Quick hits

1) This was really good, “A Vaccine That Stops Covid-19 Won’t Be Enough: The best vaccines don’t just prevent a disease; they also prevent the pathogen causing the disease from being transmitted. So why aren’t we focusing more on those?”

A vaccine’s ability to forestall a disease is also how vaccine developers typically design — and how regulators typically evaluate — Phase 3 clinical trials for vaccine candidates.

Yet the best vaccines also serve another, critical, function: They block a pathogen’s transmission from one person to another. And this result, often called an “indirect” effect of vaccination, is no less important than the direct effect of preventing the disease caused by that pathogen. In fact, during a pandemic, it probably is even more important.

That’s what we should be focusing on right now. And yet we are not.

Stopping a virus’s transmission reduces the entire population’s overall exposure to the virus. It protects people who may be too frail to respond to a vaccine, who do not have access to the vaccine, who refuse to be immunized and whose immune response might wane over time.

The benefits of this approach have been demonstrated with other pathogens and other diseases…

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has stated that preventing a SARS-CoV-2 infection is in itself a sufficient endpoint for the Phase 3 trials of vaccine candidates — that it is an acceptable alternative goal to preventing the development of Covid-19. The World Health Organization has said that “shedding/transmission” is as well.

These guidelines are an important signal, especially considering that the F.D.A. has never approved a vaccine based on its effects on infection alone; instead, the agency has focused exclusively on the vaccine’s effectiveness at disease prevention.

And yet vaccine developers do not seem to be heeding this new call.

Based on our review of the Phase 3 tests listed at ClinicalTrials.gov, a database of trials conducted around the world, the primary goal in each of these studies is to reduce the occurrence of Covid-19.

Four of the six Covid-19 vaccine trials for which information is available say they will also evaluate the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infections among subjects — but only as an ancillary outcome.

This approach is shortsighted: One cannot assume that a vaccine that prevents the development of Covid-19 in a patient will necessarily also limit the risk that the patient will transmit SARS-CoV-2 to other people.

2) Very relatedly, “What if the First Coronavirus Vaccines Aren’t the Best? Dozens of research groups around the world are playing the long game, convinced that their experimental vaccines will be cheaper and more powerful than the ones leading the race today.”  Lots of great stuff in here, hard to paste any good quote.

3) I thought we had gotten so much better at this.  How are we still having headlines like, “‘Overwhelmed’ Ronnie Long to go free after 44 years. NC to vacate rape conviction.”  I mean, I know, but seems like almost two decades now we’ve realized how many awful racist convictions like this there are and it took this long?!  Every story like this makes me wonder just how many thousands? tens of thousands? of Americans wrongly languish in prison (for the record, Antonin Scalia, a morally very small man, was convinced it was just a few).

4) Is Skynet upon us?  “A Dogfight Renews Concerns About AI’s Lethal Potential”

IN JULY 2015, two founders of DeepMind, a division of Alphabet with a reputation for pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence, were among the first to sign an open letter urging the world’s governments to ban work on lethal AI weapons. Notable signatories included Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Jack Dorsey.

Last week, a technique popularized by DeepMind was adapted to control an autonomous F-16 fighter plane in a Pentagon-funded contest to show off the capabilities of AI systems. In the final stage of the event, a similar algorithm went head-to-head with a real F-16 pilot using a VR headset and simulator controls. The AI pilot won, 5-0.

The episode reveals DeepMind caught between two conflicting desires. The company doesn’t want its technology used to kill people. On the other hand, publishing research and source code helps advance the field of AI and lets others build upon its results. But that also allows others to use and adapt the code for their own purposes.

Others in AI are grappling with similar issues, as more ethically questionable uses of AI, from facial recognition to deepfakes to autonomous weapons, emerge.

A DeepMind spokesperson says society needs to debate what is acceptable when it comes to AI weapons. “The establishment of shared norms around responsible use of AI is crucial,” she says. DeepMind has a team that assesses the potential impacts of its research, and the company does not always release the code behind its advances. “We take a thoughtful and responsible approach to what we publish,” the spokesperson adds.

5) As any Slate Political Gabfest fan knows, David Plotz hates pandas!  And, now you can read one of his patented anti-panda rants in print:

Another Giant Panda baby at the Zoo, another win for China. 

The Giant Panda Mei Xiang gave birth to a cub Friday night at Washington’s National Zoo, and the local and national media are predictably gaga. It’s a “miracle” cub because Mei Xiang’s the oldest American panda to give birth in captivity, and because the zookeepers managed the pregnancy through the pandemic. If the cub lives, it will be her fourth.

China’s Giant Panda lend-lease program is one of the cleverest examples of public diplomacy in the modern world. Exploiting the world’s crush on the black-and-white semi-bears, China rents pandas out to zoos for huge fees — $1 million a year has been reported. The zoos then pay monstrous amounts to feed and care for the animals, $500,000 a year per bear, and undertake captive breeding programs. China owns all cubs, which are repatriated to China at age four and enrolled in China’s elaborate breeding, research, and re-wilding program. (Mei Xiang’s first three offspring were all repatriated to China.)

Americans have addicted themselves to pandas. They’re the main draw for the National Zoo, and also have attracted huge crowds in other cities where they’ve been loaned out, including San Diego and Atlanta.

But why are we duped by them? Pandas are gorgeous, but — as with too-beautiful humans — pandas exploit their beauty to cover up their deep character flaws. Pandas are lazy and ill-tempered. They barely move! (The hours I wasted as a DC schoolkid waiting for one of the pandas to do something, anything — just to lift a paw!)  Pandas don’t seem to be interested in their own survival: It takes heroic, hideously expensive efforts to get them to breed. They’re largely indifferent parents. (Don’t get me started about the DC panda that crushed its own newborn.)

Americans are forking over enormous sums of money to China so they can gawp at dumb, brutish supermodel animals. We should be spending those millions on American-made products. How about bison? Or black-footed ferrets? Or manatees? Or pumas? Pumas are plenty gorgeous!

The Trump administration is frantic that TikTok and Huawei are infiltrating the US and hooking Americans on Chinese products. Maybe they should worry about Giant Pandas instead. — DP

6) Good stuff from political scientists, Brian Schaffner, Jesse Rhodes and Raymond J. La Raja, “Why Trump Never Stops Talking About ‘Our Suburbs’”

Why do Black citizens receive worse representation in suburban and rural towns relative to cities? One of the most important insights from our research is that people of color are so disadvantaged in terms of influencing their local governments that they really manage to receive equitable political representation only when their political views are similar to those of the whites in their communities.

This is what political scientists call “coincidental representation,” a dynamic where a group has political power only by virtue of having common interests with another politically powerful group. In most places, it is the white residents who have the actual power to influence local government, so in communities where local officials represent the interests of African-Americans, this is often because of a close correspondence between the policy preferences of African-Americans and those of whites.

This insight helps explain the puzzle of why inequality in representation in cities — as bad as it is — is not nearly as bad as it is in smaller communities.

As the second accompanying chart, based on the 2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Study survey of 60,000 Americans, shows, white Americans who live in big cities tend to be more liberal than whites who live in suburbs and small towns. Nearly 40 percent of whites living in cities identify as ideologically liberal, which is very similar to the percentage of African-Americans who do the same. This means that in many big cities a large fraction of white residents often see eye-to-eye with Black residents, at least in terms of how they identify ideologically.

By contrast, African-Americans who live in America’s suburbs and small towns are still quite liberal, but their white neighbors are much more conservative. In fact, 22 percent of small-town and rural whites identify as liberal while more than half identify as conservative. Because whites tend to hold real political power in suburban and rural communities, their conservative views mean that the chance Black interests will be represented is especially poor.

7) Jennifer Rubin, “The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report really is damning”

Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, appeared on television Sunday to discuss the fifth and final volume the committee has published on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election on behalf of Donald Trump. Keep in mind that this volume was approved 14 to 1 by the committee, including the chairman who oversaw most of the investigation, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). Republicans can publicly spin all they like, but the facts are there, nearly unanimously confirmed. The report is replete with damning details of contacts between the Trump campaign (including Roger Stone on the WikiLeaks hack and email dump) and Russian operatives.

Warner explained on “Meet the Press” that there were “unprecedented contacts between Russians and folks on the Trump campaign. The Trump campaign officials welcomed that help.” He added, “Maybe one of the most stunning was the level of detail of the then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, sharing very specific campaign information with a Russian agent.” Warner said, “We’ll never know what the Russians did with that information. But think about that. A campaign manager sharing with a known Russian agent during the middle of a campaign.” That is quite simply collusion.

The suggestion by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that no collusion occurred and that the committee report actually proves this (!!) ignores the connection between Manafort and Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik, the 2016 meeting at Trump Tower among campaign officials and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya (who had much closer ties to Russian intelligence than previously was known), Roger Stone’s connection to WikiLeaks, and Trump’s open invitation to Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s emails.

8) One of the great finds of the pandemic for me has been (as you’ve probably noticed) Zeynep Tufekci.  Many have noticed.  Great profile here in the NYT:

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Americans in January that they didn’t need to wear masks, Dr. S. Vincent Rajkumar, a professor at the Mayo Clinic and the editor of the Blood Cancer Journal, couldn’t believe his ears.

But he kept silent until Zeynep Tufekci (pronounced ZAY-nep too-FEK-chee), a sociologist he had met on Twitter, wrote that the C.D.C. had blundered by saying protective face coverings should be worn by health workers but not ordinary people.

“Here I am, the editor of a journal in a high profile institution, yet I didn’t have the guts to speak out that it just doesn’t make sense,” Dr. Rajkumar told me. “Everybody should be wearing masks.”

Ms. Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science with no obvious qualifications in epidemiology, came out against the C.D.C. recommendation in a March 1 tweetstorm before expanding on her criticism in a March 17 Op-Ed article for The New York Times.

The C.D.C. changed its tune in April, advising all Americans above the age of 2 to wear masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Michael Basso, a senior health scientist at the agency who had been pushing internally to recommend masks, told me Ms. Tufekci’s public criticism of the agency was the “tipping point.”

In recent years, many public voices have gotten the big things wrong — election forecasts, the effects of digital media on American politics, the risk of a pandemic. Ms. Tufekci, a 40-something who speaks a mile a minute with a light Turkish accent, has none of the trappings of the celebrity academic or the professional pundit. But long before she became perhaps the only good amateur epidemiologist, she had quietly made a habit of being right on the big things.

9) Very sadly, for those of us concerned about American democracy, the headline of this WP Editorial is not hyperbole, “A second Trump term might injure the democratic experiment beyond recovery”

10) OMG Dan Snyder’s Washington Redskins have just been an absolute cesspit of sleazy and grossly sexist behavior.  If his record on race was half as bad as it is on gender the other owners would’ve forced him to sell the team.

11) David Frum, “The Platform the GOP Is Too Scared to Publish: What the Republican Party actually stands for, in 13 points”

1) The most important mechanism of economic policy—not the only tool, but the most important—is adjusting the burden of taxation on society’s richest citizens. Lower this level, as Republicans did in 2017, and prosperity will follow. The economy has had a temporary setback, but thanks to the tax cut of 2017, recovery is ready to follow strongly. No further policy change is required, except possibly lower taxes still.

2) The coronavirus is a much-overhyped problem. It’s not that dangerous and will soon burn itself out. States should reopen their economies as rapidly as possible, and accept the ensuing casualties as a cost worth paying—and certainly a better trade-off than saving every last life by shutting down state economies. Masking is useless and theatrical, if not outright counterproductive.

3) Climate change is a much-overhyped problem. It’s probably not happening. If it is happening, it’s not worth worrying about. If it’s worth worrying about, it’s certainly not worth paying trillions of dollars to amend. To the extent it is real, it will be dealt with in the fullness of time by the technologies of tomorrow. Regulations to protect the environment unnecessarily impede economic growth.

12) I love Radiolab.  I loved the “The Other Latif Nasser” series (which I belatedly just recently finished).  And I love this NYT profile of Radiolab’s Latif Nasser.

13) Some interesting social science, “Partisan ideological attitudes: Liberals are tolerant; the intelligent are intolerant.”

In this article we examine intolerance toward ideological outgroups, conceptualized as the negativity of the attitudes of liberals and conservatives toward their ideological outgroup. We show that conservatives are more ideologically intolerant than liberals and that the more intelligent are more ideologically intolerant than the less intelligent. We also show that the differences between liberals and conservatives and the differences between the more and less intelligent depend on ideological extremity: They are larger for extreme than for moderate ideologists. The implication of these results to questions regarding the relationship between intelligence and ideological intolerance and regarding the relationship between ideology and prejudice are discussed.

But here’s the thing, as much as we may want to really believe the emboldened portion means that this is the type of research that deserves more scrutiny from liberals, not less.

14) This was some really, really cool stuff about the bacterial world, “How Bacteria-Eating Bacteria Could Help Win the War Against Germs: While microscopic and little known, predatory bacteria are among the world’s fiercest and most effective hunters.”

