Quick hits (mini edition)

Busy weekend.  Sorry, better a few than nothing.

1) Good stuff on expertise:

This is just one chapter in a larger story. At many points in the war, the coalition had access to the insights of people who had graduated from the world’s best universities and brought highly specialized knowledge to issues (state building, counterterrorism) that the United States was facing in Afghanistan. The last president of the American-backed government, Ashraf Ghani, has a Ph.D. from Columbia and was even a co-author of a book titled “Fixing Failed States.” But for all their credentials, they were not able to stop a swift Taliban takeover of the country.

What Afghanistan shows is that we need a new definition of expertise, one that relies more on track records and healthy cognitive habits and less on credentials and the narrow forms of knowledge that are too often rewarded. In an era of populism and declining trust in institutions, such a project is necessary to put expertise on a stronger footing.

It’s true that many experts also opposed the Afghanistan war and thought that the United States was seeking unrealistic goals. But individuals with the most subject-matter expertise often tended to get things the most wrong. This included generals with experience in counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as many think tank analysts with the most focus and interest in those conflicts.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Philip Tetlock, a psychologist, has famously shown that subject-matter experts are no better at accurately forecasting geopolitical events relevant to their field than those with training in different areas. Similarly, in a different study, the intelligence community, with access to classified information, proved less accurate than an algorithm weighted toward the views of amateurs with no security clearances but a history of making accurate forecasts.

So “just trust the experts” is the wrong path to take. But simply deciding to ignore them can lead us down rabbit holes of conspiracy theories and misinformation. The subject-matter experts in Mr. Tetlock’s research couldn’t beat informed amateurs, but they did defeat random guessing, or the epistemological equivalent of monkeys throwing darts.

This is in part because the divisions we create between fields are, in a sense, artificial. As radical as it sounds, just because someone has a Ph.D. in political science or speaks Pashto does not make that person more likely to be able to predict what is going to happen in Afghanistan than an equally intelligent person with knowledge that appears less directly relevant. Anthropology, economics and other fields may offer insight, and it is often difficult to know ahead of time which communities of experts have the most relevant training and tools to deal with a particular problem.

Academia is in some ways nearly ideally suited to produce the wrong kinds of expertise. Scholarly recognition is based on high degrees of specialization, obtaining the right pedigree and the approval of colleagues through peer review rather than through an external standard.

2) Had three tenure cases in my department this year– including the first ever non-unanimous vote I was a part of.  And yet, somehow, I had never learned this about the history of academic tenure:

The idea was to protect the academic freedom of all instructors who proved themselves competent teachers for a reasonable trial period, regardless of research output. The association declared that “tenure is a means to certain ends; specifically: (1) freedom of teaching and research and of extramural activities, and (2) a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability,” since salaries in academia could never compete with those of the private sector.

Harvard introduced the practice of prioritizing research in the criteria for up-or-out promotion and tenure in the late 1930s, under the presidency of James Conant — although faculty members at the time cautioned against his narrow emphasis on research. Other elite schools adopted the practice in the higher education boom years after World War II, according to the research of Richard Teichgraeber, a historian at Tulane University. At most universities, the publish-or-perish rule did not take hold until the late 1960s. “This is how a lot of stuff happens in this country. Ideas and practices spread from the Ivies to the prestigious public universities, then to the midlevel schools offering master’s programs, to the middling bachelor’s institutions,” Hans-Joerg Tiede, the director of research for the American Association of University Professors, told me.

Ever since then, the pressure to publish quickly has driven faculty members down ever narrower lanes of inquiry, searching for some hidden byway no one has taken before in order to claim an original (if, to nonspecialists, trivial) contribution. In graduate school, aspiring professors often hear: Don’t be overly broad in your dissertation; you’ll have to get it done and published, because hiring committees care far more about that than how prepared you are to teach a wide range of subjects. Academic freedom no longer includes freedom to be a generalist…

Universities should use tenure review as a mechanism to encourage professors to connect their research interests to bigger questions and to create broader, more interdisciplinary courses — to take new risks. This is not a call to abandon disciplinary rigor or cater to student consumer whims. It’s a call to remember the reason most professors got into their fields in the first place: We believe our discipline is not a rabbit hole but a world of ideas, discoveries and methods that can help students understand human existence in new ways…

Adam Steinbaugh, a lawyer at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (better known as FIRE), told me that his organization gets calls about attacks on academic freedom from both the left and the right. The unifying theme is that “administrations are conflict-averse. It doesn’t really matter who is bringing up the complaints. They are eager to protect the reputation of the institution, protect the budget and avoid conflict,” he said. “There is a certain tension with the fact that the First Amendment and the principle of free speech are supposed to embrace conflict. The notion of a marketplace of ideas is imperfect, but people do have different opinions, and that means there is going to be conflict.”

3) Very interesting from Robert Farley, “Why So Many Historians Look Down On Ulysses S. Grant”

Grant has been justly lauded for his sound strategic judgment during the war, although this assessment has often included a backhanded slap at his tactical talents. Grant, the story goes, knew that he could bleed the South dry, and needed no special military talent to do so; he could simply commit the Army of the Potomac to grind down the Army of Northern Virginia and eventually prevail through numbers alone.

The first part of this assessment is sound; Grant had the firmest grip on the strategic situation of the Civil War of anyone apart from Abraham Lincoln. The second part is nonsense. It takes active, aggressive ignorance to ignore Grant’s tactical intelligence at Forts Henry and Donelson, at Vicksburg, at Chattanooga, and in the Overland Campaign that won the war. Generations of historians (many of whom were Southern sympathizers) were willing to be actively, aggressively ignorant but there is no need for us to take their assessments seriously.

Grant displayed a nuanced, forward-thinking approach to war, characterized early on by his appreciation that offensive action could disrupt the cognitive process of the enemy.  Like Lee, he understood that interaction with the enemy was necessarily fluid and that rapid, assertive action placed the enemy under stress and made them inclined to poor decisions. Grant’s final campaign set out to pin Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia like a bug against Richmond. It succeeded brilliantly, even if it left Virginia drenched in blood; having identified the Confederacy’s two remaining assets, Grant tied them to one another, eventually destroying Lee’s army shortly after seizing Richmond.

After the war, a posthumous cult of personality was attached to Lee, bound tightly with the campaign to restore white supremacy in the Reconstruction South. This cult had little room for Grant, in no small part because Grant was the only President to vigorously pursue Reconstruction and the first to treat blacks as both human and American. And so Grant became simultaneously butcher of the flower of the South and pawn of the Radical Republicans, his military brilliance ignored and his literary genius forgotten.

4) I quite liked some of the ideas here, “How to create a safe space for real debate in the classroom.”

Getting students to consider that they might just be wrong, to be comfortable articulating not only their opinions but willing to entertain the best arguments of those on the other side, is the challenge facing us today. So how should educators respond?

For the past dozen years we have been team-teaching a course conducting a dialogue between economics and the humanities. In the early days, it was mostly a class on how different academic disciplines approach the search for truth. But, in response to changes on campus and in the larger world, it has evolved to focus on facilitating civil and constructive conversation. This change reflects our view of what members of Generation Z lack—intellectual humility, and practice in taking opposing views seriously.

We ask students to write a series of papers with a common directive: to state their own views, not those of the professors, and in making a compelling case to support their own positions, they must argue against the strongest position of the other side (a technique sometimes known as “steel-manning,” as opposed to straw-manning). Each week we remind them of John Stuart Mill’s great line that “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”

An example: we recently prompted them to create a policy for vaccine allocation. As expected, the economics majors tended to argue in terms of maximizing efficiency, while many of the other students contended that economic considerations were of limited relevance during a pandemic. The best students, however, made clear that they truly understood both sides—they could accurately represent the standard economic model, whether or not they supported its application, and they represented well the many objections to using a cost-benefit analysis in a life and death context.

We, as co-professors, realize how important it is to demonstrate the processes of listening and learning. So we argue issues and our interpretations of the readings, sometimes exaggerating our differences for heuristic purposes. Other times we honestly disagree—our goal is to exhibit what it means to listen carefully and sincerely, and not to villainize your intellectual opponents. No matter how heated our arguments get, we make it clear that we respect each other and are interested in moving the conversation forward rather than gaining rhetorical points.

We believe that it would be of incalculable benefit if educators worked together to create more intellectually diverse classroom environments. Yet we realize that interdisciplinary team-taught classes are far from the norm in the academy. Most classes are taught by a single professor and are focused on fulfilling the requirements for a particular major. So with that in mind, here are some pointers for educators hoping to create an open classroom.

First, professors should promote a “what is said here stays here” rule to remind students that the classroom is an intellectual laboratory, not a venue for identifying and exposing heretics. This will give students the confidence to express their true opinions, and to argue against the strongest case from the opposing view (to “steel-man”).

Second, it is essential to set proper expectations for conduct. Most colleges and universities have codes forbidding one member of the community from harassing or intimidating another member on account of their religious viewpoints; some are wise enough to say the same about political views. It doesn’t hurt to include language of this sort on the syllabus and to explicitly remind students that the imperfect and evolving thoughts of their peers aren’t cause for retaliation or public shaming. Our students respond well to this: when they fill out end-of-the-year course evaluations, many express gratitude that our classes model dialogue of a type they all-too-rarely see on campus or in their daily lives.

Finally, educators themselves must be mindful that genuine dialogue is the lifeblood of democracy, requiring an unending exchange—and testing—of ideas. Such an approach is radically different from the human tendencies to catechize ancient doctrines or be swept away by new ideological fashions. Our colleges and universities are designed to be intellectual sanctuaries in which meaningful dialogue can be attempted, reworked and refined. If not in our universities, then where else in society can we hope to achieve this?

5) Good stuff from Yglesias.  This is a free post so you should trust me and read it all, “The median voter is a 50-something white person who didn’t go to college”

The point is most people live in communities that are smaller than the Rochester metro area. Either they’re in rural areas, a smaller metro, or a community like Kerrville, TX (where I spent much of the summer) that’s so far out on the exurban fringe of San Antonio that it doesn’t qualify for membership in the MSA.

