Random links

Comparing COVID-19 Deaths to Flu Deaths Is like Comparing Apples to Oranges
"While in the past it was justifiable to err on the side of substantially overestimating flu deaths, in order to encourage vaccination and good hygiene, at this point the CDC’s reporting about flu deaths is dangerously misleading the public and even public officials about the comparison between these two viruses. If we incorrectly conclude that COVID-19 is “just another flu,” we may retreat from strategies that appear to be working in minimizing the speed of spread of the virus." Is this a key reason why we wind up with "just flu arguments"?
The ACLU Sues To Stop Rules That Strengthen Due Process
"The lawsuit frequently asserts that marginalized students will suffer under the new rules, but it never acknowledges that students of color were disproportionately harmed by the old rules. White woman accuses black man of rape; black man is expelled was a distressingly common series of events under the old regime—one that might have invited sympathy from an older model of the ACLU, given the organization's historic concern that racism in the criminal justice system has led to disparately harsh outcomes for black people." Perhaps they should keep the acronym but formally rename themselves the Anti-Civili-Liberties Union in accordance with their new stance?
Helping or Harming? The Effect of Trigger Warnings on Individuals with Trauma Histories
"We found no evidence that trigger warnings were helpful for trauma survivors, for those who self-reported a PTSD diagnosis, or for those who qualified for probable PTSD, even when survivors' trauma matched the passages’ content. We found substantial evidence that trigger warnings countertherapeutically reinforce survivors' view of their trauma as central to their identity. Regarding replication hypotheses, the evidence was either ambiguous or substantially favored the hypothesis that trigger warnings have no effect. ... Trigger warnings are not helpful for trauma survivors. It is less clear whether trigger warnings are explicitly harmful." See also Twitter thread from 1st author of the study.

The toxic entitlement of the US women's national soccer team

Just read this chunk from NPR:

"The WNT [Women's National Team] rejected an offer to be paid under the same pay-to-play structure as the MNT [Men's National Team] and ... the WNT was willing to forgo higher bonuses for other benefits, such as greater base compensation and the guarantee of a higher number of contracted players," Klausner wrote. "Accordingly, Plaintiffs cannot now retroactively deem their CBA worse than the MNT CBA by reference to what they would have made had they been paid under the MNT's pay-to-play structure when they themselves rejected such a structure."

Current US politics, of course, being a contest between idiots and ideologues these entitled brats will of course get political support from Joe Biden.

Random links

Class, Race, Coronavirus, And Cuisine
To solve a problem you need to ensure that you accurately understand it. How much of the increased death rate amongst African Americans that's been highlighted on the news is due to poor diet, and so what extent is the diet in question not the food of African-Americans but rather the food of the South (including white Southerners). If these figures are accurate might the death rate be disproportionately white in some states as well?
Corruption information and vote share: A meta-analysis and lessons for experimental design
"Debate persists on whether voters hold politicians accountable for corruption. Numerous experiments have examined if informing voters about corrupt acts of politicians decreases their vote share. Meta-analysis demonstrates that corrupt candidates are punished by zero percentage points across field experiments, but approximately 32 points in survey experiments."
Gender-based homophily in collaborations across a heterogeneous scholarly landscape
To quote Matt Grossman's summary tweet: "Researchers are more likely to have same gender co-authors in many scientific fields (jstor data), creating segregated networks; gender homophily is higher with more women’s representation because women have more women co-authors available".

COVID-19 and lab safety

It's interesting to compare Vox's take on whether or not the current coronavirus of concern escaped from a lab to their takes on lab safety in roughly the past year. This for example is what Vox published in March 2019:

They then in September published another article noting that a Russian labs which contained samples of smallpox and ebola exploded.

This compares to a March 2020 article with the following subheading:

There’s a rumor the coronavirus started in a Chinese lab. And a scientific consensus it didn’t.

The article then elaborates on what this might mean:

In one version of the rumor, the virus was engineered in the lab by humans as a bioweapon. In another version, the virus was being studied in the lab (after being isolated from animals) and then “escaped” or “leaked” because of poor safety protocol.

The first version of this seems likely to be false based on various evidence that I've seen reported - i.e. it seems highly unlikely this is an engineered bioweapon. The second though seems somewhat more probable to me. What's the defense the article offers against the second explanation?

These are the two references to experts that the article cites:

  • Jim LeDuc, head of the Galveston National Laboratory, a level 4 biosafety lab in Texas: “I can tell you that lab in Wuhan is equivalent to any lab here in the US and Europe"

  • Gerald Keusch, a professor of medicine and international health and associate director of Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories: "I don’t think there’s any likelihood that the lab is less prepared in terms of protocol and capability than any lab in the US. It’s really good, though nothing is perfect"

It seems as though that lab in Wuhan was likely about as safe as comparable labs in the US and Europe, but if you compare to Vox's article from 2019 embarrassing failures of lab safety procedures have also occurred in both regions.

I wonder if the best way to look at the situation re: safety is in that quote from Keusch on safety there: "really good, though nothing is perfect".

The whole situation makes me think of another sort of thing that a lot of safety precautions are taken regarding: nuclear weapons. Read Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, and I suspect you might walk away thinking that, in spite of the precautions taken, that it's almost surprising that no nuclear weapons have been accidentally detonated to this point.

There's no definitive proof, but for me The Trail Leading Back to the Wuhan Labs was enough for me to update my best guess as to the source of the current pandemic to being a lab containment failure.

Despite this, I don't think that it's reasonable to blame China for being the site of such a containment failure if indeed one happened there as they seemed to be taking precautions that met standards of comparable labs around the world. Roll the dice often enough at labs around the world and eventually one will probably roll a bad result.

I do think that it is reasonable to blame China for its efforts to suppress information about this outbreak (which I definitely think it was doing, given treatment of original whistleblowers and whatnot, regardless of whether or not this was indeed a lab containment failure). I suspect that given the embarrassment if would cause the host country of the lab to have a pathogen escape would like cause many countries to follow a similar strategy of suppression - and again I want to stress that it doesn't appear that the labs in question were operating with lower safety standards than their counterparts around the globe.

Some might say that the current pandemic means that dangerous infectious diseases shouldn't be studied in labs, but I tend to think they should be. It does leaves researchers investigating these diseases in somewhat of a Catch-22 situation though - i.e. you're stuck trading off between a slightly increased chance of outbreaks with an increased chance of finding better ways to fight outbreaks (which I think are inevitable whether or not these diseases are studied in labs).


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