Quick hits (part II)

1) Interesting NYT Review of a new book on the top 10%:

In his new book, “The 9.9 Percent,” Matthew Stewart focuses on the wealthiest one-tenth of Americans, a “new aristocracy” whose aggregate wealth is four times greater than that of everyone else. A minimum of $1.2 million in assets is required to enter this exclusive club and Stewart writes that the threshold will almost certainly rise by the time his book is published. It’s a club to which white people are eight times more likely to belong than people of color.

But what ultimately unites its members is less the size of their bank accounts than a mind-set, Stewart contends. At its core lies “the merit myth,” a shared belief that the affluent owe their success not to the color of their skin or the advantages they’ve inherited but to their talent and intelligence. Under the spell of this conviction, Stewart argues, the privileged engage in practices — segregating themselves in upscale neighborhoods, using their money and influence to get their children into elite colleges — that entrench inequality even as they remain blithely unaware of their role in perpetuating it.

2) And sticking with the book theme, from a review of a new book on Neanderthals:

Sykes explains that Neanderthals were sophisticated and competent human beings who adapted to diverse habitats and climates. They ranged from the shores of the Atlantic to the steppes of Central Asia. They thrived in hot climates as well as in ice age tundra. In addition to iconic large game hunts, Neanderthals also fished in rivers, gathered a multitude of plant species and sometimes stole honey from beehives. They manufactured complex tools, made clothing from animal hides, constructed cozy shelters, occasionally buried their dead and maybe, just maybe, even created art…

Yet Sykes’s convincing arguments about the competence and diversity of ancient Neanderthals lead us back to the inevitable Sapiens question. Scholars always noted the suspicious coincidence that Neanderthals made their exit exactly when Sapiens appeared on the scene. But as long as scholars viewed Neanderthals as simple brutes barely scraping by in ice age Europe, it was easy to give Sapiens the benefit of the doubt. Some scholars said that climate change made conditions more suitable for Sapiens while Neanderthals couldn’t cope with it. Other scholars argued that Neanderthals were already on the brink of extinction even before Sapiens left Africa. Another option was that Neanderthals didn’t go extinct at all — they were assimilated into the expanding Sapiens population.

But Sykes’s new synthesis seems to rule out all these options. For over 300,000 years Neanderthals successfully weathered many climatic cycles and adjusted to numerous habitats. They were capable of innovation and adaptation. They disappeared quite abruptly about 40,000 years ago as a result of what looks more like a sudden shock than a protracted process of decline. And while we now have conclusive evidence that some Neanderthals interbred with Sapiens, the evidence indicates that these were isolated incidents, and that the two populations did not merge.

So what happened? If Neanderthals were so good, why did they disappear? Sykes does not provide a definitive answer, but her findings strengthen the suspicion that Sapiens had a hand in it. Apparently, Neanderthals were sophisticated and innovative enough to deal with diverse climates and habitats, but not with their African cousins.

3) Models of Omicron’s potential impact cover quite the range.  Fingers crossed we get the optimistic edition (though, insofar as that depends on better human behavior, I’m not optimistic):

Among the first omicron-related projections to be made public is one from the UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin. That group has modeled 16 omicron scenarios that cover a range of “how quickly it spreads, how easily it evades immunity and how quickly we’re able to roll out booster shots,” says Lauren Ancel Meyers, who directs the consortium.

According to some of those scenarios, the omicron wave might only intensify the delta surge that’s underway. But in the most pessimistic scenario, omicron could trigger a tidal wave of infections that would be worse than last winter’s massive surge.

By around the end of January, more than 500,000 people could catch the virus every day on average, which is more than double the peak reached last winter, according to the most pessimistic scenario.

In the following weeks, an estimated 29,812 people would be hospitalized with COVID-19 and 3,876 would die every day on average, according to this projection.

“The most pessimistic scenarios are scary. And we need to sort of equip ourselves to make changes — change policies, encourage more cautionary behavior — if and when we start to see hospitalizations tick up in this country,” Meyers says.

But Meyers stresses that the most dire scenarios assume the very worst, including that the U.S. takes no additional measures or behavior changes to slow the spread of the virus, such as more masking and social distancing.

The pessimistic scenario also assumes that omicron is extremely adept at evading our immune systems and that omicron makes people sicker than delta does. Omicron is proving to be good at evading immunity and vaccines. But so far, evidence suggests it may cause milder illness, though that remains the biggest and probably most consequential open question.