Predatory bacteria carry immense promise in an extraordinarily small package. Deployed under the right circumstances, they could help people beat back harmful microbes in the environment, or purge pathogens from the food supply. Some experts think they could someday serve as a sort of living therapeutic that could help clear drug-resistant germs from ailing patients in whom all other treatments have failed.

But even the small community of researchers who study predatory bacteria have not fully figured out how these cells select and slaughter their hosts. Teasing out those answers could reveal a range of ways to tackle stubborn infections, and provide a window onto predator-prey dynamics at their most microscopic.

15) Ariel Edwards-Levy on reasons to think the polls may be right or may be wrong.  I think the extraordinary stability thus far and the record polarization suggests they should be more stable and accurate.  Here’s the counter-arguments:

Why This Year Could Be More Volatile

Close elections are more common than they used to be. As FiveThirtyEight’s Geoffrey Skelley notes, the 2016 election marked the eighth consecutive presidential election to end with the popular vote winner ahead by only a single-digit margin, the longest stretch since the Civil War. This is the flip side to the idea of entrenched, highly partisan voter preferences ― big, game-changing swings in the campaign may now be less common, but even smaller shifts could be more likely to affect who actually wins.

We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Coronavirus has dominated this election cycle, eclipsing other campaign stories and personally affecting pretty much everyone in the country. Other issues at the top of voters’ minds, like the economy and health care, are inextricably tied into the pandemic. It also remains a volatile situation. It’s clear that the coronavirus isn’t going away, but we don’t know precisely what the situation will look like in November or whether public opinion on the White House response will remain as negative as it currently is. The precise state of the economy is another unknown, as is the degree to which the abrupt economic shifts this year will impact voters’ thinking.

Campaigning in a pandemic looks different, too, with both jam-packed rallies and door-to-door mobilization efforts scuttled or reimagined. Without modern precedent, it’s difficult to say exactly how those changes will affect voters.

It’s even harder than usual to predict voter turnout. As the election nears, more pollsters will be reporting results among “likely voters.” That requires them to make judgment calls about which people are likely to end up actually voting, relying on factors including voters’ past history of turning out. In the best of circumstances, this determination is somewhat subjective and prone to uncertainty. This time around, with the pandemic upending Election Day as normal, it could be more difficult than ever. That’s without even getting into the possibility that ― as many Democrats fear ― rejected or delayed mail ballots could have an affect on the election. Nearly half of all voters say they expect voting to be difficult this year, according to Pew, up from 15% in fall 2018.

16) OMG, yes this is so frustrating.  We should know so much more about Covid, “Why the United States is having a coronavirus data crisis: Political meddling, disorganization and years of neglect of public-health data management mean the country is flying blind.”

Data dashboards in Singapore and New Zealand offer similar windows into how the coronavirus is spreading within their borders. This helps policymakers and citizens determine how to go about daily life, while reducing risks — and provides researchers with a wealth of data. By contrast, the United States offers vanishingly few details on how the disease is spreading, even as people increasingly socialize and travel, and authorities reopen schools and businesses. This state of affairs is frustrating data researchers, who want to help authorities make decisions that can save lives.

“We shouldn’t be flying blind at this point,” says Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “We shouldn’t have to speculate.”

Experts told Nature that political meddling, privacy concerns and years of neglect of public-health surveillance systems are among the reasons for the dearth of information in the United States.

17) David Hopkins on the RNC:

This week’s Republican convention did an especially efficient job of encapsulating the current state of the party after four years of Donald Trump’s leadership. In terms of the roster of speakers and the venues at which they spoke, the convention reflected how much the party has become a personal extension of Trump. Among the usual appearances by up-and-coming politicians and regular-citizen testimonials, a long succession of members of the reigning court—including a deputy chief of staff, press secretary, assistant to the president, counselor to the president, personal attorney of the president, and seven Trump family members—dominated the schedule, while the White House itself served as the backdrop to the addresses of both of its current adult occupants.

But the words of these speeches showed how much Trump’s consolidation of power within the party has been accompanied by his adoption of its existing ideological commitments. Speaker after speaker at this week’s convention reinforced standard Republican themes: small government, social traditionalism, veneration of the military and law enforcement, and attacks on “socialism,” the “radical left,” and the news media. Even the president’s children, who might have been expected to spend their stage time sharing family anecdotes intended to create favorable personal impressions of their father, concentrated instead on delivering familiar conservative rhetoric. The occasional heterodoxies of the 2016 Trump campaign, which convinced many pundits and voters at the time that he was pulling the Republican Party to the left on economic policy, are no longer evident.

18) When it comes to a cough, it really is honey for the win.

19) Great interactive feature from Amy Walter on comparing where the polls stand now compared to 2016.  The most interesting part:

So, how can this work? If Trump isn’t really losing support from his 2016 base, but Biden is gaining on Clinton’s performance, where are those extra votes coming from?

Answer: a lot is coming from voters who supported third-party/other candidates in 2016. According to the Pew July survey, voters who didn’t support either major party candidate last election are now breaking decidedly for Biden — 55 percent to 39 percent. This group of non-Trump/non-Clinton voters doesn’t get the attention of Obama-Trump voters or suburban moms, but they are a not-insignificant portion of the electorate.

In the 2016 election, the non-Clinton/Trump vote was 6 percent. The Pew validated voter survey put it at 7 percent — so a touch higher than the popular vote. In a race decided on the margins, these voters can shift the race a couple of points. Or, as Pew’s Director of Political Research put it to me in an email, “If nothing else, what this shows is how much 3rd and 4th parties cost Clinton (even though, as I said, our estimate was higher than popular vote).”

20) Plotz again in serious mode, on the second amendment undermining the first amendment:

Guns are the enemy of free speech.

What happens when the Second Amendment meets the First Amendment?

The First Amendment loses.

The BLM protest movement represents the highest expression of the First Amendment. In cities and towns across the US, the people have peaceably assembled to express their grievances. These demonstrations have occasionally degenerated into violence and vandalism — though the violence has been disproportionately instigated and magnified by the police — but they have overwhelmingly been peaceful mass expressions of public discontent.

But what’s increasingly happening — as the murder of two demonstrators in Kenosha tragically proved, and as the Washington Post documents here — is that peaceful demonstrators are encountering heavily armed counterprotesters, often representing  alt-right or White nationalist groups.

Here we have the full flowering of the First Amendment — free speech about matters of public urgency — marching headlong the unbridled expansion of the Second Amendment — citizens openly brandishing loaded rifles, often semiautomatic ones, in public places.

These two cherished American principles do not meet on equal footing, because a gun is the opposite of speech. A loaded weapon discourages speech, intimidates, and demands compliance. Even someone who intends no harm with a gun — and I believe that these counterprotesters intend no harm — is quashing the free speech of those around them, because it is impossible to speak openly when someone who hates your opinion is holding a loaded gun near you and telling you to shut up and leave.

It’s right-wing cancel culture.

Guns also intimidate the police, who are proving incapable of keeping order — or unwilling to keep order — when heavily armed counterprotesters decide they want to scare off progressives. This is teaching the gun-bearers that they can dictate what happens in the street because the cops aren’t able to control them the way the cops are all-too-happy to control the peaceful protesters.

Guns can turn what should be harmless exchanges into potential tragedies. We’re still learning exactly what happened in Kenosha, but it appears an unarmed protester verbally accosted Kyle Rittenhouse, and perhaps threw a plastic bag at him, which prompted Rittenhouse to shoot and kill him and then another protester who tried to intervene.

How can citizens possibly engage in the give and take of political argument — the pure heart of the First Amendment — when any wrong move could lead to mass murder? The Second Amendment is squashing the First.

There is no easy solution to this problem. Actually, there is an easy solution, but it’s inconceivable in a country where open-carry is legal almost everywhere, and where there are hundreds of millions of legally owned guns. The easy solution is that citizens should not be permitted to brandish guns in public places.


The Covid in the air

This Time magazine piece form Jose-Luis Jimenez on the airborne nature of Covid-19 is honestly one of the best things I’ve read on the disease this whole time.  He does such a great job walking us through the droplet vs. aerosol debate and why we’ve been wrong.  I found the historical aspect– basically, an over-correction for the miasma theory of disease– particularly fascinating.  Highlights:

The evidence in favor of aerosols is stronger than that for any other pathway, and officials need to be more aggressive in expressing this reality if we want to get the pandemic under control.

There are three possible ways the virus is transmitted, of which two have been emphasized by the WHO and the CDC. The first is through “fomites,” objects that are contaminated with the virus (which could include someone else’s skin). Early in the pandemic, concern over fomite transmission drove some people to bleach groceries and packages. The CDC now says fomites are a possible means of transmission, but likely not one that is major. For example, an intensive handwashing program in the UK led to only a 16% reduction in transmission. Significantly, other viruses that, like SARS-CoV-2 (the one that causes COVID-19), have a lipid envelope, do not survive long on human hands. That means someone would need to touch their eyes, nostrils, or mouth a short time after touching a contaminated surface in order to contract the novel coronavirus…

The second possibility for how COVID-19 spreads is through droplets, small bits of saliva or respiratory fluid that infected individuals expel when they cough, sneeze, or talk. Droplets—which the WHO and CDC maintain is the primary means of transmission of COVID-19—are propelled through the air, but fall to the ground after traveling 3-6 feet. However, published research, which has been replicated, shows that droplets are only important when coughing and sneezing. But when it comes to talking in close proximity, which appears to play a major role in COVID-19 transmission, droplets are less important than the third potential pathway: aerosols. Many diseases, including COVID-19, infect most effectively at close proximity. Since droplets are visible and fall to the ground between 3-6 feet, we can readily see and understand this route of infection. In fact, it was thought for decades that tuberculosis was transmitted by droplets and fomites, based on ease of infection at close proximity, but research eventually proved that tuberculosis can only be transmitted through aerosols. I believe that we have been making a similar mistake for COVID-19…

The unwillingness to acknowledge the likelihood that aerosols are a major means of COVID-19 transmission can be traced to the legacy of Dr. Charles Chapin, an American public health researcher. Trying to bury once and for all the theory of miasmas, ghostly clouds of disease, he argued in his seminal 1910 book The Sources and Modes of Infection that aerosol transmission was nearly impossible. “It will be a great relief to most persons to be freed from the specter of infected air, a specter that has pursued the race since the time of Hippocrates,” Chapin wrote. The impact of his book was fortuitous in a way: it came at a time when enough evidence about the transmission of different infectious diseases had accumulated since the discovery of germs by Pasteur in the 1860s, but before we had the technology to measure aerosols. Chapin’s notions became the paradigm of infectious disease transmission, which has dominated until now.

Given this deeply held disbelief of aerosol transmission, just a few diseases, including measles and chickenpox, have been accepted as being transmitted through aerosols—and only because these are so transmissible that the evidence could not be ignored by the medical community. Some less-contagious respiratory diseases, like influenza, were described as due to droplet and fomite transmission, even when they clearly had an aerosol component. That stance has, over the years, created an unfounded perception in health care that any disease that is transmitted through aerosols has to be extremely contagious. But 110 years later, the nuances and importance of aerosol transmission of respiratory diseases are finally becoming mainstream

The visual analogy of smoke can help guide our risk assessment and risk reduction strategies. One just has to imagine that others they encounter are all smoking, and the goal is to breathe as little smoke as possible. But COVID-19 is not very contagious under most situations, unlike, for example, measles: the CDC says that 15 minutes of close proximity to a COVID-19 infected person often leads to contagion, which provides an estimate of how much “exhaled smoke” one may need to inhale for infection. Inhaling a little whiff of “smoke” here and there is OK, but a lot of “smoke” for a sustained period of time and without a mask is risky. (To be clear, actual smoke does not increase the probability of infection.)…

We should continue doing what has already been recommended: wash hands, keep six feet apart, and so on. But that is not enough. A new, consistent and logical set of recommendations must emerge to reduce aerosol transmission. I propose the following: Avoid Crowding, Indoors, low Ventilation, Close proximity, long Duration, Unmasked, Talking/singing/Yelling (“A CIViC DUTY”). These are the important factors in mathematical models of aerosol transmission, and can also be simply understood as factors that impact how much “smoke” we would inhale.

A CIViC DUTY first suggests that we should do as many activities as possible outdoors, as schools did to avoid the spread of tuberculosis a century ago, despite harsh winters….

Second, masks are essential, even when we are able to maintain social distance. We should also pay attention to fitting masks snugly, as they are not just a parapet against ballistic droplets, but also a means to prevent “smoke” from leaking in through gaps…

It is important to think about ventilation and air cleaning. We take operable windows and HVAC systems for granted, rarely paying attention to how they work. Times are different now, and we need to learn how to best use these systems to decrease risk.

