Quick hits (part II)

1) Big fan of Noah Smith and big fan of Julia Galef (pretty sure I’ll read her new book) so I enjoyed the former interviewing the latter.  I also feel like I’m already pretty good at this Scout mindset thing.  I sure love knowing stuff and being right, but, generally, I take being wrong as an opportunity to learn new things:

N.S.: So I hear you have a new book! It’s called “The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t”. I’m going to read it, but why don’t you give me a preview of what it’s about!

J.G.: I do! It’s about, unsurprisingly, the scout mindset — which is my term for the motivation to see things as they are, not as you wish they were. In other words, trying to be intellectually honest, objective, and curious about what’s actually true.

The central metaphor in the book is that we are often in soldier mindset, my term for the motivation to defend your own beliefs against arguments and evidence that might threaten them. Scout mindset is an alternative way of thinking. A scout’s goal is not to attack or defend, but to go out and form an accurate map of what’s really there.

So in the book, I discuss why soldier mindset is so often our default and make the case for why we’d be better off shifting towards the scout instead. And I share some tips for how to do that, which I illustrate with lots of real examples of people demonstrating scout mindset, in science, politics, sports, entrepreneurship, activism, and lots of everyday contexts as well…

N.S.: Yeah. It strikes me that what you’re describing here is really a scientific method. It’s not quite the same as the classic version we learn in grade school, which is really suited to the natural sciences and to lab experiments. Instead, what you’re describing is the new scientific method that we’re working out for dealing with empirical sciences — things like economics and sociology where you can’t necessarily put things in a lab and discover universal laws of nature. As empirical research has come to dominate many disciplines, we’re discovering all new ways to fool ourselves — p-hackingspecification search, overfitting, and so on. The analytical tools you’re describing are some of the methods we’re developing to guard against that.

But what’s even more interesting to me is that you’re proposing we take these same methods and use them in our own lives, outside of science. Which is not to say that we should treat our lives like research, but rather that many of the same analytical approaches that help us avoid research mistakes can also help us avoid mistakes in our lives. Would you say that’s an accurate characterization?

And if that’s accurate, could you give my readers a little preview? What are one or two life situations where the mental tools of the Scout Mindset lead to better decision-making?

J.G.: Yeah, that’s an apt comparison. The reckoning that’s been happening in the empirical sciences in the last 10-15 years is really about how to make the process of science more scout-like, even if individual scientists — who are, after all, human beings — will always be part soldier.

The one thing I’d change in your otherwise-excellent description is that “analytical approaches” aren’t that central to what I’m proposing in the book. In our everyday lives, I see more promise in solutions that focus on increasing self-awareness, or changing how you feel about being wrong. Or changing the community you’re embedded in, so that you’re surrounded by people who value scout mindset more than soldier mindset.

I’ll give a couple examples. In my section on self-awareness, I describe some thought experiments that can help you look at an issue with clearer eyes. One is the conformity test: When you find yourself agreeing with someone else’s opinion (or with a group consensus), imagine that they told you, “Actually, I don’t believe that after all. I was just playing devil’s advocate.” Would your own opinion shift too? Or would you still hold the opinion independently of them?

I also talk a lot about ways to make yourself more open to considering inconvenient truths. For example, when I’m in an argument and I start to suspect I might be wrong, it’s very tempting to dismiss that thought and instead reach for ways to defend myself. I find it easier to resist that urge when I remind myself of some “silver lining” of being wrong. For example, sometimes I remind myself, “If I concede this point, that gives me more credibility in general, because I’ve shown that I’m willing to concede points. So it’s like I’m investing in my future ability to be convincing.” That doesn’t make the prospect of being wrong *appealing*, per se, but it does make it tolerable enough that I’m willing to face it.  

2) Loved this from Yglesias yesterday:

Johnson & Johnson and the Experts

On Wednesday morning, the U.S. government announced a “pause” in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine based on six cases of serious blood clots detected out of seven million doses allocated. The math on that does not make sense on its face, and lots of people said so immediately, only to be shouted down by a new round of complaints about “amateur epidemiologists” and “men with charts.”

