How should we count now?

The situation is messy. The cases of COVID rise. Accordingly, the governmental structures try to adapt, and there is a great debate how we ought to act best. This reminds me of a thought experiment by Derek Parfit with the morbid name of “the harmless torturers”.

Imagine the following scenario first: in the bad old days, a 1000 torturers turned a switch on some machine a 1000 times, giving an electric shock (or something similar) to their own victim each time, thereby affecting 1000 people badly. Each turning of the switch leads to an imperceptible pain, but the sum of all turnings over time leads to really severe pain. These torturers obviously act wrong.
Now consider that “The harmless torturers” is a slight modification. One by one, all torturers push a button which switches all thousand machines at once. All victims receive the ‘mild’ shock simultaneously by the same torturer. However, after all 1000 torturers have pushed the button, the result for the victims is the same. Yet, none of the torturers imposed any severe pain on any of the victims on his own. It was the collective action that caused the harm, not the individual person.

Derek Parfit used this example to illustrate that classical ethics fail to judge the harmless torturers, as we all agree that they act clearly wrong in both cases. This has always been a good example to me about sustainability, as it illustrates the shortcoming of utilitarianism, to give one example. Even acts that seem imperceptible can have consequences, for better or worse. I think this comes in handy when considering the Corona crisis. We tend to search for rules on how the virus is transmitted, and patterns clearly exist. There are high chances to get infected under certain risky behaviour, and low chances under other behaviour. However, the chances are certainly not zero under many of these behaviour rules. Take meeting outside. Chances based on current evidence to get infected by someone who is contagious are nineteen times lower than in a closed room. However, chances are not zero. Even if the negative effects of our individual actions are only negative on an almost imperceptible scale, they can still have consequences, and may even matter more in the long run.
At this point it should be noted that this is a very one-sided view of the world, since obviously and alarmingly, many people are mentally affected by the crisis though loneliness, anxiety and other effects. All this may matter even more, at least to some. The reason why I raise Derek‘s example here is not because I do not perceive the problems of others. Their challenges of others matter a lot to me. But I also have to highlight that although I would love to meet other people, I do not perceive a problem in not meeting others. This makes me in no way better or worse than anyone, or if so I ignore this here. Yet it enables me to make a simple contribution, and that is to create less – even imperceptibly less risks – as a contribution to society. Other people may need to meet other people for all sorts of reasons. Some people are essential workers. Others may need to meet people because they would feel bad being alone. In order to support these groups of people, I decide to minimise my risk for others, even if imperceptibly so. Derek clearly points out that every contribution may count, even if we cannot count or measure the contribution.
Do not misunderstand me, I would love nothing more but to met other people in person. But the fact that I am not doing this does not make me feel bad. I miss learning from others, I can clearly state that. I meet people once or twice a week outside, at least for now. I am however glad to have learned from Derek how to count right, because this may count right now, even if my contribution is imperceptible.

We are now as strong as our weakest

Corona is coming back. It is not like a distant set of numbers, a pattern that can be observed, an empathy that can be extended. Who would have thought that the good old “Winter is coming” would get so close to our reality now? In my surrounding, cases are slowly rising. People feel uncomfortable. We are like the frogs in a pot, the temperature slowly rising, feeling uneasy, but not knowing what to do. Where do we draw the line? How much is too much? To be fair, Germany is in a much better situation than many other countries. The inequalities between countries were never more clearly illustrated. The German medical system, including the response system, is keeping explosive rises in cases at bay – for now. We are much luckier than many of our neighbours. This does not make any country better than any other country, after all, Germans are privileged way beyond our medical system. Still, cases are on the rise, and in my surrounding, I had to witness only this week that some people do not face the responsibility that we all share now. It would be easy to judge these people. Why would they not be more careful? Why this selfish behaviour?

I think such a line of thinking is clearly wrong. We can be disappointed, yes. And we can realise that people could have acted differently. However, I came to the conclusion that in this pandemic, we are only as strong as our weakest link. If one person decides to bend or even ignore the rules, we all may pay the prize. I am impressed by the creativity that people have in rationalising their behaviour. However, if people act wrong -and there is a wrong in this pandemic-then this is our joined mistake. If we failed to explain this situation to everybody, then we have to pay the prize. It is our united burden that we will have to endure, pointing fingers will not lead to lower case numbers or less people dying. In other words, our joined suffering is only as large as our will to explain the situation to the selfish and ignorant. Only if we literally leave no one behind will we manage to solve this problem now. A vaccine may help us in a few months, but until then there is no way but to help everybody understand. Corona is like the ultimate learning catalyst. Only a path out of ignorance is a path towards right action.

I invite everybody with whom these lines resonate to join the cause and help to educate others. Only if we all try to convince our friends and family that this pandemic is happening, but there are ways out of this misery, will we be united. Until then, the actions of the few will temper with the success of the many. Never before did so few owe so much to so many. Most people are careful and try to do the right thing. Corona is almost like a mirror of our society, reflecting and magnifying the mistakes made by few. Do not let them down, because that would mean that we all ultimately loose. To me, the right for education was never better illustrated, because only people that understand what is right can act right. Every action counts, and that means that every person we can persuade to act right counts so much more. I kindly ask you to stand together and help us all to convince everybody of the severity of the situation. Thank you so much.

