Quick hits (part II)

1) Terrific twitter thread from Noah Smith on the coming Higher Ed apocalypse.  I’d like to think his dire predictions are wrong, but every one of them strikes me as supported and well-reasoned.  I’ve argued that we have too many over-priced, mediocre liberal arts colleges, but I sure don’t want to see a ton of them go belly-up at once.

2) This is fabulous, “We could stop the pandemic by July 4 if the government took these steps”

There is already a bipartisan plan to achieve this; we helped write it. The plan relies on frequent testing followed by tracing the contacts of people who test positive (and their contacts) until no new positive cases are found. It also encourages voluntary isolation, at home or in hotel rooms, to prevent further disease spread. Isolated patients would receive a federal stipend, like jurors, to discourage them from returning to workplaces too soon.

But our plan also recognizes that rural towns in Montana should not necessarily have to shut down the way New York City has. To pull off this balancing act, the country should be divided into red, yellow and greenzones. The goal is to be a green zone, where fewer than one resident per 36,000 is infected. Here, large gatherings are allowed, and masks aren’t required for those who don’t interact with the elderly or other vulnerable populations. Green zones require a minimum of one test per day for every 10,000 people and a five-person contact tracing team for every 100,000 people. (These are the levels currently maintained in South Korea, which has suppressed covid-19.) Two weeks ago, a modest 1,900 tests a day could have kept 19 million Americans safely in green zones. Today, there are no green zones in the United States.

Most Americans — about 298 million — live in yellow zones, where disease prevalence is between .002 percent and 1 percent. But even in yellow zones, the economy could safely reopen with aggressive testing and tracing, coupled with safety measures including mandatory masks. In South Korea, during the peak of its outbreak, it took 25 tests to detect one positive case, and the case fatality rate was 1 percent. Following this model, yellow zones would require 2,500 tests for every daily death. To contain spread, yellow zones also would ramp up contact tracing until a team is available for every new daily coronavirus case. After one tracer conducts an interview, the team would spend 12 hours identifying all those at risk. Speed matters, because the virus spreads quickly; three days is useless for tracing. (Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., are all yellow zones.)

A disease prevalence greater than 1 percent defines red zones. Today, 30 million Americans live in such hot spots — which include Detroit, New Jersey, New Orleans and New York City. In addition to the yellow-zone interventions, these places require stay-at-home orders. But by strictly following guidelines for testing and tracing, red zones could turn yellow within four weeks, moving steadfastly from lockdown to liberty.

Getting to green nationwide is possible by the end of the summer, but it requires ramping up testing radically. The United States now administers more than 300,000 tests a day, but according to our guidelines, 5 million a day are needed (for two to three months). It’s an achievable goal. Researchers estimate that the current system has a latent capacity to produce 2 million tests a day, and a surge in federal funding would spur companies to increase capacity. The key is to do it now, before manageable yellow zones deteriorate to economically ruinous red zones.

3) “Obamagate” is, more than anything, an abomination in the functioning of the modern media.  It needs to stop.  Aaron Blake, “Trump’s playbook on ‘Obamagate’ is extremely — and dubiously — familiar”

4) This is soooo pathetic and depressing, “Masks and Emasculation: Why Some Men Refuse to Take Safety Precautions: They think it makes them look weak, and avoiding that is evidently more important to them than demonstrating responsible behavior”

5) And more good stuff on social norms and masks.  Love the explicit smoking analogy, which I have made:

Similarly, the first wave of evidence about the harms of smoking focused on damage to the smokers themselves and had no effect on smoking in public spaces. People thought individuals had “the right to harm themselves,” says psychologist Jay Van Bavel of New York University. “It really started to change once we realized the consequences of secondhand smoke. Do you have a right to damage kids at school, your colleagues at work or the staff at a restaurant?” So far 28 states and Washington, D.C., have said the answer is no and passed comprehensive smoke-free-air laws.

“Social norms can change rapidly,” says social psychologist Catherine Sanderson of Amherst College, “and it doesn’t take everybody.” In an online experiment conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, subjects engaged in social coordination to assign names to an object. The tipping point for achieving enough critical mass to initiate social change proved to be just 25 percent of participants. “They become the social influencers, the trendsetters,” Sanderson says. “You get this sweep.”