In practical terms:

  • The Philadelphia and Pittsburgh MSAs combine to contain less than 50% of Pennsylvania’s population.

  • The Milwaukee and Madison MSAs combine to contain less than 50% of Wisconsin’s population.

  • The Detroit and Ann Arbor MSAs combine to contain less than 50% of Michigan’s population.

Interestingly, the “new” swing states of Georgia and Arizona are more urbanized, with the giant Atlanta and Phoenix metro areas each comprising a majority of their respective state’s population. So it’s not like nobody lives in giant metro areas or they don’t matter. That said, a lot of work in media and progressive politics is done by New Yorkers who snobbishly disdain D.C., which — whatever its flaws — is a substantially bigger, more urban, and more cosmopolitan place than Phoenix.

The point is that when we talk about decisive suburban voters, we’re likely talking about the suburbs of Grand Rapids or Kenosha.

Who needs to know this?

Obviously, not everyone in life needs to feel beholden to the median voter. In fact, if you’re working at the DSCC and trying to secure a majority against the backdrop of a skewed map, you need to focus on someone well to the right of the median voter.

The injunction to pay attention to electoral demographics comes most naturally to people in roles like that: working at the party committees, the aligned super PACs, or staffing frontline House districts. And obviously, if you’re working for a specific senator, you probably want a Post-It that’s about your state-specific demographics.

Realistically, though, I think the people most in need of the Post-It are probably people working for activist or advocacy groups where they don’t necessarily see it as their mission to cater to the median voter. And that’s fine; there is more to life than pandering to the public opinion status quo.

But I think that if you want to speak, write, or otherwise engage with the political system on almost any level — whether as a professional activist, a scholar who is interested in real-world impact, a journalist, or just a citizen who’s active on social media and makes small-dollar donations — it’s worth keeping these demographic considerations top of mind.

  • Say your goal is to persuade people not to pander to their existing views — well, you need to know who you are hoping to persuade.

  • Say you think you have a chance of getting something done even though the mass public doesn’t agree with you — then a quiet, insider strategy could be more effective than a noisy outsider campaign.

Public opinion needn’t be a binding constraint on politics, but it’s always a relevant consideration. When Republicans gain power, they cut taxes on the rich regardless of the polls. But the donor base doesn’t demand that GOP candidates loudly and frequently pledge allegiance to the cause of low taxes on the rich because that would be counterproductive. They act as if they are aware that working-class 50-somethings living in exurbs and small cities are not incredibly concerned about the well-being of people who own large amounts of stock. So when they do talk about taxation, they always find some way to make it about ranch owners.

Long story short, if you’re going to blow off the median voter, you ought to do it purposefully and with a plan — don’t just act like the views of under-40 college grads are typical.

6) Must read from Jamelle Bouie, “Trump Had a Mob. He Also Had a Plan.”

As the full picture of Jan. 6 begins to come into view, I think we should consider it a kind of revolution or, at least, the very beginning of one. Joe Biden ultimately became president, but Donald Trump’s fight to keep himself in office against the will of the voters has upturned the political order. The plot itself shows us how.

Trump, we know, urged Mike Pence to reject the votes of the Electoral College, with the mob outside as the stick that would compel his obedience. “You can either go down in history as a patriot,” Trump told Pence, as recounted in this newspaper, “or you can go down in history as a pussy.”

When this was first revealed, I assumed that Trump simply wanted Pence to do whatever it would take to keep himself in power. But this week we learned that he had an actual plan in mind, devised by John Eastman, a prominent conservative lawyer who worked with the former president to challenge the election results, a job that included a speaking slot at the rally on the National Mall that preceded the attack on the Capitol.

“We know there was fraud,” Eastman said to the crowd that would become a mob. “We know that dead people voted.”

“All we are demanding of Vice President Pence,” he continued, “is this afternoon at 1 o’clock, he let the legislatures of the states look into this so we get to the bottom of it and the American people know whether we have control of the direction of our government or not!”

These weren’t just the ravings of a partisan. Eastman was essentially summarizing the contents of a memo he had written on Trump’s behalf, describing the steps Pence would take to overturn the election in Trump’s favor…

None of this should make you feel good or cause you to breathe a sigh of relief. Consider what we know. A prominent, respected member in good standing of the conservative legal establishment — Eastman is enrolled in the Federalist Society and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas — schemed with the president and his allies in the Republican Party to overturn the election and overthrow American democracy under the Constitution. Yes, they failed to keep Trump in office, but they successfully turned the pro forma electoral counting process into an occasion for real political struggle.

It was always possible, theoretically, to manipulate the rules to seize power from the voters. Now, it’s a live option. And with the right pieces in place, Trump could succeed. All he needs is a rival slate of electoral votes from contested states, state officials and state legislatures willing to intervene on his behalf, a supportive Republican majority in either house of Congress, and a sufficiently pliant Supreme Court majority.

As it happens, Trump may well run for president in 2024 (he is already amassing a sizable war chest) with exactly that board in play. Republican state legislatures in states like Georgia and Arizona have, for example, used claims of fraud to seize control of key areas of election administration. Likewise, according to Reuters, 10 of the 15 declared Republican candidates for secretary of state in five swing states — Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nevada — have either declared the 2020 election stolen or demanded that authorities invalidate the results in their states. It is also not unlikely that a Republican Party with pro-Trump zealots at its helm wins Congress in November of next year and holds it through the presidential election and into 2025.

If Trump is, once again, on the ballot, then the election might turn on the manipulation of a ceremony that was, until now, a mere formality.

7) To return to a theme of recent months, “Your Workout Burns Fewer Calories Than You Think: Our bodies compensate for at least a quarter of the calories we expend during exercise, undermining our best efforts to lose weight by working out.”

8) Increasing evidence that Moderna probably provides better protection than Pfizer.  TL;DR– higher dose.

But by now, the observational studies have delivered results from a number of locations — Qatar, the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, several other states in the United States — and in health care workers, hospitalized veterans or the general population.

Moderna’s efficacy against severe illness in those studies ranged from 92 to 100 percent. Pfizer-BioNTech’s numbers trailed by 10 to 15 percentage points.

The two vaccines have diverged more sharply in their efficacy against infection. Protection from both waned over time, particularly after the arrival of the Delta variant, but the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine’s values fell lower. In two of the recent studies, the Moderna vaccine did better at preventing illness by more than 30 percentage points.


Public opinion on Texas abortion law

Quite the headline here from the Post, “Broad majorities of Americans oppose key provisions of restrictive Texas abortion law, poll finds”

The reality is, though, public opinion is a lot more complicated than answering poll questions.  Yes, when pressed, most any decent person will find the details of the Texas law fairly abhorrent (truly they are, even for fair-minded people who believe abortion should be legal, but not at any cost to our legal-constitutional system).  But, the reality is that most people will never know/understand the details of just how ridiculous this law is.  Just that Texas struck a blow for unborn life and the Supreme Court upheld it.

That said, let’s see what the polling showed:

Broad majorities of Americans oppose key provisions of a restrictive Texas abortion law, and a majority disagrees with the recent Supreme Court decision that allowed the law, which effectively bans abortions after six weeks, to go into effect, a new poll finds.

The new law takes a novel approach, relying on private citizens to sue people who help women get forbidden abortions, effectively eliminating the guarantee in Roe v. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court decisions that women have a right to end their pregnancies before viability and that states may not impose undue burdens on that decision.

In the Monmouth University poll, 70 percent of Americans say they disapprove of “allowing private citizens to use lawsuits to enforce this law rather than having government prosecutors handle these cases.”

Where are the rapid tests?

Count on David Leonhardt to get to the bottom of it.  Also, I have to say, he doesn’t get much credit, but, Leonhardt has been as smart on the key aspects of this pandemic as just about anybody out there.  Anyway:

In Britain, France and Germany, rapid testing is widely available and inexpensive, thanks to government subsidies. People can visit testing sites, like tents outside pharmacies in France or abandoned nightclubs in Germany, and get tested at no charge. Many people also keep tests in their homes and self-administer them. “It’s been a way to put people’s minds at ease,” Melissa Eddy, a Times correspondent in Berlin, told my colleague Claire Moses.

In the U.S., by contrast, people usually take a different kind of test — known as a P.C.R. test — which must be processed by a laboratory and sometimes does not return results for more than 24 hours. During that time, a person with Covid can spread it to others.

The shortage of testing in the U.S. may be contributing to the virus’s spread. Recent outbreaks have been worse here than in Europe, even though Europe’s vaccination rate is only modestly higher

Other experts are also criticizing the Biden administration for its failure to expand rapid testing. Even as President Biden has followed a Covid policy much better aligned with scientific evidence than Donald Trump’s, Biden has not broken through some of the bureaucratic rigidity that has hampered the U.S. virus response.

In the case of rapid tests, the F.D.A. has loosened its rules somewhat over the past year, allowing the sale of some antigen tests (which often cost about $12 each). But drugstores, Amazon and other sellers have now largely run out of them. I tried to buy rapid tests this weekend and couldn’t find any.

The F.D.A.’s process for approving rapid tests is “onerous” and “inappropriate,” Daniel Oran and Dr. Eric Topol of Scripps Research wrote in Stat News.

For the most part, the F.D.A. still uses the same cumbersome process for approving Covid tests that it uses for high-tech medical devices. To survive that process, the rapid tests must demonstrate that they are nearly as sensitive as P.C.R. tests, which they are not.

But rapid tests do not need to be so sensitive to be effective, experts point out. [emphases mine] P.C.R. tests often identify small amounts of the Covid virus in people who had been infected weeks earlier and are no longer contagious. Rapid tests can miss these cases while still identifying about 98 percent of cases in which a person is infectious, according to Dr. Michael Mina, a Harvard epidemiologist who has been advocating for more testing

Identifying anywhere close to 98 percent of infectious cases would sharply curb Covid’s spread. An analysis in the journal Science Advances found that test frequency matters more for reducing Covid cases than test sensitivity.

