Steven Pinker About to Get Pwned?

Martin Rees is a British astronomer and existential risks philosopher with a decidedly gloomy outlook, predicting that humanity only has a 50/50 chance of surviving the 21st century. Steven Pinker hardly needs an introduction, but in short, he is an evangelist of the idea that the world is getting better – richer, nicer, safer – and that it will continue on that merry road into the indefinite future. In early 2017, the two made a $400 bet on whether bio(t)error will kill one million people within a single 6 month period by the end of The Current Year.

Rees was set to lose. But there’s now a faint chance that, Corona-chan willing, he will be able to make a last minute year save, should this virus satisfy the following conditions:

  1. Kill one million people by Dec 31, 2020.
  2. If it emerges that it had manmade causes (bioerror or bioterror).

Comparison of SARS and Corona from the day the WHO started tracking them (via /u/thejjbug). Note also that the WHO only started tracking SARS after 4 months, vs. just one month for Corona.

Both confirmed cases and deaths are, as of the time of writing, following a hard exponential curve (r2=0.998). The relationship between the two has also remained steady, with deaths constituting 3% of all cases.  Simple extrapolations show thousands of cumulative deaths by early February, and hundreds of thousands by the middle of the month. Now such extrapolations are always questionable, and in this particularly case still very unlikely to happen, since the effects of quarantines and public awareness are going to kick in imminently. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that simulations by some epidemiologists are projecting 13,000 confirmed cases in China by February 4, which translates into 400 cumulative deaths if that relation continues to hold.

There are still many more knowns than unknowns. For instance, confirmed cases are almost certainly greatly underestimated, because:

  1. People are incubating Corona without showing symptoms (though they are capable of infecting other people during this period, at least according to the Chinese – the CDC have disputed this);
  2. Many people have negligible or mild symptoms, and don’t try to visit a hospital. Almost all estimates (e.g. here) agree that this category of people is an order of magnitude (10-20x) greater than the number of confirmed cases;
  3. Hospitals are turning away some seriously ill people in Wuhan, where the healthcare system is close to breaking point;

Meanwhile, mortality may also be underestimated on account of:

  1. Some or many of those currently sick will yet die – about 25% of confirmed cases are labeled “serious”;
  2. According to reports, some deaths are diagnosed as having been caused by regular pneumonia, and their bodies are rapidly cremated before tests could be carried out.
  3. Six of the first 41 patients with confirmed Corona have died, producing a mortality rate of 15%;
  4. Perhaps most disturbingly, the number of cured patients is barely keeping pace with mortality (60 cured vs. 82 deaths as of now). Hopefully, this is largely an artifact of (a) confirmed cures lagging deaths, just as deaths lag case confirmations; (b) less attention being paid to this indicator, as opposed to the number of confirmed cases and deaths.

Finally, there are allegations that China is purposefully underestimating one or both of these factors. I am not qualified to comment on that (though I suspect few people are).

The one good thing is that (1) > (2), most likely, so the current 3% mortality may be considered to be the upper limit.

My best guess it’s more like 1%, i.e. take the one concrete number we have (mortality = 15% for the first 41 confirmed cases), and adjust downwards by the number of unregistered cases (90%+). This would make it equivalent to the first wave of the Spanish Flu, which primarily affected boomers, just like Corona. But as with that plague from a century ago, there is a risk of it mutating into the form that causes cytokine storms and starting to kill off young people in much greater numbers, as in the second wave of the Spanish Flu.

In any case, even if it remains Spanish Flu Lite and contained to China, that would still easily result in a million plus casualties (e.g. 1.4B population * 25% infection rate * 1% mortality = 3.5 million). So Rees would win this one.

If it becomes a global pandemic, we could be looking at 10-20 million deaths. And if there is a mutation that turbocharges mortality, then 100 million-200 million are not out of the question.

We will have a much better of where this is going in a week’s time, when a divergence from a strongly exponential trend would need to happen to avoid tens of thousands of cases and there will be a clarification on whether human-to-human transmissions outside China are taking hold.

Another rare Corona-chan. 

As for the origins of the virus, the standard theory is that it was a spillover from bats, which was spread to the population at large through the Wuhan Wholesale Seafood Market (hence all the memes about about bat soup). Now just to be clear, I am not promoting any of the conspiracies that this outbreak was caused by the NWO following the Georgia Guidestones, that its cover for FEMA taking over the US, that it’s an ethnic bioweapon that backfired, and so forth.

But there are some interesting details amongst the rubbish:

