General ravings, Potshots

Scientific Rigor Mortis

“Never try to walk across a river just because published data informs you that it has an average depth of four feet.”

—Martin Friedman

I have just gone through this learned study titled “Three New Estimates of India’s All-Cause Excess Mortality during theCOVID-19 Pandemic” by USA-based Abhishek Anand, Justin Sandefur, and Arvind Subramanian. (It is a free download at Centre for Global Development: https://www.cgdev.org/publication/three-new-estimates-indias-all-cause-excess-mortality-during-covid-19-pandemic )

I extend my fervent thanks to the authors for this entertaining study. I do believe it is hilarious enough to make a coronavirus cackle in delight.

I say this in all seriousness and sobriety, and with all my authority as a science scholar of international disrepute from the prestigious North Eastern Hill University, who has plumbed unique and unparalleled depths of non-achievement in the most obscure and abstruse disciplines.

The Introduction to the study begins with a most earnest declaration: “We want to emphasize that we are not estimating Covid-caused deaths as CPHS has no information on cause of death. Rather, we focus on all-cause mortality, and estimate excess mortality from the onset of the pandemic relative to a pre-pandemic baseline, adjusting for seasonality.” [emphasis mine]

Alas, the study proceeds to do exactly what it declares it does not aim to do. It estimates Covid-caused deaths in India.

In fact, it concludes that while India’s official Covid death count as of end-June 2021 was 400,000, the actual death toll ( ‘excess deaths’) in India are between 3.4 million and 4.9 million.

To put it plainly, the study concludes that India is hiding dead bodies. Millions of dead bodies.

How does the study arrive at this conclusion?

Well…

For its first estimate, the study blithely extrapolates death data from just seven Indian states to the whole of India to estimate under-counted deaths or what it calls ‘excess deaths’.  In other words, the study decides that the averages of death data from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh must be applied to the whole of India— comprising 28 states and 8 Union Territories—to figure the actual ‘excess deaths’ in India. And it arrives at the estimate of 3.4 million excess deaths.

For the second estimate, the study applies “international estimates of age-specific infection fatality rates (IFR)” to India.  To translate this gobbledygook into English:  the study assumes that because the infection fatality rate (IFR) is incredibly high in USA, EU countries and so on, then that incredibly high fatality rate must be the norm that India must obey too. And so, it blithely extrapolates IFR from USA, EU and other high-Covid-fatality nations to India to estimate around 4 million excess deaths.

For the third estimate, the study analyses data from the Consumer Pyramid Household Survey (CPHS). With admirable candour, the study admits that “There is reason for caution when relying on the CPHS for mortality estimates though. While CPHS has become a critical source of timely information on labour market and consumption trends, especially in the absence of timely and reliable official data, its representativeness has recently been questioned.” But that admission has not prevented the authors from relying on CPHS data to accuse India of hiding an  estimated 4.9 million excess deaths.

 In a nutshell – a very old and shriveled peanut shell – this study rests on the three very shaky pillars of incoherence, irrelevancy, and plain immaturity , reinforced with a strong foundation of meaninglessness.  

The kindest thing I can say about this study is that what it lacks in scientific rigor, it more than compensates with deep-set rigor mortis.

In passing: I wonder why the learned authors did not apply their IFR-based logic to the People’s Republic of China where the Covid-19 virus was actually born (or created), and whose Covid-related data is rather questionable to put it mildly? 

Especially when China, with a population of 1401,000,000 (give or take a few million Uighurs and Tibetans), officially reports a mere 4636 deaths out of a minuscule 92,364 cases – thus finding itself placed at 103rd  position in the Worldometer’s country list —below countries such as Montenegro at position 100 (pop. 628,150; total cases 100,755; deaths 1623) and Cyprus at position 102 (pop. 1,216,583; total cases 93,247; deaths 391)?

I place below a simple table, with an accompanying graphic, that I hope will inspire Abhishek Anand, Justin Sandefur, and Arvind Subramanian to take a long and very hard look at China’s Covid-19 data and assess the People’s Republic’s ‘excess deaths’ with the rigorous rigor mortis they’ve applied to India.  Please note that I have renamed the ‘serial number’ column as ‘Rank of Shame’ to mirror the spirit of this Olympics season and the spirit of Abhisekh et al.’s study: ((all data from Worldometer as on 22 July 2021, 1000 hours IST) :

Rank of ShameCountryTotal casesTotal deathsPopulation
1USA35,146,476625,808333,045,503
2India31,256,839419,0211,394,272,063
3Brazil19,474,489545,690214,149,270
..and many many countries later…   
100Montenegro100,8021624628,150
102Cyprus94,2613941,216,607
103China92,41446361,439,323,776
Spot the Odd Man Out?