Leadership is critical, however, which is why behavioral scientists were so alarmed by the recent examples of Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump refusing to wear masks during public appearances. “They are the primary people who are setting norms, especially when it’s on television or in the news,” Van Bavel says. Those politicians are flouting the advice of their own public health officials. In early April the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially recommended “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” It did not help, however, that the new recommendation conflicted with earlier statements from officials suggesting that masks were ineffective or should be left for medical professionals, who needed them more…

Barriers remain. The politicization of masks in the U.S. might mean that some areas of the country will never adopt them entirely. And endemic racism has led some young black men to fear that they will be mistaken for criminals if they wear masks in stores.

Once masks become the norm in most places, however, donning them will not seem odd or alarming, says psychologist Alexander Todorov of Princeton University, who studies facial expression. “People compensate. When they meet on the street, there is more gesticulation. People engage in strategies to make sure that they’re being understood.”

I don’t think we’re going to get there, though.  At least not without real leadership from all sectors of society, and right now we’re getting none.

6) Also, on the topic of the media utterly failing us– the horribly disproportionate coverage of the protests:

In the last few weeks, protests against state lockdowns and social distancing measures have seized national headlines. The wall-to-wall coverage might give the impression that what we’re seeing is a powerful grassroots movement in the making.

But research we just conducted on protest attendance and media coverage shows something different: This massive media coverage has in fact been out of proportion.

A comprehensive look at the social distancing protests reveals that they have been small in terms of both the number of participants and locations. As one official in the administration of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) tweeted about a protest in Annapolis on April 20, “There were more media inquiries about this than there were participants.”

Our count confirms this impression. As of May 3, we counted 245 protests throughout April and early May against social distancing and related restrictions. In contrast, notable recent uprisings numbered in the hundreds of protests throughout the country in a single day, including Lights for Liberty against the detention of immigrants on July 12, 2019 (699), the climate strikes of September 20, 2019 (1184), pro-impeachment rallies on December 17, 2019 (599), and the fourth Women’s March on January 18 of this year (267).

The social distancing protests have also drawn modest crowds, with between 35,000 and 47,000 total attendees reported across all events combined through May 3. In comparison, a single protest against the governor in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, brought out upward of 250,000 on July 21, 2019. Hundreds of thousands turned out for PRIDE marches in June 2019 and the September 2019 climate strike. The Lights for Liberty protests exceeded 100,000, and December’s pro-impeachment rallies exceeded 75,000.

These numbers are backed up by recent polling that shows widespread national support for lockdowns to prevent the continued spread of the coronavirus.

Yet anti-Trump protests with far more attendees in a single day than all of April and early May’s #ReOpen events (as they have been called) passed with far less attention in the national press.

My take?  Working the refs worked.  Cover these protests and prove that you are not really the “liberal” media.

7) This is good, from bestselling author Richard North Patterson “The Pandemic and the GOP’s Science Problem: The party’s uneasy relationship with science goes back decades.”

“It’s hard to know,” writes Max Boot, “exactly when the Republican Party assumed the mantle of the ‘stupid party.’” But one might look to the 1970s as the gateway to a politically calculated dismissal of scientific knowledge.

Having allied with evangelicals over social issues, the GOP’s political class found it expedient to honor fundamentalists’ most fundamental premise: creationism. Evangelicals flocked—and the GOP became an anti-evolutionary haven. As recently as last year, Gallup found that 55 percent of self-identified Republicans—as compared to 40 percent of the general population—agree with the statement “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”

Conservative media vilified evolutionary science. “Everybody that believes in Darwinism is corrupt,” pronounced Rush Limbaugh in 2010. “Liberals love anything that allows them to say there’s no God.”

It’s no longer just the party’s base that professes disbelief in evolution. In 2011, presidential candidate Jon Huntsman tweeted: “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” Within the GOP, it was. By 2016, eleven of the serious GOP presidential aspirants were on the record as refusing to opine on evolution or rejecting it outright. A twelfth—Jeb Bush—said it shouldn’t be taught in public schools. (Interestingly, Donald Trump seems not to have been asked about his beliefs on evolution—or, at the least, not to have given a coherent answer.)

This progression fed a widening attack on knowledge rooted in what GOP strategist Stuart Stevens labels his party’s “toxic fantasies”: “Government is bad. Establishment experts are overrated or just plain wrong. Science is suspect.”

One additive, the anti-vaccination movement, combined a distrust of science, an adamant libertarianism disdainful of public health, and an insistence on parental rights often rooted in fundamentalism. From Kentucky to Oregon to California, anti-vaxxers like Michele Bachmann became an ardent minority within the party.