I act as if could have the virus

We now live in a different reality, and we are all very aware of this. The Corona pandemic has brought many changes and challenges to our society, and many wonder right now how we should guide our daily actions. I recognize the current level of information as confusing, and getting clear legal guidelines what is allowed, and what is not is next to impossible to me. All the while, the media is going into a frenzy due to rising numbers, which definetly is a reason for concern. However, there are also more and more stories emerging that highlight information about vaccines, treatments and all sorts of other details about the virus. Many people are tired of the situation, and I observe some behavior that I would consider to be careless. However, I perceive it as a great privilege that we can openly discuss the situation and find our own ways of what we consider the best course of action. I thus tried to take a step back and better understand the current situation. With numbers reaching levels from the early stages of the lockdown, I wanted to reevaluate the situation, and derive a code that guides my actions and behaviour. 

First of all, what is definitely different is that the caseload may be rising, but is better tamed. The ratio of positive to negative tests is lower than ever, with barely 1 % testing positive. This is a good thing, as it allows us to maintain spreads potentially better. In addition, the medical community gained experience in treatments, and the 17 Millionen people (and counting) people using the app in Germany certainly help. We are in a better situation than in spring, and if more people would use the app, it would be even better. It is now difficult to estimate if we can keep the high testing rate up, but testing and tracking will be the main tools on a higher level to contribute to diminishing the spread of the pandemic. Whether penalties are a helpful tool is a different story, on which I will not decide here. 

The general rules of how we ought to act did not change, I think. We should keep our distance, avoid larger meetings, wash our hands, wear masks, protect risk groups, strengthen our immune system through sport (and Vitamin D, maybe), and get a flu shot to prevent two diseases increasing at the same time. Very early in the pandemic, somebody suggested that we should all act as if we have the virus, and do not want others to get infected by us. To me, this is still the best suggestion I have heard so far. If we would all act this way, then the whole thing would be over rather soon. More importantly, through this behaviour we would do justice concerning our responsibility towards others, and would act as responsible citizens. I think we can go outside, meet other people at a distance, work in the office if we want to, and so on. It is important for many reasons that we try to return to a world that was once such a different normal. But all that always with the assumption that we may have the disease, and take the necessary steps to prevent an infection of others. To me, this is still the main baseline, because as soon as we begin to compromise and rationalize small risks, we simply increase the odds to get infected, and to subsequently infect others. I am in the privileged position to be able and minimize my interaction with other to virtually no interaction at all. For some people this is not possible, but I see my responsibility in acting as if I have the virus, and do not want to infect other. I think another privilege I have is that I can discuss this with my surrounding. The fact that we have certain rules in our country, but that we can also discuss how we act is a great freedom, and one of the greatest privileges in this pandemic. 