The more optimistic projections are far less frightening. In the least pessimistic scenario, the omicron wave peaks around the middle of January and cases are only about double what they are now — reaching 189,069 on average every day. In this scenario, omicron would lead to only a few thousand more hospitalizations and a few hundred more deaths each day — 10,538 hospitalizations and 1,412 deaths on average.

In this hopeful scenario, “it’s just sort of a little bump. It’s not a catastrophic surge that overwhelms our hospitals and leads to record number of deaths,” Meyers says.

But that scenario assumes that omicron isn’t quite as good as it is in the pessimistic scenario at sneaking around our immune systems, that it doesn’t make people any sicker than delta and, importantly, that more people get boosted.

4) This interview makes the optimistic case based on South Africa data:

Let’s talk about what we know right now. There’s been relatively encouraging reports out of South Africa, but then there was this Imperial College report today that was striking a quite different tone, giving a quite different picture. How do you see the basic lay of the land right now? And what do you think is ahead for us in the next month or so?
Well, I think we’re starting to have good data from South Africa. And it looks like the proportion of people hospitalized, given infection, is much lower than in previous waves. Some estimates are as optimistic as 90 percent lower. It looks like, given hospitalization, people are less likely to die, or are less likely to die by respective age groups — a two-thirds reduction of death from infection compared to previous waves. There could be all sorts of reasons why, but that is quite spectacular. If you assume that these numbers are correct, it would mean a 30-times reduction in fatality relative to previous waves, which is really something. That brings us down to seasonal flu.

5) This is also an encouraging take on the SA data:

6) To be clear, the “optimistic” take means not the total disaster that some are predicting.  We are definitely going to have a major Omicron wave.  Almost surely it will lead to way more substantial illness and death and disruption.  So, optimistic is about just how bad within that framework. David Wallace-Wells, “Omicron Is About to Overwhelm Us The new COVID variant has all the makings of a massive wave.”

But right now we don’t need models to tell us that the pandemic is taking a bad turn, and we won’t need to wait to see the projections validated, either. The speed of spread with Omicron is so fast that, when it comes to case growth, at least, the warnings are being validated already.

The relative virulence of the new variant is still clouded by enormous amounts of uncertainty. Only one patient has died with Omicron, thus far, and it is not entirely clear if the coronavirus was even the true cause of death. But in part this lack of severe outcomes reflects just how early in the wave we still are, even in South Africa; the variant was first identified there just three weeks ago, which means many of the early cases are still running their clinical course, and we don’t yet know what the outcomes will be. Hospitalization data comes earlier, and the news has been encouraging there, though experts have warned that what we see as milder outcomes may have less to do with the inherent virulence of the variant and more to do with the fact that more people who’ve caught it are carrying with them protection from vaccination or previous infection. The largest study to date on early South African data — somewhat strangely, it was conducted by an insurance company — found that, overall, those with Omicron were experiencing 29 percent less severe disease than those who got sick in the country’s first pandemic wave. Other, independent assessments have yielded lower — which is to say, more encouraging — estimates: Perhaps Omicron’s severity is lower by two-thirds, perhaps even less.

7) And a moment for abortion.  Even though politicians are completely polarized on abortion, not so ordinary voters. Nate Cohn,  “Some Voters Are at Odds With Their Party on Abortion: Despite decades of partisan fighting in Washington, Americans are not as neatly divided on abortion as politicians and activists.”

Despite decades of partisan fighting, Americans are not as neatly divided on abortion as politicians and activists. There are Republicans who support abortion rights, Democrats who oppose abortion and a surprisingly large group of voters who appear to have muddled or conflicted views. Overall, 26 percent of voters hold a different view on abortion than the presidential candidate they supported in 2020, according to data from an AP VoteCast election survey of more than 100,000 voters.

No issue quite compares to abortion, at least not in its emotional and moral stakes. Yet by some measures, more voters hold views on abortion at odds with those of their presidential pick than on other hot-button issues, including gun control, coronavirus mask mandates or a border wall.

The relatively large number of voters who split with their party on abortion may simply be a reflection of how the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade often kept the issue from the center of political debate. But it may also suggest that many voters just don’t feel as strongly about the issue as one might assume.