  • There has been research on bioengineering a bat-derived coronavirus with the backbone of one that causes SARS in mice. Such research was banned in the US in 2013, but presumably not in China. One of the coauthors, Xing-Yi Ge, is affiliated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
  • According to a recently published paper by Chinese scientists at The Lancet, the Wuhan wet market wasn’t the primary source. 13 of the first 41 patients (including the very first) had no link to that market.
  • Wuhan hosts the Wuhan Institute of Virology, China’s first maximum biosafety (BSL-4) facility, which was opened in 2017. It was to specialize in the study of dangerous zoonotic diseases such as ebola, H5N1, and coronaviruses such as SARS. It is located 20 miles from the infamous wet market. In the same year, Nature published an article raising concerns over the risk of pathogen escape from the Wuhan lab: “The SARS virus has escaped from high-level containment facilities in Beijing multiple times, notes Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University… Tim Trevan, founder of CHROME Biosafety and Biosecurity Consulting in Damascus, Maryland, says that an open culture is important to keeping BSL-4 labs safe, and he questions how easy this will be in China, where society emphasizes hierarchy. “Diversity of viewpoint, flat structures where everyone feels free to speak up and openness of information are important,” he says.
  • There was a curious event in July 2019, when a Chinese researcher wife (Xiangguo Qiu) and husband (Keding Cheng) pair and some Chinese students were removed from Canada’s only BSL-4 facility for having undertaken unauthorized visits to China [1, 2], as well as sending ebola and Henipah viruses to Beijing on a commercial Air Canada flight [3]. Questions about whether IP theft or espionage was involved aside – by that time, Canada and China had poor relations – this does seem to suggest a negligent attitude towards biosafety on the part of the Chinese.
  • FWIW (probably not much), the US State Department and an Israeli spook have alleged that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was in dual civilian-military research, i.e. a bioweapons program.
  • In a recent Twitter thread, Harvard public health scientist Eric Feigl-Ding outlined some very unusual aspects of Corona’s RNA genome based on a paper prepublished on January 27: ““A BLAST search of 2019-nCoV middle fragment revealed no considerable similarity with any of the previously characterized corona viruses (figure 2)” —> it’s a sequence entirely new to any known #coronavirus. What does this mean? We don’t know yet. Notably, the new coronavirus provides a new lineage for almost half of its genome, with no close genetic relationships to other viruses within the subgenus of sarbecovirus.” —> basically it’s saying it’s completely brand new to #coronavirus subgenus. Very strange: So what is in this new mystery middle segment that has no #coronavirus history? The study authors continue: “This genomic part comprises also half of the spike region encoding a multifunctional protein responsible also for virus entry into host cells[30,31]”. Continuing: “Our study rejects the hypothesis of emergence as a result of a recent recombination event.”—> I.e. the authors also conclude that the new #coronavirus did not originate from random recent admixture between different coronaviruses. Other possibilities of course. BOTTOMLINE: 1) Seafood market not the source. 2) This RNA #coronavirus mutates really fast. 3) RNA has unusual middle segment never seen before in any coronavirus. 4) Not from recent mixing. 5) That mystery middle segment encodes protein responsible for entry into host cells.

I am not saying that this is the case. But given its profile in studying zoonotic diseases and the apparently low level of biosafety culture in China, I don’t think it’s it’s entirely beyond the realm of possibility that the original source was a coronavirus that the Wuhan Institute was experimenting that somehow accidentally got out. Slight puncture in hazmat suit leading to unnoticed infection. Clogged air filters wafting the virus outside and infecting somebody passing by (e.g. see Sverdlovsk anthrax leak). Malfunctioning effluent decontamination system making its way into the sewers, to be scooped up as gutter oil and served as street food (including at the Wuhan Seafood Wholesale Market?). There are plenty of possibilities. Note that this needn’t have any nefarious motives, such as a bioweapons program. For instance, one major motivation for fiddling with these viruses is to ascertain just how easily they could mutate into a human transmissible form. Meanwhile, the failure to contain it in the early days, when it was still containable, could be precisely ascribed to the lack of an “open culture” in the Wuhan local government, whose response was to arrest eight whistleblowers as rumor-mongers and put on a feast for 40,000 people to “prove” that everything was OK.

While there’s no smoking gun here, at least the remote possibility that this was bioerror cannot be ruled out. Steven Pinker may yet get pwned this year.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. Please keep off topic posts to the current Open Thread.

    If you are new to my work, start here.

  2. According to a recently published paper by Chinese scientists at The Lancer,

    It’s The Lancet, not The Lancer.

    Hospitals are turning some seriously people away in Wuhan, where the healthcare system is at breakpoint;

    You mean “turning some seriously ill people away in Wuhan,” correct?

    Also, they can’t get treated in other Chinese cities because Wuhan is quarantined, correct?

    AK: Yes, thanks. r is next to t on keyboard. 🙂

  3. They’re sending a lot of doctors from other places to Wuhan, but yes, I assume treating them outside Wuhan is pointless – and dangerous.

  4. Peter D. Bredon says

    The Lancer was my college newspaper — I was really excited to see it turn up as a news source!

  5. Philip Owen says

    To even attempt to build a 1000 bed hospital in a week suggests a lot of forward planning. To what extent might this be a trial run by China as preparation for the real thing?

    Meanwhile, Chinese old people and their parents went through WW2 from 1933 to 1947, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. They and even younger people will have Dutch Hunger Winter characteristics (male children of pregnant starving mothers die young – see also ’90’s Russia).

    Add mostly public transport, communal living – flats, courtyards, unhygienic conditions, the plague of type 2 diabetes in China (see Hunger Winter?) and extrapolating from China to rich Anglo societies is a tricky thing to do. Concern of course but no evidence worthy of panic yet.

    My money is on a bat. Ebola was probably a bat disease. Hendra virus and Marburg virus amongst many others. They are major disease vectors.

    Not bat soup though.

  6. The Lancet is not a serious organization anymore, ever since they ran that piece “The Only Way to Stop Racism Is ‘to Eliminate Whiteness All Together.’”

    I have previously advocated that the Chinese launch an English-language medical journal since the Lancet and NEMJ have gone PC-loco.