Collaboration of academic hierarchies

By Max Kretschmer, Julius Rathgens and Henrik von Wehrden

Academia is a deeply hierarchical system, which often includes intransparent power structures and an incredibly long hatch period from -say- bachelor student to professor. This is a world in need of change. While discussing the collaboration gap between bachelor students and higher academics (e.g. Post-Docs and Professors) we pondered about how these changes can be brought about. Within this article, we propose two simple metrics that should help everyone in academia in spite of their academic level to explore their capabilities. These two measurements – when combined- have the possibility to enable a more balanced and transparent world of academia, with clearer expectations for everyone. These two measures are (1) depth of work and (2) experience. Let us start with experience.
We propose that experience is a better measure of the capabilities of a person to contribute as compared to level of hierarchy (e.g. bachelor, master, PhD). In academia, hierarchy and experience are often correlated, yet many problems arise out of the fact that this is not always the case. Me -Henrik- frequently witnessed professors that equal their status with pronounced experience. I am impressed by the colleagues where this is the case, and I may say that at Leuphana university the match between hierarchy and experience is quite high. However, I can say for myself that I often initially fail to acknowledge that “lower level-persons” have more experience in particular areas than me. Learning this difference took me years, and helped me to empower people despite their formal level to teach higher ranks. Hence when discussing experience we need to decouple formal level from individual experience in specific fields or about certain problems. Especially when it comes to hard skills such as programming a bachelor may outcompete a professor, and that is because of the second point we want to raise: Depth of work.
While it is fair to say that through increased experience people tend to learn better how to focus on their work, a persistent work ethic can be a kickstart for an early career. The odds are however often against youth. Learning to concentrate on one task without major distractions can be a key trait in academia, and with more experience, many academics train this skill just as training a muscle. However, many young academics can be quite persistent, and within our team, the student assistants often stand out through their work ethic and investment into tackling a task.
However, in order to find the perfect ratio out of deep work and experience, a reflexive exchange and established communication protocols are essential. Expectation management is crucial when tackling large tasks, but when young academics exceed the expectations in their contribution, they may get onto the radar of someone higher in the hierarchy. In other words, diligence can be the key for gaining support from a teacher. To this end, a peer to peer environment may provide a jump board where through sufficient time to iterate and reflect, students may master their tasks that they present to those higher up in the hierarchy. Longer exchange will more often than not be on a peer level, which makes sense if such an exchange is rooted in diverse expertise. Today, a stronger emphasis is also on the self-development, where learning ways to increase the level of deep work is becoming a conscious part of the academic trajectory.
Taken together, the peer-to-peer collaboration throughout formal levels is essential to find the time to develop one’s own way in academia. The mentorship of a teacher can however be gained through deep work and expertise, hence the combination of the two may bridge academic hierarchies. This can enable that a mentor is ultimately learning something new, which any good teacher will greatly appreciate. While academia will for a long future still confuse hierarchy with competence, a trade-off between deep work and experience may be desirable for academia in general.
Our experiences of collaborative projects:
Henrik (professor): During my PhD I made my first review and looked at 8000 papers, which took me a while. When I became a professor some years later, I knew that this would from now on not be possible, and explored ways to pursue larger review projects as collaborative projects with students. This has taught me over the time not only how to tackle numerous reviews, but also to design dynamic learning settings. When at some point we included the student assistants into the weekly team meetings, a thriving atmosphere emerged. Not only got PhDs support, but I realized that students emerged as problem solvers for the whole team. I also experienced an integrational antidote that helped me to understand the perceptions of the students, and I am grateful for the patience and carefulness the team drives points across to me, and to each other. Getting hierarchy out of the way and relying on experience and commitment instead proved as the most vital step, as it not only increased productivity, but more importantly increased our learning curve.
Max (bachelors student): From a bachelor students’ perspective, peer to peer is very much about encouraging feedback on your work, as well as learning how more experienced colleges do certain things in a different and sometimes more suitable manner. It comes with challenging questions and an incentive to improve on the way you structure your days and weeks. You see how others focus and try to adopt. I am very grateful to be able to work in a team in which so little value is placed on hierarchies. What counts is your opinion and your willingness to work above average. If you are willing to learn and show commitment, you will not be a burden to your team. You learn to use your strengths for the team but you also recognize the limits of your competences and work on them. Being a student assistant since the first semester has not only brought me closer to scientific work, it has also put me in touch with people who have a similar perspective on how to solve certain problems. For me, that is pure motivation.
Julius (phd-student): My first experience of collaboration with actors from different hierarchical levels of academia was a collaborative research project between Leuphana and the University of Lund. I was at that point a masters student and had no prior publication experience but was working together with phd-students, post-docs and professors. After an initial phase, where I felt intimidated to say something, the working environment helped me to realize that I was a valuable asset for the research group and my contributions were heard and appreciated. It enabled me to have a better understanding of research practices and to realize that professors and post-docs might have more experience but are also just human and approachable. In hindsight I am very grateful for this opportunity and would wish to have more settings where a productive and solution-oriented exchange would happen in academia. I think the collaboration between different levels of hierarchy in academia is not an act of altruism from higher positions towards students (e.g. letting students glimpse into the “real” world) but also a direct benefit for professors and post-docs, to gain new insights outside their “box” and help them to reflect about their perceptions and world-views. Having a truly collaborative working environment is thus of mutual interest.

My favourite movies

People keep asking me about my favourite movies. Maybe now is the time to compile this list. What qualifies as my favourite movie is quite simple. I can watch these movies again and again and again.  Please find my list in alphabetical order.

Absolut Giganten
One of the best social studies I know, three friends in Hamburg, one night. Absolut gigantisch!

This movie set the mood for the 80s, and much of what we saw went wrong since then was almost predicted by this movie. Also, has the first female action star.

Amélie Poulain
A unique artistic perspective on the life of Amelie solving the greatest mystery there is.

Amores Perros
Best non-linear movie ever to me. Fantastic story-lines sadly connected. Great soundtrack!

Linguist works to understand time. Technically, is not a non-linear movie, but surely twisted. Wonderful!

Captain Fantastic
Best superheroes movie ever. Fantastic cast, fantastic flow. Happy Noam Chomsky day.

Das Leben der Anderen
The everyday life of an Stasi officer deep at work.

Eat Drink Man Woman
My favourite movie. This early masterpiece from Ang Lee highlights all the important things in life.

Forrest Gump
A masterpiece of simplicity and complexity at the same time.

„Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.“

The wonderful story of a Riviera baby on its path against destiny to the stars.

Brings me back to times of most active lucid dreaming, when dreams and reality become blurred.

Again Nolan presenting a broken family that tries to reconnect to each other. Epic soundtrack.

Jiro dreams of Sushi
One of the most well designed accidental work of art that ever occured.

Kirschblüten und Rote Bohnen
A splendid masterpiece about the complex history that connects us with our choices in the present.

Based on memories of the Dalai Lama, this is a parable on Buddhism itself.

Panic Room
I can understand why this is Jodie Fosters favourite movie. Claustrophobic, and the best final two scenes ever.

Rear Window
An adventure photographer home-bound. It is anachronistic. The worldview is outdated. That is what a classic is all about.

The Bridges of Madison County
An alternative path opens in the life of two strangers.

The Seven Samurai
The first transdisciplinary movie I ever saw, six experts, one knowledge broker, and a village of stakeholders. Joined problem framing, mutual learning. It is all there.