Elizabeth Stuart, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, recently wrote: “I am more and more convinced we need to dramatically increase access and affordability of at-home rapid antigen Covid-19 tests.” Zoë McLaren, a health economist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, added: “So many preventable deaths are on the line.”..

Several experts have called on Biden to issue an executive order reclassifying rapid tests as a public health tool rather than a medical device. If that happened, the companies selling many tests in Europe, like Abbott and Roche, would quickly flood the U.S. market, experts say. The tests would not be free but would likely be substantially cheaper than they are now.

So, there you have it.  Our over-priced, under-available rapid tests are a policy choice– we’ve made the wrong one.  We want an FDA to be cautious of course.  But, I would strenuously argue that the FDA has been excessively cautious, rather than appropriately cautious.  They seemingly focus only on the costs of action and making a wrong call while ignoring the costs of inaction, in this case the inaction of more appropriately classifying the rapid test.  Our failure to properly use this amazing tool is not as bad as our failure to get better uptake on the vaccines, but certainly one of our society’s most frustrating and discouraing failures of the pandemic.  

The Air Quality Op-Ed I meant to write

So, you may remember a very recent quick hit #13:

13) Local school/air quality news, “NC parents are buying air purifiers for schools. Are they worth the cost to fight COVID?”

Last school year, Wake County school system installed MERV-13 air filters in the HVAC units at each school. But the district is only providing individual air purification units to special-needs classrooms where students are unable to wear face masks.

The reason that Wake County hasn’t provided air purifiers in every classroom is the ABC Science Collaborative, a group formed by Duke University to advise schools on COVID issues.

“Air exchange, purifiers, or filters may help minimally, but have not been shown to help if people are masked.”

I’ve been meaning to write a whole post about this, but, what the hell?!?!  There’s plenty of evidence, just no large trials.  A lack of large RCT trials is not the same things as “no scientific data.”  This is just wrong.  

I had really thought about writing an Op-Ed about this.  And, honestly, if I wasn’t so busy on various strains of Covid research, I would have.  But, hey, fortunately, a group of NC State Engineering professors wrote a terrific Op-Ed, putting to shame all the people in my alma mater in the ABC collaborative.  This is really good:

The most recent research shows COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through aerosols, tiny particles emitted to the air as we exhale. These aerosols linger for hours and pose a risk to people in an indoor space long after an infected person has left. A recent study by leading researchers concludes that adopting a layered approach to risk mitigation is the best way to navigate the pandemic.

Unfortunately, this evidence has not reached local authorities. In a recent N&O article, we were dismayed to read that ABC Science Collaborative claims “There are no scientific data to support that the use of HEPA filters and ventilation work to prevent spread of COVID-19 when everyone is masking.” This statement appears to be based on an outdated and limited study conducted last winter, before classrooms were full and the far-more-infectious delta variant became the dominant form of this coronavirus.

Since then, several studies have confirmed that aerosol-removing air filtration units reduce the risk of transmission in classrooms…

We fully support mask mandates, but they alone are not a silver bullet. As any parent or teacher can attest, kids’ attention to proper mask wearing is imperfect at best. Thus, other layers of protection are essential. Air filtration should be used as a complement to enhanced building ventilation.

As scientists and concerned parents, we implore WCPSS to do two things:

1. Keep pace with the latest in our scientific understanding of COVID.

2. Act quickly to implement low cost, low risk solutions equitably.

Many of the additional layers of protection come with multiple benefits, such as the use of improved air filtration long-term to keep school air healthy, and spending more time outdoors. These investments can improve our schools for many years to come.

Very good stuff.  Had I written the Op-Ed, I probably would have tried to include this from a July CDC report that the ABC folks chose to ignore:


What is already known about this topic?

Ventilation systems can be supplemented with portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaners to reduce the number of airborne infectious particles.

What is added by this report?

A simulated infected meeting participant who was exhaling aerosols was placed in a room with two simulated uninfected participants and a simulated uninfected speaker. Using two HEPA air cleaners close to the aerosol source reduced the aerosol exposure of the uninfected participants and speaker by up to 65%. A combination of HEPA air cleaners and universal masking reduced exposure by up to 90%.

What are the implications for public health practice?

Portable HEPA air cleaners can reduce exposure to simulated SARS-CoV-2 aerosols in indoor environments, especially when combined with universal masking.

Anyway, it still kind of astounds me that public health professionals would advocate masks as a single magic bullet and ignore the layered risk reduction approach basically every serious person has been advocating.  And in schools with sub-optimal ventilation, air filtration should almost sure be part of that layered risk reduction.  

Covid, risk assessment, and cognitive load

So, here’s my latest theory on human psychology and Covid.  I won’t say I love the challenge of constantly assessing the risk of a particular situation to myself or my children and doing assessments as to what the appropriate action.  But, in general, I’m pretty good with it.  Almost surely, in part, because I’ve got to be somewhere above 95 percentile in the personality characteristic, need for cognition.  For people low in need for cognition, though, this is a real burden on how they generally approach the world.  Not to mention the fact, that NFC aside, constant risk assessments are cognitively demanding and lots of people– especially those in poverty— just don’t have the spare cognitive bandwidth.  

Anyway, so my hypothesis here is that, given these cognitive demands, there’s a fairly easy solution… default to maximum cautiousness or maximum incautiousness.  If you are like me, you definitely know a decent number of people who fall into both categories (and in my urban liberal bubble, it’s definitely more of the former).  Rather than constantly assess risk and make nuanced decisions, it’s way less demanding to go with “always take the safest course of action” or “just don’t worry about Covid.”  Yes, surely, there’s more to it than that, but I’d love to see some data about risk perceptions and need for cognition.  

And, I was definitely thinking about this a lot in terms of parenthood.  The reality is that there’s a lot more risk assessment to be done when you are also responsible for assessing the risks of another person.  My initial inclination to this headline was… get a grip, “Parenting a child under 12 in the age of delta: ‘It’s like a fire alarm every day’” but the more considered, empathetic version of Steve realizes that, for a lot of people, this is just an overwhelming amount of constant risk assessment.  Likewise, the NYT Parenting Newsletter, “Why Covid Has Broken Parents’ Sense of Risk: Every decision for not-yet-vaccinated kids feels like an unsolvable equation.”  I want to say, “well, actually it’s not… here’s what we know about the baseline risks for younger people, the role of masks in schools, the likelihood that your kid will have a serious illness, etc.,” but, let’s be honest, it’s already hard enough to rationally approach risks about your kids when the downside risk (even when extremely unlikely) is pretty much the worst thing that can happen to a person.  So, I do have some real sympathy for the parents out there who feel genuinely overwhelmed by the situation.

But, the social scientist here would love to explore the role individual variation in need for cognition, risk predispositions, etc.  

Test to stay (in school)

More of this, please:

When the schools in Marietta, Ga., opened their doors on Aug. 3, the highly contagious Delta variant was sweeping across the South, and children were not being spared.

By Aug. 20, 51 students in the city’s small school district had tested positive for the coronavirus. Nearly 1,000 others had been flagged as close contacts and had to quarantine at home for seven to 10 days.

“That’s a lot of school, especially for children that are recovering from 18 months in a pandemic where they missed a lot of school or had to transition to virtual,” said Grant Rivera, the superintendent of Marietta City Schools.

Last week, the district changed tack. Students who are identified as close contacts can now continue attending school as long as they have no symptoms and test negative for the virus every day for seven days.

An increasing number of school districts are turning to testing to keep more children in the classroom and avoid disrupting the work lives of their parents. The resource-intensive approach — sometimes known as “test to stay” or modified quarantine — allows students who have been exposed to the virus to stay in school as long as they take frequent Covid tests, which are typically provided by the school, and adhere to other precautions.

Experts agree that children who are infected with the virus should isolate at home, but the question of what to do about their classmates poses a dilemma.

Allowing children who have been exposed to the virus to remain in school does pose a potential transmission risk, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that it “does not have enough evidence” to support the approach. Instead, it recommends that close contacts who have not been fully vaccinated quarantine for as long as 14 days. (Vaccinated close contacts can remain in the classroom as long as they are asymptomatic and wear a mask, according to the agency’s school guidance.)

“At this time, we do not recommend or endorse a test-to-stay program,” the C.D.C. said in a statement to The New York Times. The agency added, “However, we are working with multiple jurisdictions who have chosen to use these approaches to gather more information.”

The C.D.C. guidelines mean that in some cases, especially in classrooms where students are not vaccinated, masked or socially distanced, a single case of Covid can force a dozen or more students out of school. New York City’s school guidelines are even more stringent, stipulating that all unvaccinated students must quarantine for seven to 10 days if one of their classmates contracts the virus.

A new study, which was published last week in The Lancet, suggests that the test-to-stay approach can be safe. The randomized controlled trial included more than 150 schools in Britain, and found that case rates were not significantly higher at schools that allowed close contacts of infected students or staff members to remain in class with daily testing than at those that required at-home quarantines.

Roughly 2 percent of school-based close contacts ultimately tested positive for the virus, researchers found, which means that schools were keeping 49 uninfected students out of class every time one student tested positive.

“When you put that in the broader context of what we’re doing in society, it’s putting a pretty strong penalty on young people, I think,” said Dr. Bernadette Young, an infectious disease expert at the University of Oxford and a lead author of the paper.

This summer, the United Kingdom announced that children identified as close contacts no longer needed to quarantine, although it encouraged them to be tested for the virus.

As school officials embark on a third pandemic academic year, many say the time has come for a new approach.