  7. Doesn’t the three-year deadline go against Pinker’s whole shtick?

    Though I suppose he was always weaselly with his words. Something like “I’m not predicting things will continuously get better, but look at all these charts which demonstrate things will continuously get better. And let us all thank Gaia for the moral arc of the universe!”

  8. a single 6 month period by the end of The Current Year.

    The Current Year has an end point? News to me. Maybe when the last white person…..

    Meanwhile the Chinese have this epidemic well in hand. Here they are using heat sensors to figure out whom to snatch out of passenger terminals. What’s that? The virus is contagious before symptoms show? Haven’t you heard of Security Theatre? Same deal, hoss.

    Anyway, as the photo shows, the Chinese are taking no chances, and wear gloves even to touch the screen. Can’t be too careful with something this virulent.

  9. Abelard Lindsey says

    Let say this thing does kill a million plus people. Let say it kills 65 million or even 200 million. It would still be a blip in the overall scheme of things, both population wise as well as civilization wise. It would be comparable to the 1918 Spanish Flu at these higher figures.

    The power didn’t go out. Public water in cities continued to run. I don’t even hear about it causing an economic recession (even though it had to have done so). Even at these higher numbers, the main effect for the vast majority of us will be economic. Be prepared for temporary job loss.

    In the meantime, wash your hands with soap and water every time you touch something in public, like a door knob and the like. If it really does get bad, I’ve got safety glasses (that I use for on-site work) as well as masks that my wife and I can wear while going shopping and the like.

    I would take elderberry as well. Resveratrol is supposed to be good for this as well.

  10. Abelard Lindsey says

    That may be quite believable as you don’t necessarily need some elaborate scenario of a biological warfare agent somehow escaping (or being deliberately released) from some top-secret government lab to explain this.

    Its believable because its the kind of careless corruption that the Chinese are known for. I would not be surprised at all if this turns out to be the case. In fact, I consider it the most likely explanation for how this thing got started.

  11. The Big Red Scary says


    “I don’t think it’s it’s entirely beyond the realm of impossibility”

    Presumably you mean possibility. Also note the double it’s.


    I don’t know what epidemiologists actually call such curves, but the technical name is “logistic curve”, or informally “S-curve”, with some “carrying capacity” bounding the curve from above.

    AK: Thanks for correction. Eventually it will turn logistic, but in the early stages (now) I would imagine calling it exponential is valid?

  12. sudden death says

    Looks like a first case of asymptomatic(?) human to human transmission outside of China, in Germany was just reported. According to SPIEGEL information, the infected person is an employee of a convertible roof manufacturer from Stockdorf in Bavaria, which has several large branches in China and a large plant in the Wuhan region. According to initial investigations by the authorities, the employee was infected by a Chinese colleague who had spent a few days in Stockdorf from China on January 19.

    Also those cases in USA seem quite suspicious in this context where young deputy dies from complications of flu, 5 other Georgians die from illness in one week.

  13. Ayatollah Smith says

    Aside from being “the kind of careless corruption that the Chinese are known for” (a biological warfare agent escaping), readers might want to consider that only Chinese have been infected by this new coronavirus. To date, all the infections in both China and all foreign countries are of ethnic Chinese. To my knowledge, there have been no reports of Caucasians having been infected anywhere in the world.

    Viruses are mostly like mosquitoes in that they don’t much care who they bite, anyone within range being a perfectly acceptable victim. So when a virus like 2019-nCoV (and like SARS, in case you don’t know) attacks only ethnic Chinese, the question of a race-specific bio-weapon cannot be ignored.

    That leads us to question the unsupported insinuations and accusations about this being a leakage of a Chinese combat virus. If true, it would be the first example of a nation creating and releasing a race-specific biological weapon designed to attack exclusively itself. This would constitute an ”own goal” of global proportion and, in my judgment at least, the fundamental assumptions are a bit too stupid to warrant serious consideration.

    The University of Wuhan contains The Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is one of the country’s premier biosafety laboratories which works with the WHO and other international groups as part of a large network studying pathogens from all over the world, as do all other such institutes.

    I have read Western inferences of the Institute being a bio-weapons lab, but those are claims made with no supporting evidence. I am generally aware of the Institute, and it is purely a civilian operation. It has never been associated with biological military or combat research.

    The evidence to date though does lean toward the possibility of this new virus being a lab-engineered pathogen. It is being widely blamed on contact with wild animals at the Wuhan market, but the media ignore the fact that most of the original (early) infected individuals had no specific with that market. In fact, its origin is unknown, and its vague similarity to viruses of bats or snakes or marshmallows is of no practical use in determining its final makeup or the means by which it jumped species.

    The below article contains some useful factual information.

  14. sudden death says

    To date, all the infections in both China and all foreign countries are of ethnic Chinese. To my knowledge, there have been no reports of Caucasians having been infected anywhere in the world.


  15. Steven Pinker lives in an elite bubble, thinking that everyone is like the type that attends Ted presentations. Things like the decay of South Africa or the exploding African populations probably never register in his mind.

  16. Who the F is dumb and crazy enough to eat bat soup at the Wuhan market? This makes dog meat very ordinary. Ever seen the video of these Chinese loonies draining bile from caged bears? So cruel. They milk the bear like milking a cow.

    Bear bile figures in Traditional Chinese medicine….most likely as their viagra.

  17. peter mcloughlin says

    Not being an epidemiologist I can’t offer an opinion on the Coronavirus. Nor am I an astronomer or existential risks philosopher. But the pattern of history suggests an even bleaker outlook than Professor Martin Rees forecasts. It seems unlikely humanity (civilization at least) will survive the 21st century.