If you delve into it in a little more detail, the regulators are not making the crazy decision of banning a life-saving vaccine based on a one-in-a-million chance of developing a serious blood clot. Instead, the issue seems to be that the risks are more severe for younger women. Again, I don’t think it makes any sense to bar a 57-year-old man from taking an effective vaccine against a deadly illness on the grounds that it causes serious blood clots in younger women. But all day Wednesday we did the “experts vs. Nate Silver” discourse. Then on Thursday, the Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health says he agrees there’s no reason for a blanket ban.

I find it frustrating that this same dialogue goes round and round so often.

But my view is always that if you catch me going to war with trained scientists about the actual subject of their scientific expertise, then by all means give me hell. But the question of whether the “abundance of caution” framework makes sense is fundamentally not a scientific question at all.

A couple of months ago there was widespread concern in the public health community that the slightly lower efficacy rating of the J&J shot would lead to people deliberately trying to avoid it in favor of an mRNA shot. There was lots of propagandizing against vaccine shopping. Did we really need to leap all the way from “it is forbidden to express a preference for an mRNA shot” to “it is forbidden to take a J&J shot?” Does the CDC employ experts in the value of human freedom? The whole issue here is not medical science, but rather bioethicists having some peculiar ideas about when consent matters and how to do cost-benefit analysis.

3) I follow a ton of epidemiologists on twitter.  Zoe McLaren is one I stopped following (I forget why– one too many things that just seem off and I drop you from my crowded feed).  Nonetheless, as part of a “scout mindset” I tried to give her a fair reading here, but I think she’s wrong:

But what critics are missing is that making the difficult decision to pause Johnson & Johnson vaccination while evaluating safety concerns may, counter-intuitively, help the US defeat Covid-19. This incident should inspire confidence in Americans that the FDA takes all safety concerns, no matter how rare or unlikely, seriously. Increased trust in the system would enable the FDA to be a more effective regulatory body and help get the pandemic under control—even if it comes at the expense of confidence in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. What’s more, any potential fallout from the pause can be mitigated in several ways that will also have positive ripple effects in fighting the pandemic and improving public health overall.

It’s important to remember the FDA’s broader purpose. The agency is entrusted with regulating medical, cosmetic, and food products, the use or consumption of which, for the most part, cannot be undone. If the FDA has to reverse an authorization or approval, the fallout could be large—both in terms of the FDA’s reputation and the impact on American consumers. In order to feel confident enough to get vaccinated in the first place, most people would need to be quite sure that the authorization or approval decision wouldn’t be reversed in the future. Even the occasional reversal could make people much more skittish about getting vaccinated at all. It therefore makes sense for the FDA to act in an abundance of caution and take measures, even seemingly extreme ones such as delaying a decision, to avoid having to do that. In light of these considerations, the FDA decision to pause Johnson & Johnson while it conducts a review of the data is justifiable.

An effective FDA relies heavily on trust, which is hard to regain if it’s lost. Few Americans have the time or expertise to evaluate the scientific data on vaccine safety and effectiveness themselves. Being transparently and predictably cautious makes it easier for the public to interpret FDA decisions and feel confident in them, which, in turn, boosts take-up of authorized and approved vaccines. Pausing Johnson & Johnson vaccinations while the data is reviewed, despite the potential repercussions from canceled vaccination appointments, sends a clear message that the FDA is taking all safety concerns seriously. An evaluation could have been done quietly or without pausing vaccinations, but transparency even in, or especially in, the face of bad news inspires confidence in the system.

As you know, my take is that we could have maintained plenty of confidence in the FDA knowing it was on top of this without an actual pause which I think may end up doing far more broad damage, independent of actual side effect concerns, that McLaren lets on.  

4) Also in Wired, I’m like Adam Rogers’ take “Pausing the J&J Vaccine Was Easy. Unpausing Will Be Hard: Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine was supposed to be the uncomplicated one. But even with new data, getting people to trust it again will be tricky.”

But it’s also a real problem in the making. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was supposed to be the cheap-and-easy one, useful for the most at-risk populations and the ones hardest to reach in the US. It’s also an alternative to more expensive, two-dose mRNA vaccines for the rest of the world, where vaccination rates lag far behind those in the US. Losing it would be a blow to the fight against the pandemic.

