The case against bioethicists

I recently listened to a podcast episode entitled Vaccine Hesitancy is Solvable where the podcast host said the following:

When I hear about white people who don't want to take the vaccine I just have a gut reaction: that's irrational, that's conspiracy thinking, they're anti-vaxxers, I have no sympathy whatsoever

He contrasts that to the sort of history you'll find documented in books like Medical Apartheid. He's certainly right that there are quite substantial differences, but I don't think it's too hard to argue that that white people might be justified in being concerned about how they'd be treated by the medical system at the moment. Consider how US federal government workers talked about prioritizing vaccinations based on how people were classified:

It's actually worse than that. To quote Why I'm Losing Trust in the Institutions:

It gets even more shocking. The difference in the percentage of white people across age groups is comparatively small. The difference in the percentage of infected people who succumb to Covid across all age groups is massive. Giving the vaccine to African-American essential workers before elderly African-Americans would likely raise the overall death toll of African-Americans even if a somewhat greater number of African-Americans were to receive the vaccine as a result.

In other words, the CDC was effectively about to recommend that a greater number of African-Americans die so that the share of African-Americans who receive the vaccine is slightly higher. In blatant violation of the “leveling down objection,” prioritizing essential workers in the name of equality would likely kill more people in all relevant demographic groups.

What did you here from the medical community? Barely a whisper ... it was only others which was a position that got Nate Silver the target of a pile-on by "experts":

In the days after ACIP published its preliminary recommendations, barely any epidemiologists or health officials publicly criticized its findings or its reasoning. But thankfully, prominent journalists like Zeynep Tufecki, Matt Yglesias and Nate Silver publicly made the case against them. (So did I.)

A day or so after the outcry changed its course slightly ... to include the elderly above a certain age threshold. But it gets worse again.

i.e. After a couple of weeks trying out its slightly-less-bad strategy, what was happening? Hospiitals were sometimes forced to throw out unused supplies of the scarce vaccine if they couldn't find arms that met the crazy criteria to inject it in.

You were left with in a situation wherein pompous douchebags like the epidemiologist being retweeted here were writing telling others to stay in their lane:

... resulting in a situation wherein the official advice had to change not just once but twice to accomodate the criticism made by the original policy's critics. (Note: as mentioned here there were no logistics experts in the room). It's even sillier when you read up the background of the epidemiologist in quesion - i.e. he was an AIDS activist who was griping about failure to act early there and then trying to talk people out of reacting to COVID19.

... and then there's the group claiming not to have done what their slides showed they did:

And just to add a final way-in-which-it's-still-worse, if you look at life expectancy based on how people are grouped into racial categories in the US, you'll notice that life expectancy is higher for both Hispanic and Asian Americans than it is for White Americans. i.e. you were left with a policy recommendation which should not only be expected to result in a higher number of African-American deaths but also come at a disproportionate cost to the crowd that the media likes to refer to as Latinx (but which virtually no one else does).

The title here comes from this tweet which I can't quite decide whether or not to describe as "snarky":

Overall bioethicists really haven't been putting forward a particularly good case for their existance. As a difference example, I find it interesting to think back to stories like Fact check: Coronavirus vaccine could come this year, Trump says. Experts say he needs a 'miracle' to be right.. They were far off in their estimates there, but things could have been so much faster. I'm not just talking of stalling the approvals process to try to create trust, I'm talking of the approvals process for a vaccine created in two days.

Take My vaccine crackpottery: a confession

I think that, in a well-run civilization, the first covid vaccines would’ve been tested and approved by around March or April 2020, while mass-manufacturing simultaneously ramped up with trillions of dollars’ investment. I think almost everyone on earth could have, and should have, already been vaccinated by now. I think a faster, “WWII-style” approach would’ve saved millions of lives, prevented economic destruction, and carried negligible risks compared to its benefits. I think this will be clear to future generations, who’ll write PhD theses exploring how it was possible that we invented multiple effective covid vaccines in mere days or weeks, but then simply sat on those vaccines for a year, ticking off boxes called “Phase I,” “Phase II,” etc. while civilization hung in the balance.

Human challenge trials which could probably have delivered on those timescales basically involve giving people the vaccinate and then exposing them to the infection. It's basically a risk of commission (those you actively exposed may die) vs. one of omission (many more die while waiting for a large enough set of your study participants to contract the disease through natural exposure). The public seems fairly comfortable with the risk/reward ratio of human challenge trials and they've had tens of thousands of volunteers but this seems something that it's the sort of thing it's near impossible to get past bioethicists.

(EDIT: Digging further through my notes noted that the UK is finally starting a human trial ... and as is noted there, with this approve the results that basically should have brought the vaccine instantly into use at least on a temporary basis based on predefined condition in November, could have been approved sometime in the May or June timeframe had this approach been tried.

sigh ... in this case I'm guessing the approvals process cost a million lives and probably trillions or tens of trillions of dollars relative a process that probably would have put probably 100 or so people at < 1% risk of death (assuming they're using those in lower risk categories ... so even a 1% risk there might be a significant overestimate).