Good stuff!  Meanwhile, a nice piece in BMJ looks at how to think systematically about Covid infection risks and sums it all up with this awesome chart:

Fig 3

But, in the end, pretty simple.  Stay outside when you can.  Wear a mask inside if with people who are not members of your household.  Take the quality of indoor air into account in your activities and your amount of time in the space.  And there you go.  Now, just get us those rapid tests!

Artificial sweeteners are going to kill you!

Or not.

I was going to put this in quick hits, but felt like I would be betraying my brand not to give it it’s own post :-).  Latest from NYT on artificial sweeteners and weight gain:

Now some studies are providing answers. Researchers have found that artificial sweeteners can be useful as a tool to help people kick their sugar habits, and that for some people, replacing sugar with nonnutritive sweeteners can indeed help stave off weight gain. But they can also have effects on hormones, blood sugar and other aspects of metabolism that some experts say are concerning, and they caution against consuming them routinely for long periods of time.

So, that’s cool, some good research that, when used appropriately, they actually do what they are supposed to do and limit weight gain when replacing sugar (at least for some overweight people):

After following the groups for a year, the researchers did not find any overall differences in weight gain or in other markers of metabolic health, such as changes in cholesterol or triglyceride levels. But when they looked specifically at the people who had high levels of abdominal obesity, the results were striking.

People who carried the most fat around their midsections — a major risk factor for metabolic disease — had significantly less weight gain when they switched from sugary drinks to diet beverages or water. Among this group, those who drank diet beverages gained about a pound during the study, while those who switched to water lost roughly half a pound. But the people with high levels of belly fat who continued drinking sugary beverages gained an average of 10 pounds.

“That’s a big effect, it’s significant,” said Dr. David Ludwig, an author of the study and co-director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital…

Randomized clinical trials, which are more reliable, have generally shown that diet sweeteners help prevent weight gain. A clinical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that when children who consumed sugary beverages were assigned to drink artificially sweetened beverages, they had less weight gain and fat accumulation after 18 months than children who continued drinking sugary beverages…

The latest study by Dr. Ludwig and his colleagues is among the most rigorous on the subject to date. Its findings support advice issued by health groups like the American Heart Association, which in 2018 published a science advisory stating that using low-calorie sweetened beverages could be an effective strategy for weight loss, especially for people who are habitual consumers of sugary beverages, which are the largest source of added sugars in the American diet.

So, some pretty decent evidence for the benefits of artificial sweeteners.

Alight then, how about all the ways these “chemicals!” are going to kill you?

But the heart group also cautioned that there was a “dearth of evidence on the potential adverse effects” of the sweeteners. Despite decades of widespread use, it’s still unclear whether consuming them heavily for many years can have unintended adverse health effects. 

Got that?  Decades of widespread use and a “dearth of evidence” they are actually bad for you.  It’s almost like one could conclude, I don’t know… maybe they aren’t bad for you?  Now, I’m actually not going to go that far, but it really does speak to my idea that people really do just want them to be bad for you.  (Also, maybe some actual issues with sucralose?  But I’m all about the aspartame in Diet Coke and Diet Dr Pepper).

If you are happy drinking water… drink water!  If you drink a lot of sugar-sweetened soda you should probably switch to water.  But, you’re almost surely better off drinking diet soda than sugar-sweetened soda and despite all the haters, there’s actually very limited evidence that it’s bad for you.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Great stuff from my now frequent collaborator on Covid research, Marc Hetherington, “American attitudes toward covid-19 are divided by party. The pandemic itself might undo that.” Partisanship is a strong drug, but it’s not as strong as the instinct to survive”

But here’s the key finding: This polarization was almost entirely driven by Republicans who were becoming less concerned about the virus or who had never been concerned.

The chart below reveals the pattern. The left side tracks how support for mask mandates changed among those who were either never concerned about getting sick or got less concerned between April and June. In April, these Republicans and Democrats were 13 points apart. By June, they were 36 points apart.

The pattern among those who either always feared getting seriously ill or those who got more concerned, which appears on the right side of the chart, is different. In April, these Republicans and Democrats were only about 5 points apart, and in June they remained less than 10 points apart.

Fear also affects how individuals behave. In the chart below, we show the differences in the percentage of partisans who report wearing masks in public “very often.” Among those not concerned about getting sick or becoming less concerned, party differences grew from 18 points to 25 points. For those who remained fearful or became more fearful, polarization grew, but by less. Fear’s effect on Republicans was profound. More fearful Republicans were 25 points more likely than less fearful Republicans to report wearing masks “very often.”

2) Kind of wanted to laugh and cry when reading this McSweeneys‘ update from a University President:

Dear Valued Community Members,

I’m writing to announce the immediate, successful conclusion of Phase One of our Campus Comeback™ initiative! Your hard work and dedication have resulted in a wonderful and memorable first week of the Fall semester. Now, thanks to your efforts, along with a sharp and completely unforeseeable spike in COVID-19 cases, we will be entering Campus Comeback™ Phase Two, in which we will immediately convert to online-only learning and everyone on campus is ordered to shelter in place.

People said we were crazy when we announced that we’d be bringing our students, faculty, and staff back to campus in the Fall. I can’t tell you how many thoughtful messages of concern I received, because I asked my secretary to stop forwarding them to me after the first hundred or so. It was a difficult decision, but after lengthy consultations with some of the University’s foremost financial experts, we concluded that it would be not only safe but also healthier (in the spiritual and fiscal sense) to reopen campus.

They were right! We spent dozens of hours making our campus safe for reopening, and hundreds of thousands of dollars creating our Campus Comeback™ publicity campaign. As a result, we succeeded in bringing back not only our students and their indelible spirit of curiosity, but also their parents’ non-refundable room and board payments. We made this decision because the on-campus experience is an irreplaceable one, something that cheaper, online-only alternatives could never replicate.

Now that our students are back, the leaves are starting to change, the checks have been deposited, and county officials have contacted me threatening to place a giant bubble around our campus like in The Simpsons Movie, it’s time for the next exciting chapter of this novel school year. Our renewed focus on the in-dorm aspects of the irreplaceable on-campus experience will last at least until we get a handle on these latest batches of positive tests. Please know that our dedication to our students’ wellbeing, like the price of tuition this semester, will remain unchanged…

To our valued professors, and also our adjuncts and TAs: a huge THANK YOU for all the work you did creating lesson plans, converting classrooms, and drafting last wills and testaments in anticipation of in-person classes. From the bottom of my heart, I deeply appreciate your service to our bottom line. My sources among the faculty tell me that many of you have been conducting hours-long, drunken airings of grievances against the administration via Zoom on a regular basis, so I’m sure you’ll make a seamless transition back into remote lecturing.

3) Agree with Fareed, “Biden understands what Twitter doesn’t: Democrats need a big tent”

For some ideological warriors, to accept this reality is to make sordid compromises. But it is the durable way to actually get things done. Sanders is a powerful force in America and has raised many important issues. But in his three decades in Congress, he has been the lead sponsor of just seven bills that have been enacted — two of which named post offices. If you want to translate ideas into action, you have to grapple with the political realities of the country. Whether on immigration or infrastructure, you are likely to make enduring changes only if you can build a coalition.

Vox’s Ezra Klein makes the case that Democrats in particular need to have a broad appeal. Their constituency is more diverse than that of Republicans to start with — from Northern Whites to Southern Blacks to Latinos in the West. Add to this redistricting and the electoral college, which help Republicans gain power even when they cannot get a majority of votes, and Democrats have a compelling practical reason to be a big-tent party.

There may even be a larger virtue in this kind of broad approach. One recent study found that ideologically diverse teams produce better work than homogeneous ones. Summarizing in the Harvard Business Review, the researchers noted that at the individual level, bias can lead to foolish investments and erroneous conclusions. But people with strong political biases are also passionate and hard-working and dig deep for information to prove their case. “Collectively, teams with mixtures of bias that are willing to engage and collaborate can yield superior performance,” they concluded.

4) Good stuff in 538 on how although women had the right to vote for 100 years, the gender gap as we know it did not emerge till 1980.  Also featuring commentary from my friend and now-regular co-author, Mary-Kate Lizotte

So what happened? Simply put, prior to 1980, it hadn’t been as clear which party was more naturally aligned with most women’s views on policy issues. But in that election cycle, the Republican Party took a sharp right turn on a number of issues that mattered to women, including issues like spending on the social safety netthe environment, and the role of government. (The GOP also opposed the Equal Rights Amendment for the first time that year in its party platform.) And while a majority of men, who had been increasingly drawn toward the Republicans as the Democrats grew more liberal on issues of race, ended up in Reagan’s column, a majority of women did not.

As the parties became more and more polarized over the next few decades, this gap grew larger too, as women and men’s political allegiances continued to drift apart. “The issues that women tend to care about have largely been embraced by the Democratic Party,” Cascio said…

Additionally, several experts told us that there are good reasons to believe that Biden is on track to see record high support among women, including white women. Mary-Kate Lizotte, a political science professor at Augusta University who studies the gender gap, told us that for many women, the fallout from the pandemic could underscore their support for a strong government safety net and draw them toward Biden. Faced with school closures and a historically high unemployment rate, Lizotte said, many women could feel especially inclined to support a party that promises significant government support. Meanwhile, Erin Cassese, a political science professor at the University of Delaware, said that with Harris on the ballot, sexism is likely to be a prominent issue, as it was in 2016 — which could help widen the gender gap even further.

5) Friend and never-co-author, Joanne Miller, with interesting stuff on gender and conspiracy theories:

Those findings raised questions as to whether gender also influenced conspiracy theory beliefs.

To find out, the team ran a survey using 11 popular conspiracy theories, including claims that China or the U.S. accidentally released the virus; that 5G cell towers are causing the virus; that Bill Gates is plotting to somehow inject us with a vaccine; and that scientists are trying to make Donald Trump look bad by exaggerating the seriousness of the pandemic.

Among Democrats, there were statistically significant gender gaps for all 11 conspiracy theories; among Republicans, there were gender gaps for nine of the 11. The average gender gap among Democrats was 10.18% points (32.45% males to 22.27% females endorsed the theories), compared to 10.09% points among Republicans (48.9% males vs. 38.81% females). The gender differences were notable, researchers said, given that gender gaps in public opinion tend to be much smaller in magnitude, and the results were surprising, given that past work has not found a consistent association between gender and conspiracy theory beliefs.

So why men? Two dispositional factors are connected to the gender gap. Learned helplessness, which is a feeling like everything’s out of your control and any actions that you try to take are basically pointless; and conspiratorial thinking, which is a tendency to think about major political events and problems in conspiratorial terms without having any connection to, in this case, COVID-19.

The key factor is learned helplessness, which is experienced by both men and women. Miller described the process: Some people, when faced with repeated failures at trying to affect positive change in their lives, come to believe that they are helpless to control the things that they want to control.

The resulting general sense of learned helplessness can lead to conspiracy theory beliefs, Miller said.

“What we’re finding in this research is that men are more likely to score higher on learned helplessness,” Miller said. “And that might be a boost that’s happening just as a result of the pandemic itself, that they’re feeling more of this because they can’t control what’s going on right now. That leads to these beliefs that, well, maybe there’s a secret group of people controlling these things behind the scenes.”

Cassese added, “It’s something that both men and women can experience, but in our study we’re finding that it’s men who are really feeling this more at this moment, and it’s influencing how they feel about COVID. Learned helplessness and a predisposition toward conspiratorial thinking explain about half of the gender difference that we find. But there’s still more for us to do to try to understand this phenomenon.”

Miller and Cassese said they hope to use their findings to affect positive change in public health. Recent research has found that women were more likely than men to engage in protective behaviors that have been recommended by scientists and health officials, such as wearing masks and social distancing.

“So there may be some connection here between engaging in those activities and belief in conspiracy theories that we plan on exploring in future research,” Miller said.

6) Cool Wired story on the history of bird-strike counter-measures for airplanes.

7) Political Scientist Yanna Krupnikov on swing voters:

Zack Stanton: At this point in time, with such a major election and a very clear divide between the candidates, what kind of person would even be undecided right now?

Yanna Krupnikov: Everything we know about voters — not just undecided voters, but any voters — comes from what they’re willing to tell us in surveys. There are people who tell us they’re “undecided” because they feel like they should be. There are people who say they’re “independent” because there’s something good about saying you are above the fray and not partisan. If you think there’s a “good” to saying, “I want to hear both sides,” you might say you’re undecided. You might actually even on some level believe you’re undecided. But you’re probably not. You may call yourself “independent” even though you’ve literally never voted for the other party your whole life. There’s probably no chance you’re going to vote for the other party, but you say you’re undecided.

