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To want to tear my hair out when people talk about the ‘R number’ increasing - IT DOESN’T MEAN WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS!

(155 Posts)
GinFling Sat 13-Jun-20 11:09:47

I am SO sick of everyone having a hot take on this virus - from friends and colleagues, and especially the media. Article after article about how the R value is increasing, nearly over 1, etc etc, and how this means we are heading for a second wave/disaster/the sky falling in. No, it is more complex and nuanced than that, and in fact it’s harder and harder to have a low R as the virus gets less prevalent. It is also hugely skewed by local outbreaks - such as in care homes and hospitals.

These two articles are quite helpful in understanding it:

I wish everyone would just STOP using R to pretend to know what they’re talking about. We’re not all statisticians or virologists, for good reason.

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BuzzShitbagBobbly Sat 13-Jun-20 11:10:33

You're sick of all hot takes, except your hot take, you mean?


Smelborp Sat 13-Jun-20 11:11:36

Exactly BuzzShitbagBobbly.

GinFling Sat 13-Jun-20 11:12:24

@BuzzShitbagBobbly I’m not pretending to know what’s going to happen, or spouting an unfounded opinion. I’m asking people to read and understand what’s actually happening!

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KrisAkabusi Sat 13-Jun-20 11:12:55

Actually, I'm a scientist and it does mean what I think it means.

ambereeree Sat 13-Jun-20 11:13:30

Since covid 19 we're all doctors and scientists. We are now all experts on diseases and viruses...and I include myself.

GreyishDays Sat 13-Jun-20 11:14:00

So what part of people’s understanding of it don’t you agree with?

OwlinaTree Sat 13-Jun-20 11:15:33

Isn't the r number to do with the number of people you infect? So if it's below 1 you are on average infecting less people so the rate goes down? If it's above 1 then the number of people infected is getting higher?

I wouldn't expect any one factor on it's own to be the deciding factor in decision making.

People can only comment on the things they know about though to be fair. We as a general public are only being told certain information, people are allowed to speculate based on this. I'm not offended by people expressing their opinions.

GinFling Sat 13-Jun-20 11:16:18

@GreyishDays the belief that an increasing R rate automatically means epidemic-level infections. It gets less useful as a predictor of infection rates as numbers fall - as they are doing.

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GinFling Sat 13-Jun-20 11:17:26

@OwlinaTree read the articles I linked - it’s more nuanced than this, and they explain it really well.

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Smelborp Sat 13-Jun-20 11:17:36

I’m a scientist. I do know what the R number is. Everyone I’ve spoken to also understands it correctly. What are the misunderstandings you’re experiencing?

GreyishDays Sat 13-Jun-20 11:17:48

Does anyone say that? I’ve only seen comments on lower being better, which is correct.

Sandybval Sat 13-Jun-20 11:18:06

So you've read a few articles and are more of an expert than other people who annoy you because they have just read a few articles. Cool.

OwlinaTree Sat 13-Jun-20 11:19:17

But what I've said is the basic idea? And it needs to be taken with other factors?

PanamaPattie Sat 13-Jun-20 11:19:30


GinFling Sat 13-Jun-20 11:19:45

@Sandybval no, I have a good understanding of it due to my job, but I felt those two articles explained it clearly and succinctly.

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GinFling Sat 13-Jun-20 11:21:54

@OwlinaTree sure, and that explanation holds until numbers start to fall - as they are doing. And then the R is a less reliable or useful reflection of infection rates.

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PatriciaHolm Sat 13-Jun-20 11:22:04

Realistically, you are railing against the govt and press coverage of it as if it's the only thing that matters. Nowhere, for example, that I've seen in the mainstream press as explained that the figures used are actually from multiple different sources, using multiple methodologies, and it's just one data point amongst many that needs to be taken into account. It's covered on the Govt stats pages, but I don't think they have ever discussed in in the briefings.

If the nuance isn't discussed by govt and the press keep screaming that "the R MIGHT be above 1!!!" You can't really blame most people for taking that at face value.

It does present an issue for govt going forward though as much less emphasis will be put on it (they said this week they are going to stop publishing regional R and look at rates of growth and level of infection instead). Cue lots of angst from the press about why it's being hidden, why are we reopening when R is still near 1 and the government are hiding it.

Beatingthisthing Sat 13-Jun-20 11:22:45

Agreed. The R number is meaningless unless you look at the prevalence of infections also.

Area A) baseline of 2 infections with 2 new infections - R rate of 1

Area B) baseline of 500 infections with 250 new infections - R rate of 0.5.

Area B obviously has the larger number of infections and larger potential risk to the community than area A but a lower R number.

Plus, the R number is being given for huge areas and is not necessarily reflective of community transmission or risk for most of that population. The R number for the SW being massively skewed by a singular outbreak within Weston General Hospital for instance.

Editress37 Sat 13-Jun-20 11:24:08

What is a hot take?

Boireannachlaidir Sat 13-Jun-20 11:24:55

Oh the irony!

Thank goodness you came along to put us all straight wink

OwlinaTree Sat 13-Jun-20 11:25:24

I've read that article, it does explain how stats can be deceiving. Hence the need to consider other info when decision making.

BikeRunSki Sat 13-Jun-20 11:27:16

Since covid 19 we're all doctors and scientists. We are now all experts on diseases and viruses...and I include myself.

Makes a change, over the winter we were all hydrologists and flood management experts.

DrManhattan Sat 13-Jun-20 11:28:21


SecretSpAD Sat 13-Jun-20 11:30:37

I am a doctor - a public health in fact and I'm fed up with shouting at the TV when they talk about the R value being 1 with such horror.....but not mentioning the prevalence!

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