The Remains of the Day
In Japan, the tension between duty and emotions is seen as a great source for art, but the same can certainly be said about the late(est) Victorian age.

Shawshank Redemption
The path to freedom can be difficult, and this was never better narrated than by Red, the Irishman.

Sense and Sensibility
I am the Jane Austin fan in the family, I admire this world of hidden rules and great devotion.

Silent Running
I remember how this naive movie inspired me as a child, and gave me direction that will last a lifetime.

The Big Lebowski
Who would not like the The Dude?

The Fog of War
I think I can consider myself lucky to live in this time, as things were harder in the past.

The Third Man
Vienna after the war, and the question what one life is worth, and whether a friendship is all worth it.

Wind River
The hidden story on how the current grounds of first nations can be beyond jurisdiction.

Life on a University campus can be fantastic, and sometimes almost like a never ending story. Writers take decisions.

One thought on COVID 19

Today I was in a phone call with a friend from South Africa which opened my perspective on the impact of the crisis that we currently face. With rising numbers in Europe and more and more people dying it is a grim reality that we currently face. One drop in fatalities in Italy is enough to give a glimpse of hope but the rising percentages increase in many European countries reveal that we are far away from breaking the overall bad development. When thinking about the impact in South Africa and also in sub-Saharan Africa -which is of course very different in many aspects- I considered first the lower nutrition that the diet of many people has in South Africa. The overall health, resulting from low nutritional diet that is high in sugar and carbs, comes to mind. Of course it is also an issue of a different medical system. However, then it dawned on me that this year a disaster can be expected. It is known that a compromised immune system is a severe risk when it comes to this terrible disease. COVID 19 patients with compromised immune system have a much higher mortality. A large proportion of South Africans face such a risk as 19% of the people that are 15 to 49 years old are HIV-positive. Quite often the horrible HIV epidemic occurs in a deadly combination with cases of tuberculosis. Having a compromised immune system as well as a severe lung disease makes these people very prone to COVID 19.  While South Africa tried to restrict the currently known number of cases with strong measures, other African countries are likewise at risk. In fact, many countries of the Global South are currently showing low but increasing numbers, and it’s worrying that many countries already have mortalities, which might highlight a low detection rate of cases. The WHO has warned for a long time for the pandemic reaching these states. While in Europe we may have businesses going bankrupt or other economic problems, the vast majority will have food on the table. Many of the poor in the Global South never had toilet paper, so food production may be a real issue among many other severe problems.  While in a few months the situation in Europe might look different, and case numbers might have gone down, what will the Global South do?  Their healthcare systems are vastly different, and the luxury of a respirator is often rare. Due to the different and in quality and quantity lower nutrition the health of the people can often be lower, which is also combined with other infectious diseases and medical conditions. This may pose a third wave of infection, when – after China and then Europe – the global South will be devastated by this pandemic. A lot of people discuss the death rates right now, comparing numbers from China, Korea, Italy, Germany and so on, and we are vermouth focused on our problems at our doorstep or our neighbouring countries. While this is a tragedy for all people who are affected right now, how will the numbers look like in South Africa, Venezuela, Algeria, Indonesia, and Ecuador? How will their economies cope with the problem of a severe lockdown, and how will these societies endure such a devastating crisis?  The suffering and tragedy of Europe and the US right now is undeniable, but our wrongdoing now will not only affect us. We should never forget that this is a global crisis.

The next 1-2 weeks of the Covid crisis

I heard from many people that they have anxiety about the current development of the Covid crisis. Indeed, the situation makes me worried as well, since the cases in Europe and many other countries are steeply increasing. However, I think it is helpful to have some understanding of how the next few weeks are going to play out. At least to me it is helpful to know what is coming. Of course, I do not know all the details and complexity of the current crisis and its associated tragedies, but when it comes to the overall trend during the next few weeks, I feel I have a rather clear understanding of the timeline.

If you read the previous blog entries, then you know we are right now in the face of transition where case numbers in Germany and many European countries are not exploding as such, but instead continuously rising. I am writing this on 17 March and based on the current data it is fairly obvious that the numbers will continue to rise. This is as obvious as throwing a ball into the air and expecting that it will eventually fall downwards to the ground. Many people now believe that the curve of the ball will suddenly stop. The ball will stop flying mid air. This is not going to happen, I think. Instead the ball will continue to fly on its curve according to the laws of physics. In this case it is not the laws of physics that are at play in the Covid crisis, but the cruel statistical laws known in epidemiology. I want to highlight at this point again that I am no medical doctor but a statistician. However, in this capacity I can unfortunately assume that the current numbers may increase and within the next seven days may rise above 30,000 cases. Then it will start to show whether the necessary measures of our government will actually work. It is now our joint responsibility to tame this virus. However, the emotional burden that will be put upon us by the steeply and dramatically rising numbers will be serious. At this point data is too sparse to speculate on the number of people dying, but the data from China, Italy and South Korea clearly highlights that this grim trend will also happen in Germany.