The findings in the AP VoteCast election survey are a reminder that American politics are not always as polarized as we imagine. The bitterly partisan fight unfolding in statehouses and courthouses, even in the Supreme Court’s split decision on Friday over the Texas abortion law, can obscure how many Americans of all parties struggle with the weighty moral and ethical questions raised by abortion.

As recently as 30 years ago, Democrats and Republicans had very similar views of abortion. In 1991, 42 percent of Democrats thought abortion should be legal whenever a woman sought one, compared with 41 percent of Republicans. Although attitudes about abortion have gradually tracked more sharply along partisan lines since then, there are still many voters who hold a mix of views that diverge from party allegiance or affiliation.

Less engaged and moderate voters are especially likely to hold abortion views at odds with their party. According to the 2018 General Social Survey, 92 percent of college-educated liberal Democrats believe it should be possible for women to obtain a legal abortion if she wanted for any reason, compared with just 55 percent of more moderate Democrats. Similarly, 39 percent of moderate Republicans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to Pew Research.

8) And more good stuff in the NYT Upshot, “Who Gets Abortions in America?” (Lots of cool charts, too, if you follow the link)

The portrait of abortion in the United States has changed with society. Today, teenagers are having far fewer abortions, and abortion patients are most likely to already be mothers. Although there’s a lot of debate over gestational cutoffs, nearly half of abortions happen in the first six weeks of pregnancy, and nearly all in the first trimester.

The typical patient, in addition to having children, is poor; is unmarried and in her late 20s; has some college education; and is very early in pregnancy. But in the reproductive lives of women (and transgender and nonbinary people who can become pregnant) across America, abortion is not uncommon. The latest estimate, from the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research group that supports abortion rights, found that 25 percent of women will have an abortion by the end of their childbearing years…

Six in 10 women who have abortions are already mothers, and half of them have two or more children, according to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “One of the main reasons people report wanting to have an abortion is so they can be a better parent to the kids they already have,” Professor Upadhyay said….

About half of women who had an abortion in 2014 were below the poverty line, with another quarter very close to poverty. Guttmacher surveys show low-income women have been a growing share of abortion patients in recent decadesSeveral smaller studies of abortion patients have shown similar results. Researchers say this shift reflects improved access to effective contraception among higher-earning women, and a recognition of the growing costs of raising children among poorer women. It may also reflect the growing presence of charities that help poor women pay for abortions in states where public programs don’t.

“It’s people who don’t have access to health care, access to contraception, who, when facing an unintended pregnancy, don’t have the resources to have another child,” said Rachel Jones, a principal research scientist at Guttmacher.

9) Not long ago I remember strongly arguing that the NHL needs to stop nullifying goals for an offsides entry that happened long before the goal.  Love this Athletic discussion of potential NHL rule changes including this very one:

I think there should be some kind of time limit on how far back an offside could occur before it could overturn a goal. It’s kind of adding a proximate cause element to offside reviews.

The rule would say that if the offside happened 30 seconds (give or take a few) or more before the goal, then it couldn’t be used to overturn an otherwise valid goal. The benefit is that you focus the offside review on what it should be about: preventing rush goals from occurring offside, not stopping goals that really didn’t have much to do with the offside. — Greg Y

Gentille: Not a huge fan of this one, because “goals that really didn’t have much to do with the offside” kind of … don’t exist. If you gain the zone unfairly, then score on that trip, guess what? You shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Plus, it’d be too much of a judgment call. That’s kind of the whole problem with NHL officiating, yeah? NO

Mendes: I’m in favour of this rule, largely because I hate video review for the offside rule in the first place. I felt like I spent 35 years watching hockey without fretting about zone entries and now I’m watching them like a hawk. I understand catching the egregious mistakes and ensuring nobody scores a goal as the result of a blatantly offside play. But if you’ve been hemmed into your own zone for 30 seconds and then get scored on, I’m guessing that questionable offside call probably had little to do with the goal itself. So I’m OK with a 30-second limit. YES

McIndoe: Hmm. I want to vote yes, because it’s ridiculous that we go back as far as we do to review zone entries. But I don’t think this proposal goes far enough, because 30 seconds is a long time. I’d say 10 or 15 seconds. Or even better, if we can’t just scrap these dumb reviews in the first place, I’ve suggested that we only go back to the last change of possession. If a team is offside on the entry, but the other team gets the puck at some point after that before coughing it up, you had your chance. No whining to the replay official for a do-over.