8) Some cool social science:

Economic shutdowns, which refer to disallowing employees to work on site, are among the most contentious approaches to reduce the spread of COVID-19. While economic shutdowns save lives, their large economic costs have caused some people to develop strong attitudes and even break government-issued mandates, which incurs health risks and often the need to extend the economic shutdowns. In the current article, we argue that the interaction of two personality characteristics, risk-taking tendencies and prosocial tendencies, is a strong determinant of attitudes toward economic shutdowns, and we assess the impact of this interaction on three different attitudes toward economic shutdowns that differ by their focal target: employees, customers, and organizations. The results demonstrate that this interaction significantly predicted economic shutdown attitudes toward customers and organizations but not employees. We suggest that these results can be understood via the lens of behavioral decision-making theories as well as a recent framework on antisocial risk takers, both of which provide several subsequent directions for future research. We conclude with recommendations for the development of effective messages to curb defiant behaviors toward economic shutdowns, such as focusing on those most likely to perform these problematic behaviors – the daring and uncaring.

9) Michael Tomasky reviews the evidence that Democrats are better for the economy.  There really is quite solid evidence on this.  Shame more people don’t know it (not that Republicans would ever accept it)

As I’ve been arguing for some time (most recently in The Daily Beast), the country has done better for decades under Democrats, by nearly every major economic measure. From John Kennedy through Barack Obama — 56 years during which, as it happens, we had a Democratic president for 28 years and a Republican president for 28 — we saw more than 50 million jobs created under Democrats and just 24 million jobs created under Republicans.

Even the stock market has performed better under Democratic presidents.

It’s true that just toting up numbers by the months each party had in power is imprecise. But there’s no better way to do it, and if all these numbers were reversed, Republicans would make sure Americans knew about it.

They would also make sure Americans were well aware of such an important and consistent failure from the other party. But Democrats have largely failed to punch home just how destructive Republican economic stewardship has been…

These Republican failures are not an unhappy coincidence. They’re a result of conservative governing practice. Republicans no longer fundamentally believe in the workings of government, so they don’t govern well. Their contempt for government is a result of conservative economic theory.

Yet somehow, perhaps in part because liberals have sometimes borrowed or adapted some of the economic theories espoused by Republicans, Democrats rarely manage to convey this.

10) Interesting take on public health and polling places, “What the CDC’s Guidelines for Polling Places Are Missing: Requiring polling booths to be 6 feet apart could dramatically decrease capacity for in-person voting and might not be necessary to protect public health.”

Researchers and public health officials believe thatviral transmission is strongly linked to how long someone is exposed to an infected person, whether the infected individual is wearing a mask, and whether or not the infected individual is likely to generate infectious droplets through coughing or sneezing. The CDC itself recognizes that the duration of exposure to an infected person is a critical factor in whether the exposure is low risk or high risk, as do European health agencies and independent scientists. Public-health officials do contact tracing only of those within 6 feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more. Few voters spend anywhere near that long at a polling booth. Voting alongside others does not meet the CDC’s own definition of close contact.

Other measures can be taken to mitigate against exposure at the voting booth. A significant percentage of voters this fall will be wearing masks. For voters who do not wear masks, distinct polling booths could be set up that, just for those voters, ensures 6 feet of distance between them. And we urge that all polling sites be adequately ventilated.

Quick hits

1) Eric Levitz:

Alas, the idea that Republicans will have an “epiphany” postelection is even more ludicrous today than it was in 2019. In recent weeks, both a prominent QAnon supporter and an alt-right conspiracy theorist who chained herself to the door of Twitter’s headquarters to protest her ban from the platform (while wearing a yellow star and likening herself to a Holocaust victim) won Republican congressional primaries. Meanwhile, the GOP’s grip on white rural America is now so strong, mishandling a pandemic in a manner that yields mass unemployment and 172,000 deaths hasn’t been enough to bring Donald Trump’s approval rating far below 42 percent. By contrast, in September 2008 — when, by most metrics, economic and public-health conditions in the U.S. were much better than they are today — George W. Bush’s approval rating sat in the low 30s. Which is to say, the floor on the GOP’s support has gotten much higher over the past 12 years, even as the party has grown evermore grotesquely incapable of responsible governance.

Further, in Biden’s best-case-scenario, Republicans will be in far better shape next year than they were in 2009, when Democrats claimed a supermajority in the Senate. If the GOP did not feel compelled to moderate in the wake of Obama’s landslide, why would they do so next year, when Democrats will at best have a two- or three-vote majority in the upper chamber? After all, the GOP now knows that its white rural coalition gives it an overwhelming advantage in the Senate and Electoral College. According to election forecasters, if Republicans lose the popular vote by three points in 2024, they will probably win control of both the White House and the Senate. The GOP is moving further to the lunatic right each day. And, despite being more reactionary and dysfunctional than it was a decade ago, it has less incentive to moderate than it did in the Obama years. In the wake of an election that the Republican standard-bearer has already deemed fraudulent, there is every reason to expect the GOP to be moreintransigent in its dealings with Biden than it was with Obama.

All this means that the goal of “building back better” will require Biden to embrace ruthless partisanship. If Democrats eke out a narrow majority in the U.S. Senate, they will need to abolish the filibuster and force through the Biden agenda over the caterwauling of the conservative media. There is simply no way to repair everything that COVID has broken (much less all that was broken before the virus got here) in a single reconciliation bill. Democrats will either govern in a norm-defyingly partisan fashion, or they will preside over the fiscal collapse of America’s major citiessurging homelessness, mass unemployment, and skyrocketing inequality. Unlike some on the left, I have little faith in a “just world theory” of American politics. A world in which Donald Trump can still claim the allegiance of 42 percent of voters — after publicly declaring his desire to limit COVID testing to keep America’s official case count artificially low (thereby making his prioritization of personal political interest over the lives of his constituents unambiguous) — is a world where politicians do not get what they deserve. Passing reforms that are remotely commensurate with the scale of the COVID-19 crisis would not guarantee Biden’s reelection, or the survival of Democrats’ congressional majorities. But such reforms would leave the American people less vulnerable to the depredations of the next Republican regime. Democrats could have used unified control in 2009 to immunize 11 million undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation and ensure that all Americans enjoyed the benefit of paid medical leave, affordable health insurance, and unemployment benefits on par with those of Western Europe. Had Democrats done so, the Trump era would have produced significantly less fear and suffering than it has.

2) Elisabeth Rosenthal on Covid and risk tolerance

Note that these decisions do not mean ignoring the data and infectious disease specialists’ recommendations, as some on the right are doing as they push ahead to reopen schools, businesses, restaurants and sports events.

Actually it’s kind of the opposite: Accepting risk doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind. It means taking all precautions and deciding you can live with the very reduced risk that remains.

With the coronavirus, the only way to eliminate all risk is essentially to move to a house in the countryside and live in your family bubble. And many Americans, particularly wealthy ones, have done just that. This personal response was extreme, but it felt rational to many people because our national response to the coronavirus was so scattershot, flat-footed and incompetent.

But isolation is wearing thin.

So as states and cities engineer sensible reopening policies, everyone is going to have to assess their risk tolerance and cautiously push their personal boundaries bit by bit.

3) Thomas Friedman is concerned:

Here is a sentence I never in a million years thought that I would ever write or read: This November, for the first time in our history, the United States of America may not be able to conduct a free and fair election and, should President Trump be defeated by Joe Biden, have a legitimate and peaceful transfer of power.

4) Even worse than Trump are his enablers because many of them actually know better, “Why Are Senate Republicans Playing Dead? They’re allowing President Trump to place loyalists in important government positions.”

It’s easy to blame Mr. Trump for abusing the labyrinthine process for filling vacancies in senior executive branch positions — because he has. This administration has found every plausible loophole — and some implausible (if not unlawful) ones — to install its preferred choices in an impressively broad and important array of senior government jobs.

But the real culprit for these abuses, and the principal obstacle to any meaningful reform, is the Senate — which has simply rolled over in the name of Republican Party unity as the president has run roughshod over its constitutional role.

5) A bipartisan Senate committee has released a final report on Trump and Russia and nobody gives a damn.  But this is the truth and it’s disgusting and deplorable, “The Trump Campaign Accepted Russian Help to Win in 2016. Case Closed.: “Cooperation” or “collusion” or whatever. It was a plot against American democracy.”

6) This is nuts– almost 100,000 people have been treated with convalescent plasma for Covid and we’re still not sure if it works.

7) I really love this Persuasion piece in praise of cultural appropriation:

Of late, it seems that we can scarcely go a day without hearing yet another sad report of good people brought low for their interest in other cultures. Some of her followers criticized an African-American teenager for displaying her immense talent at Irish dancing on TikTok. A member of a UK knitting circle was ostracized for acknowledging that she had drawn creative inspiration from a trip to India. A petition was launched to compel the Trader Joe’s grocery chain to stop labeling its vaguely Latin American products as “Trader José’s” and its Chinese-themed products as “Trader Ming’s.”

For the most part, mainstream institutions have not come to the defense of these embattled innocents. The Los Angeles Times covered the Trader Joe’s story with strained neutrality, citing one former customer who bemoaned the company’s “failure to reflect on what their goal is in this movement” for racial justice—as if the grocery chain were a student activist who had overslept and missed a demonstration. The New York Times ran a pitiable op-ed by a confused young person who broke up with a romantic partner because of their ethnoracial differences. (What greater appropriation could there be than to take another into your heart?) The BBC has solemnly reported about the efforts of haute couture to eliminate such transgressions as cornrows on “white” male models.

It would be nearly unthinkable for any establishment media outlet today to run an op-ed defending, say, the wearing of dreadlocks by a person of European descent—even though this hairstyle was known as the plica polonica or “Polish plait” and associated with the Tatar horsemen who inhabited the Polish-Lithuanian duchy long before it was associated with the African diaspora. Yet, outside of our current cultural context, such arguments seem moderate and reasonable.

Cultural appropriation is far too widespread a process to be classified in Manichean terms like good and bad. It is simply a general law of culture: it explains why, for example, horses and guns are to be found in nearly every populated corner of the world, why there are Muslim Indonesians and Christian Inuit, why the Taliban use Toyota pick-up trucks, and why I like Siberian epic poetry.

I want to focus here on the kind of case that is now most frequently derided as “problematic”: freely adopting aspects of another culture simply because one values them as crystallizations of human excellence. Cultural appropriation, in this narrower sense, is an unqualified good—and to oppose it is nothing less than anti-human.

8) Michele Goldberg on Bannon.  A huge number of Republican elites clearly see the average Republican supporter as little more than marks for their latest con.

9) Somehow, I missed this earlier NYT story I should have included with my post on NC Stat’s Greek life, “‘Frats Are Being Frats’: Greek Life Is Stoking the Virus on Some Campuses
Universities are struggling with how to prevent tightly packed sorority and fraternity houses from turning into virus clusters.”

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, officials abruptly called off in-person classes on Monday after identifying four clusters in student housing facilities, including one at the Sigma Nu fraternity.

“The frats are being frats: They are having their parties,” Lamar Richards, a U.N.C. sophomore, said.

The New York Times has identified at least 251 cases of the virus tied to fraternities and sororities. At the University of California, Berkeley, 47 cases were identified in a single week in early July, most of which were connected to the Greek system. In Mississippi, a significant outbreak in Oxford, home to the state’s flagship university, was partially blamed on fraternity parties. At the University of Washington’s Seattle campus, at least 165 of the 290 cases identified by the school have been associated with its Greek Row.

10) People need to stop freaking out about immunity to Covid-19.  No, it won’t be lifelong like Measles, but it’s looking pretty good, “We now have the best evidence yet that everyone develops long-term coronavirus immunity after infection — and it’s not just about antibodies”

11) The Duke study that caused people to question whether neck gaiters were worse than no mask was just fine science (for what it was trying to do– assess a low cost method for testing mask efficacy) but horrid science journalism that turned this into a ridiculous story on gaiters.  They’re just like any other cloth mask— they can be good or bad.

12) I still get surprised at the music I’ll hear and wonder “how have I never heard this before.”  So, I recently discovered Goldfrapp (yes, long after the fact) thanks to a friend and love them.  Started a Pandora station with this and some other new to me music (Wolf Alice, too) and really been enjoying discovering new music.  As of right now I’m listening to Deap Vally– they rock!– that I just discovered tonight.  How have I never heard them before?!

13) Good stuff from Brownstein:

Last night’s proceedings were effectively a tribute to America’s growing diversity. The energetic, quick-cut keynote speech included multiple speakers who were Latino, Black, Asian American, Native American, and LGBTQ, not to mention several women. The brilliantly reimagined convention roll call reinforced the point, with brief testimonials—some somber, others endearingly goofy—from another diverse roster of speakers in every state and territory, a change that drew rave reviews on Twitter and TV news. Some Democratic activists complained that organizers had allocated too much of the event’s limited time to Republicans and too little to nonwhite progressive leaders such as Stacey Abrams and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But average viewers probably absorbed a very different image: On a day when Trump delivered an incendiary speech in Yuma, Arizona, touting his border wall and even reprising the language from his 2015 campaign announcement about immigrants as “murderers” and “rapists,” Democrats offered the 21st-century version of a Norman Rockwell painting.