As much as I trust the excellent health system of the German people and our medical experts these numbers of people dying may explode and will soon -that is within the next week- run well into three digits. As much as I would like to be wrong to this end, it is clear that the high number and increasing trend of people being infected will consequentially lead to the severe complications that often happen in the run of this disease after 1 to 2 weeks. We should be prepared to accept that the shadow of the infected people will soon follow and this may become even more severe in other countries.

In Italy it may soon show, maybe towards the end of the week, whether the drastic measures can diminish the trend, but the data from Wuhan clearly shows that cases still increase for weeks to come, and it would not help to discontinue the extreme social isolation that is the best hope that we have, and the best lesson we learned from the Chinese people. Be on the lookout for a decrease in percentage increase in cases in Italy, which you can look up on Wikipedia. Currently, the data from Italy also shows how severely the medical system became strained after the first week of March, as death rates increased dramatically. While this is of course partly expected due to the mentioned time lag that the disease takes to strike people down, an equally worrying trend can be seen in Spain. Here, measures were recently implemented and will take at least one or two weeks until there can be a positive effect, that is a smaller percentage increase. Meanwhile, cases will increase by  probably more than 10% from day to day and even more than 20% are unfortunately still possible. Likewise, trends that started a bit later can be expected for France as well, probably Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and many more countries. These may have been earlier detected, which can make a huge difference in total numbers.

Within Europe alone within the next week the total numbers of infected people would remain in the five digits number, and accordingly more than 3000 people may die next week alone. For Europe the measures of extreme isolation and the combination of genetic testing and CT scans would help to reduce the numbers to localised clusters in April or May, if all goes well. I am personally more worried about the situation in Iran and the United States. What unites these two countries at this stage is the lack of clarity when it comes to the data, and a higher probability of many cases being undetected. If the official numbers in Iran are correct, then at least the increase in cases is becoming less and less severe. In the United States this stage is unclear and the percentage increase is way more pronounced. I would not be able to judge whether this is an artefact and how many cases are undetected, but the trends of community spread are quite worrying.

At this point I want to mention that the new study came out in science ( that highlighted how the initial spread of this disease is often happening through hidden cases that show no or only mild symptoms. While this is problematic when it comes to the initial explosive spread of the disease, it clearly highlights that finger-pointing to Italy, Austria, Germany, or the United States is not helpful, as we have already known before. This disease sneaks its way into populations, and it has done so in the majority of countries affected right now. We must be careful now that it is getting restricted.

The next few weeks will be difficult, and we have two recognise that the increase in cases cannot be stopped at this point. It has already happened. For the next one or two weeks next to nothing can be done as the long incubation period of almost 1 week at an average will take its toll, and will be difficult to stop the butterfly effect from these people that do not know that they are already affected or may even only show mild symptoms. However, this is surely not the time for panic but instead of conscious and reflected measures. We need to remember that the numbers that I raised here must be seen in the context of the overall mortality of the population. About 800,000 people die in Germany every year – not through Covid, but for many other reasons- and despite all the tragedy and hardship, as a statistician it would be difficult to detect increase that we currently face. Epidemiologists raise the danger of the common flu that can claim tens of thousands of dying patients in extreme years. The mortality rate of the coronavirus makes it all the more severe and our actions now should help us to overcome this terrible disease in a few weeks or months. The increase of the next few weeks is predictable just as a ball that we throw up into the air follows the rising curve in the beginning, but it has to fall down to the ground in the end. I already mentioned that we cannot rely on gravity here, but the gravity of the situation is quite clear. As I have mentioned before our goal now must be to stay within the capacity of our medical system and to restrict any social interaction at all possible. Extreme jobs and spikes in data are to be expected and should not give reason for alarm. New clusters will be found, countries will shift from genetic testing to clinical diagnosis, and other factors will lead to jumps and spikes in the data. Overall, we are looking at a log linear pattern in the beginning, and the data from China clearly shows that the extreme measures can bring this crisis to an end.

Some guidelines for the Covid-crisis

We are effectively in lockdown, and this allows me to consider a new structure for my day. Structuring my day is now vital to me, as I would otherwise live like a smurf at home. The first thing was to establish a working desk in my own office. Hence the guest room now became my office. Before even thinking about structuring my day we needed to structure the day of our kids. We had them write their own plan, down to the hour, including playing, garden work, house work, school work, playing and Ipad. I was quite impressed how they managed, but maybe ask me again in 4 weeks. Since I am busy alternating between emergency meetings to explore the situation my day right now structures itself. However, from tomorrow onwards I will plan my day down to half hour slots and will try to establish a daily balance between work, sport, gardening and family time. I encourage everyone to do the same. Beside that, I think it is quite essential to be conscious in our actions, which is why I wrote down some general guidelines -not rules- that I implement within this time of crisis. Some are obvious, but still good to remember.

Wash your hands regularly, and every time you left the house. Sing „Happy birthday” twice while doing so.

When you talk to people in the street, keep a distance of at least 2 meters, better 4 meters. This measure also includes your friends.

Learn to stop touching things, and do not touch your face.

Meet no one except for the people you anyway live with. Extreme social isolation is the most important contribution right now.

Work from home, establishing new routines, keep busy. Structure your day very tightly. This is the time to establish new habits.

Continue to pay all people you paid before (e.g. your local coffee shop). Even if you do not use their services or products now, you will appreciate their service later.

