Scott Adams made a point in yesterday’s video that I’d like to share. You can watch the video here, but the point he made is simple enough to convey in a few words: Models (like the IHME model CDC is using to forecast the coronavirus in America) are NOT meant to be accurate, they are meant to useful — typically in a way to convince others to take some action or another.
Adams bases his observation on his corporate experience before becoming a cartoonist, but I can attest to the truth of it based on my own years of experience as a corporate proposal manager. Every proposal contains a financial plan of which the primary exhibit is a spreadsheet that forecasts every foreseeable cost and expense to the customer. The thing is, everyone who works on the financial plan knows that it will have almost no connection to reality. You could even say that it’s a lie, except that would be naive.
It is not a lie to illustrate your thinking as the offeror. In fact, the point of doing so is to convince the customer that you know how to deliver on the promises the customer cares about.
Nor is the proposal financial plan merely an intellectual exercise. Before any work on the model begins, the capture team — typically senior and executive management — specify a “price to win.” The financial plan shows how the program will operate at that price. Thus, if the customer likes your price, the financial plan gives them the incentive to award the program to you.
The entire point centers on that one word, incentive. It is the same with IHME’s modeling of the coronavirus. The model doesn’t tell you anything about reality. It isn’t meant to. Its purpose is to incentivise you to take the experts’ advice on the pandemic.
You can look at that cynically, if you want. You might suspect and resent that you are being manipulated, for example. But how naive would that be?
You don’t actually need the IHME model to understand coronavirus or any other pandemic. That information is widely available elsewhere. You only need the IHME model to understand the proposal being made to you.
All that said, one of my concerns is that the proposal to continue universal social distancing until there is no trace of Covid-19 in America is a bad one on its face.