Nassim Talem: An Ebola Overreaction Is Rational

An Ebola overreaction demonstrates accurate knowledge of mathematics.

ebola garb

The headline caught my eye from Business Insider: “Nassim Taleb: Here’s What People Don’t Understand About Ebola.”

Multiplication — that’s what people don’t understand about Ebola, according to Nassim Taleb, the author of “Fooled by Randomness” and “The Black Swan.”

Nassim Taleb knows math. He would have made a better Ebola Czar than the over-fertilized political potted-plant the President named to the post. Taleb knows as a matter of pure mathematics that Ebola must be kept from spreading, or it very quickly gets beyond the control of even our medical system.

The basic idea: The growth of Ebola infection is nonlinear, so the number of people catching it doubles every 20 days. Because of this, you have to act quickly at the source of infections, he says. “The closer you are to the source, the more effective you are at slowing it down … it is much more rational to prevent it now than later.”

The problem Taleb sees is that if there is not more urgent action in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea — to the point of restricting travel and other measures that may now seem like an overreaction — then there will be consequences here.

“If you have to overreact about something, this is the place to overreact,” he said.

If Ebola doesn’t get contained at the source now, he says, there is a risk that people start perceiving it as out of control, and that could have major economic consequences in the US […]

Look at the chaos caused with just one carrier, who passed it on to two more in the Dallas hospital, and led to quarantines and problems among countless people those three could have potentially infected.

Now imagine we had ten such patients. How about a hundred? It would cripple the nation, and throw the economy into the Abyss.

All non-essential travel out of the widely infected nations needs to be restricted for the sake of the world. Then, keep getting care into West Africa and stomp it out there.