Avoid the internet to rely on information about the virus. Stick to news outlets that rely on quality control. I currently prefer the BBC, German Tagesschau, South China Morning Post and all primary research on the virus.

Be conscious of your internet use. The bandwidth and servers will also be affected by the higher use, so we all need to minimize our own use it at all possible.

Convince the elderly and people that are part of the risk group to retreat from any social contact. Be very persistent. Help them by buying their groceries.

Get an emotional support network. We all need to be there for each other now.

If you are part of a risk group, follow rigorous isolations, ask friends to buy you food which they leave at your doorstep.

Get enough food that will last a 2-week isolation.

In case you get sick, call your doctor. Do not go to any medical facilities without a doctor’s consent. Follow the advice of medical experts.

Keep a diary with symptoms and preconditions and keep it with you at all times.

In case of being sick, contact the emergency service if your fever exceeds 40C, having severe trouble breathing or other symptoms that are listed among the medical advice available from professionals.

If you are sick, do not panic, as it is quite unlikely that you will be a severe case. Contact your friends and ask them to help you emotionally through this situation. Calm your parents, they will probably be very anxious.


My personal perspective on the Covid pandemic

A rising number of questions about the corona virus epidemic are currently reaching me. Therefore I have decided to show my perspective in this text. I have to give a full disclosure that I’m not a medical doctor nor expert on viruses or epidemics. However I am a statistician and sustainability scientist. As such, I am able to detect patterns and interpret data, and I’m interested in solutions and normative perceptions. There are other medical experts that are currently giving us their perspective, and I highly encourage you to rely on a diversity of information. The Internet is full of wrong information, and in these times it is very important to rely on information that at least tries to maintain on a high quality and long established standards. To me, this includes primary scientific literature, and the established press, including such media as the BBC the New York Times, the Washington Post, the South China Morning Post, German Tagesschau and other media that have a long-standing tradition of interpreting information. I consider also to be good to rely on the numbers on Wikipedia, which are more or less up to date despite some smaller quality issues, but the percentage increase is a vital number that you can find there.
It is also important to highlight that there is a difference in much of the way we see information in these days. Hence you have to pay attention on the wording of what I am going to write here. There is a difference between things that are known information that is published in medical studies, information that is estimated from previous data analysis and rough guess work that is necessary because of the great unclarity of the current situation. I will differentiate this blog entry based on the short term and the long term perspective; there is an in between perspective where you can still have rough estimates based on the current information which I will also highlight.
The coronavirus is now a global pandemic and this may preoccupy us for a long time. However, what this will mean in our day to day business we will have to explore individually. In my opinion, we have to be very careful now. Each and every single one of us should act, as a colleague mentioned, as if we have the virus. We should thus be in our actions as careful as possible, avoid all community contact, and basically bunker down at home or take solitary walks. I know that this is hard measure for many, and my kids are sitting next door being already being completely bored out, but this is a time of crisis.

Phase 1
The developments in China show us how with Draconian measures the Chinese government with the cooperation of the citizens has managed to dramatically reduce the numbers of the virus. This first drastic epidemic in China has many lessons to learn for us. I will try to explain the different phases that this type of infection typically takes in a larger population, based on the analysis of the current data at this point in time. This is an imperfect approach and has many ramifications, however I want to highlight that as a statistician I am very conservative. The first phase that you have in the spread of this virus within a population or country is quite chaotic. The medical experts may have not yet detected the majority of cases, due to the often long periods of up to 2 weeks of incubation in combination with the fact that many of the affected people show mild symptoms which makes the early detection of cases difficult. I will not go into the complex start of the crisis in Wuhan in China but despite all the discussions about the reaction of the Chinese government I can only extend my compassion to the citizens of the Wuhan region and the whole of China for enduring these drastic measures to contain the spread. We all owe them big time.
This phase 1 shows the first drastic growth of infection and is often characterized by a growth rate of around 50% from day-to-day. Many European countries were in the last few days in this space. Once the spread within a given population is better understood, and local clusters are identified, the increase in patients from day to day becomes often more tamed. Of course this relies on -as we now see- Draconian measures in many countries, but it helps to slowly drive down the increase in patients. This is an often very difficult phase as you are still looking at a basically dramatic growth pattern that  is very high, and where every day of in action may lead to twice as many cases for each two days. I will not go into the details here what proper reactions are, I can only highlight that I personally rely on extreme social isolation right now which means that my family is at home and we meet no one else.

Phase 2
If the growth is getting smaller over several days, and ideally the rate of increase in cases is linearly decreasing as we saw in Wuhan region, then this is a sign for optimism, and what I coin phase 2. The numbers can still rise by 10% of less in daily increase, which is probably due to smaller undetected case clusters or people breaking the general rule of extreme social isolation and other factors. This phase of reducing the numbers below 10% increase from day to day takes, judged from the available data, several weeks if not one month. Around this time, you would have ideally reached a point within the mortality rates that is not going to rise dramatically further. The problem with mortality in this virus is that if people are sick, they typically start dying one or two weeks after they showed symptoms. Since on average the people do not show symptoms after being infected for almost a week, it takes a long time -up to three weeks- until the real mortality rates are showing.
An appeal for care seems appropriate here, please remember that catching this virus is not a death sentence. Instead the mortality is higher as with the flu, but lower as with Ebola. There are other cases of viruses even more dramatic, and while the death rate through the common flu is still higher in total numbers right now, this may change if more people get infected with Covid. Current studies that are based on localised populations and often smaller samples show however, that younger people seem to be less affected, and we should be very careful regarding older people as well as people with medical conditions, such as asthma, high blood pressure, cardiovascular conditions, and so on.