  18. reiner Tor says

    To date, all the infections in both China and all foreign countries are of ethnic Chinese. To my knowledge, there have been no reports of Caucasians having been infected anywhere in the world.

    A Bavarian businessman just fell ill after meeting a seemingly healthy (i.e. asymptomatic or in incubation period) Chinese business associate on January 19.

    So your theory just fell.

  19. Blinky Bill says

    There are many half-truth and outright lies been spread about Wuhan/ Coronavirus. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to decipher the truth from masses of disinformation been posted online.

    One clear example of this is the Bat Soup Meme. I personally know a dozen or so Wuhanese and none have even heard of it, let alone tasted it. But yet it was posted by dozens of sources as a justification for misfortune that has befallen Wuhan and it’s people. The are 11 million people in Wuhan so anything is possible. I just found it strange that none of the lifelong Wuhanese I know had even heard of this supposed “Wuhanese Delicacy” but yet this video/pictures of a Chinese Women eating bat soup was posted millions of times as evidence of such behavior.

    Confirmed – the bat eating video was filmed by travel show host 4 years ago in Palau NOT China. Report by SCMP

    With the death toll from a coronavirus outbreak racing past 50, a Chinese internet celebrity has apologised for posting a video three years ago promoting bat as a tasty food.

    Wang Mengyun, host of an online show about international travel, wrote on her microblog that she was not aware that bats could be a virus carrier when she appeared in the video posted in 2017.

    “[I] had no idea during filming that there was such a virus,” Wang wrote online on Wednesday. “I realised it only recently.”
    She said the video was filmed in Palau, an archipelago in the western Pacific, about three years ago, when she and her team were shooting a tourism programme and trying some local dishes, including bat soup.×768/public/d8/images/methode/2020/01/26/04797b4c-4002-11ea-a16e-39b824591591_image_hires_153610.jpg

  20. Felix Keverich says

    Is there any website that tracks the number of infected and deaths in real time?

    I found this:

  21. reiner Tor says

    I think the “3% mortality” statement is incorrect. Imagine an illness which (in its early stages) multiplied by 30 every 20 days, and killed everyone it infected. So, on January 8 there’d be 300 ill and 10 dead (“roughly 3% mortality” by this logic), and on January 28 there’d be 9000 ill and 310 dead (again, “roughly 3% mortality” by this calculation), because the original 300 would just die by that time.

    Mortality should be calculated based on the number of cured and dead people, not dead and currently ill, that calculation is totally meaningless. Based on the first 41 people and the fact there’s underestimation etc. I’d imagine a mortality below 10%, but beyond that, anything is pure speculation. The “3% mortality” calculation is like the old joke about the ship which is 30 m long and 3 m wide and weighs 200 tons and the question is, how old is the captain? You just cannot know based on those data.

  22. reiner Tor says

    The Chinese do daily bulk updates. Their numbers are probably lower than reality (even the number of dead is probably lower), but they don’t even get updated during the day.

  23. Some nit-picking, “casualties” means dead plus injured, so Rees wins if we get to one million sick people, which seems likely.

  24. Blinky Bill says

    I wonder why the Palau locals don’t get sick from eating this. Perhaps the Coronavirus is racist and only targets Chinese.

  25. Blinky Bill says

    Don’t Blame Bat Soup for the Wuhan Virus.

    As news of the Wuhan virus spread online, one video became emblematic of its claimed origin: It showed a young Chinese woman, supposedly in Wuhan, biting into a virtually whole bat as she held the creature up with chopsticks. Media outlets from the Daily Mail to RT promoted the video, as did a number of prominent extremist bloggers such as Paul Joseph Watson. Thousands of Twitter users blamed supposedly “dirty” Chinese eating habits—in particular the consumption of wildlife—for the outbreak, said to have begun at a so-called wet market that sold animals in Wuhan, China.

    There was just one problem. The video wasn’t set in Wuhan at all, where bat isn’t a delicacy. It wasn’t even from China. Instead it showed Wang Mengyun, the host of an online travel show, eating a dish in Palau, a Pacific island nation. Sampling the bat was simply an addition to the well-trodden cannon of adventurism and enthusiasm for unusual foods that numerous American chefs and travel hosts have shown in the past.

  26. We are hearing of people recovering, but not anywhere in the ratio that supports the 3% mortality rate.

  27. I think they don’t list you as recovered if you have secondary effects. Such as if you come out of it but feel like shit.

    There was a guy in one of these threads who was to China and had phenemonia there. Said he never really recovered. I may be wrong tho.

  28. This is certainly very concerning, but note that recovery should lag mortality, just as mortality would lag cases confirmed.

  29. Joined by Taiwan and Japan in the past 24 hours. Now I suppose we’ll see if First World countries can contain it.

    No hope for India, Cambodia, etc.

  30. JohnnyMnemonic says

    I’d like to offer a perspective from Australia, a country that is more exposed than most to this outbreak.

    In recent years, Australia has not only become economically hooked on Chinese capital and trade but it’s also opened itself to a massive influx of Chinese people. The Chinese are now one of the largest migrant groups in Australia and on track in the coming years to surpass (!) the English as the single largest migrant group. Exit Anglosphere, enter Sinosphere.