The World Health Organization lists opposition to vaccines among the top ten threats to global health. But here’s Trump in a presidential debate: “Just the other day . . . a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.”

Creationism and anti-vaccinationism did not, in themselves, transform federal policy. But disdain for science, once unleashed, spreads its political contagions.

8) Good stuff on reopening:

As circumstances have evolved, so has my thinking. We have survived the surge in hospitalized cases and suffered immense economic trauma. The full lockdown made sense weeks ago. But the situation is changing, and more data on the virus are now available to inform our next steps. The choice before us isn’t to fully lock down or to totally reopen. Many argue as though those are the only options.

As a physician, I firmly believe that the primary goal of our reopening strategy should be to maximize the number of lives saved. But virus mitigation can take many forms, ranging from effective to excessive. Extreme forms of mitigation can have diminishing returns. Projections of the death toll produced by the current economic shutdown are often politically motivated, but the effects on human life are real…

So what does a new, safer status quo look like? It looks different in different parts of the country. Not all reopenings are created equal. Areas with continuing outbreaks or rising cases should postpone nonessential activity, and those with a declining case trend should engage in some basic practices.

We need universal masking. China gives the earliest preview of a reopened society after a harsh wave of the virus. And while the Chinese Communist Party has not been honest about its coronavirus handling, Chinese doctors and citizens have largely been transparent. I recently called some prominent Chinese doctors to ask why they believe the infection is being controlled in most of their country. In their clinical judgment, they believe the main reason is universal masking.

Spend more time outside. Since April, we’ve learned a lot about indoor versus outdoor transmission of the coronavirus. Early on, we closed parks and told people to stay inside their homes. But studies have since shown that being outdoors with appropriate distancing carries a lower risk of getting the infection than being indoors. These findings have implications for restaurants and other businesses and activities that are able to use outdoor areas. Yoga and other fitness activities should resume outside when possible. Similarly, instead of having someone to your home for a meal, consider having a meal in your yard or at a park, six feet apart…
We must prioritize safeguarding nursing homes. Throughout April, several studies using antibody testing found that asymptomatic infections are 10 to 20 times more common than previously observed, lowering the true case fatality rate. The data also taught us that young, healthy Americans have a fatality rate similar to that of the seasonal flu. Deaths among those young and healthy are rare. (In fact, community immunity from seasonal viruses is often achieved through younger people developing antibodies.) About one-third of all Covid-19 deaths in America occurred among nursing home residents. In New Jersey, half of all deaths have been among long-term-care residents or workers. Nursing homes are often short-staffed and the last in line when it comes to getting needed resources…
Protect those at high risk. The data show that those with pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, lung disease or a weakened immune system are among the most vulnerable. Based on the degree of their risk and the prevalence of the virus in the region, we should advise these high-risk individuals, particularly the elderly, to avoid interactions with others until the risk of contagion is extremely low. This approach aligns with the White House’s return-to-work road map that shelters high-risk individuals until Phase 3, even as many businesses are reopened.

9) This was a nice piece on trying to take a look at giving thoughtful, serious, risk assessment to various activities from hanging in the backyard with friends to letting your kids bike with a friend.  We need more of this.  But we need more of this that acknowledges to kids biking outside is very low risk, not intermediate risk.  And that doesn’t assume the 10 people who came to your backyard are all hanging out with a different 10 people during the week.  I actually learned from my son that my wife disapproves of me talking to a neighbor, outside, usually 8-10 feet apart, 2-3 times a week because he is still working every day.  As you know, I’m obsessed with the science of transmission and will definitely take my chances with outdoor conversations at a good distance.

10) If you saw anything about the new Title IX regulations there’s a good chance it was the hyperbolic overly-liberal version where Betsy DeVos just allowed rape on campus.  Not so.  Harvard Law professor Jeanne Suk Gersen has been better on this issue than anybody and she takes a solid, thorough look at the new regulations:

It was unclear, however, precisely what aspects of the regulations were so extreme and alarming. Uncharacteristically for the Trump Administration, the Education Department, in crafting the regulations, engaged with a large range of public comments and concerns—from schools, advocates for survivors, and advocates of due process—and the regulations reflect that engagement. They are not exactly as I would wish, but they clarify the rights of both victims and the accused in a way that is likely to lead to improvements in basic fairness. The suggestion that even the most controversial provisions of the regulations allow rape with impunity speaks to a disturbingly large gap between reality and rhetoric on the topic—one that is particularly important to address, so students do not get the false sense that they should not bother to report assaults…