Worse, if people are already hesitant to get vaccinated, the FDA and CDC saying one vaccine might give people strokes probably won’t help get more sleeves rolled up—even if the regulators come around later and say that it’s fine, or worth the risk, or only dangerous in certain subpopulations. “Public confidence in this vaccine will take a hit no matter what. I think it was a necessary step to take, given the information we knew and the fact that the treatment required is atypical,” says Jason Schwartz, a health policy professor at the Yale School of Public Health. “There’s going to be a lot of work to do to restore enthusiasm for this vaccine.”

5) This!  “It’s About Time for Us to Stop Wearing Masks Outside.”  My take: at this point, this is clearly an excess of caution (and you know how I feel about that) in most circumstances.  

6) That Lil Nas X knows what he’s doing, “How Lil Nas X Flipped Conservatives’ Culture-War Playbook: Never mind “owning the libs.” The meme rapper pushed one button and the right did his publicity for him.” 

The video pushes sacrilegious buttons by depicting the aforementioned sexual encounter with Satan, which, if it sounds a little old-fashioned as a cultural provocation,was followed by the announcement of a bootlegged, custom line of Nikes that included real human blood. (Unsurprisingly, Nike swiftly sued to prevent their release.) Among rap fans, and especially Nas “stans,” as artists’ die-hard, cult-like supporters are called, it made a decent-size splash, its outre visuals and loopy premise generating the expected hype for the artist’s forthcoming full-length debut. But in conservative media, ever-eager to talk about something besides the pandemic and Matt Gaetz, it was like touching a match to dry leaves.

Since the video’s release and the sneaker announcement, Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire has published no fewer than nine (!) articles about the video and sneaker controversy, and Christian journalist Raymond Arroyo teamed up with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham to condemn the video on her weeknight program (“Rapper embraces Satan just in time for Holy Week,” the chyron read). The sneakersearned an official slapdown from South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, who sent her 400,000 followers a tweet that helpfully included the product shots

If you think it’s not a deliberate, savvy manipulation of the online culture, think again: As Brian Feldman reported for New York in 2019 as “Old Town Road” climbed the charts, for years as a teenager Nas operated a popular Twitter account that reposted and repurposed viral content, as well as advocating on the behalf of his favorite rapper and pop star, Nicki Minaj. Nas isn’t just a “digital native,” he’s a social media native, and clearly understands on a deep level the cultural and algorithmic incentives that drive things to virality. He understands all too well that in 2021, there may be no quicker way to pump oxygen into a brand than to let partisan politics do it for you.

7) Really not a big fan that some people are inherently more worthy of being listened to due to their race, gender, sexuality, etc.  David Bernstein in Persuasion, “Who Decides What’s Racist?: The problem with “standpoint epistemology.”

The problem is that the second—sometimes referred to as “standpoint epistemology”—contends that only minorities have standing to articulate a view on race and racism. In her book What Does It Mean to Be White?, Robin DiAngelo puts it this way: “Sometimes I am asked, ‘But what if the person of color is wrong and what they think is racism isn’t racism at all?’ To this I say that people of color are much more qualified than we are to make this determination. My not being able to see racism is unrelated to its reality.” Anyone who proffers an alternative perspective can be accused of “privilege.” In addition to being stifling and punitive, this demand for adherence will almost certainly make it more difficult to overcome the racial divide.

Proponents of this view assert the primacy of “lived experience”—the reality felt by a marginalized community or individual. Given America’s history of racism, we do have a special obligation to listen closely when marginalized people talk about their experience: The victims of racism will indeed have insights that others cannot possibly glean on their own. It was through listening to people of color, for example, that I learned about the scourge of mass incarceration, which led me to spend years advocating for criminal justice reform.

But I cannot agree that, in making space for marginalized voices, everyone else should defer to whatever ideological claims members of a minority group attach to their definition of racism. In today’s ideological environment, it tends to go like this: Defer to my lived experience; my lived experience reveals that critical race theory is true; you, too, must abide by critical race theory.

What’s wrong with this demand for deference? First, insisting that large swaths of people keep quiet is not a sustainable moral undertaking. Calling on those deemed privileged to mute themselves permanently on issues of race and racism only engenders resentment. After hearing a marginalized person’s perspective, there must be room in the conversation for those outside the marginalized community to disagree with that viewpoint about the nature of racism.