If I vote for the 30-second limit as a starting point, am I closing the door on something better down the line? Let’s hope not, because I don’t want to let perfect be the enemy of slightly better. YES

10) I will answer the question in this editorial, “More students are bringing guns to school in NC. How do we keep kids safe?”  Hold parents legally accountable, damnit!!

And studies have shown that more than half of U.S. gun owners do not safely store their guns, making it far too easy for children to get their hands on them…

“I’ve heard kids tell me they can get a gun in 20 minutes if they wanted to get a gun,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Johnny Jennings said at a press conference after a student fired a gun outside West Charlotte High School Monday. Of the guns that end up on school grounds, three out of four come from the home of a friend or family member,

11) This “Adam Ruins Everything” on the college loans is just a devastating take on this exploitative industry and damn funny, too.

12) Good stuff on democracy and January 6th, especially Nyhan’s comments:

The problem, of course, is that Democrats have had high hopes that Trump would face a reckoning for his misdeeds before, in the Mueller investigation and in the President’s two sets of impeachment proceedings. Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth College, praised the work of the January 6th committee, and said that fully uncovering Trump’s role remains vital. But he cautioned that political leaders and journalists should not focus solely on producing a January 6th “smoking gun,” reminiscent of the secret Oval Office recordings that brought down President Richard Nixon. “So much of the media has been obsessed with the idea that a document will emerge that shows everything,” Nyhan said. “I worry that we lose the forest for the trees.”

Nyhan, who is also a co-director of Bright Line Watch, notes that both U.S. politics and the ways in which Americans receive their information have changed radically over the past fifty years, contributing to the current deep polarization. According to opinion polls, seventy-eight per cent of Republicans believe that Biden was not legitimately elected—an increase from seventy per cent in April. Nyhan believes the committee’s findings, like past investigations of Trump, are unlikely to sway his fervent base. Meanwhile, Republican leaders, particularly House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, are standing by as Trump purges the G.O.P. of opponents. “He is doing what politicians do,” Nyhan said, of McCarthy. “He is going along with the energy in his party.” Nyhan feels it is equally important for Democrats to immediately enact reforms that will prevent either party in the future from attempting such radically anti-democratic acts as overturning an election—and that they should start building public support for such measures now, rather than wait for a smoking-gun moment to do so. Historically, Nyhan points out, authoritarian regimes have emerged by gradually subverting the independence of rival centers of power—such as the legislature, the courts, and the media—and concentrating power in their own hands. “The story of democratic erosion in other countries is that it happens invisibly, you don’t have this tanks-in-the-streets moment,” Nyhan added. “There are elected governments who operate with impunity, whose opponents don’t have a level playing field to compete upon.”

Observers, however, say it is unlikely that Republicans will support any Democrat-backed election-reform effort. In October, they filibustered the For the People Act, a sweeping Democratic proposal that would have revamped election systems nationwide. Nyhan said that Democrats should consider eliminating or changing the filibuster in order to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, a watered-down election-reform bill endorsed by Senator Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, which currently has some bipartisan support in the Senate. It includes measures that would make it more difficult for state legislators to dismiss election results certified by nonpartisan state officials—a tactic Trump tried to use in 2020. Nyhan also called for reform of the Electoral Count Act—an obscure and poorly drafted 1887 law that describes how Congress should count the electoral votes—before Democrats potentially lose their control of the Senate and House in next year’s midterm elections. “The Electoral Count Act is terrifying,” Nyhan said, referring to the statute’s vagueness. “It’s Chekhov’s gun.”

13) OMG this deBoer take on elite college admissions is so good and so much fun to read:

Here is what I want to say to you: at the end of this process, no matter how you change it, no matter how many statements the schools put out about diversity, no matter how many thumbs you put on all the scales to select for a certain kind of student, at the end of this process are self-serving institutions of limitless greed and an army of apparatchiks who are employed only to protect their interests. That’s it. You can’t make college admissions fair by getting rid of the SAT because colleges admissions can’t be “fair.” College admissions exist to serve the schools. Period. End of story. They always have, they always will. College admissions departments functioned as one big anti-Semitic conspiracy for decades because that was in the best interest of the institution. Guys who the schools know will never graduate but who run a 4.5 40 jump the line because admissions serves the institution. Absolute fucking dullards whose parents can pay – and listen, guys, it’s cute that you think legacies are somehow the extent of that dynamic, like they won’t let in the idiot son of a wealthy guy who didn’t go there – get in because admissions serves the institution. Some cornfed doofus from Wyoming with a so-so application gets in over a far more qualified kid from Connecticut because the marketing department gets to say they have students from 44 states in the incoming class instead of 43 that way, because admissions serves the institution. How do you people look at this world and conclude that the problem is the SAT?