That contrast testifies to the depth and the intractability of the modern American divide. Even as Democrats gather to nominate “Scranton Joe” Biden, whose supporters have long touted his ability to recapture working-class white voters, many indications suggest 2020 could cleave the electorate more deeply than ever before, with a diverse, more and more educated, culturally cosmopolitan, metropolitan-based “coalition of transformation” on the Democratic side and a preponderantly white, heavily blue-collar, Christian, nonurban “coalition of restoration” on the Republican side…

But Trump’s ability to hold on to about three-fifths of non-college-educated white voters nonetheless testifies to the power of the cultural and racial attitudes that bond them to him. Even non-college-educated white women—though clearly less supportive now than in 2016—still give Trump a clear majority of their votes in all of the recent national surveys for which those data were available. (Biden leads among those women in Wisconsin, the Marquette poll found.) In the South, Trump continues to amass towering margins among white voters without a college degree: He’s at 70 percent or more among them in recent polls in North Carolina and Georgia, and nearly that high in Texas. Polls likewise show that Trump is maintaining support from about three-fourths (NBC/WSJ) to four-fifths (Pew) of white evangelical Christians. With rural voters, the Pew, NBC/WSJ, and ABC/Post polls all put him at from 55 to 60 percent support.

Those numbers in rural communities would also constitute slight declines from 2016, and that threatens Trump, given how narrowly he won last time. But all of these results signal how many white Americans remain responsive to Trump’s underlying argument that a victory for the diverse Democratic coalition on display this week would irreversibly transform the nation into something they consider alien and unacceptable. It is that audience Trump explicitly targets when he declares, as he did in his Yuma speech, that if Biden wins, “our country will not be the country that we know.” (Trump also nodded to such voters last night when he praised the victory in a Republican House primary of the extremist anti-Muslim candidate Laura Loomer, one week after he congratulated a follower of the QAnon conspiracy theory who won a GOP primary in Georgia.)

14) Ezra Klein explores some different theories for why McConnell and Republicans aren’t doing more to address the economic disaster of Covid and help Trump.  My money’s on this one:

Conservative thinking has no room for Covid-19. The coronavirus death toll shows that whatever it is America is doing now, it’s not working. The experiences of Europe and Asia show that the virus can be controlled. So what do congressional Republicans think should happen next?

On this question, every answer was a verbal shrug. Collectively, congressional Republicans have no theory for containing the virus. And they don’t really see it as their job to come up with one. It may have been the Trump administration’s job, but the White House decided to leave it to state and local governments.

That’s left congressional Republicans in a bind. To admit a new strategy is needed is to say that Trump is failing, and few are willing to risk the predictable reprisals. Moreover, congressional Republicans are uncomfortable proposing the kinds of strategies that have worked elsewhere. For instance: Pushing America back into lockdown while spending tens of billions to set up a true test-trace-isolate strategy would also require a multitrillion-dollar support package so families and businesses could survive the return to economic deep-freeze. Few Republicans want to do that.

“There’s a certain amount of motivated reasoning here,” says the top GOP staffer. “If you’re not going to have government intervention, you can’t have the lockdowns.”

Managing a pandemic is difficult in the best of circumstances, but it’s almost impossible if the party is built around mistrust of the government and opposition to social services.

15) I really like Coleman Hughes on a “better anti-racism”

For fifty years, the American left has been torn between two different answers. The first was best encapsulated by Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. King looked forward to a day when “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers”—a day when race would be seen as an insignificant attribute.

The competing vision—let’s call it race-consciousness—was best encapsulated by the Black Power movement. The end goal of this movement was not, as King once put it, to bring about a “new kind of togetherness between blacks and whites.” Rather, it was to demand that black people, understood as a collective, receive more recognition, more respect, and more resources. Underlying this vision was the assumption that society is a zero-sum power struggle between oppressed groups and oppressor groups—and that a win for the former requires a loss for the latter.

In the race-conscious vision, racial harmony is an afterthought. At times, it is actively shunned. Race-consciousness seeks to “problematize” relations between members of different ethnic groups in a variety of ways. In 2017, for instance, the New York Times ran an op-ed entitled “Can My Children Be Friends with White People?” written by a black father who planned on teaching his sons “to have profound doubts that friendship with white people is possible”—a near-perfect reversal of Dr. King’s message.

For black people, race-consciousness seems to promise more status and more access to opportunity. For white people, it promises a way to act on, rather than simply brood over, feelings of guilt over their complicity (real or imagined) in America’s past sins. For the nation as a whole, it seems to promise solutions to ongoing problems like mass incarceration and police brutality.

Yet race-consciousness cannot deliver on its promises because its foundational assumptions are flawed. For one thing, it does not reject the old rigid racial categories so much as it transforms them, sneaking them in through the back door. If someone said that black kids should not be encouraged to work hard a hundred years ago, it was probably because they were racist. If someone says the same thing today, it’s almost certainly because they are “anti-racist.” But any political program that insists that black people be held to a lower standard will never be able to bring black achievement up to those same rejected standards—and thus will struggle mightily to address racial disparity.

16) And Conor Friedersdorf, digs in on the school council member who had the temerity to have a black child on his knee during a zoom.  I was half-aware of this, but it really is nuts, “Anti-racist Arguments Are Tearing People Apart”

But days after the meeting, an open letter signed by scores of parents was sent to Maud Maron, the council president. It began: “Under your leadership, at the June 11, 2020 Zoom meeting of Community Education Council 2 that you chaired, which included discussion of a resolution to eliminate discriminatory screens and counter the effects of 400 years of systemic racism, a CEC 2 member, a white man, displayed a black baby on his lap on camera on more than one occasion.”

The letter went on to characterize Wrocklage’s comment on integration (made several minutes before the child appeared in his lap) as “mocking,” and declared that he “used the black baby as a prop.” Wrocklage told me that he had made the integration comment out of frustration with “the absurdity of these people from their, you know, $2 million Manhattan condos not going outside, not visiting friends in the South Bronx like I do, telling me that I don’t understand this screened-admission process” and treating him as though he’s “supporting white supremacy” with his position.

The letter characterized the lap incident as harmful: “Imagine the insult and emotional injury any thinking person, especially a person of color, suffered when they witnessed this scene and heard that comment,” it stated, calling them “shocking, disgusting, offensive, and racially incendiary.” It demanded that Wrocklage resign, claiming that allowing such incidents to continue without consequences “will only further empower the perpetuation of similar racist behaviors.” Maron, the council president, was warned, “If you continue to tolerate such behavior from council members, we deem you unfit to lead the CEC and demand that you resign immediately,” though censoring the speech of other elected members is not her prerogative.

That black child was a friend of his daughter’s who was a regular in his household.  But, sure, “disgusting” and “racially incendiary.”

Race is huge in understanding American society and politics and it is pure folly to ignore it or pretend like racism and the individual and structural level is not a thing.  But I don’t think making race everything and a new racial essentialism (“Black people are X; white people are Y) is ultimately the way to make things better.

17) Let’s stick with race.  I’d argue that what is good progress is Americans increasingly recognizing what a problem racism is in American society:

Treatment of Black People

18) This is really good in Stat, “Seven months later, what we know about Covid-19 — and the pressing questions that remain”

19) A good piece suggesting we not panic (but, stay vigilant and concerned) about the Post Office.

Throwing the Greek system under the bus

I’m so not a fan of fraternities and sororities.  I know a number of you feel quite differently.  You may even comment here with all the positives that come from these organizations.  I hear you.  That said, from my perspective, the costs of these organizations significantly outweigh the benefits.  So, I’m actually quite primed to give NC State’s Greek organizations the lion’s share of the blame for in-person classes being canceled.  And, I think that’s actually probably a fair assessment based on what I’ve heard from conversations with students.

But, wow, I just cannot help but being amused on some level on how ready the University administration is quite clearly cast the blame here.  Sure, maybe they just want to keep us all informed (damn, there go my plans to go to Sigma Nu this weekend), but, it’s almost gratuitous to send this out via email to the whole campus:

NC State has identified four additional clusters of COVID-19 cases.

One cluster is at the Sigma Nu Fraternity house, currently with 26 positive cases, located in Greek Village at NC State. In addition, reports indicate a party was hosted at the house on August 13. Anyone who attended should follow up with their personal healthcare provider or Student Health Services at 919-515-2563 to be tested.

The second cluster is at the Delta Gamma Sorority house, currently with 15 positive cases, located in Greek Village.

The third cluster is at the Sigma Kappa Sorority house, currently with 6 positive cases, located in Greek Village.

The fourth cluster is at the Zeta Tau Alpha Sorority house, currently with 7 positive cases, located near the 3400 block of Avent Ferry Road in Raleigh.

A “cluster” is defined by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services as five or more cases that are deemed close proximity or location.

But, then again, if most all your clusters are in Greek housing, maybe that tells you something.  Also, a student told me that her boyfriend’s fraternity was telling member to get Covid tests not in Wake County to keep their numbers down– yikes!

In-person classes– the humans fail us again

Well, it happened this afternoon, while I was teaching in-person.  NC State made the call to cancel all in-person undergraduate classes for the rest of the semester.  As I’ve already discussed here, I’m confident that my classroom was about as safe an indoor teaching environment as possible due to universal masking, low density, and good ventilation.  But, that doesn’t matter when ridiculous numbers of students are going to crowded, indoor, maskless parties. And by many accounts (and damn, did I have an enlightening and damning conversation with an undergraduate yesterday) that’s what’s been going on.  A fraternity party with 200 people!  Social media feeds full of maskless undergrads at indoor parties.  Ummm, yeah, absolutely a recipe for super-spreading.  My student said that every person she knew with a diagnosis (a lot) had been partying indoors or living with those who had.

And, yeah, a lot of people think NC State was crazy for trying and maybe we are.  But, the on-campus stuff– damn, we got it right!  Low density, masks, ventilation.  I truly suspect that when all is accounted for there will not be a single clear case of transmission within an academic building.  But, yeah, many of us failed to anticipate just how poorly (age appropriately?) many students would act.

Every time I have hoped for the best of human behavior, I’ve been let down.  I’m kind of like Charlie Brown kicking the football.  I can’t stop being an optimist.  Of course, my faith in science hasn’t let me down yet, but, ohhhh, the humans.

It was really bitter that this happened towards the end of my PS 302 class session on voter turnout today.  It was an absolute model of what in-person classes can and should be.  Well more than half the students actively participating, an on-going dialogue/discussion of factors affecting turnout rather than me just telling them things.  It was a great example of why we value in-person teaching.  And it just cannot be fully replicated on-line.  You can be damn sure I’ll do my best, but, as any of us who’s been in a Zoom meeting knows, it won’t be the same.  It just won’t.  And that sucks and makes me sad.

How to age well– some research

One of my favorite things about pandemic-world is the amazing back-and-forth I’ve been having with fellow Political Scientist Ben Bishin, not about politics, but about Covid, hockey, diet & health, etc.  It’s been great to bounce all my ideas off of someone similarly trained with similar interests.  Ben shared a research study on aging on FB the other day and he did a great job summarizing the key findings so I asked to share it here:

One of the greatest challenges we face with aging is maintaining our mobility and ability to physically do the things we want. From maintaining balance to bone strength, muscle strength improves quality of life. The primary threat is sarcopenia which is the age related muscle (and bone) loss everyone experiences. This article is the single best summary of research studies I’ve ever seen on how to gain muscle and hence mobility and functionality as we age. TLDR:
1) Resistance training is the single best thing you can do. We’ve known that among young people you can build muscle mass with lower weights (e.g., reps at 40% of max) but it was less clear for older people. The findings here have changed a bit, and there is now not only evidence that resistance training with lower weights works, but also may confer some benefits that heavier weights do not (though I’ve read other work showing cognitive benefits-not addressed in this study- to heavier weight).
2) We need more protein as we age because our ability to translate it to muscle declines with age. This works only when combined with resistance training, however (to maintain functionality.).
My complaint: The “eat less protein” crowd misses the really important point (for ALL ages) that muscle growth is optimized at much higher levels of protein intake than the RDA (.8g/kilo). For younger people, somewhere between 1.4 and 2.0 grams /kilo of weight is optimal. But this is only useful if done in conjunction with resistance training. Older folks doing resistance training need at least 1.2g per kilo.
3) Supplements. Some work (e.g., leucine , creatine), some don’t (vitamin d) others have inconsistent findings. In my other readings, most fall in to the latter 2 categories. (Also not mentioned in this article but caffeine has tons of supporting research for athletic performance though not for sarcopenia per se).
4) Anti-inflammatories. As someone who is in almost constant pain, these findings are fascinating and complex. For high doses among young people some NSAIDs (e.g., ibuprofen) may inhibit muscle growth. Broader research across doses is inconsistent but there are reasons to expect benefits and reasons to think it may impede muscle growth. . For older people small doses may be beneficial. So much to still learn here.
Edit: please note i interpret some of these results and their summary *slightly* differently than does the author in his poster that is circulating the web. So please read for yourself.
I don’t actually know how I’m doing on protein.  Okay, I think.  And I should probably do more resistance training (which has definitely suffered without going to the gym, but I still do push-ups, etc.), but I’m glad I am doing the resistance training for my health, because unlike the running I do for my health, I don’t actually like it all that much.