Random links

"Average working hours in European countries, from Rasmussen and Knutsen "Reforming to survive: The Bolshevik origins of social policy"
This is a pretty fascinating graphic!
Estonia has a new way to stop speeding motorists
"Drivers caught speeding along the road between Tallinn and the town of Rapla were stopped and given a choice. They could pay a fine, as normal, or take a “timeout” instead, waiting for 45 minutes or an hour, depending on how fast they were going when stopped. The aim of the experiment is to see how drivers perceive speeding, and whether lost time may be a stronger deterrent than lost money. ... Public reaction, though, was not what they expected. 'It’s been very positive, surprisingly,'"
Intergenerational Mobility between and within Canada and the United States
"Intergenerational income mobility is lower in the United States than in Canada, but varies significantly within each country. Our sub-national analysis finds that the national border only partially distinguishes the close to one thousand regions we analyze within these two countries. The Canada-US border divides Central and Eastern Canada from the Great Lakes regions and the Northeast of the United States. At the same time some Canadian regions have more in common with the low mobility southern parts of the United States than with the rest of Canada, and the fact that these areas represent a much larger fraction of the American population also explains why mobility is lower in the United States." (via Marginal Revolution)

Random links

The Green party won in Auckland by reaching beyond its own bubble
"In Auckland, we flipped a seat Green, which had been held by centre-right National party politicians for 12 years. We did it by bursting our own bubble. In our bubble, we can’t fathom that working-class people would vote against their own self-interest for a strong-man built on strawman logic. It’s wild to reckon with how policies to fairly tax millionaires are warped through talkback radio to scare tradies and hospo workers into thinking their jobs are on the chopping block. In our bubble, it’s slanderous to question the orthodoxy of our university educations and how the vernacular they normalise may alienate the very people we say we want to help."
Americans are more worried about their sons than their daughters
One interesting take from a since-appeared tweak is that liberal respondents are more worried about the prospect of girls in general but more worried about the prospects of their sons in particular.
Daniel Marans on Twitter
"MLK was so conscious of the political impact of slogans, that in a speech very shortly before he died, King said he wished the phrase "Black power" had never come into being because it was "confusing" and "gives the wrong connotation."

How US voters responded to 4 years of "white supremacy"

I think I've stated this over and over again in various contexts but much of the news you see reads like disinformation. What's interesting is how if you actually look at polling data how respondents have classified what I sometime hear described as "white supremacist dog-whistles" / what is described in the following article as a message of "racial fear". To quote How Democrats can talk about race and win from earlier this year:

Unsurprisingly, 72 percent of Republicans found this message convincing [rated it 51 or higher out of 100]. But we found that 52 percent of Democrats found this message convincing as well.

Roge Karma

The proportion of Democrats who found that narrative compelling is interesting in its own right. But what I found even more shocking was how people of color responded to the racial fear message.

Ian Haney López

Yes. Sixty percent of Latinos and 54 percent of African Americans found it convincing, which isn’t much lower than the 61 percent of whites who did.

If your message of "racial fear" is one that minorities - including African Americans - support at a similar rate as white Americans, the description of as such seems misleading, perhaps intentionally so. What you seem to be seeing is nativism rather than racism yet it's the latter branding that gets most attention. I'm not a fan of nativism but it's not quite the same thing as racism.

Related, it's also interesting how a follow-on New York Times article on the aftermath of city council in one major US city deciding to "defund the police":

But what seemed like a rising progressive tide distorted a more complicated picture, argued Dave Bicking, board member of Communities United Against Police Brutality, a grass-roots group in Minneapolis that was founded in 2000. He said that groups like Black Visions Collective and its partner organization, Reclaim the Block, had the ear of the new City Council, but that those in power seemed to treat the activists as stand-ins for all Black, progressive or younger residents, glossing over the diversity of those electorates.

“You can’t lump everybody together,” said Mr. Bicking, who is 69 years old and white but represents a wide-ranging community group. “The City Council would say: ‘Oh, we went out and talked to a lot of people. We listened to a lot of people.’ And, well, it was people from those two groups only. They weren’t listening to anybody else.”

One later section also seems of particular relevance:

As the commission weighed its options, evidence mounted that the public wanted police reform, but did not support the actions of councilors or share the aims of influential activists. A poll from The Minneapolis Star-Tribune found that a plurality of residents, including 50 percent of Black people, opposed reducing the size of the police department.

i.e. not only were the city council's actions to "defund the police" unpopular amongst the population as a whole, they were even more unpopular amongst African-Americans. i.e. in the name of listening to that demographic the council undertook actions that the group in question actually appears disproportionately opposed to.

I'm still not sure what the results of US election are going to be. I suspect (though am not sure) that exit polls probably solely or disproportionately account for in-person rather than mail-in votes, which I'd expect to consist disproportionately of Trump-voters. Guess we'll wait and see.

EDIT: Sort reconsidering how much, if exit polls only cover in-person voting, how well the exact voter trends will sort themselves out in the end. That said, think the general position of the-media-representation-of-the-interests-of-particular-demographics-is-often-highly-and-predictably-inaccurate holds up OK regardless. I didn't even talk about any of the large swings in certain areas among Hispanic (not Latinx!) voters, such as:

EDIT (again): Looks like the exit polling didn't just tackle outside of polling places per one NYT columnist who's very annoyed at the sorts of results noted above:


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