And what just drives me crazy, what I find so bizarre, is that all these PMC liberals in media and academia think they’re so endlessly disillusioned and over it and jaded, but they imagine that it was the SAT standing in the way of these schools admitting a bunch of poor Black kids. What the fuck do you think has been happening, exactly? They’re standing around, looking at all these brilliant kids from Harlem and saying “oh God, if only we could let in these kids. We need to save them from the streets! But we can’t get past that dastardly SAT.” They decide who to let in, and they always have! They can let in whoever they want! Why on earth would you put the onus on the test instead of the schools? You think, what, they would prefer to admit kids whose parents can’t possibly donate? The whole selection process for elite schools is to skim a band of truly gifted students from the top, then admit a bunch of kids with identical resumes whose parents will collectively buy the crew team a new boathouse, and then you find a kid whose parents moved to the states from Nigeria two years before he was born and whose family owns a mining company and you call that affirmative action. And if you look at all this, and you take to Twitter to complain about the SAT instead of identifying the root corruption at the schools themselves, you’re a fucking mark, a patsy. You’ve been worked, you’ve been took. You’re doing the bidding of some of the wealthiest, most elitist, most despicable institutions on earth. You think Harvard gives a single merciful fuck about poor Black teenagers? Are you out of your goddamned minds?

It was in their best interest to use the SAT before, so they used it. Now it’s in their best interest to have even more leeway to select the bumbling doofus children of the affluent, and you’re applauding them for it in the name of “equity.” Brilliant…

“Equality”?!? Harvard only lets in 2000 kids a year! You really think carving out space for 50 more Black kids among them, if that actually even happens, is going to result in some sort of quantum leap forward for the average Black American? Is it not obvious that the whole scheme of fixing our racial inequalities by starting at the top by selecting some tiny number of Black overachievers and hoping the good times trickle down has failed, over and over again, since the start of desegregation? You can’t make Harvard “fair!” You can’t make it “equal!” Thinking otherwise is absolutely bonkers to me. Harvard exists to make sure our society is not equal. That is Harvard’s function.

You get that they just want to make it easier to turn down the poor but brilliant children of Asian immigrants, right? You understand that what Harvard and its feckless peers would like is to admit fewer students whose Korean parents clear $40,000 a year from their convenience stores, right? And you think, what, they’re going to be walking around Brownsville, handing out admissions letters to kids with holes in their pockets and a dream in their hearts? To the extent that any Black students are added to the mix by these policies, it’s going to be the Jaden and Willow Smiths of the world. If you think Harvard has any actual, genuine desire to fill its campus with more poor American-born descendants of African slaves you are out of your fucking mind. Just absolutely unhinged.

14) Interesting piece from Lawrence Krauss.  At first glance, looks like science funding is sexist, but, it turns out that senior scientists have way more success in getting funding and that women are far less of senior scientists than junior scientists.  Now, the latter is certainly a problem we should work on, but, science funding should be based on the most worthy science.

15) So, this sounds great, “New Eye Drops Offer an Alternative to Reading Glasses: Vuity, a once-a-day treatment that can help users see up close without affecting their long-range vision, went on the market Thursday after being approved by the F.D.A. in October.”  Huge caveat… this works by constricting your pupils so don’t use them any time around when you might want to drive at night.  Hmmm.

16) This was good, “The Unseen Side of “Cancel Culture” The threat to free expression goes well beyond high-profile cancellations.”

Shortly before hearing from Karith, I had been privy to similar instances of narrow-mindedness. I’m currently directing a forthcoming feature documentary based on The Coddling of the American Mind, the bestselling book by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. In late 2020, our team took a meeting with a major distributor. The executives liked our angle—focusing on the mental health crisis of Generation Z. But one blanched at the controversy it could ignite, noting it would take just one journalist on Twitter to question why this distributor greenlit the project in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder. I was shocked. Coddling has nothing to do with the Floyd tragedy. And how could one hypothetical Twitter user enjoy so much influence?