Can the cheap tests save the Spring semester?

So, regardless of what happens at NC State, Fall semester at a bunch of places is on-line only.  It’s really not the same.  It seems to me one place in particular where Michael Mina’s ubiquitous, cheap, daily testing plan could totally be implemented to great effect is college campuses.  Its frustrating that this still is not approved, but there’s damn sure no reason (other than that its amazing how bad this country is doing at everything except science innovation) we shouldn’t be able to scale this by Spring.  Anyway, I’ve written about this before, but I think David Plotz has the best summary of this testing regime I’ve seen:

COVID testing, like almost every aspect of the American response to the pandemic, has been a disaster. Tests are expensive and exceedingly slow. You don’t get your results back for days — or even weeks — meaning you’re very likely to spend your most contagious hours spreading the virus as you wait for a result. Plus they’re hard to get, so only a tiny fraction of the people who should be tested actually are tested.

But finally, finally, there’s a great, attainable, new idea for revolutionizing testing — a new testing protocol could stop the pandemic cold, and bring us the benefits of a vaccine without a vaccine. The basic notion is that we should mass produce very cheap, very fast, and somewhat inaccurate at-home COVID tests, and millions of us should take them daily. The architect of this plan is Harvard epidemiologist Michael Mina, who’s outlined his case in the New York Timesthe Atlantic, and in a podcast interview with me, among other places.

The technology exists. A few small companies have developed COVID saliva tests that you can do in 15 minutes at home. (The tests — essentially a strip of treated paper — works a bit like home pregnancy tests.) In Mina’s scenario, we would mass produce these tests, which would cost $1 to $5 each, and tens of millions of us would take them every day — any kid before going to school, any worker before heading to the office. If you tested positive, you’d get the result immediately and you stay home. This would break chain after chain of transmission, and crush the pandemic as effectively as a vaccine. 

So why aren’t we doing this? The FDA won’t approve the cheapo tests because they’re not as accurate as the gold-standard PCR tests. They use a different, less precise method, and only catch people with a higher level of circulating virus. But Mina points out that this is actually the strength of these cheap tests — which are more “contagiousness” tests than “diagnostic” tests. 

The gold-standard PCR tests catch tons of people way past their contagious period, when they have tiny amounts of coronavirus RNA but aren’t actually infectious. The cheap tests catch virtually everyone who’s actually contagious. More importantly, it catches them immediately, and while they’re at home, so they know they’re sick in 15 minutes, not days later when they’ve been out spreading the disease. Most importantly, it doesn’t require massive infrastructure and a lab, just some of your own spit and a strip of paper

Mina told me he’s getting calls from top officials around the world — “crown princes” — about trying this out, and he knows the idea has made its way to Jared Kushner’s office. The US is practically the only country that has enough community spread where this kind of mass home testing makes sense. Other countries accomplish the same crackdown with vigorous contact tracing.

The US should crash course the cheap-test program immediately by funding the small companies to scale up production, and should pilot it in a city that’s experiencing an outbreak. How quickly could they bring rates down if they had half the population of Miami taking a daily test? If that works, do it nationwide. It would cost billions a week, but the pandemic costs way, way more. Until we get a vaccine, this is the best idea we have for getting back towards normal.

It’s the student living; not in-person classes

Well, damn.  UNC has had to cancel in-person classes because, apparently, you cannot stop young adults living in communal living conditions from acting like young adults.  I see the Notre Dame has now canceled in-person as well.  So far, NC State has been doing better than UNC, but this really just feels like waiting for the shoe to drop.

What’s frustrating, but that I do get, is that it really is the non-academic parts of campus life that seem to be making this impossible.  A lot of people think I’m crazy to be teaching in-person, but NC State has done all the things.  Low density in rooms, universal masks, and good ventilation.  That’s a pretty good recipe for preventing transmission.  And you know what they found at UNC:

Several infectious-disease experts and epidemiologists at the meeting said contact tracing so far has not found any infections transmitted in educational spaces, such as classrooms or labs, or between students and instructors.

“What we have found is that most of the transmissions have been within the social sphere of campus life, and that has been really challenging for us to manage and to hold people to the level of accountability that we probably needed to,” Blouin said.

“So I guess in terms of lessons learned, certainly, that was a big lesson learned,” he said.

Some researchers at Duke created a really cool tool to estimate classroom risk for a whole semester.

Here’s my conservative (i.e., I doubled the default rate of student infection) estimate (though, I also did take my mask efficacy up 10% because I make sure I have a good fit with my surgical mask.

So, under 3% for the semester.  I’ll take it.  And I was also conservative on the air changes.  If I take it up to a minimum of 4 ACH (and I can confirm my CO2 levels are generally staying very good) I’m looking at closer to 2%.  (Take my mask inhalation efficiency up another 10 and I’m under 2%).  Of course, this may all be moot.  The reporting from earlier today on NC State:

N.C. State has not reported any campus outbreaks after completing the first week of classes, officials said Monday. A university spokesperson said 35 students are living in a residence hall set aside to isolate or quarantine up to 166 students.

The university is investigating complaints of parties, spokesman Mick Kulikowski said, but could not verify that students were involved in an alleged party over the weekend from which video was shared on social media.

Of course, a few hours after that, multiple clusters reported.  So, we’ll see…

Just seems like a real shame because I actually think we truly can do in-person classes quite safely.  Alas, for in-person classes students actually have to live in groups near campus, and there, it seems, is the rub.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Florida sheriff bans deputies and visitors to sheriff’s office from wearing masks.  Yowza!

2) Dustin Poppendieck has become one of my favorite air quality follows on twitter because he’s great with very practical advice.  Here’s a super helpful FAQ about air quality in classrooms.

3) Conor Friedersdorf on Princeton faculty’s problematic anti-racism demands:

One demand in particular generated a great deal of attention in the media: “Constitute a committee composed entirely of faculty that would oversee the investigation and discipline of racist behaviors, incidents, research, and publication on the part of faculty.” The letter added that “what counts as racist” should be determined by the yet-to-be-formed faculty committee.

The prospect of a racism tribunal seems, to some outside observers, inherently incompatible with academic freedom. “Academic freedom is the application of free speech principles to the academic context, and academic freedom protects an enormous amount of free speech for faculty,” John K. Wilson wrote at the Academe blog. “If you punish all ‘racist’ or ‘bad’ research, it will inevitably have a chilling effect on professors who want to challenge the status quo. Even if the faculty evaluating these cases are thoughtful and reasonable, how many professors want to be brought up before the ‘racism’ committee and have their thoughts investigated for possible racism?”

Oddly enough, I learned that some signatories share these concerns. In fact, some don’t support the creation of a tribunal at all…

One chided me for my questions. “It is disappointing to me that in a fairly detailed and comprehensive letter concerning anti-racism, journalists such as yourself and others have seized on a single detail and created more discourse about it than about 97% of the rest of the letter,” the English professor Zahid Chaudhary emailed. “Unfortunately, unless your piece is prepared to engage the full scope of anti-racist pedagogy and institutional change that the faculty letter details, I am not prepared to assist in distorting or amplifying the most misunderstood part of the letter.” He wasn’t alone in characterizing my focus on that demand as somehow “distorting” its meaning.

That criticism made more sense to me when I learned that some signatories believe the demand has no chance of being met, and treat it as something only bad-faith critics would take seriously. Of course I don’t want that, more than one signatory told me, as if anyone with common sense would already know as much. In fact, multiple signatories are vehemently opposed to the demand beneath which they put their names. “I deeply regret signing that letter,” lamented a faculty member with extreme misgivings. “The reasons were personal and are not intellectually defensible. I regretted signing almost instantly, before the letter drew public attention, specifically because of the sentences you cite.” That faculty member assured me that if the measure came up for a faculty vote, they would oppose it.

4) Amy Walter’s analysis of the state of the presidential race– stability!

The biggest challenge for President Trump isn’t that he’s running behind former Vice President Joe Biden with less than three months left in the campaign. Instead, it’s that the race itself has been remarkably stable.

This RealClearPolitics poll average chart from 2016 looks like an echocardiogram: spike up, drop down, spike up, drop down. Clinton would build a big lead, only to see that lead evaporate, then open up again. As I wrote back in September of that year, every time a candidate was in the media spotlight, their poll numbers suffered. “When it [the spotlight] hits them,” I wrote, “it exposes their flaws instead of highlighting their strengths. Their poll numbers and their favorability numbers sink…The more it lingers on Trump, the better for Clinton. The more it shines on Clinton, the better opportunity for Trump to close the gap.”

This year, the pandemic, the Biden campaign’s discipline at keeping their candidate away from spontaneous media appearances, and Trump’s unwillingness to step out of the daily coverage, has meant the spotlight has been trained solely on the president.

This full-time coverage wouldn’t be a bad thing for a popular president. But, for Trump, whose job approval rating is hovering between 40-42 percent, a referendum election is a sure loser. As such, the RealClearPolitics polling average chart has fewer peaks and valleys. Instead, the gap between the top blue line (Biden) and the bottom red line (Trump) has remained pretty consistent.

5) Really intrigued by James Hamblin’s new book on skin.  We’ve learned so much about our gut microbiome.  Time to learn more about our skin microbiome.

6) We can learn a lot from state-level contact-tracing data.  Like, Louisiana, for example:

7) Honestly, I absolutely cannot imagine being married to a Republican.  What’s the deal with cross-partisan marriages?  Some cool research:

Key Findings

  • The rate of opposite-party marriages, when a person marries someone who identifies with the opposing political party, is small. Only 3 percent of all American adults are married to an individual from the opposing party, making up 6 percent of all marriages.
  • People who enter into opposite-party marriages are similar in characteristics to other married individuals in terms of race, age, attention to public affairs, and the strength of their partisan identities.
  • Younger people are not any less likely to enter into an opposite-party marriage than older people.
  • Individuals in opposite-party marriages were more likely to vote against their party’s candidate in the 2016 presidential election. Nearly 30 percent of Democrats in opposite-party marriages voted for Donald Trump, while 26 percent of Republicans in opposite-party marriages voted for Hillary Clinton. Similar percentages of each group intend on voting out-party in 2020.
  • Americans in opposite-party marriages are less affectively polarized; that is, they are less likely to be biased in favor of their own party and against the opposing party.
  • Divorce rates for opposite-party marriages are not higher than other married couples. However, respondents in opposite-party marriages are more likely to change their party identification than those who are not in opposite-party marriages.

8) Nice interview with physician/medical research Eric Topol.  He actually, kind of drives me crazy.  He brings so much interesting research to light on twitter.  But all-too-often he fails to clarify at all for even smart laypeople (i.e., me) when just a simple English sentence without jargon would do.

9) I really did not appreciate how crazy/amazing derechos are.  Good Wired story on them.  And, surely, they’d get way more attention if they happened on the coasts than to more rural America.

10) Some really interesting new research on who is most affected by Covid:

Why some patients sail through the disease and others are felled by it is a question that has bedeviled doctors.

Older age and chronic health conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease are known to increase the risk of severe Covid-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also lists extreme obesity as a high risk.

But is excess weight in and of itself to blame? Or all of the health problems that accompany obesity, like metabolic disorders and breathing problems?

A new study points to obesity itself as a culprit. An analysis of thousands of patients treated at a Southern California health system identified extreme obesity as an independent risk factor for dying among Covid-19 patients — most strikingly, among younger and middle-aged adults 60 and younger, and particularly among men.

Among women with the illness, body mass index — a measure of body fat based on height and weight — does not appear to be independently associated with an increased risk of dying at any age, the authors said, possibly because women carry weight differently than do men, who tend to have more visceral and abdominal fat. The study was published in Annals of Internal Medicine on Wednesday.

“Body mass index is a really important, strong independent risk factor for death among those who are diagnosed with Covid-19,” said Sara Tartof, the study’s first author, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente of Southern California.

But “the impact is not uniform across the population,” she added. “You don’t really see it for the older ages, and we didn’t see it as an important risk for females at any age.”

Obesity and the coronavirus are a dangerous combination for a number of reasons…

The scientists also wanted to know whether demographic factors, like age, sex and race or ethnicity, played a role.

While Black and Latino populations have been disproportionately stricken by the virus, with hospitalizations and deaths at higher rates, the study did not find race or ethnicity to be an independent risk factor.

The researchers did find extreme obesity to be a strong independent risk factor for worse outcomes. “We’re not saying the disparities don’t exist — we’re teasing apart what’s driving the disparities,” Dr. Tartof said.

“We see that racial and ethnic minorities are having more bad outcomes. They are also more likely to be obese, or to have less access to health care, and they’re more likely to have co-morbidities.”