    Australia has one of the highest per capita immigration rates in the world. The country also has the highest concentration of international university students in the Western world. There’s been talk about “stapling a green card” to college diplomas in the US. Well, Australia already does that. Since the early to mid 2000s, a growing flood of students from mainly China and India have been lured to Australia with the promise of relatively easy access to residency upon graduation. Local (white) students are now a minority on some if not many of the major campuses.

    Hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists and students are expected to arrive in Australia over January and February. Keep in mind that Australia is a country of 25 million.

    The volume of air traffic between the countries is significant. Last Sunday alone saw 43 flights arrive from China.

    It is important to understand that Australia’s political elite is a special kind of dumb. They are also incredibly myopic and naive.

    There seems to be an attitude here that the coronavirus isn’t a big deal and somehow won’t really impact Australia – despite the fact Australia is now arguably among the countries most exposed to events in China. There is the usual spin from the government that it is taking the issue seriously but the response thus far has been pitiful.

    There has been no thermal screening at airports.

    A flight leaving Wuhan shortly before the city was quarantined was allowed to land in Australia. None of its passengers were quarantined.

    In fact, no widespread quarantining is occuring. Rather, Australian border security is handing out pamphlets to incoming passengers telling them to contact the authorities if they get sick. The initial batch of pamphlets only listed an office hours contact number (I kid you not).

    Given the huge number of Chinese international students and Chinese immigrant kids in Australian schools, some schools have asked all students who recently travelled to China to stay away for 14 days. However the Australian education minister today attacked the decision, saying that all students should attend school to send the message that Australia is open to international students. Again, I am not making this up.

    There are now five confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia. This number is bound to skyrocket. Australian medical facilities will be quickly inundated. Australian authorities will dither and fail to take control of the situation. I could be totally wrong but I think this dumb country is in for a shock if this thing continues (the R0 suggests it will). Watch this space.

  31. Blinky Bill says

    A Queensland MP is livid about a fake health warning telling people to stay away from Brisbane suburbs with large Chinese populations because of the coronavirus threat.

    Duncan Pegg has expressed disgust over the “racist” hoax, dummied up to look like an official health department alert and warning against non-essential travel to four suburbs that are home to many Chinese families.

    The post, circulated on Facebook and WeChat, warned that Queensland had issued a “level 3 health warning for coronavirus” and that people should not travel to Sunnybank, Sunnybank Hill (sic), Runcorn and Eight Mile Plains.

    Anti Chinese/China sentiment in Australia has grown tremendously over the last few years. Expect many Australians to use Coronavirus as a rallying cry to limit any furthering of relation with China.

  32. JohnnyMnemonic says

    Australians might grumble about the growing Chinese takeover but they won’t do anything to slow it.

    They keep voting for the same two parties – both of which promote mass immigration and pander to Beijing.

  33. Blinky Bill says

    Peter Dutton vows to ‘call out’ China.

    Mr Abbott was highly critical of China.

    But as usual I don’t think this will go the way most people think it will.

    In his speech, Mr Abbott urged Prime Minister Scott Morrison to pick up the mantle when he meets his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi early next year. “I’m keen to make fostering this relationship my personal mission in post-parliamentary life,” he said.

    “My instinct is that, 50 years hence, India will be much more prosperous and no less democratic; every bit as strong as China, in fact, but far less overbearing.

    “I hope Australia will be a key partner in India’s rise. A world with two democratic superpowers, not just one, will be more free, more open, more prosperous and ultimately fairer to everyone.”

  34. Daniel Chieh says

    Nothing could go wrong with India superpower 2020!

  35. Philip Owen says

    The screen layout etc is in English.

  36. Philip Owen says

    Also add Doctor/nurse says 90,000 cases and 5 m have left the city to the fake news list. There will be cases but not yet.

  37. You Aussies don’t even get to use Huawei’s 5G either.

    Australia and the US are now the test cases for what transmission and mortality rates will be for Britain when it hits.

  38. JohnnyMnemonic says

    But they’ll still run a protection racket for Gladys Liu, who has links to United Front Work Department and CCP organisations.

    Also, I can’t see India being as stronk as China or a superpower – democratic or otherwise.

  39. It is exponential. Hopefully it will turn out logistic but it is too soon to fit it in a logistic curve. I assume that Chinese government actions, such as imposing quarantine on a 11 million city, building a new hospital in two weeks, etc. show that they are taking it most seriously, and they know why.

  40. Blinky Bill says

    My money is on a bat. Ebola was probably a bat disease. Hendra virus and Marburg virus amongst many others. They are major disease vectors. Not bat soup though.

    I agree 100% with this statement. I would also like to add Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus. Bat>Camel>Man.

  41. “Corona Bioerror: Is Steven Pinker About to Get Pwned?”

    No. Pinker is right about overall direction. Even if a billion people die to virus, it will not be very significant. Everybody dies after all, and with population ageing, killing off a few billion old people may really help the young. (I commute on a motorcycle for precisely this reason).

    I am more worried about pathways though. I mean i am not terribly racist, but i do want to preserve and expand space fairing civilization. And today, the only country that has the combination of Space Program and demographics is India. And human world is clearly preferring African, and they dont have a space program since ORTRAG (awesome tech btw) in Zimbabwe shut down.

    Tldr: Africa is the future based on breeding patterns, but aside from random Nazis, they need tech help if all other civilizations decide not to breed. I dont care about species or races, but i do care about space program.