In conclusion, I am grateful to the authors of this study for underlining two extraordinary and enduring Laws of Credibility that are adopted instinctively by vast swathes of Indian academia and Indian media.

Law 1. Scholars, especially Indian-born scholars, are far more capable of discerning ‘facts’ and analysing ‘data’ on India when they are sitting 11,000 kilometers away from India, than if they based themselves in India and did hard data gathering and field work in India.

Law 2. The credibility and worth of any academic research focused on India is directly proportional to the distance of the researchers from India; and the credibility and worth of the research increases exponentially if the researchers are located in a generally Westward direction from India.

Jai Hind. Hail Comrade Xi.

General ravings

Of a Chinese Egg Poacher & Big Brother

Bala is mad.  He has gifted me an Egg Poacher.

Don’t get me wrong.  Bala’s gifts have always been wonderful and welcome— if extremely original and unusual at times— during the 64 years we’ve voyaged together round the Sun on this planet-sized spaceship.  Bala’s my friend and brother, elder to me by two-and-a-half years.  From as far back as I can remember, Bala’s regarded me as a special uniquely challenged  child who needs kindness, patient mentoring, discreet supervision and occasional interventions.

Hence, his thoughtful gifts, aimed at improving the quality of my life.

I hope to provide more details on Bala and life in my forthcoming book ‘The Brothers Cannabinol’ (any resemblance in the title to a certain book by one Fyodor Dostoevsky is completely intentional), whose synopsis is even now fermenting in cerebral vats before it is distilled, refined and sent for summary rejection by leading international publishing houses.

“No!” I yelled, when Bala called to tell me of the Egg Poacher’s impending arrival via Jeff Bezos’ gargantuan river of merchandise. “I don’t want an Egg Poacher. I don’t need an Egg Poacher. I don’t even like poached eggs.  I prefer omelets or boiled eggs…”

“Exactly,” he interrupted cheerfully. “This Egg Poacher boils eggs too… and does much more besides. In fact, poultry farmers from Guangzhou to Guwahati report  that their hens are clucking in joy and laying twice as many eggs when shown Instagram photos of this fine device. You’ll love it!”

The Egg Poacher arrived two days ago. Clearly, it has been manufactured in the People’s Republic of China; for, extreme care has been taken not to provide trivial and useless information such as the manufacturers’ name and address, date and place of manufacture, and so on. However, it conforms to the Chinese Executive Standard GB-4706 and its ‘Operating Instruction’ leaflet contains a ‘Circuit Schematic’ – both of which are a complete mystery to me (photos below).

Staring at the box, it strikes me that the name ‘Egg Poacher’ translates to Anda Chor (egg thief) in Hindi if you interpret it in a certain way. ..and Anda Chor is such an appropriate name for a Chinese device, at a time when the People’s Liberation Army of People’s Republic of China is trying to poach great chunks of Indian territory from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh…  

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I really like Chinese-made products, as I have since schooldays in Shillong in the late 1960s when we walked down to the sidewalk vendors in Police Bazaar and stared longingly at sleek-bodied, sharp-nibbed, exquisitely-smooth Chinese-made Wing Sung fountain pens which, at nine rupees each, were way beyond our lean resources. The only affordable option most of us had then was to buy the desi Sulekha pens, which were as fat-barrelled as Congressmen, leaked like the Defence Ministry,  and had broad and scratchy nibs that dropped off at the slightest excuse like a flasher’s dhoti or delegates at the UN General Assembly.  

But I digress. Behold: the Chinese Egg Poacher!


And now that I have studied the box and its contents thoroughly and conducted a trial run of the Egg Poacher, I must admit that Bala was right: I love it! Not only because it boils eggs most beautifully; but because its box and its leaflet of instructions have dispelled four months of coronavirus-induced gloom in less time than it takes to … well… boil an egg.  I’ll allow the photos to speak for themselves.  

Inspiring quote (perhaps it is Comrade Xi Jingpeng’s?). It is repeated 11 times on the box and in the instruction leaflet.
Have fan in the DIY…particularly the Egg Custard
Alexipharmic nipples?!
I’ll fill in my warranty card as soon as I know who cares about it
Steaming the eggs
Fan DIY breakfast

Afterthought: Maybe Alexa would know what alexipharmic nipples are? Will someone ask? The term seems to have faded from public mammary…er…memory…

Musings, Remembering

Shrugging away our Atlas

The other day I was looking at a world map. A ‘Mercator Map’, which is the nice rectangular map all of us are familiar with and which is still used in our school atlases to teach Geography.

