The Importance of Prior Probabilities in Coronavirus Testing

Slovic, P. (2020). The importance of prior probabilities in coronavirus testing. Medium. https://medium.com/@pslovic/the-importance-of-prior-probabilities-in-coronavirus-testing-89977c92732d

7 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2020

See all articles by Paul Slovic

Paul Slovic

Decision Research; University of Oregon

William Burns

Decision Research

Richard John

University of Southern California

Date Written: May 19, 2020

Abstract

Diagnostic tests are looked to as an essential tool in the fight to contain the coronavirus and guide the reopening of economies. Much is said about problems with gaining access to these tests. Very little is said about their accuracy. These tests are assumed to be highly accurate. However, unless a test is perfect, accuracy can be greatly affected by the prevalence of infection in the population being tested, also known as the base-rate. Other contextual factors such as symptomatology and prior exposure also need to be taken into account along with base rates. One rarely hears anything about the importance of base rates because, unless one is schooled in their importance, they are not understood, not deemed relevant, and are thus neglected. Relying on diagnostic tests without verifying their accuracy and helping people interpret them will compound the crisis already underway and delay recovery.

Note: Funding: None to declare

Declaration of Interest: None to declare

Keywords: coronavirus, testing, Bayesian statistics, base rates

Suggested Citation

Slovic, Paul and Burns, William and John, Richard, The Importance of Prior Probabilities in Coronavirus Testing (May 19, 2020). Slovic, P. (2020). The importance of prior probabilities in coronavirus testing. Medium. https://medium.com/@pslovic/the-importance-of-prior-probabilities-in-coronavirus-testing-89977c92732d, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3639658

Paul Slovic (Contact Author)

Decision Research ( email )

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Eugene, OR 97401
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HOME PAGE: http://decisionresearch.org

University of Oregon ( email )

1280 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403
United States

William Burns

Decision Research ( email )

Eugene, OR
United States

Richard John

University of Southern California

2250 Alcazar Street
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

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