Around the same time, a friend of mine emailed me, smarting from a recent tangle at work. He’s a Latino comedic actor who had been courted by a new media platform. He moved across the country, and for years enjoyed a rarity for comedians—steady work. His comedy is sketch-based and addresses current events: a bit like “Saturday Night Live,” except with more eagerness to lampoon the excesses of identity politics. It’s something his employer encouraged, but that quickly changed in 2020. My friend made no outrageous blunder. His style of comedy stayed the same. And yet he was abruptly fired. His comedy had suddenly become taboo, and the once-prized recruit became a problematic liability.

I then received word from a producer at a top nonpartisan news organization. He was working on a television special about race in America, which would feature black experts. He hoped for some viewpoint diversity, and I provided a shortlist, complete with bios and links to televised interviews. My list included entrepreneur and podcaster Kmele Foster, Columbia professor John McWhorter, and George Mason University economist Walter Williams. My friend responded quickly—his bosses declared them all too extreme…

But none of the people in my examples were canceled in the traditional sense. Though fired, my comedian friend’s reputation hasn’t been smeared by a public trial on Twitter. Kmele Foster, John McWhorter, and Walter Williams weren’t disinvited from the television special—they were simply rejected at an earlier stage. Time will tell what happens to people like Karith Foster.  

Even when cancel culture’s most obvious side doesn’t show itself, those involved still feel its chill. The news producer will think twice before suggesting on-air experts that irritate his bosses. The college administrator who booked Foster will also think twice, as will the Latino comedian. I will recalibrate my already low expectations for the amount of viewpoint diversity entertainment executives will tolerate. Distributors and other gatekeepers will use new guidelines to filter out problematic content before it reaches audiences. Colleagues and friends connected to the examples above will note that the unwritten rules have been revised yet again.

Each impact may be small, but imagine them multiplying. Imagine the news media systematically misrepresenting black viewpoint diversity. Or colleges systematically favoring a “common enemy” approach to diversity training. Or entertainment executives systematically bowing to Twitter’s view of the world.

Doesn’t that seem a little bit like our world?

Tiny impacts from cancel culture can accumulate into big problems. It appears that the type of diversity training common on college campuses and elsewhere not only doesn’t work, but can increase bias, and exacerbate anxiety and depression. I’ve recently been speaking with many current and former college students in their teens and twenties. They often don’t realize that there are other ways to achieve social justice goals. Even if they do know, speaking out poses risks. Perhaps knowing the political diversity among Americans of all colors would embolden them, yet the screens they gaze at reinforce conformity.

17) This is some crazy story, “How Ashley Biden’s Diary Made Its Way to Project Veritas”

In the final two months of the 2020 campaign, President Donald J. Trump, his grip on power slipping because of his handling of the pandemic, desperately tried to change the narrative by attacking the business dealings of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son Hunter, invoking his name publicly over 100 times.

At the same time, another effort was underway in secret to try to expose the contents of a diary kept the previous year by Mr. Biden’s daughter, Ashley Biden, as she underwent treatment for addiction.

Now, more than a year later, the Justice Department is deep into an investigation of how the diary found its way into the hands of supporters of Mr. Trump at the height of the campaign.

Federal prosecutors and F.B.I. agents are investigating whether there was a criminal conspiracy among a handful of individuals to steal and publish the diary. Those being scrutinized include current and former operatives for the conservative group Project Veritas; a donor Mr. Trump appointed to a political position in the final days of his administration; a man who once pleaded guilty in a money laundering scheme; and a financially struggling mother of two, according to people familiar with federal grand jury subpoenas and a search warrant who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

18) This is really good on not just J&J, but what it takes to be successful in the pharmaceutical marketplace, “The tragedy of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid vaccine

But the CDC panel, unswayed, nonetheless recommended the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines first, and suggested J&J’s vaccine for people who can’t take the others or won’t.

In normal times, a preferential recommendation by the CDC of one vaccine can destroy the business of its rival; a preferential recommendation for GlaxoSmithKline’s shingles vaccine, Shingrix, for example, presaged Merck removing its own shingles vaccine from the market entirely.

The threat of TTS would likely have been enough to limit the J&J vaccine’s use in the U.S. no matter what the CDC said. For many months, the public has been less interested in the shot. 

But J&J was also hurt because, unlike Pfizer, it believed that its clinical trials could be geared to the desires of public health experts – particularly those calling for a one-dose vaccine.