  42. HorriblyDepressed says

    Fascinating article. I have one question – which I freely admit has nothing to do with the content or subject of the article. How does one pronounce “pwned”?

  43. sudden death says

    Not really sure what it means practically, but looks like this virus is indeed extraordinary one:

    1) Seafood market not the source. 2) This RNA #coronavirus mutates really fast. 3) has unusual middle segment never seen before in any coronavirus. 4) Not from recent mixing. 5) That mystery middle segment encodes protein responsible for entry into host cells.

  44. sudden death says

    Such kind of behaviour may become more frequent when situation increasingly deteriorates, regardless of nationality or race:

  45. sudden death says

    Also looks like it could be potentially the first occuring death outside China (even if initially originating there, I guess) – 80 year old Chinese tourist with severe condition now in reanimation unit at hospital in France.

  46. Blinky Bill says
  47. pronounced like “powned”

  48. prime noticer says

    i think Pinker will win this one. doubt corona kills a million people or even half that many. but his general premise, well that’s wrong. he thinks he’s tracking this:

    but what he’s actually tracking is the underlying mechanism – western european mens’ effect on the planet. which is HUGELY beneficial to all humans. and which has probably peaked. perhaps a while ago. and is now in decline.

    those charts he keeps citing are now measuring the inertia of a declining force on the planet. by 2100, european men will have much, much less influence and effect on Earth, and the effect of other humans will have overwhelmed those charts.

    that’s aside from the fact that lots of the charts and stuff he mentions and tracks, are not relevant or important and don’t portend anything. so what if the average african now lives on 10 dollars a day instead of 5 dollars a day. they’re both irrelevant levels of income. so yeah, the difference can be measured, but the measured difference makes no difference to anything. it doesn’t matter what the average third worlder is doing and it never will. they don’t drive any positive force.

    it would be like the Education Department saying the average student got 2 pounds less fat. wow, who cares? the students today are still all fat. great. a technically measured improvement that doesn’t matter at all.

  49. sudden death says

    Imho, given that asymptomatic spreading is mostly confirmed now and cases of secondary transmission are starting to blow up (e.g. Germany) it is time to say that containment has failed. So, on to next step:

    But given uncertainties + very high stakes, part of global & national planning efforts should now be aimed at possibility that nCoV containment could fail. (6/x)
    Others have raised this possibility too, including @neil_ferguson at Imperial who has said in last 24 hrs that containment of nCoV might not succeed. (7/x)
    Global and national leaders should be looking ahead to what must be done to prepare for the possibility nCoV can’t be contained, even as we continue to work as hard as possible to contain it in China and beyond. (8/x)

  50. I don’t know about Corona, but I do know Pinker is a Jew.
    Therefore, it’s pretty safe to say he hates Whitey – and everything he says should be considered with that in mind.

  51. reiner Tor says

    On one hand, you linked a very sensible proposal, which should be pursued by any normal government.

    On the other hand, I don’t think it’s very likely that it’ll get implemented, at least not until there’s already a lot of damage. Lots of people have to die to concentrate the minds of Western leaders (and even so…), their big concern will be why people of color are dying disproportionately or something similar.

  52. Gutter oil… sweet Jesus. You need not say more.

  53. reiner Tor says

    Though people have alluded to it here, four people have been infected in Germany. Now dozens, or more likely hundreds of potential cases need to be tested. Let’s hope this will be organized by the Germans efficiently and they will be able to arrest the spread of the disease from this bridgehead. I really hope it won’t spread in Europe until there are infections in an incompetent country, like Hungary. (And there will be, there are several flights to China from Budapest.)

  54. Dieter Kief says

    Interesting. Any ideas about New Zealand?

  55. reiner Tor says

    The pilot of a plane from China had 39.5 Celsius fever. He was taken to the hospital by ambulance shortly after landing. Apparently he had fever throughout the flight. But no special precautions were taken, because “there was no reason to suspect a coronavirus infection.”

    And in another news, finally the USA may close air traffic to and from China.

  56. Anonymoustache says

    I don’t think it’s mere “demonization” like this tweeter suggests. The ties between Lieber and other American unis/labs and researchers with China likely gave China some intel and advance warning about US bioweapons activity and possible attacks against China. Also some info for developing vaccines against US bioweapons. This may have mitigated the impact of the coronavirus outbreak in China, assuming it is a US bioweapon attack. The arrest of Lieber seems to be a message from the US gov to US academia not to get involved with China and interfere with US nat security operations.

  57. last straw says

    I don’t know if the German case has been confirmed or not. If not, then there is only one confirmed case of asymptomatic transmission, which was in China. So far, it seems the rate of infection during the asymptomatic incubation period is low. So it’s good news for containment.

  58. The Wild Geese Howard says

    Corona-chan subreddit has been up for a few days now:

    I love you Corona-chan!

  59. Yeah and the ‘conservative’ Liberals lost to Turnbull’s evangelical successor, guaranteed to do nothing of value. As Johnny says at #42 he’s already bending over to Chinese influence and never going to be a hardliner. Australia is for sale by the politicans, and China is buying.

  60. Stolen Valor Detective says

    It’s a (characteristically) insightful, fair and judicious post, but I’ll defend Pinker’s general weltanschauung a bit here.

    I did find the chapter on existential risks (or Black Swans, if you like) the weakest in Enlightenment Now (see e.g. Phil Torres’ critique). However—and it is a sign of Pinker’s prowess that this is true of the weakest chapter in the book — it also made some very convincing, important and well-supported arguments.