Why, yes, the CDC is too bureaucratically over-cautious on this.  Especially in light of the Lancet study.  Huge benefit to keeping more kids in school at, seemingly no cost of further infection.  As for the financial cost of the rapid tests?  In America, it’s ridiculous.  Maybe more programs like this would encourage the government to find a way to get the costs down so we’re paying the $1/test they are paying in Europe.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) The tale of one journalist who had enough of “both sides!” journalism in the wake of January 6:

Andrew Taylor began his journalism career in the late 1980s, clipping newspaper articles for the politics reporters at Congressional Quarterly.

This spring, more than 30 years later, he quit his longtime job as a Capitol Hill reporter for the Associated Press.

He leaves daily journalism disgusted by what Congress has become and traumatized by the Jan. 6 riot — which he witnessed from inside the Capitol. He also leaves the profession doubtful that traditional, objective-style journalism is up to the job of covering today’s politics and government.

His is not a simple cause-and-effect story: At 59, with a spouse who works fulltime as an editor and the demands of three school-age children, Taylor was thinking of wrapping things up anyway.

But he’s very glad to be out of the Capitol — not just for the unanticipated danger he experienced there but the political and societal culture surrounding it…

The Capitol was Taylor’s second home, the focus of so much of his daily life and conversation. He still speaks of “the sanctity of the place”; it’s clear that on a certain level he became accustomed to its rhythms and routines. “You become invested in a functional ecosystem,” he said.

But that placewas already beginning to change long before Jan. 6, he said. “I was there when the wheels came off,” he told me, during the Obama era, when the tea-party caucus of conservative House members seized increasing influence. From that point on, “a large percentage of congressional activity was being spent posturing for political bases” rather than, say, putting together the budget.

He now sees the dysfunction as irrevocable.

He has particularly harsh words for House of Representatives Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, as prominent among those in Congress whose “approach to their jobs is too often bad-faith bull—-.” For similar reasons, he’s tough on Mitch McConnell, too. On his now more freewheeling Twitter account, Taylor quote-tweeted the Senate minority leader’s recent bluster about raising the debt limit and how Republicans “will not facilitate another reckless, partisan taxing and spending spree.”…

“So glad I don’t have to cover this,” Taylor wrote, along with a reminder of some inconvenient facts: “When Republicans controlled the government in 2017-18, Pelosi and Schumer facilitated debt limit increases both before and after enactment of debt-financed tax cuts.” Taylor added: “McConnell is wholly inconsistent here and I am being generous.”

Overall, Taylor fears that Congress is like a coral reef that has sustained so much piece-by-piece deterioration, with the departures of some of those who have integrity and respect for their elected roles in the democracy, that “you can’t put it back together again.”

And while he calls the Associated Press “a wonderful, essential organization” and praises many of his former colleagues in Washington journalism, he has become increasingly worried that traditional reporting can’t — or at least doesn’t — tell the full, disturbing story.

“The rules of objective journalism require you to present facts to tell a true story but the objective-journalism version of events can often obscure the reality of what’s really going on,” he told me.

As he sees it, the typical practices of putting everything that happens in the context of normal behavior, of giving ‘both sides’ an almost-equal say, and describing events in a neutral tone has an overall, damaging effect.

Put simply: “It sanitizes things.”

2) Let’s be honest, this is awfully damn tempting.  Just approve the things already! “Parents Are Lying to Get Their Little Kids Vaccinated: It’s surprisingly easy to get unauthorized COVID-19 vaccines for 10- and 11-year-olds who can “pass” for 12″  I’d think harder about it if my 10-year old could pass for 12, but not even close.

3) “Why At-Home Rapid Covid Tests Cost So Much, Even After Biden’s Push for Lower Prices”

For Americans looking for swift answers,the cheapest over-the-counter covid test is the Abbott Laboratories BinaxNOW two-pack for $23.99. Close behind are Quidel’s QuickVue tests, at $15 a pop. Yet supplies are dwindling. After a surge in demand, CVS is limiting the number of tests people can buy, and Amazon and Walgreen’s website were sold out as of Friday afternoon.

President Joe Biden said Thursday he would invoke the Defense Production Act to make 280 million rapid covid tests available. The administration struck a deal with Walmart, Amazon and Kroger for them to sell tests for “up to 35 percent less” than current retail prices for three months. For those on Medicaid, the at-home tests will be fully covered, Biden said.

An increased supply should help to lower prices. As schools open and much of the country languishes without pandemic-related restrictions, epidemiologists say widespread rapid-test screening — along with vaccination and mask-wearing — is critical to controlling the delta variant’s spread. Yet shortages, little competition and sticky high prices mean routine rapid testing remains out of reach for most Americans, even if prices drop 35%.

Consumers elsewhere have much cheaper — or free — options. In Germany, grocery stores are selling rapid covid tests for under $1 per test. In India, they’re about $3.50. The United Kingdom provides 14 tests per person free of charge. Canada is doling out free rapid tests to businesses…

Billions in taxpayer dollars have been invested in these products. Abbott Laboratories, for instance, cashed in on hundreds of millions in federal contracts and gave its shareholders fat payouts last year, increasing its quarterly dividend by 25%. Even so, according to a New York Times investigation, as demand for rapid tests cratered in early summer, Abbott destroyed its supplies and laid off workers who had been making them.

More than a year ago, Abbott said the company would sell its BinaxNOW in bulk for $5 a test to health care providers, but that option is not available over the counter to the public. Even with the anticipated price decrease, a two-pack will be more than $15. Abbott did not comment further.

Schrier said in spring that test prices were high because “big companies are buying up all the supplies.” Also, “their profit is far higher making 1,000 $30 tests than 30,000 $1 tests” — in other words, they can make the same amount of money for many fewer tests.

4) This is just a super-fun collection of soccer goals.  

5) David Epstein on his failed newsletter launch and Hanlon’s razor.  This is so apt– definitely going to use this term more!

As a very loyal subscriber (with two email addresses!) to my own newsletter (gotta keep numbers up), I was immediately confused by what I had wrought — no offense to this other fellow, who I’m sure is a Ryantastic guy. Then the messages started.

I would say the tenor of messages I received ranged from curious, to querulous, to I’m a hippo and you got between me and my water source. I received a few messages — just a few, but they’re important — suggesting that I had either sold subscriber information or subscribed people to something without their consent.

I immediately jumped on the phone with a member of the Bulletin team to find out what I had done. Reader, until you have tried, you will never know how hard it is to have a stern emergency conversation with tech support while maintaining a straight face and repeating the name/word Ryantastic. A dozen “Ryantastics” later, I learned what happened.

If you can’t wait, you can skip below to the “What Actually Happened” section. But before I tell you, I’d like to do my Range Widely thing and use this as a teachable moment to discuss a critical thinking principle. Namely: “Hanlon’s razor.”

The most common (if not the most polite) formulation of Hanlon’s razor is: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” The term “razor” means that the principle helps you “shave off” unnecessary explanations.

(You may be familiar with the more popular “Occam’s razor,” the idea that the simplest explanation is often the correct one. The most implausible part of Contact is that Matthew McConaughey’s character is a philosopher who hasn’t heard of Occam’s razor. What are you doing all day man?!)

The idea of Hanlon’s razor is that we more often make better judgments if we search for common, reasonable explanations of behavior we don’t like, instead of assuming the worst right away. I like this idea; I think Hanlon’s Twitter might be a nice place. I especially like this idea right now, because I’d prefer you treat Ryantastic-gate as a screw-up instead of a nefarious plot. But this wouldn’t be my newsletter if I didn’t try to investigate whether Hanlon’s razor actually is a good principle for thinking. So let’s begin.

Intuitively, I think it is a good principle. I spent a decade as an investigative reporter, generally assuming the worst motivations behind whatever I was investigating; sometimes that bore out, but often I was surprised to find that some organizational screw-up or other was a result of carelessness or poor communication. I found the same for journalism itself. Early in my journalism career, I was a fact-checker, and I usually concluded that writers who reported inaccurate facts were simply making mistakes, or were blind to their own biases, not proactively conspiring to distort the truth.

As the book Super Thinkingnotes, Hanlon’s razor is an attempt to correct what psychologists refer to as “fundamental attribution error.” That is, we all tend to judge the behavior of others as if it represents something fundamental about them, even though we don’t judge ourselves that way. When you see someone run a red light, it’s because they’re a jerk who doesn’t care about anyone else. When you run a red light, it was an accident, or you were really in a rush, or this intersection sucks anyway.

6) The case that we’re actually winning the war on poverty:

7) This is good, “Jurors don’t know what the penalties for a guilty verdict will be. They should.: If juries knew the consequences of their decisions, they’d deliberate more carefully — and could serve as a check on punitive laws”

That’s because most American jurisdictions follow a rule of jury ignorance, meaning that neither judges nor lawyers may tell jurors what punishment a defendant could receive if convicted. There are rare exceptions — state courts in Louisiana and North Carolina, for example — but in most American courtrooms, judges go to great lengths to make sure that jurors don’t know what will happen after a “guilty” verdict.

Keeping juries ignorant, however, exacerbates one of the U.S. criminal justice system’s worst tendencies — its inclination to grow more punitive. Evidence from both history and social scientific experiments suggest that jurors are less likely to convict if they know a defendant’s punishment could be extremely harsh. The rule of jury ignorance eliminates an important check on the system. If politicians thought juries would be less likely to convict when a sentence was severe, for instance, they would be less likely to pass draconian laws.

Replacing ignorant juries with informed ones therefore could be an important criminal justice reform. As a general rule, then, we propose that judges should tell jurors the range of sentences, including the statutory maximum and any mandatory minimums, that a defendant would face upon conviction. (We make the case in a forthcoming article in the Vanderbilt Law Review.)

There are obstacles to this reform — notably a 1994 Supreme Court decision that described jury ignorance as a “well established” principle. Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the opinion, said there was “a basic division of labor in our legal system between judge and jury”: Juries find guilt, judges sentence. (In that case, Shannon v. the United States, the defendant, who had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, wanted the jury to be told that he would be confined involuntarily even if the jury concluded he was insane. The jury wasn’t told, and he was found guilty.)