Phase 3
Coming back to the different phases of the virus, there is a third phase that is probably reached after several weeks, when cases go dramatically down. It is admiring how the Chinese people were able to reach that milestone after basically two months of extreme measures, and the situation in China right now gives reason for hope. A similar situation could be achieved through extreme intense genetic testing, but one has to be aware that the technical capabilities that are available in South Korea are not available in other countries. South Korea has full-blown industry focusing on genetic analysis, and many genetic samples are sent to South Korea since decades for analysis. Hence their capabilities when it comes to the genetic testing and detection of the virus is probably unprecedented. It is at this point unclear whether genetic testing in technically advanced countries such as Germany will have enough long-term resources to allow for a detection of the virus at a scale that happened in South Korea. A better option for many countries might be CT scans. The Chinese response teams implemented an often highly efficient system in scanning many patients with this technology, which is available also in smaller hospitals and countries that are less capable regarding their medical system. Such CT scans allow with her relatively high confidence a detection of patients even if they only show mild symptoms that would otherwise be not detected. Hence this might be an alternative option although it is of course not at all as sensitive as the PCR tests that are currently pursued. Whether other and faster tests will become available should be hoped for, but it’s right now not clear. It is quite unclear how long phase 3 actually takes, but I would suggest that at some point social isolation may become less extreme, although this would not be recommendable. This is still not the time for intervention fatigue, instead we need to be clear that everybody is still distancing themselves for weeks until the disease is gone or at least localised. This is the short term perspective that the epidemic currently had in China and it might give us an idea of what is going to come in other countries in the next few weeks or months.

Short term trends
The numbers in Italy are most likely going to increase, and it is very unfortunate that the Italians missed the early cases which is -and this is very important- entirely not their fault. They were in a very unlucky situation, and now try to react appropriately. Similar increases are currently happening in many other European countries, including Germany and will most likely go on for at least a week. In a few days we may see whether the increase in infected people will go down, meaning that we have less percentage growth from day-to-day. This could be expected with some optimism; however, we will have to wait out the measures taken by the governments who are currently working on it. It is very unclear what is happening in the United States right now, as testing is certainly not extensive, and occasional anecdotical descriptions of community spread within several states are the reason for great concern. Likewise the numbers from other countries at this stage are very unclear, as they may not have detected the cases get, or their form of governance may prevent them from sharing the full extent of the natural disaster.

The long term perspective
It is very difficult to know anything long term at this point. There are suggestions that this virus will become a seasonal infection such as the common flu, which may be possible. However, I do not know whether the general population would be willing to endure a virus with a 0.9 mortality at best. And this brings me to another point, that is the rate between the mortality and the medical system within an affected population. The extensive testing from South Korea shows that there might be a mortality rate of 0.9%, which is quite optimistic. In comparison, the rates in China are much higher, while the rates in Germany right now are much lower. There is much speculation about these differences, yet from a simple log linear model this can be easily explained. Germany is at an early stage of the viral spread, and much may be undetected right now or is rather recent. Also, as I’ve already mentioned, people will start unfortunately dying in one or two weeks at a much more extensive scale. I hope I am wrong to this end, but unfortunately I think it is very likely that death rates in Germany will increase substantially. In Wuhan in comparison, the case is completely different. Here the medical system was widely overwhelmed by the virus, and the capacities of the medical facilitation’s were completely overwhelmed by the epidemic. That does not mean that the efforts of the medical personnel and the government were not extensive, they were in fact absolutely impressive! However, no medical system is able to cope with such a high rate of infections. Once the system is exceeded, the death rate is going to increase. This is simply rooted in the fact that 15% of the cases needs pronounced medical attention in hospitals, and about 5% are critical. Without oxygen and other respiratory aids, these people have a much higher chance to die. We have right now -according to official numbers- around 25,000 beds of for intensive care in Germany. If you imagine that 15 to 20% of cases or maybe even just 5%, may need the space, this would mean that we would face a situation where about 125,000 to 250,000  infected people, which would need  intensive care units for about two weeks. In an optimistic case this would mean that we would have about 6 million infected people within one year. Everything above this number would exceed the capacity of the hospital beds that we have for intensive care, and while there are different suggestions from experts I am worried how we would deal with exceeding the capacity of beds we have in hospitals. This does not include the consideration how this will play out in other countries, for instance the US, where medical attention is also not available to many people, let alone countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It is widely clear that such simple calculations make a rather complex development oversimplistic, but at this point I did not understand how we have enough beds for 58 Mio infected people within a year or two years.