Quick hits (part I)

1) Chait on the Senate is so good, “The Senate Is America’s Most Structurally Racist Institution”

The Senate was not designed to benefit white voters — almost all voters were white when the Constitution went into effect — but it has had that effect. The reason is simple: Residents of small states have proportionally more representation, and small states tend to have fewer minority voters. Therefore, the Senate gives more voting power to white America, and less to everybody else. The roughly 2.7 million people living in Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, and North Dakota, who are overwhelmingly white, have the same number of Senators representing them as the 110 million or so people living in California, Texas, Florida, and New York, who are quite diverse. The overall disparity is fairly big. As David Leonhardt calculated, whites have 0.35 Senators per million people, while Blacks have 0.26, Asian-Americans 0.25, and Latinos just 0.19.

The Senate is affirmative action for white people. If we had to design political institutions from scratch, nobody — not even Republicans — would be able to defend a system that massively overrepresented whites. And yet, while we are yanking old 30 Rock episodes and holding White Fragility struggle sessions in boardrooms, a massive source of institutionalized racial bias is sitting in plain sight.

2) And, let’s go back to Chait from 2002(!!) taking on the awfulness (seriously!) of Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware.

Until one day several years ago, I, like most people, harbored no ill feelings toward the state of Delaware. I suppose in some vague sense I thought of it as harmless and even endearing, the way you tend to regard other small things, such as Girl Scouts or squirrels. But all that changed the summer day I moved to Washington, when, making my way down I-95 in a rental truck with all of my worldly belongings, I screeched to a halt in front of what turned out to be a two-hour backup in Delaware. Never having driven down the East Coast, I at first assumed the traffic jam must have been caused by some horrific accident. But as my truck crept forward I saw it was no accident at all but a deliberate obstruction—specifically, a tollboth on the Delaware Turnpike. Slowly the full horror of it sunk in: The State of Delaware had turned the East Coast’s main traffic artery into a sweltering parking lot merely so it could exact a tribute from each driver crossing its miserable little stretch of concrete.

The practice of charging road tolls is an archaic holdover blighting much of the Northeast. But Delaware has taken it to a grotesque extreme. Whereas the I-95 tolls amount to less than five cents per mile in New Jersey and four cents per mile in Maryland, in Delaware they cost an exorbitant 18 cents per mile. Which isn’t surprising because, in a deeper sense, Delaware’s tolls epitomize the state’s entire ethos. The organizing principle of the Delaware government is to subsidize its people at the rest of the country’s expense. While tolls represent the most obvious of the state’s nefarious methods, Delaware also utilizes its appallingly lax regulation of banks and corporations to enrich itself while undermining its neighbors. Indeed, Delaware’s image as small and inoffensive is not merely a misconception but a purposeful guise. It presents itself as a plucky underdog peopled by a benevolent, public-spirited, entrepreneurial citizenry. In truth, it is a rapacious parasite state with a long history of disloyalty and avarice.

Not all the instruments of Delaware’s rapacity take the form of meddlesome, high-handed government exacting inflated costs on out-of-state visitors. When need be, the state’s avarice can also be fed by the exact opposite. An example of this latter technique is Delaware’s enticement of much of the banking industry to relocate within its borders. It did so in 1981 not only by offering special tax breaks—the standard formula that states and localities use to woo industry—but by eviscerating its usury laws, which limit the interest a bank can charge for loans or credit cards. Seizing the opportunity to exploit unwary consumers across the country, eight of the ten largest credit-card firms in the country now operate within Delaware. In the meantime, personal bankruptcy nationwide has risen sevenfold over the last two decades, and tens of millions of Americans send checks to Delaware every month.

Undoubtedly this has spurred Delaware’s economy, providing tens of thousands of jobs, which in turn have produced enough tax revenue to allow the state to slash its other taxes. But it has also made it nearly impossible for other states to regulate even the most predatory kinds of loan-sharking. Last year, for instance, Pennsylvania barred one of its banks from engaging in “payday lending.” This practice entails lending to poor, financially unsophisticated consumers for two weeks. When they can’t repay the loan, they typically take out another, repeating the cycle and paying interest rates that can exceed 700 percent. But just after the Pennsylvania bank ceased its payday lending, a bank based out of Delaware opened up shop in its place.

3) Jennifer Rubin on the Republican Party:

A Republican Party that does not depend on White grievance and cultural resentment (leading to incessant whining that its members are victims of everything from Facebook to climate scientists to immigrants) and does not depend on what Brooks aptly describes as “an anti-government zombie Reaganism long after Reagan was dead and even though the nation’s problems were utterly different from what they were when he was alive” would frankly not have much to say. After you strip away those two failed themes, what’s left?

The unpleasant truth for those expected to say “there are fine people” in both parties is that, aside from a few stray governors and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), there really are not fine people running the Republican Party. They have sold their souls to Trump and either passively or actively bought into white supremacy and religious authoritarianism (which weirdly has as its most vocal proponent the attorney general). They waged war on the Constitution and objective reality. There is nothing redeeming in any of that — or in the right-wing media machine encompassing the deluded true believers and money-hungry charlatans willing to throw red meat to an audience they suppose consists of uneducated bigots.

4) Bernstein on Trump and the Post Office:

I suppose I have to talk post office. But I’m going to leave to others the (fully justified) outrage about what certainly appears to be an attempt by President Donald Trump to improperly, and perhaps illegally, prevent absentee ballots from arriving in time. What I find astonishing is just how out of touch a president has to be to think that no one will be upset by an apparently deliberate slowdown in mail service. As the political scientist Ken Schultz put it: “Don’t Republican Senators have constituents who depend on a functioning postal service?”

The thing is that Trump, by opposing money for the U.S. Postal Service and supporting “reforms” that have slowed it down, is just handing former Vice President Joe Biden yet another easy campaign issue. Democrats may or may not be able to overturn new procedures that are causing significant problems, but they certainly can make sure that anyone who’s waiting on a letter or a package thinks that Trump is responsible when it doesn’t show up on time. And that’s not the kind of thing politicians want voters to blame them for.


Arguably, the biggest mistake Biden could have made was the selection of an inexperienced candidate. It could have made voters question his judgment. That’s what political scientists Christopher J. Devine and Kyle C. Kopko believe happened to Sen. John McCain in 2008, after he picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
That charge against Harris, though, is unlikely to stick given her qualifications.
Indeed, the examples of Palin along with Dan Quayle in 1988 are good ones for understanding the scope of the vice presidential effect. Both were viewed unfavorably by voters, as they stumbled through questions about their readiness for the office. Palin lost in 2008, but Quayle, as the running mate of George H.W. Bush, won in 1988 even after having one of the worst debate performances in modern history. (Not surprisingly, my research indicates vice presidential debates don’t move the needles.)

5) Ummm… so there’s a new Bill and Ted movie coming?!  And music video by Weezer!

6) Love this idea, “The Logic Around Contact Tracing Apps Is All Wrong: Rather than tracking individual exposures, we should be using them for real-time info on what activities and locations may be responsible for the spread.”

7) Trump has launched an attack on the Constitution— hell yeah, he has.  And what we should do about it:

First, states should pass statutes making clear that vote-counting must be done not by December 8, but by January 6—and ideally by December 23, which still provides crucial additional time. This will ensure that a state legislature can’t claim voters “failed to make a choice” simply because vote-counting necessarily continued past Election Day, and that Congress can’t disregard results from states simply because they arrive after December 8, or after December 14, the statutory (but not constitutional) date set for the Electoral College to meet and to send vote counts to the Senate and archivist.

Second, states should adopt a postmark rule, whereby every ballot postmarked on or before November 3 is included in the tally. If the question isn’t whether ballots are received by November 3 but instead whether they’re sent by that date, a deliberately tardy Postal Service no longer poses the same threat. Of course, not all states may be able to accomplish this through legislation, but state courts may provide another promising path. One example is the set of voters in Minnesota who sued their secretary of state to challenge the state law that said absentee ballots would be counted only if received by 8 p.m. on Election Day. A Minnesota court approved a settlement with the voters that requires all absentee ballots to be postmarked on or before November 3 and arrive no more than seven days after Election Day to be counted. This decision indicates that any rule to count only ballots received by Election Day during this pandemic is an unlawful burden on voting rights, in violation of the equal-protection provisions of state constitutions and the U.S. Constitution.

Third, states should start the mail-in and early-voting processes well before November 3, and as soon as the candidates up and down the ballot are known. This will help states count the unprecedented wave of mail-in ballots they’re about to receive.

Fourth, states should invest in vote-by-mail infrastructure, such as what Colorado has in place, including dedicated drop boxes for ballots that bypass the postal system entirely. What’s more, states should urge loudly that federal money to help with this task be included in the next coronavirus-relief package.

And fifth, states should, in every way possible—including by litigation—erase any doubt that they mean to count every legitimate ballot, even if counting needs to continue not just until December 8 but until December 23 and, if necessary, until January 6. The difference could be between losing American democracy and saving it.

Trump thinks he has a trio of tricks up his sleeve for November: Slow the mail, rely on Republican state legislatures to deem Election Day a failure with so many votes still uncounted, and decry as illegitimate all vote-counting that persists past Election Day, and certainly past December 8. State legislatures and courts should act now to show just how futile this strategy would be for Trump. In so doing, they would be shoring up the electorate’s confidence in our voting system’s integrity, and would be reinforcing the foundations of a great democracy by reaffirming a simple principle: If we believe in one person, one vote, then every American’s lawfully cast vote should be counted.

My take?  Nobody who is not voting in person needs to wait till November to actually vote.  Needs to be a huge push to get Democratic  voters to vote well before November so that these issues with how long the count may take are a moot point.

8) Linnette Lopez on Republicans and Kanye:

No doubt Trump and the GOP were surprised when polling showed that running rapper Kanye West as a third party candidate would only attract 2% of the national vote. Running him was supposed to take black people away from the Biden (now Biden-Harris) ticket.

But that won’t work. Black people have been ignoring Kanye since Yeezus came out. It’s hard to tell if the GOP thought this troll would work because it is populated by foolish racists, or it thought this would work because the party leaders assume black people are foolish, because it’s populated by racists. Either way, no.

Over at Vanity Fair, Gabe Sherman reports that Trump was caught off guard when Biden picked California Sen. Kamala Harris to be his running mate. He thought Biden would pick relatively unknown California Congresswoman, Karen Bass.

Trump thought Biden would pick Bass because it’s what he would do — pick the person with less name recognition so that he could shine at the top of the ticket. But Biden doesn’t think like Trump, so Trump miscalculated.

These missteps are partly due to the fact that Trump and GOP only read, listen, and watch their own media, Sherman says. When they see the news they don’t see what the rest of America sees — they see a doddering old Biden and a Harris who looks and sounds just like progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And they are tribal. So they assume everyone else in America is as tribal as they are. That’s how they figured a black man who has openly disparaged the black community and its experience could siphon off black votes.

The rest of America does not live entirely in this Fox News reality. Down in Arizona, a focus group of voters told NPR that they’re not buying Trump’s attacks on Biden as soft on crime. They know he doesn’t want to “defund the police,” and after what they’ve seen, they support the Black Lives Matter movement. The Trump campaign’s dark messaging on that front is seen as exaggerated, it doesn’t move them. What really matters to these voters is seeing some progress in the fight against the coronavirus — a reality no media bubble can entirely obscure at this point.

In short: Trump and his cohorts are swinging and missing. The mark is the virus, and the campaign is still about Trump’s performance with it, not about Biden or AOC. You hear time and time again that the Trump campaign sees itself doing well against a “defined” Joe Biden, but unless it steps out of its own echo chamber, it will never know that it’s definitions are meaningless to a lot of Americans. This is why they say you should never buy your own BS.

9) Dana Goldstein, “Lost Summer: How Schools Missed a Chance to Fix Remote Learning: Education leaders spent months preparing to reopen classrooms. But with online learning set to continue for millions of students this fall, schools must catch up with reality.”

10) Good stuff from Political Scientist, Paul Musgrave, “Trump’s secret political weapon: Wasting his opponents’ time”

But the battle over TikTok and WeChat is part of a now-familiar story. The president or his loyalists threaten to upend some policy, institution or norm they know others will fight to defend. Issuing the challenge can be easy: a speech, a leak, a tweet or two, about immigration rules or education regulations or cutting taxes on the rich. In response, Trump’s opponents must invest substantial time, money and effort to resist the proposal — otherwise, Trump wins by default.

Essentially, the administration has weaponized wasting everyone else’s time.

It’s a struggle between firefighters and a spree arsonist. The firefighters must stamp out every blaze, while the arsonist enjoys pouring accelerant, igniting a spark and sauntering off to start anew with kindling elsewhere. And the gradual exhaustion of the firefighters makes it likelier that they will someday fail to contain the flames.