But that opinion was weakly argued, and not well grounded in judicial history. The argument that juries should be informed about sentences should appeal to both liberal and conservative justices of an “originalist” bent — with liberals focusing on how such a reform would democratize the criminal justice system, and originalists focusing on the fact that the ignorant jury lacks a solid historical foundation.

Indeed, juries informed about punishment were quite familiar to the founding generation.

8) I’ve always thought the survey-based estimates of propensity for partisan violence seemed unrealistically high.  Some new PS research on the topic that, says, yes, they are.  Fascinating thread on how disengaged survey respondents are likely leading to large over-estimates.  

9) Gotta love this idea– potty-training cows to reduce emissions:

A herd of “clever cattle” in Germany have successfully been potty-trained and can now relieve themselves in a designated area nicknamed the “MooLoo,” scientists say — a move that they hope will help lower greenhouse gas emissions amid the global warming crisis.

There are an estimated 1.4 billion cows on Earth and they happen to emit a lot of harmful waste products — through burping, urination and defecating — making the animals a major driver of climate change.

Their frequent urination produces 55 to 110 gallons of methane each day and contains nitrogenous components that pollute Earth’s streams and rivers, make the waters dangerous for people to swim in or drink from, and pose a risk to wildlife.

The University of Auckland joined forces with scientists at a research laboratory in Germany for an experiment that would allow the cow’s urine to be collected, treated and neutralized — so it poses less of a risk.

According to researchers, 11 out of 16 calves were taught to use the MooLoo in just 15 training sessions — a result they said compares favorably to the amount of time it takes to toilet-train children ages 3 to 4.

“The common perception is that cows are placid, lovable, but perhaps not as bright as other animals,” said Lindsay Matthews, a New Zealand-based animal behavioral expert and one of the lead authors of the study. “The cute thing here is that the animals are causing a problem, because of [intensive] farming practices. And here, we can have them as part of the solution, by using their underestimated intellect.”

During the training process, the animals were rewarded with a sweet treat when they urinated exactly where they were supposed to go — in a special pen installed in their barn. If they toileted outside of the area they were offered a mild punishment: a short burst of water.

10) You know I love my apples.  Honeycrisps are good, but over-rated.  Good, but not worth the premium price and there’s a lot of other supermarket apples out there with better, more complex flavor.  Now Honeycrisp has an offspring that’s great for late summer when the apples from storage are old and bad.  Raves ripen early so they are fresh in August and September and they’ve got a great flavor.  Pretty excited to find these at my local Harris Teeter.

11) Frum on the NeverTrumpers dilemma:

Many of the conservatives and Republicans appalled by Donald Trump’s presidency clutched a hope through the bewildering years: Someday this would all be over and politics would return to normal.

But normal has not returned. Those elected Republicans who stood for legality when Trump tried to overturn the 2020 election found themselves party pariahs in 2021, on their way to being out of politics altogether in 2022.

And it’s not just a few politicians who have been displaced by the Trump era. Millions of voters have been too. “Never Trump is not a political party. It is a dinner party”: That jibe was heard a lot in 2017 and 2018. It has not been heard much since. In 2018, Democratic candidates won districts that had loyally voted Republican for 30, 40, 50 years, including those once held by Eric Cantor, Newt Gingrich, and George H. W. Bush.

The anti-Trump Republicans did not return home in 2020. Now, in 2021, their former party seems much more eager to welcome anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers than to win them back.

12) If you love a good subway like I do, you’ll also love this audio interactive, “The Hidden Melodies of Subways Around the World: When train doors close, these jingles warn riders to stand clear.”

13) Local school/air quality news, “NC parents are buying air purifiers for schools. Are they worth the cost to fight COVID?”

Last school year, Wake County school system installed MERV-13 air filters in the HVAC units at each school. But the district is only providing individual air purification units to special-needs classrooms where students are unable to wear face masks.

The reason that Wake County hasn’t provided air purifiers in every classroom is the ABC Science Collaborative, a group formed by Duke University to advise schools on COVID issues.

“Air exchange, purifiers, or filters may help minimally, but have not been shown to help if people are masked.”

I’ve been meaning to write a whole post about this, but, what the hell?!?!  There’s plenty of evidence, just no large trials.  A lack of large RCT trials is not the same things as “no scientific data.”  This is just wrong.  

14) I watched the 2015 movie, Sicario, this week.  It was so damn good.  How the hell did I not hear about this back in 2015?!  We need more movies like this– exciting, thrilling, wonderfully-directed, and about real human beings.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Freddie de Boer on expertise:

I think I’ve been consistent – vastly more consistent on my basic political and policy beliefs since I started writing in 2008 than American liberalism has been. For example, there was no anti-free speech element among liberals in 2008, not at scale, and there certainly is now. There are many people in the left-of-center who will now exclusively put “free speech” in scare quotes, love big tech companies for censoring, and insist that speech should routinely be suppressed to ensure their definition of “safety.” I, in contrast, was a civil libertarian before and I am still a civil libertarian now, following in the tradition of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Rosa Luxemburg, Eugene Debs, Noam Chomsky, and others. I could write a whole pro-free-speech-from-the-left thing. But I shouldn’t have to! I shouldn’t have to because civil liberties have been an indispensable part of much left-wing philosophy for hundreds of years. The fact that the internet has the attention span of a child and the memory of a goldfish does not obligate me to drop my core political commitments when told.

It’s perfectly fair to want to change the values of a movement you belong to. But what has happened in 21st century left spaces is that massive changes come barreling down the pike, emerging from the Brown faculty lounge and elite media Twitter, and everybody is expected to jump onboard without debate or discussion. And then they call me a contrarian for sticking with my lifelong values! If you claim to be a liberal or leftist and you’re against free speech, you are the contrarian. If you claim to be a liberal or leftist and you insist that language and feelings are more important than material conditions, you are the hot take artist. If you claim to be a liberal or a leftist and you think the FBI was an important check on far-right extremism in the Trump years, rather than still seeing it as the agency that tried to get Martin Luther King to kill himself, you’re the one that’s dealing in revisionism. You don’t get to take absolutely core beliefs, change them because you were told to on the Teen Vogue Slack, and then say anyone who doesn’t join you is a grifter. Sorry….

OK this is definitely about Nate Silver. But I do have to defend the concept of “crash courses.” Democracy requires generalism, as it insists that ordinary people become minimally conversant on many topics of controversy. Media as well; journalists often specialize, but even so they retain a lot of generalist tendencies. (There are science journalists, but there are no science scientists.) As always, your behavior towards this stuff matters most. You can “do a little research” by reading the first paragraph of a Wikipedia article or by reading many books and articles. I don’t consider myself an “expert” on the Nation of Islam, but to write about them and Farrakhan I’ve read four books and parts of eleven others, dozens of articles and chapters from academic sources, dozens of articles in the popular press (including going way back in the archives to contemporary pieces), and listened to about 80 hours of Farrakhan speeches that I found on YouTube, scraped from the internet, or accessed via a friendly professor. Is that enough? Do I have a right to write about the NOI, then? Your answer to that question should stem from your perception of the pieces I wrote, how convincingly supported and argued you find them, not from where I write or what letters come after my name. But for many, an independent publication like this one will always be suspect. The standards of who gets to write about what, who has expertise enough, floats around in the media conversation constantly. As liberalism has merged with authority to a greater and greater degree, its gatekeepers become more and more insistent that only people employed as professors in a given field can comment. This seems to betray a failure to understand just how many professors are absolute fucking idiots. Trust me, I’ve spent almost my entire life on college campuses.

Plus experts get things wrong all the time, including on the most important questions, and also liberals ignore expert opinion whenever they want to. (For example, on the predictive validity of educational testing or the health consequences of obesity.) Also this whole fucking political project was supposed to be antiestablishment and anti-authority, or something. I vaguely remember that.

2) Chait on silly charges of political hypocrisy:

Monday night, after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appeared at the Met Gala wearing a dress emblazoned with the slogan “Tax the Rich,” her critics exploded in indignation. The complaint (mostly, but not exclusively, from the right) assailed AOC’s “fraud,” “hypocrisy,” and peddling “empty political slogans.”

But what exactly is the problem here? Should a politician who favors higher taxes on the rich avoid social engagements with them?

But of course AOC is not, and does not claim to be, an “actual revolutionary.” She is an advocate of dramatically more egalitarian economic policy, but not an advocate of executing the rich. Her agenda is not based on a moral critique of the rich, but a rather banal observation that rich people can stand to have less money in order to finance social needs for those in greater need.

Indeed, the whole idea that the Democratic Party’s rationale for more progressive taxation is based on personal moral condemnation of the rich is almost entirely a canard invented by the right. First conservatives accuse liberals of hating and wishing to punish the rich, and then turn around and accuse them of hypocrisy for violating the belief they never actually held.

The strangest aspect of this little setpiece in political outrage theater is that AOC’s stance on taxing the rich is not an answer we need to divine by projecting fantasies onto her appearance. She is an elected official with written, measurable policy proposals, and a key player in a live ongoing debate over what is intended to be the most significant tax increase on the rich in decades.

AOC’s glamorous evening hobnobbing with the rich is orders of magnitude less consequential than her intention to tax their fortunes. What’s truly shallow is the fixation with symbolism and cultural association rather than the concrete fiscal transfer taking shape right now. It is bizarre to watch AOC be accused of being a fake class warrior in the midst of a live class war in Washington with trillions of dollars at stake…

But the changes in the composition of the two parties’ voting bases have not altered the long-standing class orientation of their policy agendas. Democrats still vote to redistribute income downward, while Republicans vote to redistribute it upwards. The political media’s fixation with the marginal change in the composition of the two parties’ bases has made it lose touch with the actual purpose to which they use their power.

The class orientation of their programs — the important things they actually do with power — has not changed. Democrats are pushing through a bill whose intent and effect would be to bring about a historically large downward transfer of resources. The upper-middle-class voters the party has been attracting in greater numbers would face combined tax rates at or around 60 percent, in the highest tax states. The spending these taxes would finance would go to people of modest means.

