Thursday 9 October 2014

Ebola IQ test


Given a viral disease which is transmitted by contact with the contaminated bodily fluids of infected dying and dead people such that each case can lead to 2 new cases, and for which there is no known cure, though rehydration and basic nursing improve outcomes somewhat, which of the following is the best strategy to save the most lives?

In each case, chose either A or B.


A) Encourage infectious dying patients to be brought by relatives to treatment centres where they cannot be treated, thus infecting the people who cannot treat them and the people who brought them in. Bury the corpses. Try to trace the families and contacts of the dead person by going to visit them, and ask them to come to the treatment centres. If they do come, try to treat them, and bury the corpses.

B) Encourage possible cases to stay at home, and provide their families with palliative treatment and disinfectant packs. Maintain guard over the house. Incinerate the corpses. Quarantine families, and repeat the process, including incineration of bodies and incinerating the contaminated house and belongings.


A) When you find corpses in the street, get a team to lift them into a truck, gather all the corpses you find and then carry them all to a burial ground.

B) When you find a corpse in the street, incinerate it on the spot.


A) Guarantee any Western helper that they will be flown back to their home country for treatment.

B) Guarantee any Western helper that they will be treated in local facilities.


A) Let travellers from West Africa come to the West and if they turn out to have Ebola, treat them, trace their Western contacts and treat those contacts.

B) Ban air travel from West Africa, or make travellers go through a three week quarantine.


A) When African boat people approach Italy, get the Italian Navy to take them to Italy.

B) When African boat people approach Italy, get the Italian Navy to take them back to Africa.

Scoring system: The higher the number of A scores you achieve, the higher the probability that you are an expert. The higher the number of B scores you achieve, the higher the probability that you are an ignorant, fear-mongering, panic-stricken, trouble-maker.


  1. With question 1, I worry B wouldn't work so well, people don't want to be quarantined, in their homes with a sick person, even a family member, so they don't report and the virus spread further. On the other hand option A people don't want to go to the treatment center because most people come back dead. However I expect after a few rounds of some people coming back alive having decent nursing care, perhaps that can be overcome. Neither solution works particularly well, and thinking one has a great advantage over the other doesn't take into account human response to incentives.

  2. Problem is, decent nursing care in Dallas and Madrid does not seem to be a reliable route to getting better. No doubt these are hard choices, but we may all have to do some things we don't want to do so as to reduce risks for everyone.

  3. Great. I have done a quick Spanish translation:

  4. Would an expert prepare the population for compliance with policy A on Q1 do so by staging a well-publicised pantomime in which a nurse is sent to an infected area, "contracts the disease", is then evacuated "under quarantine" and finally "cured' by treatment in a London hospital?

    The nudge unit in action, perhaps.

  5. Dear James Psychol,

    Are you being ironic, politically correct, or just plain stupid?

    Given that Ebola would appear to be the modern equivalent of the Black Plague of earlier centuries: i.e., an incurable, virulent, and fatal disease, it would appear on first face that the most effective treatment would be quarantine of travellers, isolation of the infected, and sterilization of the infected remains. I am prepared to hear a better alternative set of treatments, but at present, the idea of permitting people freely to enter from infected to non-infected airports, to overload inadequately prepared medical facilities (including those in the U.S. and Europe), and to engage in any other behavior than keeping people from infecting more people, would appear to be the height of folly, lunacy, and stupidity.

  6. Keep reading the blog, and you will work it out