Ending the curve
Flattening the curve would hence in Germany work if we consider this on 9-10 year timescale. I do not believe that it will take so long to obtain this disease, as a vaccination might become available, however I do not believe that any country would accept a mortality rate of 3 to 4% within their population. If 3 million people die in Germany because of this virus, this would be an issue. Current estimates in the US consider at least half a million dead people, and this would certainly lead to more severe reactions than we see right now. Hence I think that flattening the curve is not enough, we need to end this spread. This is now a question of global responsibility, and we have to try to get rid of that virus. We had other success cases such as in smallpox, which was a Herculean effort, but this is now the time where the behaviour of each and every single individual person is very important. We need to work together as humankind.
There are people that suggest that a warmer climate, or UV radiation may help us to take this virus, but this is totally unclear right now, and looking at the numbers from warmer countries I would not bet on it right now; although the data does currently not allow more than vague assumptions . I currently guess based on the regional and sparse data, that temperature will not affect this virus severely, but this is as I said guesswork. One recent study highlighted that temperature may play at least partly to our advantage, but this is widely unclear at this point. Maybe in one or two weeks this is more conclusive. Talking about Mutations at this point does not make sense, I am as I said no expert, I can interpret the data, but here an epidemiologist or virologist may know more, and they are pretty clear that it is pretty unclear.

How to go on?
Minimising the spread within the population, measures such as genetic testing and at a later place CT scans and a continuous and enforced extreme social isolation are the best instruments that we currently have, which is no easy step. Many people have anxieties to this, but this is not going to be the end of humankind. I repeat, world keeps turning. The chances for the individual being affected are very low, and we will come out of this on the other side. The question is now what is the price that we want to pay, and are we willing to make sacrifices and compromises in order to contain the spread of the virus. First and foremost, I think the main question guiding our life should be whether our actions now help to end the spread of the virus. We need to put everything else aside.


The invention of Eureka

Eureka originates in ancient Greece and is often attributed to Archimedes. Eureka translates as „I found it“, and is based on the anecdote that Archimedes found the Archimedes principle, while taking a bath. Then he happily ran through the street shouting „Eureka“. Personally, I can relate to the story insofar, as I get many good ideas while taking a shower. However, I feel that science, and especially modern science has marketed itself as being an accumulation of Eureka moments. Hollywood typically is marketing science in this sense, where Dr. Emmet Brown form back to the future is the Eureka stereotype scientist, and you can also find it in Interstellar (, among many other examples. Supposably, scientists are expected to have eureka moments, California even made it its state motto, highlighting its location on the global innovators landscape.
Being originated in Greece, Eureka is to me closely connected to the myth of the ancient Greek heroes. By focussing on the ego -the I- eureka frames us as being touched by Genius. Genius comes and goes, as Elisabeth Gilbert pointed out, hence feeling good about eureka means automatically that this feeling is going to diminish at some point. This is in my eyes one problematic relation to eureka, it creates a „High“ that can only be followed -relatively- by a „Low“. There is no doubt that we have sudden insights, but I would argue that these insights are embedded into a long process that encapsules our upbringing, our education, our mentors, our team, and the whole societal setting we are embedded in, to name just a few factors. Eureka is in this sense not only a personal moment, but a consequence of many different origins that are hard to track down. You can surely try to provide a setting that allows for some sort of excellence to flourish, and there are certainly some people closer to Genius than others. However when thinking that our eureka is part of a larger embedded network, it makes us less important, I think. I also think, that this is a good thing. The late Derek Parfit described his head as an office, where an idea would be handed in at the front desk, and from there would be handed back into the different departments. After often substantial time, the solution would be handed back to the front desk. This is quite often how I think my head works as well. I may designate consciously and based on my experience on certain problems, but ultimately the manifestation of the solution in my head is quite unpredictable. This brings me to the second problem I have with eureka: Expectation management.
Many emerging scientists, among them often students, assume that they are expected to have eureka moments. And they feel that these eureka moments are expected to feel a certain way. These moments ought to feel fantastic, and as long as you do not have them on a frequent basis, you are not a scientist. This leads to people proclaiming trivial insights as huge Eureka, and the lack of Eureka as a great disappointment. I feel by confusing scientific work with eureka moments, we created a problem. Of course, this confusion is related with larger currently dominating problems, such as the increase of the personal ego complex and the general questioning of science.
Overall, Eureka moments may happen to some people. In my experience Eureka happen for instance quite often, when somebody understands the idea of somebody else. Ideas are to me a bit like Helium balloons that fly about, and that you can grab. Practice may certainly help to evolve into being able to generate Eureka moments. But it takes years of practice to become a scientist, and this process is hence in itself hard to measure or understand. For the time being, Eureka pose and interesting epistemological problem. It is however important to highlight that Eureka may happen, but do not have to happen. I for myself have a fair amount of ideas over the day, some of which good, many of which bad. None is however that good to thrill me in the sense of the Eureka moment. This to me is the biggest and maybe final Eureka. My thoughts as well as my science may matter, but only in relation to others. Explaining my insights and seeing other people understand or confirm my ideas is I think the best Eureka moment. Other may be a mirror of understanding in this sense, and through their understanding I start to understand more as well, especially about my connection to others. Eureka!