It surely isn’t Met Gala attendees who will make use of expanded Medicaid in red states or free community college. The people dismissing programs like that as undesirable or unaffordable are the conservatives who posture as tribunes of the working people.

Indeed, the two parties are more polarized over redistribution than any other single dynamic. Republicans will routinely abandon their posture against spending, deficits, centralized government control, but they will never waver from their opposition to taxing the rich…

The Republican Party has spurred a lot of talk about populism, but nothing resembling a serious challenge to its fanatical opposition to redistribution. If J.D. Vance is elected to the Senate, he will vote for the next big capital gains or estate tax cut Republicans put in front of him.

Even a casual familiarity with the contours of the ongoing policy fight would dispel the vulgar Marxist assumption that the Democratic Party’s growing support among affluent voters would signify a rightward change in its economic program. It’s downright strange to be living through a polarized fight over whether hundreds of billions of dollars will remain in the hands of the wealthy, or instead be used to finance benefits for the downtrodden without the broader debate taking any real note of it.

You would think the class contours of the debate in Joe Biden’s Washington would be obvious enough that people clinging to their image of fancy Democrats and downscale Republicans couldn’t ignore it anymore. But the human ability to ignore the obvious is strong enough that many of us can’t see who wants to tax the rich even when it’s staring right at us in blazing red letters.

3) Research like this frustrates me.  Alas, there’s no America where you can expect Republican to receive honest and accurate information about how taxing the rich actually works.  The world just doesn’t work that way.

Learning the facts changed Republicans’ attitudes about taxing the rich

We found three key things. First, learning what a high proportion of rich Americans inherited their wealth boosted support for raising the top federal income tax rate by six percentage points, compared with those in the control group, who read about rivers. Individuals in this group were also less likely than people in the control group to believe that rich people deserve a lower tax rate or that they worked harder than other Americans. In other words, this information increased support for higher taxes on the rich by fundamentally changing people’s beliefs about whether doing so was fair.

Second, individuals in the group informed that past cuts in the top federal income tax rate did not result in higher economic growth were the most likely to support higher taxes on the rich; this information increased support by more than eight percentage points, compared with the control group. However, when looking at core beliefs, we can see that this cannot be explained by changing beliefs about the economic effects of lower taxes. Instead, the finding is entirely driven by the information that the top federal income tax rate has been cut almost in half since 1979. In other words, once individuals learned how much higher rates had been in the past, they were more willing to raise taxes on the rich today.

Finally, the effects were strongest for Republicans. When Republicans learned that 122 American billionaires who inherited their wealth are wealthier than the bottom 50 percent of the population, their support for raising the top federal income tax rate increased by 13 percentage points. Learning how that the top income tax rate had been cut in half raised support even more dramatically, by about 17 percentage points.

In other words, Republicans’ opposition to tax hikes became much weaker when they learned facts that challenged their beliefs.

4) Margaret Sullivan on good stuff from the journalists at the Philadelphia Inquirer:

There’s a simple but powerful idea behind the Philadelphia Inquirer’s recent decision not to use the word “audit” when referring to an effort by the state GOP to investigate the 2020 election:

Words matter.

The words that a news organization chooses to tell a story make a difference. If a journalist calls something a “lie,” that’s a deliberate choice. So is “racially tinged.” Or “pro-life.” Or “torture.”

Such decisions carry weight. They have power.

Acknowledging this power and being transparent about those choices is exactly what the Inquirer did the other day when it embedded within a news story a bit of explanatory text, under the headline: “Why We’re Not Calling It an Audit.”

In clear language, the paper explained that it’s because “there’s no indication” that this effort, which follows months of demands from Donald Trump alleging baselessly that the election was rigged, “would follow the best practices or the common understanding of an audit among nonpartisan experts.”

How so? The Inquirer noted that when it asked how the review would work, how ballots and election equipment would be secured, who would be involved, and so on, the leaders of this effort did not explain.

The Inquirer stated some reporting-based facts linked to the paper’s previous stories about them: That Joe Biden won the state by more than 80,000 votes, that state and county audits affirmed that outcome, and that there is no evidence of any significant fraud.

“We think it is critical to speak plain truths about efforts to make it harder to vote and about efforts to sow doubts about the electoral process,” Dan Hirschhorn, senior politics editor at the Inquirer, told me. “These are not ‘he said/she said’ stories — there is clear, objective truth here.”

More plain truths from the Inquirer: In the story carrying this explainer box, the paper uses the term “forensic investigation” — which is what the GOP wants to call it — in quotation marks. A sub-headline makes it clear that this effort is “modeled off the months-long partisan review in Arizona,” widely regarded as irrevocably flawed and unnecessary to begin with, initiated by Republican lawmakers carrying water for Trump and placed in the hands of dubious private firms. (“Fraudit” may be a more accurate term.)

More of this, please!  And less false balance at any costs (yes, I’m looking at you Politico, Axios, and similar).

5) OMG the Democratic “centrists” are the worst.  They are not moderate, they’re just stupid!  Brian Beutler lets loose:

Just this week, a tiny group of centrists with ties to the pharmaceutical industry forced the party to remove provisions that would allow the government to directly negotiate prescription prices for Medicare beneficiaries from the Build Back Better Act. These provisions are extremely popular and generate huge cost savings. It’s the most destructive and selfish single thing any of the centrists in Congress have done, and they’ve justified it with disingenuous pablum about bipartisanship.

If there’s good news here it’s that Schrader et al had to stand and be counted; the leadership didn’t quietly do their bidding, they had to join a bunch of Republicans in voting to strip the pricing provision from the bill text in committee, exposing themselves to serious political recriminations. But the question for leadership now is whether to let that be the end of the story. If they don’t try to revive the provision at all it could very well kill the bill; if they revive it in a substantially weakened form, it might also kill the bill, but it’ll definitely weaken its tangible benefits for real people, and thus the party’s ability to say: We lowered your drug prices, send us back to Washington.

The alternative is to jam them; to say their six month reign of destruction is over; to revive a robust drug-pricing provision and dare them to tank the whole bill, to sink the party, draw primary challenges, lose committee assignments—whatever.

Senate leaders will face similar conundrums in the days ahead when Republicans filibuster democracy-protection legislation, and, soon thereafter, a debt-limit increase. Under the old paradigm, that’d be the end of the line for voting rights, and the beginning of a new, destructive phase of bipartisan negotiations over budget austerity between centrists and giddy Republican saboteurs. Under a better one, the centrists will have to decide whether they’d truly prefer to wreck the party and the country rather than abolish the filibuster and pass the bills the country needs.

If common sense prevails, it’ll serve the public interest, but it’ll also improve the party’s political outlook. In the centrists’ telling, their political fortunes are so fragile that they can be upended by the wrong protest-movement slogan, but so impervious that they can withstand gerrymandering, broken health-care promises, a divided party, and any number of other problems of their own creation. And because the prevailing trope is that they must be possessed of some deep political wisdom to have won their seats in the first place, a whole political industry will echo whatever random, self-serving things they say as the holy writ of pragmatism.

But for all the grousing they do about taking tough votes and The Squad and the mystical politics of their states and districts, their political fates will rise and fall with Biden’s, and his standing has as much to do with what’s in (say) the Build Back Better agenda as in the sense that he’s actively, nimbly, quickly fixing things—prescription drug prices, yes, but also corruption and abortion rights in Texas and the ongoing insurrection—and unafraid to side with his supporters on the big moral issues of the day. It would be better for the country for Build Back Better to be filled with popular provisions that improve people’s lives, but the damage Schrader et al are doing isn’t just making the bill worse; it’s making Biden and the Democrats seem in over their heads. Republicans took on a lot of water trying to repeal Obamacare, but there’s a reason they weren’t grateful to John McCain for killing their efforts. The story here is similar, except the agenda in peril today is very popular.

It may be the case that Biden et al actually are in over their heads; that holding together such narrow majorities for such far-reaching legislation is just beyond their capabilities because it’s really, really hard. If so, then Build Back Better was doomed from the start. But if not, the best thing they could do to overcome these obstacles is remind the centrists—quickly—that their fortunes rise and fall together, so they must toe the party line. If that doesn’t work, the next-best thing would be to lose their patience.  



6) David Brooks with a piece that dovetails quite nicely with what I wrote about opinion polling earlier this week: “Is Self-Awareness a Mirage?”

One of the most unsettling findings of modern psychology is that we often don’t know why we do what we do. You can ask somebody: Why’d you choose that house? Or why’d you marry that person? Or why’d you go to graduate school? People will concoct some plausible story, but often they really have no idea why they chose what they did.

We have a conscious self, of course, the voice in our head, but this conscious self has little access to the parts of the brain that are the actual sources of judgment, problem-solving and emotion. We know what we’re feeling, just not how and why we got there.

But we also don’t want to admit how little we know about ourselves, so we make up some story, or confabulation. As Will Storr writes in his excellent book “The Science of Storytelling”: “We don’t know why we do what we do, or feel what we feel. We confabulate when theorizing as to why we’re depressed, we confabulate when justifying our moral convictions and we confabulate when explaining why a piece of music moves us.”

Or as Nicholas Epley puts it in his equally excellent “Mindwise,” “No psychologist asks people to explain the causes of their own thoughts or behavior anymore unless they’re interested in understanding storytelling.”

7) Just do disturbing to see all the Republicans defending January 6 and re-writing history.  From Leonhardt:

Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina cast those arrested after the riot as “political prisoners” and suggested he wanted to “try and bust them out.”

Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin described the attackers as “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement.”

Senate Republicans blocked Congress from creating an independent commission to investigate the attack. Senator Mitch McConnell called it a partisan effort “to debate things that occurred in the past.”


J.D. Vance, a best-selling author and Republican Senate candidate in Ohio, said that there were “some bad apples” but that “most of the people there were actually super peaceful.”

