As we navigate through these uncertain times, it becomes apparent that our understanding and response to the situation could greatly benefit from improved data quality and analysis. The complexity of the current health situation calls for a time-tested tool from the industrial world: Statistical Process Control (SPC).

For over a century, SPC has been guiding engineers and industry leaders in decision-making, based on a simple principle:

All processes vary, and the variation must be analyzed using statistical methods.

Without the use of statistical methods and robust data, it’s challenging to discern whether the variation we observe is part of the process’s inherent behavior or due to unique events. To respond appropriately, what we need is an accurate estimate of the situation’s severity.

Consider the current viral situation:

  • How severe is it compared to other health crises?
  • How fatal and contagious is it?
  • Does it impact all age groups, races, and ethnic groups equally?
  • How does it affect individuals with different health conditions?
  • What is its geographic distribution, patterns and speed of spread?

To answer these questions, we can rely on statistical methods. However, these methods require representative random samples – something we currently lack.

To comprehensively understand a process, we need data representative of the process itself. In the case of the current viral situation, we need random samples from the entire world population. This effort could be undertaken by a trustworthy global health organization.

The approach could be as follows:

  • A team of public health experts, statisticians, and epidemiologists would devise a plan for collecting representative random samples from the global population.
  • Samples would be collected frequently, possibly on a weekly basis.
  • Sample data would be available in a public database, regularly audited and constantly scrutinized by the public to ensure absolute confidence in the data. Quality data is vital to producing reliable knowledge; without it, our understanding is compromised.
  • Ongoing statistical analyses would be conducted, with the results displayed on public dashboards. These analyses would answer the questions listed above.

The focus should be on understanding the baseline condition, that is, what things look like in normal times. Without this knowledge, we cannot fully understand a crisis. As we’ve seen with the current situation, an unclear understanding of the baseline can lead to significant impacts and collateral damage.

In sum, our response to such a complex situation should be informed by quality data, thoroughly analyzed using robust statistical methods. This approach will ensure we respond proportionately and effectively.

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