    One of them is that there’s been a lot of gigantic threat inflation in the past that, when falsified, doesn’t seem to impact people’s outside view assessments of the probability that the next purported incoming catastrophe will likewise fizzle out. Nuclear war, the population bomb, Y2K, depletion of natural resources, terrorism post-9/11, many such cases.

    Indeed, to take a more recent example, consider the reactions to the assassination of General Soleimani a few weeks ago. The Saker predicted that there was an 80% chance of full-out war; Karlin cited 40% (over this year) as a reasonable estimate. The hosts of Chapo Trap House (to bring in a left-wing perspective) insisted that this was exactly the same as the lead-up to the Iraq War, though they didn’t give a numerical estimate.

    Now that the situation seems to have calmed down, I think those were all overly high estimates—which I think redounds to the credit of Pinker’s thesis in Better Angels. (Incidentally, this isn’t just hindsight; on a different website, I put the odds of war immediately afterwards at 15%, which honestly was probably too high as well.) But I don’t think there’s been a lot of reflection from any quarter on possibly overestimating the chances of war, at least circa January 5th.

    Also, I think that, while a major pandemic would be one piece of evidence against Pinker’s general worldview, his specific view of bioterrorism would remain about as valid, or even be strengthened, by this. The reasoning being that Pinker argued that the problem with bioweapons for both states and terrorists is that they’re really, really hard to safely develop and deploy in a way that only, or maybe even mostly, hurts the people you want to hurt. In his own words:

    Bioterrorism may be another phantom menace. Biological weapons, renounced in a 1972 international convention by virtually every nation, have played no role in modern warfare. The ban was driven by a widespread revulsion at the very idea, but the world’s militaries needed little convincing, because tiny living things make lousy weapons. They easily blow back and infect the weaponeers, warriors, and citizens of the side that uses them (just imagine the Tsarnaev brothers with anthrax spores). And whether a disease outbreak fizzles out or (literally) goes viral depends on intricate network dynamics that even the best epidemiologists cannot predict.57

    Biological agents are particularly ill-suited to terrorists, whose goal, recall, is not damage but theater (chapter 13).58 The biologist Paul Ewald notes that natural selection among pathogens works against the terrorist’s goal of sudden and spectacular devastation.59 Germs that depend on rapid person-to-person contagion, like the common-cold virus, are selected to keep their hosts alive and ambulatory so they can shake hands with and sneeze on as many people as possible. Germs get greedy and kill their hosts only if they have some other way of getting from body to body, like mosquitoes (for malaria), a contaminable water supply (for cholera), or trenches packed with injured soldiers (for the 1918 Spanish flu). Sexually transmitted pathogens, like HIV and syphilis, are somewhere in between, needing a long and symptomless incubation period during which hosts can infect their partners, after which the germs do their damage. Virulence and contagion thus trade off, and the evolution of germs will frustrate the terrorist’s aspiration to launch a headline-worthy epidemic that is both swift and lethal. Theoretically, a bioterrorist could try to bend the curve with a pathogen that is virulent, contagious, and durable enough to survive outside bodies. But breeding such a fine-tuned germ would require Nazi-like experiments on living humans that even terrorists (to say nothing of teenagers) are unlikely to carry off. It may be more than just luck that the world so far has seen just one successful bioterror attack (the 1984 tainting of salad with salmonella in an Oregon town by the Rajneeshee religious cult, which killed no one) and one spree killing (the 2001 anthrax mailings, which killed five).60

  61. Biological warfare has hardly been tried by states in modern wars(at least that we know about), yet Steven Pinker is confident they are ineffective. I’m confident he’s full of shit.

    The ban was driven by a widespread revulsion at the very idea, but the world’s militaries needed little convincing, because tiny living things make lousy weapons. They easily blow back and infect the weaponeers, warriors, and citizens of the side that uses them (just imagine the Tsarnaev brothers with anthrax spores).

    The claim that biological weapons “easily” blow back and infect the side using them is entirely dependent upon the method of transmission. Note the lack of details in this claim(he mentions anthrax spores, but of course there are non-spore forming bacteria, like Francisella tularensis), it’s just taken for granted that the problem of infecting the opposite side but not yourself is too difficult. Pinker is just hand waving the issue away here.

    That military meatheads who mostly know nothing about microbiology do not like biological warfare says nothing about its usefulness. A state which has developed its own secret biological warfare program will presumably have an advantage over others in detecting, preventing, and treating the biological agent, so the argument that it can’t be useful because it might impact both sides should be dismissed. Besides, there are many instances in history where a state is willing to sacrifice some its own if it gives it an edge in the conflict.

    And whether a disease outbreak fizzles out or (literally) goes viral depends on intricate network dynamics that even the best epidemiologists cannot predict.

    Well shucks, maybe you don’t release it close to your own military headquarters then. Or, for the opposite problem, the disease isn’t viral enough, maybe you don’t just release it once.

  62. Literally two comments above yours did I link the German article. There are now four cases in Germany. Probably each caused by the same (then) seemingly healthy Chinese woman, who fell ill after her return to China. Or maybe just one of them, who preceded to infect the other three later? (But before the onset of symptoms.) It’s unclear at this point, but all four were infected by seemingly healthy people.

  63. reiner Tor says

    Sorry, four comments above yours, in #57.

