Here’s the problem with making huge public policy decisions based on statistical models:
The global burden of HIV has been overstated, with new surveillance data showing the number of people carrying the AIDS-causing virus is about 6.3 million lower than was estimated last year.
Improved tracking indicates for the first time that the world turned the corner on the three-decade epidemic in the late 1990s, when new infections peaked at more than 3 million a year, according to a report today by UNAIDS, which coordinates global AIDS relief efforts through the United Nations. There are 2.5 million new infections annually now, the report found.
The United Nations on Monday radically lowered years of estimates of the number of people worldwide infected by the AIDS virus, revealing that the growth of the AIDS pandemic is waning for the first time since HIV was discovered 26 years ago.
The revised figures, which were the result of much more sophisticated sampling techniques, indicate that the number of new infections peaked in 1998 and the number of deaths peaked in 2005.
The new analysis shows that the total number of people living with HIV has been gradually increasing, but at a slower rate than in the past.
Hints of those trends were present in the older estimates, but at much greater numbers.
UNAIDS estimated in a report to be issued today that about 2.5 million people will be infected with the AIDS virus, called HIV, this year — a 40% drop from the 2006 estimate.
It looks as if the global AIDS pandemic may not be spiraling out of control after all. Instead, the devastation is stabilizing at an unacceptably high level.
The United Nationsâ€™ AIDS-fighting agency and the World Health Organization ate a lot of crow this week for previously overestimating the number of people infected with the virus. As a result of improved methodologies, better surveillance and new understanding of the dynamics of the epidemic, they sharply reduced their estimate – to 33.2 million worldwide from 39.5 million. They now peg the number of new infections per year at 2.5 million, much lower than past estimates.
A few epidemiologists have long charged that the United Nations numbers were wrong, and possibly designed to generate more contributions to battle the disease. We see no sign of any conspiracy. And make no mistake, even with the revised estimates, the AIDS epidemic remains one of the worldâ€™s greatest scourges, requiring a strong campaign to bring it under control.
So when we’re making critical decisions about managing the energy economy, let’s be a little bit humble about the strength of the models we use, OK?
My issues with the ‘global-warming-trumps-all-policy’ mantra are three:
* I’m not 100% on board on the anthropogenic factors as the major driver of global warming – given the presence of warming on, for instance, Mars;
* The impacts of the actions drastic enough to avert the kind of warming impacts we’re talking about are ill-thought-out and likely to be as bad – or worse – than the impacts of any plausible warming, given the very real uncertainty in the models and methodologies being used;
* I have an innate discomfort when people who hold certain core values – say the perils and problems of industrial civilization – suddenly discover yet another reason why it needs to be curtailed and argue that this one claim trumps everything.
Having said all that, I flatly support lots of policies – from wind farms off Cape Cod to raising CAFE standards, treating small trucks as cars for CAFE and safety purposes, and a petroleum tax to incent people to change their minds about decisions that have negative and few positive impacts.