There’s a difference between listening to someone’s experience and tying oneself to their entire worldview. Challenging someone’s viewpoint should not be taken as invalidating their feelings. You can empathize with a person’s struggle and hear their concerns without automatically deferring to their perspective…

Second, oppressed people, like all people, are sometimes wrong. Some impart earth-shattering truths. Others spread lies and become victimizers themselves. Lived experience, while important, is just one data point in understanding social reality. Being oppressed doesn’t give anyone a monopoly on wisdom, even about oppression. Indeed, our experience can bias our insight. As a Jew who has experienced anti-Semitism, I can surely describe what it’s like to be taunted and demeaned, but I also recognize that because of that experience I’m more, not less, susceptible to overstating the threat I face in society.

Third, marginalized communities are diverse. There is no single authoritative position among marginalized people on racism. Randall Kennedy, a law professor at Harvard, has traced the vast diversity of the Black community since the time of slavery. “The spectrum of thought amongst African Americans is and has always been much broader and multifarious than commonly perceived,” he writes. “Neglect of that fact has led to a homogenization that has tended to submerge African American individuality.”

Today, Black people are no less diverse in their political views than they’ve been through the ages. Who alone speaks for a marginalized people? I, for one, will listen to anyone willing to talk with me. None, in my eyes at least, represents the definitive perspective, and it’s not my job to pick spokespeople.

Fourth, oppressed people around the world hold claims that directly contradict those of other oppressed people.

But what do I know anyway, I’m just a cis-gendered white man.

8) I really feel like takes like this are just over-cautious when we are talking about a world of vaccinated adults, “You’re Vaccinated. Your Kids Are Not. What Now?”

But what if you want to travel with your unvaccinated children? That’s a trickier question, but experts say that it can be done safely, as long as you take certain precautions.

“It’s not out of the question to go on a family vacation over the summer,” said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Before planning your trip, check state and local health departments to see if there are any travel restrictions for where you live, and for anywhere along your route or where you’ll be staying. If you have a child with certain medical conditions that may increase their risk for complications from Covid-19, you may want to talk through your travel plans with their pediatrician first.

Unvaccinated kids should get a Covid-19 test one to three days before the trip, and three to five days upon return. They should also self-quarantine for seven days after the trip (even if their test result is negative).

Ummm, yeah, not having my kids quarantine when we get back from the beach or visiting their vaccinated grandparents.

9) John McWhorter thinks Pevear and Volokhonsky translations of Tolstoy are over-rated (and makes a strong case with lots of examples).  Led me back to James Woods‘ enthusiastic take from way back when.  I remember loving their translation of Anna Karenina.  Who knows, maybe I would’ve loved another more.  

10) First successful trachea transplant– amazing and fascinating stuff.  Medical science for the win.  

11) Good stuff from Yglesias on ridding ourselves of lead pipes:

I’ve written about the not-really-infrastructure part of Biden’s Jobs Plan and also about the transportation element. But I’m inclined to think that the best and most important parts of the Biden program are the ones that fall into neither of those buckets — infrastructure construction projects that aren’t about transportation.

High on this list is a proposed $111 billion injection of funds into projects designed to address the needs of municipal water systems. The most concrete chunk of that is an ambitious $45 billion investment in eliminating lead pipes. But there’s also a mix of grants and loans to address other water systems and clean water needs, including a $10 billion program to address something called PFAS.

The case for an infusion of funds into this area strikes me as very compelling. These are goods the public cannot buy on its own and that local officials struggle to get the necessary financing for. And on lead in particular, the evidence of large benefits not just to the people directly impacted but to the public at large seems really strong…

I did a Twitter Spaces with Karl Smith last week and he suggested that the real question of what is and isn’t infrastructure is what kind of economic return you can expect from it. The interstate highway system, he said, raised productivity and GDP a lot. That’s what infrastructure is all about.

I’d say that lead removal easily meets that test. You’ve probably heard of the link between lead and crime. But what’s interesting is that the mechanism is the link between lead and general cognitive ability, both in terms of IQ and self-control. That’s what makes lead removal especially valuable. You’re moving millions of people into at least slightly better cognitive functioning, and that actually helps everyone in society. Garrett Jones has a whole book — “Hive Mind” — about this, showing that while being a little bit smarter than someone else is only a little bit valuable, living in a whole society of smarter people is extremely valuable. And as much as digging up tons of old pipes and replacing them is a pain in the ass, it’s also completely doable. Really good preschools seem to have cognitive benefits, but it’s not clear that anyone actually knows how to create really good preschools for millions of children all across the country. But we really do know how to replace lead pipes.