Mercator Map
Mercator Map [Source: http://www.thetruesize.com]
Of course, we all know (though I for one rarely remember) that the Mercator map presents a cockeyed picture of the world’s continents and countries, because it shows a 3-dimensional spheroid Earth as a flat surface.  In depicting the world as a flat rectangle with the Equator cutting across its midriff, the Mercator Map utterly deforms the comparative sizes and shapes of all the continents (and therefore, all countries). The further you move away from the Equator, the more the Mercator Map exaggerates the sizes of countries;   that’s why China and India look much smaller than they actually are compared to, say, USA; that’s why Greenland looks bigger than the entire continent of Africa!

There’s a wonderful free-to-access site, www.thetruesize.com,  that lets you shift around countries on the Mercator Map and figure out the actual size of a country compared to other countries/continents. Do visit the site: it’s fun, and also a real eye-opener!  Here are a few screenshots showing  how big India actually is compared to Europe and Greenland, and how big Brazil is compared to India [all images captured from http://www.thetruesize.com]

India - true size

India and Europe

Greenland - true size

Greenland and India

True size - Brazil

Brazil and India

Some say the European colonizers used the Mercator Map to boost the apparent sizes of their own countries and thereby belittle (literally!) their African and Asian colonies.  That’s a matter of perception: but I don’t think we can really fault the man who created the Mercator Map in 1569 – geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator of Flanders (Belgium) – because his sole and very honourable aim was to make a map that would help voyagers from Europe navigate the oceans more easily.

Besides, as an Indian I personally believe we Indians are masters at belittling ourselves at the drop of a hat – or more accurately, at the slightest hint of ‘Western’ disapproval –  and that we should cure ourselves of this low self-esteem rather than pretend that it is some kind of genetic disease impregnated in our Bharatiya DNA by Thomas B Macaulay.

Anyway, while playing around with the Map and reflecting on how easy it is for me –  perhaps for all of us – to be misled by warped imagery and memory, by ignorance and illusion, by prejudice and propaganda, I remembered an article I’d written for the Indian Express over 15 years ago – written in deep angst because the media at that time seemed focused on whipping itself, and indeed the entire population of India, into a frenzy of self-flagellation following the hideous Gujarat violence of 2002.

Here’s the article: reading it again, I get the feeling nothing much has changed….good or bad.

What do you think? I’d love to know…

THE GOOD SHIP INDIA

Indian Express: Nov 27, 2003

[http://archive.indianexpress.com/oldStory/36064/]

At times of internal strife one sometimes wonders: will India ever be united? Open the atlas and look at Europe. Start at Ireland, and trace a path eastwards across the Irish Sea to England, and onwards across the Dover Straits through Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Poland. Turn southwards and wander through the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary; wheel west into Austria, and again south to explore Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia and Greece. Skim across the Adriatic Sea to travel through Italy, cross the Alps into Switzerland, cut eastwards to sweep across France, and then veer southwards over the Pyrenees into Spain, and finally, Portugal.

A long journey across a vast terrain, to be sure. Yet all those lands we traversed would together fit into the territory of India with room to spare. What’s more, India comprises people who differ from each other in far many more ways than the peoples of Europe: in race, religion, language, culture. To the wonderment of the world, the good ship India hangs together! Battered she is by violent storms of communalism and sectarianism, tossed to and fro by the conflicting pulls of her bewilderingly diverse populace, yet India sails on, her billion passengers united by a Vision.

A Vision, of a land in which all are equal and enjoy equal rights.

The Constitution of India, which we gave ourselves on 26 November 1949, describes this Vision in great detail. It crystallizes the most sublime ideas of millennia. It tells of a just and humane land, where we may dwell and think and speak and follow our chosen beliefs and faiths freely and without fear. The Constitution alone binds us together. It expresses our shared vision, and contains the blueprint for the ship that will help us realize that vision, the ship we have named the Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic of India.

The unity we seek is alive in the Constitution; in times of strife, internal and external, we must reaffirm our faith in this great Book. Amends must be made for past wrongs; walls of prejudice that have hardened over centuries must be dismantled not by force but with understanding. There will be upheavals and unrest; hurdles posed by the corrupt, the jealous and the slothful, by those who interpret freedom as mere licence. But as long as the Constitution and its vision are alive in our minds and our hearts, India shall prevail.

And her 5000 year-old voyage will continue.