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The Premonition

The Premonition A Pandemic Story Summary

The Premonition A Pandemic Story: For those who could read between the lines, the censored news out of China was terrifying. But the president insisted there was nothing to worry about.

Fortunately, we are still a nation of skeptics. Fortunately, there are those among us who study pandemics and are willing to look unflinchingly at worst-case scenarios. Michael Lewis’s taut and brilliant nonfiction thriller pits a band of medical visionaries against the wall of ignorance that was the official response of the Trump administration to the outbreak of COVID-19.

The characters you will meet on these pages are as fascinating as they are unexpected. A thirteen-year-old girl’s science project on transmission of an airborne pathogen develops into a very grown-up model of disease control. A local public-health officer uses her worm’s-eye view to see what the CDC misses and reveals great truths about American society.

A secret team of dissenting doctors, nicknamed the Wolverines, has everything necessary to fight the pandemic: brilliant backgrounds, world-class labs, prior experience with the pandemic scares of bird flu and swine flu…everything, that is, except official permission to implement their work.

Michael Lewis is not shy about calling these people heroes for their refusal to follow directives that they know to be based on misinformation and bad science. Even the internet, as crucial as it is to their exchange of ideas, poses a risk to them. They never know for sure who else might be listening in.

About the Author

Michael Lewis, the best-selling author of The Undoing Project, Liar's Poker, Flash Boys, Moneyball, The Blind Side, Home Game, and The Big Short, among other works, lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife, Tabitha Soren, and their three children.

The Premonition A Pandemic Story Introduction

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The Looking Glass

Laura Glass was thirteen years old and entering the eighth grade at Jefferson Middle School in Albuquerque, New Mexico when she looked over her father’s shoulder to see what he was working on. Bob Glass was a scientist at Sandia National Laboratories, created in the mid-1940s to figure out everything that needed to be figured out about nuclear weapons, apart from the creation of the plutonium and uranium inside them. It was Sandia’s engineers who’d calculated how to drop a hydrogen bomb from a plane without killing the pilot, for instance.

By the mid-1980s, when Bob Glass arrived, Sandia had a reputation as the place you went with a top-secret problem after everyone else in the netherworld of national security had failed to solve it. It attracted people who followed wherever their minds led them, at the expense of pretty much everything else. People like Bob Glass. When she peered over her father’s shoulder, Laura Glass didn’t always understand what she was looking at. But it was never dull.

What she saw on this day in 2003 was a screen filled with green dots moving around, at random, it seemed to her. Then she noticed that a few of the dots were not green but red—and when a red dot bumped into a green dot, the green dot turned red. It was what was called an “agent-based model,” her father explained. You can think of these dots as people. There are a whole bunch of people on the planet. One of them is you.

There are different types of people, with different types of schedules, and there are rules about how these people interact. I put together a kind of schedule for each person and then set them loose to see what happens . . . 

One of the things Bob Glass liked about this type of modeling was how easy it was to explain. Models were abstractions, but what this model was abstracting from was familiar: a single entity, which you could describe as a person, a piece of information, or any number of other things. As the green dots turned red, you could be watching gossip travel, a traffic jam, a riot started, or a species go extinct. “When you start talking about it this way, everyone can understand it immediately,” he said.

His model was a crude picture of the real world, but it allowed him to see things in the real world that might be obscured in a more detailed picture. It also enabled him to answer the complicated questions that now routinely found him, most of which had to do with preventing some national disaster. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York just then was using him to help figure out how failure in one corner of the U.S. financial system might ripple into others.

The Department of Energy wanted him to determine if a small glitch in the electric grid might trigger rolling blackouts across the country. Once you stopped talking about people and started talking about, say, money flows, the links between the little dots on the screen and the real world became harder for most people to follow. But not for him. “This is the crux of science,” he’d say with enthusiasm. “All science is modeling. In all science, you are abstracting from nature. The question is: is it a useful abstraction.” Useful, to Bob Glass, meant: Does it help solve a problem?

At that moment Laura Glass had her own problem: that year’s science fair. There was no question of skipping it. Science had always played a big part in her relationship with her dad; it was an unspoken Glass family rule that she and her two sisters would compete in the fair every year. And actually, Laura loved it. “The kind of science I was able to do with my dad was very different from the kind of science I did in school,” she said. “I always struggled with science in school.” With her dad, science was this tool for finding cool new questions to ask, and answer.

Exactly what questions didn’t matter: her father had any respect for the boundaries between subjects and thought of all sciences as one and the same. They’d created one project on probability and coin flipping, and another on the differences in photosynthesis from one plant species to the next. Each year was more competitive than the year before. “When you got to middle school,” recalled Laura, “you started to see the competition ramp up.”

As she watched her father’s computer screen, she thought, It’s almost like the red dots are infecting the green dots. In history class, she’d been reading about the Black Death. “I was fascinated by it,” she said. “I had no idea. It wiped out a third of Europe.” She asked her father: Could you use this model to study how a disease spreads? He hadn’t considered using his model to study disease. “I thought, Oh God, how am I going to help her with this?” he said.

His assistance was the only thing that neither father nor daughter questioned. Bob Glass was a “science dad,” in the way other fathers were “Little League dads.” He might not live through his daughters’ science projects in the way those fathers lived through their kids’ baseball games. On the other hand . . . 

Soon they were deep into a new science fair project. That first year, the model was crude. The disease was the Black Death, which in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2004 felt a bit silly. Laura’s village had ten thousand people in it, a fraction of the population of her school district. In what she called “Infect World,” people gave the plague to each other simply bypassing each other, which wasn’t realistic.