It’s just a question of time and money. And we should do it. Frankly, my only concern with this initiative is that I’d like to see at least as many resources dedicated to starting to figure out what we can do about the lead soil problem, too.

12) Arthur Brooks, “The Best Friends Can Do Nothing for You: If your social life is leaving you unfulfilled, you might have too many deal friends, and not enough real friends.”

Decades of research have shown that it is almost impossible to be happy without friends. Friendship accounts for almost 60 percent of the difference in happiness between individuals, no matter how introverted or extroverted they are. Many studies have shown that one of the great markers for well-being at midlife and beyond is whether you can rattle off the names of a few close friends. You don’t need to have dozens of friends to be happy, and, in fact, people tend to get more selective about their friends as they age. But the number needs to be more than zero, and more than just your spouse or partner.

All the more reason, then, to take honest stock of your friendships. Aristotle offers some advice on doing so in his Nicomachean Ethics. According to the philosopher, friendships exist along a kind of ladder. At the bottom rung—where emotional bonds are weakest and the happiness benefits are lowest—are friendships based on utility to each other in work or social life. These are colleagues, partners to a transaction, or simply those who can do each other favors. Higher up are friendships based on pleasure—something you like and admire about the other person, such as their intelligence or sense of humor. At the highest level are friendships of virtue, or what Aristotle called “perfect friendship.” These friendships are pursued for their own sake, and not instrumental to anything else. Aristotle would say they are “complete”—pursued for their own sake and fully realized in the present.

These levels are not mutually exclusive; you can carpool to work with a friend who has the unfailing honesty you strive to emulate. But the point is to classify friendships by their principal function.

You might not be able to put it into words, but you probably know how these “perfect” friendships feel. They often feature a shared love for something outside either of you, whether that thing be transcendental (like religion) or just fun (like baseball), but they don’t depend on work, or money, or ambition. These are the intimate friendships that bring us deep satisfaction.

In contrast to these real friendships, deal friendships—those at the lowest level on Aristotle’s ladder—are less satisfying. They feel incomplete because they don’t involve the whole self. If the relationship is necessary to the performance of a job, it might require us to maintain a professional demeanor. We can’t afford to risk these connections through confrontation, difficult conversations, or intimacy.

What’s cool is that I know that a number of you reading this, even if we don’t talk enough, are real friends.

13) Believe it or not, I’m with the nutty pro-Trump teacher here.  So long as the teacher leaves her nutty political views outside the classroom and isn’t breaking any laws in support of them (maybe she came close, but no evidence she entered the Capitol) then… freedom:

Word got around when Kristine Hostetter was spotted at a public mask-burning at the San Clemente pier, and when she appeared in a video sitting onstage as her husband spoke at a QAnon convention. People talked when she angrily accosted a family wearing masks near a local surfing spot, her granddaughter in tow.

Even in San Clemente, a well-heeled redoubt of Southern California conservatism, Ms. Hostetter stood out for her vehement embrace of both the rebellion against Covid-19 restrictions and the stolen-election lies pushed by former President Donald J. Trump. This was, after all, a teacher so beloved that each summer parents jockeyed to get their children into her fourth-grade class.

But it was not until Ms. Hostetter’s husband posted a video of her marching down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol on Jan. 6 that her politics collided with an opposite force gaining momentum in San Clemente: a growing number of left-leaning parents and students who, in the wake of the civil-rights protests set off by the police killing of George Floyd, decided they would no longer countenance the right-wing tilt of their neighbors and the racism they said was commonplace.

That there was no evidence that Ms. Hostetter had displayed any overt racism was beside the point — to them, her pro-Trump views seemed self-evidently laced with white supremacy. So she became their cause.


“If the district starts disciplinary action based on people’s beliefs/politics, what’s next? Religious discrimination?” it warned.

Each petition attracted thousands of signatures, and San Clemente has spent the months since embroiled in the divisive politics of post-Trump America, wrestling with uncomfortable questions about the limits of free speech and whether Ms. Hostetter and those who share her views should be written off as conspiracy theorists and racists who have no place in public life, not to mention shaping young minds in a classroom.