    It’s usually implied that only the first case was infected by the Chinese woman, and the rest infected by the first German. It’s never definitely stated that they never met the Chinese woman. It’s also unclear to me if they are even ill at this point, or if they were just caught as a result of testing the close contacts of the first case.

  64. Pinker’s hypothesis is so full of holes, it’s hard to believe anyone takes it seriously. He was already pwned by NNT, whether or not he loses this bet.

    the next purported incoming catastrophe will likewise fizzle out. Nuclear war, the population bomb, Y2K, depletion of natural resources, terrorism post-9/11, many such cases.

    We can say for sure that only one of these incoming “catastrophes” fizzled out, and even that one was not existential in nature and just had the potential for serious economic disruption. Not to mention that this threat has simply evolved into malicious AI, which actually does represent an existential danger.

    As technology advances, the ability to create dangerous pathogens will become more dispersed and available. Pinker assumes a bioterrorist would be looking to kill a certain group of people, but what if this terrorist’s goal is the destruction of mankind as a whole?

  65. prime noticer says

    “Now that the situation seems to have calmed down, I think those were all overly high estimates—which I think redounds to the credit of Pinker’s thesis in Better Angels.”

    i thought the estimates of war were high too, but for the usual reason. as we discussed for days in the missile accuracy thread, suddenly, Iran missile accuracy went way up. giving US decision makers second thoughts. US bases can be hit all over the place they realized.

    and what averts serious wars between real opponents now is…good ballistic missiles.

    no change at all in human behavior or interests. US decision makers still want to kill millions of Iranians. but now they can’t easily do that without being hit back massively.

    Pinker is wrong. the major, historical change is in war technology. not human nature. the decline in global scale wars is directly related to time elapsed since Peenemunde.

  66. reiner Tor says

    Normally bioweapons are to be used if the bug is like smallpox: highly infectious, highly lethal, but easy to vaccinate against. Your own side would be vaccinated against it, while it’d take months for the enemy to develop an effective vaccine, diverting important resources.

  67. reiner Tor says

    what if this terrorist’s goal is the destruction of mankind as a whole?

    Or just wreak havoc and destruction for its own sake, without any large scale goals, let alone anything as grandiose as “destruction of mankind.” Or an incel trying to kill all women.

    But bioweapons could be effective if they are highly lethal and they create a vaccine for it. A small cult could vaccinate its members and try to destroy the rest of mankind.

    And yes, the danger of nuclear war is far from over. All it takes is one nuclear war in 2034 to disprove that things are constantly improving.

  68. Mr McKenna says

    Interesting…I don’t know what to make of that.
    Photo came from Thailand’s Bangkok Post.
    Good source for Corona news by the way.

  69. Mr McKenna says

    Or an incel trying to kill all women.

    Sheesh. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d think that an incel trying to improve his fortunes would be more inclined to kill a large number of men.

  70. reiner Tor says

    He wouldn’t be trying to improve his own chances, he’d know he’d die or be imprisoned after committing terrorism. So the motivation would be revenge for the many rejections and the fact women didn’t want to have sex with him. IIRC the incel terrorist we had killed women as a kind of revenge, too. Killing some men wouldn’t improve his own chances much anyway.

  71. The amount of cured might be severely underreported

    Think about it – how many of them actually go to a hospital? It gets diagnosed, and just like the flu, goes away in about a week. They don’t even report they’re better because “heh, just the flu”

  72. JohnnyMnemonic says

    Hallo Dieter.

    The situation in NZ is largely the same, although its government is probably even more silly and naive than Australia’s.

    Shockingly, the Director of Public Health in New Zealand seems to think that coronavirus is less contagious than influenza:

    This apparently is the person helping to prepare NZ’s response. Good luck with that, Kiwis.

  73. The Lancet is not a serious organization anymore, ever since they ran that piece “The Only Way to Stop Racism Is ‘to Eliminate Whiteness All Together.’”

    It’s still a serious publication, just like in every scientific article in the Soviet bloc, a slight nod towards Marxist ideology was mandatory, called the “red tail”. I assume that today’s Western scientific journals should also signal their total unconditional devotion towards woke ideology to prevent some bad things as accusations of racism or whatnot, so they feel obliged to publish some Cultural Marxist PC bullshit from time to time.

  74. Kevin Cahill says

    The arrest of Lieber seems to be a message from the US gov to US academia not to get involved with China and interfere with US nat security operations.

    Lieber’s wife, Jennifer L. Karas, does biopharm work related to virology. She might be swept up next in this new covert hot war with China.

    Reading through the indictment I saw that the charge was 18 U.S. Code section 1001 for lying to DoD investigators. Kind of startling. To put it simply, in 2009 Lieber did not list on his SF-86 form (application for a security clearance) the extent of his China contacts, activities, and financial compensation. Nb: the form doesn’t provide space for such elaboration so the applicant will divulge all this at the interview. The interview is mechanical and the investigators will just perfunctorily ask a laundry list of irrelevant questions. Lieber made the mistake of simply answering what was asked rather than providing all kinds of unsolicited information, even minute details, regarding all of personal, professional, financial, etc., relationships with China.

    Then again, I’m not sure it would’ve mattered. Lieber was targeted by Deep State to be used to send a message. Sucks for him. Given the charge and details, it’s clear they had their man first and then found the crime after much digging. To get details and documents of a 2009 investigation is not any easy task.