She was the one who had to stand beside her Styrofoam boards with their charts and graphs and answer questions from the science fair judges, so she was the most acutely aware of the limitations of her work. “The judges would always ask: How real is this situation? How can you take this and use it?,” she recalled. Still. She was the only kid at the fair who had done epidemiology. Her project qualified for the state championships. Afterward, she went back to her father and said: Let’s make it real.

To make it real, she needed a more plausible pathogen. “I told my dad, ‘It won’t be the Black Death. It’ll be something in the modern world. A flu-like thing.’ ” Whatever the pathogen was, she’d need to learn more about it, along with the society with which it would interact. “She came to me,” recalled Bob Glass, “and said, ‘Dad, it’s not so great that they just pass each other and they get sick. Dad, another thing, people don’t just walk around like this. They have social networks. I need to have social networks in here.’ ”

Through 2004, Bob watched as his now fourteen-year-old child designed a survey and administered it to hundreds and hundreds of people in her school district: workers, teachers, parents, grandparents, high school students, middle school students, preschool students. “At first it was going to my peers and asking them questions,” said Laura. “How often did they hug and kiss? How many people? How many different people did they sit next to?

How many minutes did they spend sitting next to them? Then I went from them to their parents.” She mapped their social networks and their movements, and then mapped the interactions among the different social networks. She counted up the number of people each person spent in close enough proximity with to infect them with an airborne pathogen.

She’d become passionate about a science project, and her father loved it. The deeper she went, the deeper he went. “I treated her like a grad student,” he said. “I’d say, Show me what you’ve done, and here are my questions.” In order for it to help her, his own computer model needed to improve in ways that were beyond even his powers. The most gifted computer programmer Bob Glass had ever met was a guy at Sandia National Labs, Walt Beyeler.

“Sandia’s a really weird place,” said Bob. “Los Alamos is full of people with pedigrees. Sandia hires the most brilliant people they could possibly find, and they don’t really care about pedigree.” Bob Glass was most people’s idea of a brilliant mind, but Walt was Bob’s idea of a brilliant mind. Asking him to help with a child’s science fair project felt a bit like pulling LeBron James in to play on your pickup basketball team. Walt was game.

The model needed to include realistic social interactions. It needed to account for incubation periods, during which people were infected but not infectious. It needed people without symptoms but capable of spreading disease. It needed people to be removed from the network after they died or became immune.

It needed to make assumptions about the social behavior of the ill, and about the likelihood of one person infecting another when the two came into contact. Father and daughter agreed that, given the nature of their own social interactions, children were twice as likely as adults to infect each other in any given social interaction. They also agreed to leave stuff out, for the sake of simplicity. “We didn’t have college students in it,” said Bob Glass. “There weren’t all of these single-night stands or whatever.”

Bob Glass was now seriously interested. To him, it felt less like a science project than an engineering one. Once you understand the way a disease moved through a community, you might find ways to slow it, and maybe even stop it. But how? He began to read whatever he could about the disease and the history of epidemics. He picked up The Great Influenza, a book by the historian John Barry about the 1918 flu pandemic. “My God, fifty million people died!” said Bob. “I had no idea. I started thinking, God, this is an important problem.”

Father and daughter were both now alert to the real world of disease. They perked up when they read the news, in the fall of 2004, that because a single vaccine-making factory in Liverpool, England, became contaminated, the United States had lost half of its supply of flu vaccine. There was not enough vaccine to go around. So: Who should get it? United States government policy at the time was to administer the vaccine to those most at risk of dying: old people. Laura thought that wasn’t right.

“She said, ‘It’s young people who have all these social interactions and are transmitting the disease,’ ” recalled her father. “ ‘What if you give it to them?’ ” They went to their model and gave the young people the vaccine, thereby eliminating the ability of young people to transmit the disease. Sure enough, the old people never got it. Bob Glass searched the literature for the infectious-disease specialist or epidemiologist who had already figured this out. “I can find only one paper that even suggested this,” he said.

In the end, Laura Glass, now a freshman at Albuquerque High School, would win the Grand Award at the New Mexico state science fair. She was on her way to internationals in Phoenix, with two thousand other kids from around the world. Her big white foam boards now focused tightly on a question. “Flu strains mutate all the time,” she’d written on them. “What would we do if we didn’t have the right vaccine in time?” For his part, Bob Glass had now read or at least skimmed everything ever written about epidemics, and how to stop them.

The disease in 1918 that had killed fifty million people had sprung from a handful of mutations in the virus inside some bird. By 2005, the seasonal flu had already achieved a few of these mutations. “We had a looming life-or-death problem of global proportions,” he wrote later. Yet all the experts basically assumed that in the first months after some killer mutation, little could be done to save lives, apart from isolating the ill and praying for a vaccine.

The model he’d built with his daughter showed that there was no difference between giving a person a vaccine and removing him or her from the social network: in each case, a person lost the ability to infect others. Yet all the expert talk was about how to speed the production and distribution of vaccines. No one seemed to be exploring the most efficient and least disruptive ways to remove people from social networks. “I had this sudden fear,” said Bob. “No one is going to realize what you could do.”

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Product details:

EditionInternational Edition
ISBN0393881555, 978-0393881554
Posted onMay 4, 2021
Page Count320 pages
AuthorMichael Lewis

The Premonition By Michael Lewis PDF Free Download - HUB PDF

The Premonition A Pandemic Story: For those who could read between the lines, the censored news out of China was terrifying. But the president insisted there was nothing to worry about.


Author: Michael Lewis

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