It has not been a polite debate. Neighbors have taken to monitoring one another’s social media posts; some have infiltrated private Facebook groups to figure out who is with them and who is not — and they have the screenshots to prove it.

14) More great stuff from Derek Thompson on hygiene theater:

I’ve been writing about our misplaced obsession with surface hygiene since the summer. Like many, I spent the early months of the pandemic dunking my apples and carrots in soap. That was before I read a persuasive essay in the medical journal The Lancet by Emanuel Goldman, a microbiology professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School: “Exaggerated Risk of Transmission of COVID-19 by Fomites.” (In medical jargon, fomites are objects and surfaces that can transmit an infectious pathogen.) This opinion ran contrary to the conventional wisdom of the broader scientific community, and Goldman told me that several journals rejected his essay. But he was not alone in his quest. Writers such as my colleague Zeynep Tufekci and researchers such as Jose-Luis Jimenez, an aerosol scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder, were also outspoken in their insistence that we needed to focus on ventilation rather than surfaces, windows rather than Windex. They were rebuffed, not only by loudmouths on Twitter and on TV, but by other scientists who clung stubbornly to an outdated view of viral spread…

Over the weekend, I caught up with Goldman to ask how it felt to be vindicated by the world’s most famous public-health organization. “On a personal level, I feel great,” he said. “But I’m kind of wondering what took them so long. There is so much inertia in the scientific establishment.”

These days, Goldman is extending his crusade against fomite fear from COVID-19 to other diseases. The old story is that if you make contact with a surface that a sick person touched, and then you touch your eyes or lips, you’ll infect yourself. While Goldman acknowledges that many diseases, especially bacterial diseases, spread easily from surfaces, he now suspects that most respiratory viruses spread primarily through the air, like SARS-CoV-2 does.

“For most respiratory viruses, the evidence for fomite transmission looks pretty weak,” Goldman said. “With the exception of RSV [respiratory syncytial virus], there are few other respiratory viruses where fomite transmission has been conclusively shown.” For example, rhinovirus, one of the most common viruses in the world and the predominant cause of the common cold, is probably overwhelmingly spread via aerosols. The same may be true of influenza. Many experiments that suggest surface transmission of respiratory viruses stack the deck by studying unrealistically large amounts of virus using unrealistically ideal (cold, dry, and dark) conditions for their survival. Based on our experience with SARS-CoV-2, these may not be trustworthy studies.

Unlike the coronavirus, hygiene theater is very much alive on surfaces across America. Transit authorities are still taking subway cars offline to power-scrub their walls. Baseball parks are banning cash to protect fans from fiat germs. Schools throughout the country still require deep cleanings that sometimes shut down classes for hours or days. The Los Angeles Unified School District’s COVID-19 posters still urge people to “clean high-touch surfaces frequently,” with no mention of ventilation, air filters, or keeping windows open. Target is still running ads on Hulu bragging about how it calls in workers at 6 a.m. to mop and scrub for several hours, for the comfort of its germophobic customers.

Alas, not even my own employer is immune to the scourge of hygiene theater. In an update on our back-to-office policies yesterday, The Atlantic instituted a “clean desk” protocol starting this summer that will require “daily neatening and sanitation of workspaces.” Anybody who works in journalism, or has ever seen a movie about journalism, knows that journalists take to daily neatening the way lions take to vegetarianism. Beyond being unnecessary, workplace-sanitation rules also carry the risk of enforcing an awkward parent-teen relationship between bosses and employees. In this business, “clean up this paragraph” is hard enough on one’s self-esteem; “… and clean your filthy desk while you’re at it” is not the sort of workplace banter that eases one’s psychological transition back to the office.


But hygiene theater carries with it an immense opportunity cost. Too many institutions spend scarce funds or sacrifice scarce resources to do microbial battle against fomites that don’t pose a real threat. This is especially true of cash-strapped urban-transit authorities and school districts that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on soap technology rather than their central task of transporting and teaching people.

Hygiene theater also muddles the public-health message. If you tell people, “This disease is on surfaces, on your clothes, on your hands, on your face, and also in the air,” they will react in a scattered and scared way. But if you tell people the truth—this virus doesn’t do very well on surfaces, so you should focus on ventilation—they can protect themselves against what matters.

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