Julie Kelly of the journal American Greatness suggested Michael Fanone — a Washington police officer who suffered a heart attack and a brain injury during the attack — was lying about it, and called him a “crisis actor.”

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia said on the House floor, “The people who breached the Capitol on Jan. 6 are being abused.”

Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona accused law enforcement of “harassing peaceful patriots” and “law-abiding U.S. citizens.”

Representative Jody Hice of Georgia said, “It was Trump supporters who lost their lives that day, not Trump supporters who were taking the lives of others.”

Four Republican House members staged actions at the Justice Department and a D.C. jail demanding information about the treatment of Jan. 6 defendants. One of them, Gosar, said the defendants were being “persecuted.”


CarlsonGreene and Candace Owens, a conservative commentator, have all suggested that the F.B.I. or Justice Department was behind the riot.

Joe Kent — a Washington State Republican running with Trump’s endorsement against one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over Jan. 6 — plans to attend tomorrow’s rally, The Times reports.

8) From Wired, “Psychologists Are Learning What Religion Has Known for Years: Social scientists are researching what humans can do to improve their quality of life. Their findings echo what religious practices perfected centuries ago.”

Science and religion have often been at odds. But if we remove the theology—views about the nature of God, the creation of the universe, and the like—from the day-to-day practice of religious faith, the animosity in the debate evaporates. What we’re left with is a series of rituals, customs, and sentiments that are themselves the results of experiments of sorts. Over thousands of years, these experiments, carried out in the messy thick of life as opposed to sterile labs, have led to the design of what we might call spiritual technologies—tools and processes meant to sooth, move, convince, or otherwise tweak the mind. And studying these technologies has revealed that certain parts of religious practices, even when removed from a spiritual context, are able to influence people’s minds in the measurable ways psychologists often seek.

My lab has found, for example, that having people practice Buddhist meditation for a short time makes them kinder. After only eight weeks of study with a Buddhist lama, 50 percent of those who we randomly assigned to meditate daily spontaneously helped a stranger in pain. Only 16 percent of those who didn’t meditate did the same. (In reality, the stranger was an actor we hired to use crutches and wear a removable foot cast while trying to find a seat in a crowded room.) Compassion wasn’t limited to strangers, though; it also applied to enemies. Another study showed that after three weeks of meditation, most people refrained from seeking revenge on someone who insulted them, unlike most of those who did not meditate. Once my team observed these profound impacts, we began looking for other linkages between our previous research and existing religious rituals.

Gratitude, for instance, is something we had studied closely, and a key element of many religious practices. Christians often say grace before a meal; Jews give thanks to God with the Modeh Ani prayer every day upon awakening. When we studied the act of giving thanks, even in a secular context, we found it made people more virtuous. In a study where people could get more money by lying about the results of a coin flip, the majority (53 percent) cheated. But that figure dropped dramatically for people who we first asked to count their blessings. Of these, only 27 percent chose to lie. We’ve also found that when feeling gratitude to a person, to fate, or to God, people become more helpfulmore generous, and even more patient.

The combined effects of simple elements like these—ones that change how we feel, what we believe, and who we can depend on—accumulate over time. And when they’re embedded in religious practices, research has shown they can have protective properties of sorts. Regularly taking part in religious practices lessens anxiety and depression, increases physical health, and even reduces the risk of early death. These benefits don’t come simply from general social contact. There’s something specific to spiritual practices themselves.

9) This seems simple enough.  Professor tweets pretty abhorrent stuff about 9/11; University defends free speech of professor.  But they damn sure need to defend all sorts of abhorrent speech.  Also, this bit, ““We have to be more honest about what 9/11 was and what it wasn’t. It was an attack on the heteropatriarchal capitalistic systems that America relies upon to wrangle other countries into passivity” is just so embarrassingly over-the-top it might as well be from the Onion.

10) The Atlantic had a great feature four years ago on why it might actually make sense to bring back the Wooly Mammoth.  And, now, just maybe, it may happen.

A team of scientists and entrepreneurs announced on Monday that they have started a new company to genetically resurrect the woolly mammoth.

The company, named Colossal, aims to place thousands of these magnificent beasts back on the Siberian tundra, thousands of years after they went extinct.

“This is a major milestone for us,” said George Church, a biologist at Harvard Medical School, who for eight years has been leading a small team of moonlighting researchers developing the tools for reviving mammoths. “It’s going to make all the difference in the world.”

The company, which has received $15 million in initial funding, will support research in Dr. Church’s lab and carry out experiments in labs of their own in Boston and Dallas.

11) Great, disturbing feature on Tucker Carlson in TNR, “How Tucker Carlson Lost It: He once craved responsibility and tried to give a right-wing audience real news. They didn’t want it. And he adjusted with a vengeance.”

12) Greg Sargent, “The right-wing media is helping Trump destroy democracy. A new poll shows how.”

When future historians seek to explain the United States’ perilous slide toward authoritarianism in the 21st century, they will grapple with the role played in all these events by Fox News and the right-wing media. Simply put, those actors are helping Donald Trump and his movement threaten democracy, in a way that will likely continue getting worse.

A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute demonstrates in a fresh way just how responsible those bad-faith media actors are for what we’re seeing right now. And this raises anew the question of how much damage they will do over the long haul.

The poll’s big finding is that people who rely heavily on Fox News and other right-wing media are overwhelmingly more likely to believe the election was stolen from Trump — and are overwhelmingly less likely to blame Trump for the insurrection — than those who do not.

In one sense, that’s a no-brainer. But taken together, those views add up to something truly toxic: The “belief” that the election was stolen, and the simultaneous refusal to assign accountability for an effort to violently overthrow our constitutional order, suggest right-wing propaganda may be softening the ground for a more concerted abandonment of democracy going forward.

The PRRI poll finds that 69 percent of Americans do not believe the election was stolen, while only 29 percent do believe this. That latter number largely reflects Republicans, among whom 71 percent believe it. Only very small minorities of independents and Democrats do.

The poll also finds that 56 percent of Americans say Trump does bear much of the blame for the Jan. 6 violence, that 59 percent say this about white supremacist groups, and that 41 percent say this about GOP leaders.

If anything, those numbers are too low. Trump did incite the violence, far-right groups did organize the “Stop the Steal” rally around lurid lies about the stolen election destroying American freedom, and GOP elites did extensively humor or even validate those lies.

Regardless, the poll also broke down these numbers through the prism of which media sources people trust, including Fox News and far-right sources such as One America News and conventional broadcast networks such as ABC, CBS and NBC.

At my request, PRRI cut the data and provided me with these findings:

  • Among Americans who most trust Fox News or those far-right news sources, a stunning 76 percent believe the election was stolen. By contrast, of those who most trust those other sources, only 21 percent believe this.
  • Among Americans who most trust Fox News or those far-right news sources, only 12 percent say Trump gets a lot of blame for the Jan. 6 riot. And 64 percent blame liberal or left-wing activists, such as antifa.

13) NYT on air quality:

Is bad indoor air dulling your brain?

How healthy is the air in your workplace?

It’s a question many of us are now asking to protect ourselves from Covid-19. But indoor air quality is also something we should be talking about long after the pandemic ends. Because not only can the quality of your workplace air influence the number of sick days you take each year, but it may even affect how well your brain works in the office.

A new study shows that poor indoor air quality is associated with subtle impairments in a number of cognitive functions, including our ability to concentrate and process information. The study tracked 302 office workers in commercial buildings in six countries — the United States, Britain, China, India, Mexico and Thailand — for 12 months.

The scientists used monitors to measure ventilation and indoor air quality in the buildings, including levels of fine particulate matter, which includes dust and minuscule particles from smoking, cleaning products and outdoor air pollution that seeps into the building. The workers were asked to use an app to take regular cognitive tests during the workday. The tests included simple math problems, as well as a tricky color and word brain teaser called the Stroop test, in which a word like “blue” or “purple” is printed in green or red ink. (The test asks you to name the color of the ink, but our brains want to read the word instead. You can try the Stroop test yourself here.)

The study found that the office workers in buildings with the poorest indoor air quality tended to perform worse on the brain teasers. While the effect wasn’t dramatic, the findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that the air we breathe affects brain health.

“This study looked at how several factors in the indoor environment have an immediate impact on our cognitive function and performance,” said Joseph G. Allen, the director of the Harvard Healthy Buildings program and the study’s senior author. “This study shows that the air you’re breathing at your desk at that moment has an impact on how well you think.”

In the past, air quality control in buildings has been mostly focused on energy efficiency and comfort, with little consideration given to infection control or overall worker health. But the pandemic has prompted many workplaces to take a closer look at indoor air quality. The good news is that many of the changes being made to prevent the spread of Covid-19 are the same improvements that need to be made to improve the overall air quality linked with cognitive function and worker productivity.

“There is a newfound appreciation for how much the indoor environment influences our health,” said Dr. Allen. “Healthy buildings,” he said, should not just be thought of as “something we do during Covid or a crisis. It has to be the new normal, not the exception, going forward.”


Tax capital gains more– not wealth

Yeah, wealth taxes sound great in theory, but, in practice, not so much.  Long-time critic of our policy regime that has led to so much wealth inequality, Tim Noah makes the strong case that we need to do much better taxing capital gains and that a wealth tax is a fool’s errand:

Why do I make such a fuss about the distinction between taxing capital income on the one hand and taxing wealth on the other? Because it muddies the central problem, which is that taxes on capital and business income have been eviscerated over the past generation to the point where, starting in 2018, the effective tax rate on capital income fell below the effective tax rate on labor income, according to Berkeley economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. The immediate culprit was Trump’s sharp cut in corporate and estate taxes in 2017, but, as Saez and Zucman demonstrated in their 2019 book, The Triumph of Injustice, for two decades previously, both parties had been whittling away at taxes on capital, starting with President Bill Clinton’s lowering of the top capital gains rate in 1997 from 28 percent to 20 percent. (Biden proposes raising the top capital gains rate to 39.6 percent; the House Democrats propose raising it to a paltry 25 percent.) “Capital income,” Saez and Zucman wrote, “is becoming tax-free.”