More than any specific commands, the government’s threat to withdraw federal funding from schools that did not comply with its Title IX guidance caused schools to attempt to please the government, by devising new practices, policies, and procedures that aimed to make it easier for victims to report assaults and to prevail in campus complaints. Soon, some advocates of fair process, among them law professors at Harvard (myself included), the University of Pennsylvania, and Cornell, raised concerns that the pressure to protect victims had led to an overcorrection: accused students were facing expulsion or suspension without fair procedures to defend against disciplinary charges. In many cases, accused students were not being given the complaint or identities of witnesses, and not being shown the evidence or the investigative report. Since 2011, hundreds of accused students have sued their schools for using unfair disciplinary procedures, and have won court judgments or received settlements. Courts have held that, just as it is sex discrimination under Title IX for schools to treat female victims of sexual assault unfairly, it can also be sex discrimination under Title IX to treat males accused of sexual misconduct unfairly…

The new regulations free schools to do some things that previously were prohibited or understood to be disfavored. The Obama Administration clearly stated its belief that compliance with Title IX required the use of the preponderance standard for sexual-harassment cases, because any higher standard would, by design, tilt toward the accused. The new regulations allow schools to choose between the preponderance standard or the higher “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which would demand heavier proof to find that the accused is responsible. But, because schools are not required to shift away from their current use of the preponderance standard, it will be surprising if many do. Prior guidance had discouraged schools from using informal resolution, such as mediation, for sexual-assault allegations, but the new regulations allow schools to offer the option, as long as the accused is not an employee, both parties voluntarily agree to it, and the process is led by a trained facilitator. There is a legitimate worry that schools could pressure victims into informal processes, which cost less than formal ones. But many victims who might not report sexual misconduct, owing to a reluctance to unleash a lengthy investigation or a harsh penalty, may be more willing to seek the school’s help because of the availability of an informal option. And many accused students, who might fight the acceptance of responsibility in an adversarial or punitive framework, may be more willing to give a desired apology and make amends.

11) Good stuff from Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Conspiracy Theorists Are Winning: America is losing its grip on Enlightenment values and reality itself.”

12) Sean Trende with some good points, “The Costly Failure to Update Sky-Is-Falling Predictions”

We could go on – after being panned for refusing to issue a stay-at-home order, South Dakota indeed suffered an outbreak (once again, in its meatpacking plants), but deaths there have consistently averaged less than three per day, to little fanfare – but the point is made.  Some “feeding frenzies” have panned out, but many have failed to do so; rather than acknowledging this failure, the press typically moves on.

This is an unwelcome development, for a few reasons. First, not everyone follows this pandemic closely, and so a failure to follow up on how feeding frenzies end up means that many people likely don’t update their views as often as they should. You’d probably be forgiven if you suspected hundreds of cases and deaths followed the Wisconsin election.

Second, we obviously need to get policy right here, and to be sure, reporting bad news is important for producing informed public opinion. But reporting good news is equally as important. Third, there are dangers to forecasting with incredible certitude, especially with a virus that was detected less than six months ago. There really is a lot we still don’t know, and people should be reminded of this. Finally, among people who do remember things like this, a failure to acknowledge errors foments cynicism and further distrust of experts. The damage done to this trust is dangerous, for at this time we desperately need quality expert opinions and news reporting that we can rely upon.

13) Finally have gotten around to watching HBO’s Succession.  Four episodes in and I really, really like it (and thanks to JCD who pushed this harder than anybody).  I especially love the theme song.  Apparently, the composer is really pretty amazing.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

2 Responses to Quick hits (part II)

  1. Jim Danielson says:

    12) The costly failure to update ‘the sky is falling…’
    I believe there is a similar problem with the often black and white reporting of covid-19 cases and deaths, similar to reporting on shootings. We read about shootings and it’s almost always X number shot, N number died. They rarely talk about those people who are maimed for life, people who’s lives are destroyed but didn’t have the grace to die.

    How many who get covid-19 wind up with serious chronic health issues? How many wind up with crippling debt? How many manage to just shrug it off and carry on? I’d really like to know.

  2. itchy says:

    4) Right, because nothing says “strong man” like refusing to wear a mask because it might make you look weak.

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