Over the past several years, Trump and his loyalists have frequently managed to weaken and wear out those they see as enemies by proposing moves that cost the administration little. In these cases, the president often wins either by getting the policy he wants or by making his adversaries — among activists, nonprofits, lawyers, legislators, even business executives — spend disproportionately more effort in response. This phenomenon, as much as the administration’s overt malevolence and incompetence, has helped make the Trump era feel like a never-ending cycle. If it seems as if we are fighting the same battles over and over instead of making progress, that’s because in many cases, we are.

Consider the recent fracas over visas for international students. Last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that foreigners studying at U.S. colleges and universities would lose their visas if their schools suspended in-person instruction because of the pandemic. ICE’s announcement, just weeks before the coronavirus-accelerated start of the fall semester, upset the plans of hundreds of universities and hundreds of thousands of foreign students.

The response was immediate. Dozens of states and universities filed lawsuits to block the rule. Outraged professors pledged to find ways around it. And then, eight days later, the crisis was over; the administration suddenly said that it was dropping the proposal.

By the usual measures of policy effectiveness — whether any laws passed or regulations changed — nothing happened. Yet the costs of “nothing” were immense. For a single university, analyzing the ICE rule’s effects and determining a response could easily tie up tens of administrators for 10- or 12-hour days. Multiplied by the hundreds of universities affected, it’s reasonable to believe that higher education spent tens or hundreds of thousands of staff hours coping with the rule (while schools were already beset by a public health crisis).

11) Is there anything more hypocritical than a “Constitutional Conservative.”  It’s really just a euphemism for “conservative blowhard who cloaks his ideological preferences in grandiloquent language.  David Plotz:

Politicians are very good at praising themselves, and among Republicans these days, the most fashionable self-flattery is: “I’m a constitutional conservative.”

Sen. Ted Cruz can barely order a soy latte without calling himself a “constitutional conservative.” Sen. Tom Cotton, too, styles himself one. Sen. Josh Hawley is so constitutionally conservative that it’s the top of his biography, in all caps.

But what on earth does it mean to be a constitutional conservative if you’re encouraging this to be done to the Constitution in your name?

Let’s start with postal delivery, which is one of the very few government obligations the Constitution insists on: This week the President declared that he would sabotage mail delivery in order to help him win reelection. Is that what the framers intended with Article 1, Section 8, senators?

The Constitution requires a Census this year, an “actual enumeration” of everyone living in the United States (or “these United States,” as constitutional conservatives like to intone). But despite a pandemic, despite begging by all census experts, the Trump administration has refused to extend the Census in order to “actually enumerate” everyone, but rather have cut the data collection short by a month — with the blatant goal of reducing the count of poorer and marginalized people and immigrants to increase GOP political power. Is this what the Framers intended with Article 1, Section 2?

The president has used his office to ask foreign governments for financial benefits. Just a couple weeks ago, it came out that he pushed his UK ambassador to lobby the British government to move the British Open golf tournament to a Trump golf club. Trump has repeatedly asked foreign leaders for help that would personally benefit him, and in fact just this past week said he’d accept election assistance from foreign governments. (Election assistance that Vladimir Putin is already giving, as Trump’s own intelligence officials determined, before he fired them.) When the Framers wrote Article 1, Section 9 and Article 2, Section 1, did they believe a president should seek compensation and electoral help from foreign princes?

The President has stacked his administration with acting officials rather than asking for the advice and consent of the Senate for their approval. Just last week he withdrew the controversial Senate nomination of a DOD official, and simply appointed him to do the same work in a non-confirmation job. Constitutional conservatives went ballistic when Democrats skirted the advice and consent requirement of Article 2, Second 2. Do they believe the Framers intended for President Trump to be held to a different standard?

These are just the ways the Trump administration has insulted the Constitution — and not merely the Constitution, but the core parts of the Constitution — in the past month. (Oh wait, as I am finishing this, I realize I forgot about the executive orders: Trump is also spending billions of dollars Congress didn’t appropriate on an unemployment program Congress didn’t approve! Oh, and the President is also trying to seize Congress’s taxation authority by unilaterally pausing collection of the payroll tax.)

This nation will not survive as the constitutional republic that constitutional conservatives claim they want to preserve if they’re willing to abuse the Constitution when it’s politically convenient.

12) Great piece on immunity in MIT Technology Review:

The large number of people already infected with the coronavirus in the US has begun to act as a brake on the spread of the disease in hard-hit states.

Millions of US residents have been infected by the virus that causes covid-19, and at least 160,000 are dead. One effect is that the pool of susceptible individuals has been depleted in many areas. After infection, it’s believed, people become immune (at least for months), so they don’t transmit the virus to others. This slows the pandemic down.

“I believe the substantial epidemics in Arizona, Florida and Texas will leave enough immunity to assist in keeping COVID-19 controlled,” Trevor Bedford, a pandemic analyst at the University of Washington, said on Friday, in a series of tweets. “However, this level of immunity is not compatible with a full return to societal behavior as existed before the pandemic.”

The exact extent to which acquired immunity is slowing the rate of transmission is unknown, but major questions like school reopening and air travel may eventually hinge on the answer.

What is known is that after rising at an alarming pace starting in May, new cases of covid-19 in Sun Belt states like Florida have started to fall. Some of that may be due to social distancing behavior, but rising rates of immunity are also a factor, according to Youyang Gu, a computer scientist whose Covid-19 Projections is among 34 pandemic models tracked by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Immunity may play a significant part in the regions that are declining,” says Gu. At least until the fall, which is how far his models look forward, he says, “I don’t think there is going to be another spike” of infections in southern states.

13) One thing I’m not clear on is… yes, Europe basically crushed the virus, but was it actually overkill.  Based on what we know, did they have to go to these lengths?

This spring, when Western Europe became an epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, countries imposed strict lockdowns: In France, a person needed a permit to go shopping; Spain required children to stay indoors the entire day; in Scotland and Wales, people could go outside for a walk only once a day and had to stay within a five-mile radius. Thanks to this, European countries were able to not only flatten the Covid-19 curve but to also keep levels of infection very low.

14) Cool interactive on why bars are such great Covid-transmitting hotspots.  Don’t go to bars!

15) The Alt-Right is way worse than the Woke Left.  Way, way worse.  But, that doesn’t mean they don’t share some disturbing commonalities in thought patterns.  This research makes sense to me.  Quillete:

new study published in the journal Heliyon offers some evidence to back up these broad cultural observations. Researchers Jordan Moss and Peter J. O’Connor, both of the Queensland University of Technology, studied a group of 511 US residents, stratified according to age, gender, ethnicity, and employment so as to be roughly representative of the US population as a whole, with a view to examining the link between political attitudes and the so-called three “Dark Triad” personality traits: Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy. These are traits linked with toxic personality types, including those associated with manipulative, self-centered, and callous behavior. In an e-mail, Moss told me that he had noticed a change in the university climate. “I wanted to know why these ideas propelled the cultural conversation as much as it seemed… and decided to look into the psychological traits that these ideas manifest from,” he told me.

The authors note that “the majority of research on personality traits and political constructs has focused primarily on mainstream political attitudes and behaviours. These studies often use unidimensional measures of left-right political orientation or simple two-dimensional measures of liberalism and conservatism.” In light of the fragmentation of long-standing political coalitions in recent years, however, these simplistic models now seem inadequate. And so Moss and O’Connor chose instead to study three sets of attitudes “falling outside of the traditional continuum,” designated by the researchers as (1) Political Correctness-Authoritarianism (PCA), (2) Political Correctness-Liberalism (PCL), and (3) White Identitarianism (WI). While the latter is a right-wing subculture (often known as alt-right), the first two are variants of leftist ideology. Both PCA and PCL are centered on protecting minorities from discrimination and criticism. But PCA adherents, unlike PCL counterparts, embrace “the belief that aggression and force are appropriate methods to achieve ideological goals.”…

What Moss and O’Connor found is that while right-wing adherents of WI and left-wing adherents of PCA are “thought to reflect opposing ends… of the political spectrum,” they actually shared remarkably similar personality characteristics: “Our study indicates that an emerging set of mainstream political attitudes—most notably PCA, WI, are largely being adopted by individuals high in DT [i.e., Dark Triad traits] and entitlement. Individuals high in authoritarianism—regardless of whether [they] hold politically correct or rightwing views—tend to score highly on DT and entitlement. Such individuals therefore are statistically more likely than average to be higher in psychopathy, narcissism, Machiavellianism and entitlement.” (The authors also supply a footnote to the effect that “we also ran all analyses controlling for the Big Five personality traits—Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism—to check whether effects of [Dark Triad] variables could simply be attributed to normal variation in personality. Our results confirmed that incremental validity of [Dark Triad] traits and Entitlement remained [statistically significant] for both WI and PCA when controlling for Big Five traits in addition to age, sex, education, and ethnicity.”)

16) Ed Yong’s article on the complexity of human immunity is really, really good.  If you only read one article on the human immune system and Covid, this should probably be it.  No pull quotes– just read and dramatically improve your understanding of immunity.

17) And another great article on immunity (mostly looking at herd immunity) from David Wallace-Wells:

It is true, as Gomes suggests, that the possibility of lower effective herd-immunity thresholds has not taken center stage in the public-health discussion surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, the possibility that heterogeneity in pandemic spread would to some extent lower the herd-immunity threshold has recently begun to get more serious mainstream attention. At the end of June, Kevin Hartnett wrote in the science magazine Quanta that the math was a bit “trickier” than the 1-1/R0 implied, particularly because the actual R figure — the number of new infections produced by every case — shifted naturally over time. Then, a few weeks ago, The Atlantic’s James Hamblin gave the hypothesis its most high-profile airing, citing several researchers and modelers, including Gomes, Tom Britton, and Marc Lipsitch, suggesting that heterogeneity could bring herd immunity much faster than 60 percent. Indeed, Gomes suggested, herd immunity could happen with as little as one quarter of the population of a community exposed — or perhaps just 20 percent. “We just keep running the models, and it keeps coming back at less than 20 percent,” she told Hamblin. “It’s very striking.” Such findings, if they held up, would be very instructive, as Hamblin writes: “It would mean, for instance, that at 25 percent antibody prevalence, New York City could continue its careful reopening without fear of another major surge in cases.”

But for those hoping that 25 percent represents a true ceiling for pandemic spread in a given community, well, it almost certainly does not, considering that recent serological surveys have shown that perhaps 93 percent of the population of Iquitos, Peru, has contracted the disease; as have more than half of those living in Indian slums; and as many as 68 percent in particular neighborhoods of New York City. And though there is some risk of herd-immunity “overshoot,” as Carl Bergstrom and Natalie Dean warned back in early May while contemplating the Swedish no-lockdown strategy and the risks of rushing to herd immunity, overshoot of that scale would seem unlikely if the “true” threshold were as low as 20 or 25 percent.

But, of course, that threshold may not be the same in all places, across all populations, and is surely affected, to some degree, by the social behavior taken to protect against the spread of the disease. As with so many aspects of the coronavirus, we probably err when we conceive of group immunity in simplistically binary terms. While herd immunity is a technical term referring to a particular threshold at which point the disease can no longer spread, some amount of community protection against that spread begins almost as soon as the first people are exposed, with each case reducing the number of unexposed and vulnerable potential cases in the community by one. This is why, even without interventions like social distancing, mask-wearing, and shelter-in-place, you would not expect a disease to spread in a purely exponential way until the point of herd immunity, at which time the spread would suddenly stop. Instead, you would expect that growth to slow as more people in the community were exposed to the disease, with most of them emerging relatively quickly with some immune response. Add to that the effects of even modest, commonplace protections — intuitive social distancing, some amount of mask-wearing — and you could expect to get an infection curve that tapers off well shy of 60 percent exposure.

18) Super-cool interactive, “What happens to viral particles on the subway.”  Ventilation!!

19) Jamelle Bouie, “How to Foil Trump’s Election Night Strategy: To keep the president from claiming victory on Nov. 3, Biden supporters who can vote in person may well have to.”

Though, even with mail shenanigans, I think people voting by mail in the first half of October are probably doing good.

20) Good stuff from John McWhorter on overly-woke language policing, “Is Your Master Bedroom Racist? There’s nothing wrong with a little linguistic housekeeping, but reclassifying dozens of common words, expressions, and songs as slurs goes too far.”

21) We ban unsafe products all the time.  Time to start banning masks sold for general use (as opposed to masks sold for construction) from having respirator valves.

22) The let’s get these less sensitive but cheap and effective tests out there theme is finally getting more (but not enough) uptake.  Here’s Atlantic on the case.

Was just thinking today how amazing it would be if my family could just buy a bunch of these, and then visit my 70+ with comorbidities in-laws and be confident they’d be safe.  So frustrating.  You know what it would take to get this to happen?  National political leadership.  Oh well :-(.

23) I think this, as an epidemiologist writes in the Post, may be right, “‘Hybrid’ school plans sound safe, but they’re the riskiest option we have: Combining remote and in-person classes is the worst of all worlds.”


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