That’s a calamity. But fixing it with wealth taxes would be a fool’s errand. For starters, the United States doesn’t have any wealth taxes at the national level, so you’d have to create an entirely new tax. Doing so, as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen noted in a February New York Times interview, would pose “very difficult implementation problems.”  

Wealth taxes haven’t worked very well in Europe. A 2018 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that the number of OECD countries with wealth taxes dwindled after 1990 from 12 to four because wealth taxes were “more distortive and less equitable” than taxes on capital income and estate taxes. Revenues from wealth taxes in the four countries that kept them were surprisingly low, accounting, in 2016, for 0.5 percent of total revenues in France and Spain and 1.1 and 3.7 percent, respectively, in Norway and Switzerland…

But in the U.S., most of our largest fortunes are built on income, not wealth. The growth in U.S. wealth inequality over the past three decades has resulted less from Rockefellers and Waltons accruing interest on family capital than from corporate CEOs and financial buccaneers being grossly overcompensated for their labor. Income is still where our economy lives, as it has since the Industrial Revolution mooted farm acreage as the measure of financial well-being.

By all means, tax those Rockefellers and Waltons when they die. But while they live, it’s a lot simpler to tax people’s income. There’s absolutely no reason we can’t tax the wealthier among them a whole lot more, as the Biden administration seeks to do.

Are boosters “necessary”?

No!  But does the preponderance of the evidence indicate they would really help? Yes!  Does the preponderance of the evidence also suggest that giving 3rd shots to Americans who want them would have a trivial impact on global vaccine supply and have little impact on the rest of the world (which we really need to do all we can to get more vaccines to)? Yes!  So, let’s boost, damnit!

I really hate this new frame from the anti-booster crowd that vaccines aren’t “necessary.”  Hell, seat belts aren’t “necessary.”  That should not be the standard.  Would it very likely lead to a notable improvement in the US health situation vis-a-vis Delta and almost sure save American lives and prevent a ton of human suffering (even “mild” Covid which many vaccinated are experiencing as breakthroughs can really suck)?  Hell, yeah.  So, let’s boost.  

Here’s the take that really bugged me:

But for the general population, experts have been divided over whether boosters are necessary. Some argue that a third shot (or, in the case of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, a second shot) should really be considered part of the initial dosing plan, while others say there is no evidence that the vaccines are losing any strength at protecting people from hospitalization or death from Covid-19 — the worst outcomes that the shots were primarily designed to guard against.

“Even if boosting were eventually shown to decrease the medium-term risk of serious disease, current vaccines supplies could save more lives if used in previously unvaccinated populations than if used as boosters in vaccinated populations,” the paper states…

Pointing to the possibility of side effects from boosters doses, the authors write that “if unnecessary boosting causes significant adverse reactions, there could be implications for vaccine acceptance that go beyond Covid-19 vaccines.”

The FDA, meanwhile, is convening its vaccine advisory committee for a public meeting Friday to discuss Pfizer’s application for Covid-19 vaccine boosters, at which the topic of whether boosters are necessary is sure to come up.

Oh, come on!  We all know that 3rd doses would be better used as first and second doses in the unvaccinated.  But stop pretending this is an either/or to score ideological points!! And, please, enough of the vaccine credibility issues.  There’s no basis to expect that third doses should lead to substantially more adverse responses than we’ve seen with the first two doses.  

Meanwhile, Topol with data from Israel:

And, this unwarranted booster skepticism (especially in light of the data we’re seeing):

What the Israeli data show is that a booster can enhance protection for a few weeks in older adults — a result that is unsurprising, experts said, and does not indicate long-term benefit.

“What I would predict will happen is that the immune response to that booster will go up, and then it will contract again,” said Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. “But is that three- to four-month window what we’re trying to accomplish?”

Honestly, I suspect Mandivilli (the NYT Covid reporter) is anti-booster.  It should not have been hard at all to find an expert with a far more optimistic take.  In fact, the only expert quoted here is this exceedingly pessimistic one.  Based on the many vaccines where the protocol is 3 or 4 doses, there’s actually plenty of reason to expect benefit to last well beyond 3-4 months.  Furthermore, these takes completely ignore the fact that it’s not just about waning immunity, but that the 3rd dose seems to be particularly helpful do to the fact that the vaccines just aren’t as effective against Delta (as discussed here).  

And, here’s Noah Smith making the case for Delta-specific booster.  In my conversation on this with BB, he points out that, if you pay attention there’s plenty of people talking about this, and even with mRNA vaccines it’s just got to take a while to test and transition.  But, that said, we really should be talking about this more.  Where, for example, is Mandivilli’s article interviewing all the relevant folks about exactly what would be involved in the manufacturing transition, what the hold-ups might be, and when, roughly, we should therefore expect Delta-specific shots (which would likely take us back pretty close to the levels of success we were having against Alpha, when life was so good).  Smith is right that this should very much be part of our national vaccine conversation and it’s frustrating that it basically isn’t.

Anyway, it may not be “necessary” but if I can reduce my family member’s protection against hospitalization from 90% protection to upper 90’s and increase my protection against a nasty flu-like illness from somewhere in the 70’s to the 90’s, sign me up damnit!

Republicans against democracy

The sine qua non of democracy?  I think it’s fair to say that its free and fair elections.  So, what else can you call it when–clearly thanks to Trump– it is now standard operating procedure for Republicans to try and undermine elections.  Important column from Greg Sargent:

So is this really how it’s going to be? Are more and more Republican candidates across our great land going to treat it as a requirement that they cast any and all election losses as dubious or illegitimate by definition?

We’re now seeing numerous examples of GOP candidates running for office who are doing something very close to this. Which suggests the legacy of Donald Trump could prove worse for the health of democracy than it first appeared.

It isn’t just that Republicans will be expected to pledge fealty to the lost cause of the stolen 2020 election. It’s also that untold numbers of GOP candidates will see it as essential to the practice of Trumpist politics that they vow to actively subvert legitimate election losses by any means necessary.

One high-profile GOP candidate now playing this ugly Trumpist game is Larry Elder, who is running in a recall election against California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom. This week, Elder told reporters that “there might very well be shenanigans” in the vote counting, just like “in the 2020 election,” and vowed that his “voter integrity board” of lawyers will “file lawsuits.”…

A worse example comes from the leading GOP candidate for Senate in Nevada, Adam Laxalt. The former state attorney general’s effort to unseat Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto has Trump’s endorsement in what will be a hard-fought contest.

Laxalt, then, will begin contesting any eventual loss right now, because otherwise Democrats will succeed in stealing another election. This, too, is a declaration in advance not to accept a loss as a legitimate outcome.

And then, when the press covered his despicable threat, Laxalt rejoiced that he was “triggering the media,” smarmily insisting the press is attacking anyone who wants “secure” and “fair” elections.

In fact, Laxalt is the one threatening to undermine secure and fair elections. Indeed, as this demonstrates, for Trumpist politicians, the refusal to commit to respecting legitimate election losses is now a badge of honor…

An important feature of all this is that the lies about the majorities who win fair elections, and even the undermining of faith that our electoral system is fundamentally capable of rendering legitimate outcomes, are essential first steps toward overturning such outcomes later. The lies are the foundation, the starting point for potential future efforts to subvert our democratic order…

It’s unclear what this will mean for the GOP as a whole over time. But it’s ominous that you rarely hear condemnation of any of this from the most senior figures in the party.

The willingness to abide by election losses as legitimate, on the understanding that our system is worth preserving and you can live to fight another day, is a hallmark of democratic stability. But it’s becoming a hallmark of GOP primary politics to publicly renounce that ethic, and to do so defiantly and proudly.

Trump may be gone from office and no longer consuming our national attention, but, damn if he didn’t set the Republican Party on a dangerously anti-democratic course that still persists.  

Are public opinion polls particularly bad for Covid?

Yes, I think so.  I gave the crash course in public opinion for my Intro to American Government class last week.  Even though public opinion polls are my livelihood, I definitely encourage a strong skepticism.  Among types of polls I tell my students to be wary of are questions that ask people to explain their behavior/reasons for their behavior and questions that ask them to predict a future behavior (other than casting a particular ballot).  The truth is that people are horrible at introspection.  There’s always questions on “why did you vote for X?”  The real answer is almost always some variation on “Because I’m a Democrat/Republican” but nobody ever says that.  Rather it’s “shares my values” or “better candidate” or “other party will ruin or America” or whatever.  Likewise, questions regularly ask for speculation such as “if Candidate X did/said Y, how would that affect your vote” and lots of people answer on some variation of “yes, in substantial ways” when the reality is, in all likelihood, you will have long forgotten this and you are just voting on partisanship anyway.   

And, yet, what are we doing with so many Covid questions.  Why have you not gotten the vaccine.  My hypothesis is that for many the answer is something along the lines of “just this vague anxiety about it.”  That’s not a survey option and even if it was, nobody would choose it when you could say, “well, the vaccine is still technically experimental.”  Of course, we now have evidence pretty much none of those people were actually holding off for that reason as there’s been no change in rates since approval.  

Or I’m really supposed to believe nearly 90% of the unvaccinated would quit their jobs first?  Please!

Of the unvaccinated respondents, 84% said their decision against immunization wouldn’t change if the vaccines had no side effects and 87% said they still wouldn’t get the shots if their employer mandated them. Just 5% and 4% of respondents, respectively, said those things would make them “much more likely” to change their minds, the survey shows. Pressure from family members made little difference, with just 2% saying that would make them much more likely to get the shots.

Anyway, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing (including Covid research) if I didn’t believe in the value of public opinion polling.  But, we always need a healthy skepticism of just what and how we are measuring.  And, I really think that features of attitudes about Covid and vaccination mean an extra-heavy dose of skepticism is called for.  

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