Pfizer-BioNTech is dominant because it completed its clinical trials fastest, smoothed out manufacturing problems, and expanded fastest from adults to children and from emergency authorization to full approval. These are all lessons from commercial drug launches.

J&J, by contrast, had disadvantages from the start. It launched its study later, and it may have chosen a one-dose approach at first because doses of its adenovirus-based vaccine couldn’t be given too soon after one another. (Pfizer’s vaccines are given three weeks apart; for its two-dose study, J&J chose a two-month interval.) Stoffels also thought that in a pandemic, a one-dose shot with lower efficacy would be preferred to a two-dose one. But in the end, people preferred the vaccine with the better efficacy. 

This situation is not ideal, because mRNA vaccines by themselves might not be the best solution for fighting Covid over the long haul. Covid-19 isn’t going away, and it might not be wise to rely so heavily for the world to rely on the first vaccine technology that worked. It might be that, as J&J seems to believe, its vaccine or AstraZeneca’s might give broader protection against still unseen variants. Protein-based technologies like Novavax’s might have fewer side effects if people do need annual boosters. Nasally delivered vaccines might provide different types of protection. 

But, for now, it is not really clear how any of those technologies are going to replace the dominant Pfizer and Moderna shots. Running the right trials is just too difficult. It’s what Pfizer, 20 years ago in its defense of the drug cholesterol drug Lipitor, then the best-selling drug in the world, used to call a wall of data.

Instead of a triumph, the J&J vaccine stands as kind of object lesson, as does Merck, which is said to have passed on Moderna’s vaccine and had its own efforts mothballed, as well as AstraZeneca, which licensed its vaccine from the University of Oxford but was beset by clinical trials snafus. All those companies had seemingly great intentions. But in drug development, it doesn’t always pay to be nice. It’s better to be skilled. And it’s best to be lucky.

19) Interesting take from Drum on conservative influence:

Is 2021 the year that conservatives finally went too far?

Liberals have long griped about how the media treats obvious conservative lies. The list is endless: climate change, Benghazi, Hillary’s emails, tax cuts paying for themselves, and on and on. But these are fairly ordinary partisan disputes, and for better or worse the press is unlikely to take sides. Politics is politics, after all, and political reporters have seen this kind of stuff on both sides for decades.

But then came 2021, and suddenly conservatives went beyond—way beyond—the bounds of normal partisan fights. There have been two in particular:

  1. The “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was stolen and Donald Trump should have rightfully won the presidency.
  2. The refusal of conservative leaders to be aggressively pro-vaccine.

Even for people jaded by decades of partisan cat fights, these were shocking. The Big Lie was not something that was even colorably debatable. It was just a lie. A big one. And it was adopted by practically everyone in the Republican Party, leading to the insurrection of January 6. To this day, Republicans insist the election was stolen even though everyone knows this is Goebbels-level fabrication.

The Republican attitude toward vaccination is, if anything, even more shocking. For one thing, it’s barely even partisan since it doesn’t really harm Democrats in any way. It’s just flat-out pandering that has cost thousands of lives and will cost thousands more. There’s literally no reason for it aside from either pique (Donald Trump); a desire to promote conspiracy theories because it’s profitable (Tucker et al.); or craven capitulation to the mob (DeSantis and other GOP leaders).

I may be fooling myself, but I’ve noticed at least a small change in the media’s treatment of Republicans this year. Even hardened veterans who pride themselves on being cynical toward all sides are stunned by what’s happened. Lying for partisan advantage? Yawn. Everyone does it. But lying in service of destroying faith in democracy? Refusing to promote vaccines just to get a few cheers from the cheap seats? Those are whole different things.

So far, this hasn’t produced a sea change in coverage of Republicans. But I think it’s produced the start of something that might eventually become a sea change—especially if Democrats can lighten up and take advantage of it. We’ll see.

20) Humans are social animals– vaccine edition, “With nearly 800,000 U.S. covid deaths, what’s keeping people from getting vaccinated? Their own social circles.”

Here’s what we discovered: Yes, individuals tend to operate within networks that are polarized by vaccination status. Unvaccinated individuals talk to unvaccinated folks, and vaccinated individuals are chatting with vaccinated friends and families. Furthermore, attitudes about coronavirus vaccines produce social pressure within these groups that may influence personal decisions to receive the vaccine. The vaccination status of an individual’s closest confidants is a great predictor of whether they decide to get vaccinated against covid-19.

%d bloggers like this: