Covid 6/24: The Spanish Prisoner

by ZviDon't Worry About the Vase13 min read24th Jun 202130 comments

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Covid-19
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The last scare is underway. Delta is an increasing share of Covid cases around the world, causing cases in many places to rise. Are enough people vaccinated? How bad are things going to get before we turn the corner one final time? 

The incremental news was not good. Calculations that looked comfortable last week look less comfortable now. I still expect things to mostly be fine, especially in areas with high mRNA vaccination rates.

Also: John McAfee found dead in a Spanish prison. If you think he killed himself I have some computer security software and I’d like to sell you a subscription. Works great.

Let’s run the numbers.

The Numbers

Predictions

Prediction from last week: Positivity rate of 1.8% (down 0.1%), deaths fall by 9%.

Result: Positivity rate of 1.8% (down 0.1%), and deaths fall by 9%.

Prediction for next week: Positivity rate of 1.8% (unchanged) and deaths fall by 8%.

Got this week on the nose. With the rise of Delta and the shift in tests from safe to unsafe regions, I no longer expect the positivity rate to continue to decline, and if anything an uptick is more likely than a downtick. For deaths, there’s no reason to think things won’t improve for a few more weeks. 

Deaths

DateWESTMIDWESTSOUTHNORTHEASTTOTAL
May 13-May 19592119412778113874
May 20-May 2661594812796313473
May 27-June 252783811704562991
June 3-June 97208179154312883
Jun 10-Jun 163686119613142254
Jun 17-Jun 235294438312632066

As discussed last week, I’ve shrunk the graph so we can see what’s happening recently, which was otherwise impossible to read. We saw progress this week, but the West’s number last week was indeed ahead of itself, so we saw only modest overall progress and hit the 9% decline target exactly. Things now seem like they’re back on the expected track and the orange New York line is down to 51 deaths last week. 

We should expect to see things continue to improve, but the increasing share of Delta infections does mean the fatality rate should now be rising, given the slow pace of additional vaccinations. 

Cases

DateWESTMIDWESTSOUTHNORTHEASTTOTAL
May 6-May 1246,04559,94570,74046,782223,512
May 13-May 1939,60145,03063,52934,309182,469
May 20-May 2633,89034,69448,97324,849142,406
May 27-June 231,17220,04433,29314,66099,169
Jun 3-Jun 925,98718,26732,54511,54088,339
Jun 10-Jun 1623,70014,47225,7528,17772,101
Jun 17-Jun 2323,85412,80126,4566,46469,575

The lack of progress here this week is quite worrisome. Delta is only up to around 35% (the data says 30%, but it’s lagged to start with and three days old to boot, and makes me think the 35% I estimate extrapolating from last week is likely slightly low rather than high), so if that’s enough to get us treading water, there’s going to be trouble in the more vulnerable areas within a few weeks. The question then is, will it be contained the way the Alpha uptick was, or will it become a much more serious problem? Discussion in the Delta Variant section, but it looks much less optimistic than it did last week. 

Vaccinations

Some substantial differences in Bloomberg vs. Washington Post, but same basic story. 

Last few days saw a dramatic drop to a new lower level, which does not bode well. Fully 75% of the last week’s doses were second doses, which also bodes quite poorly. Hopefully both have something to do with reporting or some quirk of the calendar. Juneteenth, our latest holiday, is a plausible culprit on both counts. Until I had to adjust for data distortions I never realized how many different holidays we have in America, and for official purposes this one’s all new. 

 Chances are this is some of it, but that a lot of it is that the recent uptick was not sustainable and we will continue our steady decline as we run out of willing arms in which to put shots. 

If not, we are going to be stuck not that far beyond our current level of 53.6% first doses for a long time, and the August 10 date for going from 66.4% -> 70% among adults will be far too optimistic, and more like the asymptote until something changes.

Here’s a state breakdown:

The correct answer to ‘when will the states listed as November or later get to 70% if nothing changes’ is very clearly never.

People have made their choice. If you didn’t want to get vaccinated back when there were lots of cases, why would you change your mind now, with everyone feeling safe and the country reopening? 

Delta. It’s time.

Delta Variant

I did a bunch of calculations last week to figure out if we could handle the Delta variant. There’s also a much simpler way to view the situation. Delta is the forward-looking pandemic. Anything less dangerous than Delta, including Gamma/P1, will soon be dominated by Delta, so it’s a reasonable approach to ignore the total numbers and look only at the Delta numbers in various places. Essentially, treat the red lines as the pandemic here, not the grey:

The problem with that approach is it requires a good appreciation of the rate of absolute growth of Delta rather than its current level, which is trickier to get right and causes errors to get compounded. Also, such a model would freak out about every variant we’ve ever seen emerge anywhere. It’s still clearly not going to be a comforting answer.

The best data source I found last week continues to be the best known source. It shows us up to 30% Delta for data reported as of Monday the 21st. If the estimates from last week are accurate, it should become a majority of infections within a week, and become dominant soon thereafter. Within a month it will effectively be the pandemic’s present, not only its future.

The only questions are, can we handle it? What happens if we can’t?

Last week I approximated 25% Delta, which if we take its reproduction rate seriously is now 32% Delta after an additional 5-day cycle, or 35% now. That change only adds a few percent to R0, so it doesn’t explain the lack of progress last week in case counts. As we’ve seen in the past, weekly numbers can be quirky.

The problem is that last week’s estimate of how fast we were vaccinating was too optimistic. Part of that was a bad estimate, part of that was bad news over the last week, but it looks like a more realistic guess is 0.5% off the population per week rather than 1%. Also, I have to increase my previous guess on the old R0 from 0.84 to more like 0.86 after this week’s numbers.

That would start us out at R0 = 1.13 with a gain each week of only 1% that is plausibly fading, if you ignore immunity from infections and further control systems entirely in all directions, which would take us three months to turn the corner. During that time, Delta would go up by a factor of 6 or so (and all other variants would presumably get mostly wiped out) which would mean we’d peak around double our current case rate. 

Basic sanity checks on these calculations look like they check out, and are at least in the right ballpark. 

That ignores that different regions are different, which likely makes things worse overall. The Northeast essentially ‘wins’ and shrugs things off, while the South could be in serious trouble. Which in turn leads to control systems, including an increased willingness to get vaccinated.

That’s not great. Is it too close for full comfort? Absolutely. But given that this excludes control system reactions and the effects of immunity from infection, both of which work in our favor, and I used a bunch of conservative estimates in various places, it’s a worst-case scenario I can live with. An all-Delta world, even with double or triple current rates, is still better than things used to be even for the unvaccinated, that’s the peak of trouble before things get better again, and the unvaccinated have a choice to change their status. 

The usual suspects are out in force, as one would expect, raising the alarm. On the lighter side, some of them cut more corners than others…

Did you know that you… can… just… put… lines… into… graphs? And label them however you like, with no relation to reality? Don’t wait. Use y = ax + b today!

Seasonality

This is the second year of Covid posts, so when we point to the South and say ‘this is what happens when people refuse to get vaccinated’ perhaps we should remember what the headline was a year ago?

It was 6/18/20: The Virus Goes South, followed by 6/25/20: The Dam Breaks. It looked like the South, plus Arizona, had lost control of the situation entirely. Then two weeks later, things there peaked and started declining again. Once again, I had underestimated the control system. It wouldn’t be my last time.

Exactly one year later, the exact same spots are showing the same pattern, to a lesser extent than last time. It hardly seems fair to ascribe this primarily to vaccination differences, even if the math says that those differences are a very big game. This is not our first rodeo, and I’m not about to repeat the same mistakes that easily. 

This goes both ways. We also shouldn’t get too cocky about things going well in the Northeast in the same way they went well last year, even if we have good reasons to be optimistic this time around.

In Other News

I remember what it was like to have this kind of failure of imagination. I miss those days.

Claim that vaccinated children in Los Angeles will be required to wear masks while at the places they are required to report to for the bulk of their day. On the plus side, if they opt for ‘distance instruction’ they only get ‘scant hours of instruction’ leaving them free to spend the rest of their time learning. 

Also worth noting is that I don’t think this is how math works, on multiple levels? Am I missing something?

Thread on vaccine situation in Taiwan, which is a disaster on multiple levels, and its interaction with the question of reunification with China. Especially after what happened in Hong Kong, I notice I am confused how so many could take such an indifferent attitude towards reunification.

MR once again hammers home that the Moderna dose of 100ug is clearly too big. I continue to think this undersells the case, because 100ug isn’t merely unnecessary overkill, it is likely actively worse than 50ug because the extra size makes the next-day side effects worse, without a meaningful increase in the level of protection.

Paper documents loss of grey matter in the brain after getting Covid-19, including for those who were not hospitalized – hospitalization did not seem to impact the magnitude of this effect. You do not want to get Covid-19. Given the timing this does not provide information on vaccinated people who then still got infected, nor does it differentiate between severity levels beyond whether someone was hospitalized. I do not have a good sense of what size impact one should expect from the effect observed here – it’s easy for this type of thing to be quite impactful, and also easy for it to sound scary while not having much impact at all.

Small study finds 39% risk of Covid-19 spread between roommates in hospitals. I didn’t get a chance to form an unanchored prior on this number but it seems well within the range of numbers I would have expected.

Mask wearing study with very large data sets finds that everyone wearing masks most or all of the time in public places leads to a 25% reduction in the rate of reproduction (R0). That is being interpreted as ‘masks work’ but I would caution both that the error bars on this are gigantic in both directions, and that this effect is actually smaller than I would have guessed, if it is indeed contrasting mostly wearing masks to never wearing masks. They couldn’t find any effect of mask mandates on rates of mask wearing, which is a methodological problem rather than a real observation of causal reality. Mask mandates absolutely change the rate of mask wearing, and the lifting of mandates has clearly reduced mask wearing in ways I have observed with my own eyes. I do think it’s fair to take results like this and update towards mandates having less impact than one would otherwise think, especially local mandates in a world where masks were being adopted generally anyway, and to put more of the ‘work’ involved on private reactions. The mistake would be either to translate the ‘masks work’ here as ‘mask mandates work,’ which they definitely did not find, or to translate the ‘mask mandates not found to increase mask wearing’ here as evidence that they don’t increase mask wearing. Two easy to make and opposite mistakes.

Someone Really Ought To (Somehow) Do a (Better) Study

Marginal Revolution highlights a NYT piece on the CDC and how broken it is, calls it one of the best pieces of the year. Giving the secondary link as a compromise with my NYT ban, as the content here is being represented by a credible source as unusually impressive and important.

A study on shelter in place orders and their impact on excess mortality. My conclusion is that the decision on when to issue such an order, and the counterfactual situation if orders weren’t issued (both in terms of people’s actions, and in the medium-term path of the pandemic), are sufficiently hopelessly confounded that this doesn’t provide much if any insight into what is happening here. 

Another study finds that lockdowns kill children, especially in developing areas, ‘potentially’ 1.76 child deaths per pandemic death averted in the least developed areas. As usual, they use an SIR model, which is a very poor way of creating a realistic counterfactual path of the pandemic in the absence of lockdowns, so I don’t take these results all that seriously beyond the headline fact that there’s very large downsides to locking down that are even larger in undeveloped areas. That part seems very true, and worth appreciating.  

Not Covid

Lying with statistics, CNN reversed x-axis edition:

John McAfee found dead in a Spanish prison while awaiting extradition to the United States. 

That ‘could have’ is doing a refreshingly large amount of work, but, I mean, no:

Everything we know about John McAfee, including getting a tattoo years in advance to indicate he didn’t kill himself in case he was found in exactly this situation, strongly indicates he didn’t kill himself. 

That’s a pretty strong move. If you did that and people still think you killed yourself that has to be a rolling-in-your-grave-thinking-literally-what-the-f***-did-you-want-from-me moment. Or it would be, if John was the type to care what other people think enough to bother rolling.

Still, while I find it unlikely, the ‘could have’ technically stands! Cause I gotta think: If McAfee explicitly set the stage to make us all think he was whacked by the government and would never kill himself, then killed himself anyway, would that be both a totally baller move and totally in character? Absolutely. And I’d have to put on a hat, so I could tip it.

In gaming news, while working on Emergents, I’ve had the chance to explore Roguebook, the new rogue deckbuilder from a team that includes Richard Garfield (the creator of Magic: The Gathering). Richard is awesome and takes lots of big swings, and this is effectively a spiritual sequel to Slay the Spire, which is so good it is the game I recommend to most people when they ask me what they should be playing, so I was hoping for greatness. What I got instead was… a solid game that does not swing for the fences and I don’t think is as good as Slay the Spire, but which offers enough new twists on the formula to be well worth playing if you’re up for another experience in the same style. I tentatively have it in Tier 3, a game worth playing if you like the genre.

The game I’m enjoying the most recently is a little thing called Slipways, a chill puzzle/strategy 3X game that’s definitely worth checking out. Not yet sure if it’s quite Tier 1 (Must Play), but definitely at least Tier 2 (Worth It). 

Finally, did you know that supplies are sufficiently backed up that I’ve been warned that if I want to order nice furniture for our new apartment in NYC, it might not get here until January? 

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The last scare is underway. Delta is an increasing share of Covid cases around the world, causing cases in many places to rise.

Describing Delta as the last scare seems like it could be premature. There are lots of people around the world who are not yet vaccinated, and who are catching the disease, and each of those transmissions is effectively a chance for a new variant. Unless there's a solid reason for thinking that Delta is as effective as this virus can get, surely we need to admit the possibility of future variants that are stronger still, and hence that there may be more scares to come?

And the biggie of those potential future scares would be if we get variants that are more effective at escaping vaccine immunity, right?

Twitter is saying there's literally a Delta Plus variant already. We don't know what it does.

On Taiwan: I heard a Taiwanese once say that the CCP has lots of propaganda and infiltration going on in Taiwan. This is very plausible on priors. That stuff works.

Ehhh, in 2019 McAfee wasn't in prison at all. I don't expect him in particular to have consistent enough desires over time for that old promise to bind him, and "just after your extradition is approved" is a pretty understandable time to commit suicide. (A fake suicide would be just about as effective at any point in time, given that I don't expect most people to update on the argument above.)

Plausible he was killed? Sure. But significantly less probable than Epstein for several reasons, including that the latter presumably had massive dirt that could come out soon. I don't think many powerful people were trusting McAfee with their secrets.

Is Zvi actually claiming McAfee didn't kill himself, or are there more layers of sarcasm than I could get through?

It's suspicious, but I think people's views from long ago on whether or not they would commit suicide are very weak evidence.

Also, we know for a fact the FBI threatened Martin Luther King, Jr, and I don't think they wound up killing him?

It's not clear that they were not responsible for killing him, and they were definitely responsible for the killing of Fred Hampton.

Ugh, the McAfee stuff is way less important than the covid stuff, but I don't have any interesting covid commentary, just incohate frustration.  So, in re McAfee: right now I do think he killed himself, following three lines of thought:

  1. I don't understand who's supposed to have benefitted from his death.  "Preventing him from talking" doesn't really make sense as a motive; there's nothing publicly known that would identify "now" as a good time to kill him for that, as opposed to six months ago or whenever.
  2. I didn't read his twitter feed until today, so I'm reading it in light of his death, but to me it reads like a man in decline and losing hope.  I grant this is pretty subjective, but go read his tweets from last October and compare them to the ones from April, and decide for yourself how they grab you.
  3. People aren't good at modeling changes to themselves over time, and especially aren't good at tracking their own changes of mood (as when a patient's family notices the effect of an antidepressant before the patient does).  In general, I'd take a person saying "I'm definitely not going to kill myself, even after months of isolation in prison" as only very weak evidence.

If he was killed after all, I would guess it was by local forces (drug gang, government, etc) in retaliation for something fairly small-scale that we haven't heard about.  This explains the timing: once he was extradited, he'd be beyond their reach.

With respect to [1], "now" would be a good time for someone to kill him given that it might have been much easier to do while he was in custody. (Your un-numbered follow-up about locals being responsible for killing him seems as plausible as anything else!)

I remember what it was like to have this kind of failure of imagination. I miss those days.

It's worth remembering that much of the UK media hates Cummings because of his dodgy actions in the Brexit referendum and 2019 election, and there's been an endless stream of scandals involving him, so this is probably nothing more than completely deliberate SL2 attempts to tell a vaguely dodgy sounding story involving Cummings and a bad thing and so discredit him, and there's no particular reason to assume it's a higher simulacra level than that or even that many of these people really believe our world in data shouldn't have been given the money.

The reason this example has captured the imagination of people round here so much is just because it's the most overtly absurd over the top ridiculous example of innumerate political thinking intruding into emergency decision-making - a tiny amount of money for a hugely valuable global resource during an emergency being held up for no good reason. So it should seem so ridiculous that it shouldn't even be possible to pretend that this is a real scandal. But since it is being taken seriously as a potential scandal, even if the people pushing it are being dishonest, it's still clear that they know people won't call them on it (even though a lot of the people sharing it probably don't understand what Our World In Data actually is or why it's so valuable). It's far from unexpected, but it still stands out for that reason.

 

A study on shelter in place orders and their impact on excess mortality. My conclusion is that the decision on when to issue such an order, and the counterfactual situation if orders weren’t issued (both in terms of people’s actions, and in the medium-term path of the pandemic), are sufficiently hopelessly confounded that this doesn’t provide much if any insight into what is happening here. 

I read that paper and the authors do acknowledge the confounder. If you look on page 4 you'll see,

'It is possible that the timing of SIP policies is endogenous. For example, if SIP were implemented when excess deaths were rising then the results from the event study would be biased towards finding that SIP policies lead to excess deaths'

Talk about saying the loud part quiet! It is absolutely undeniable that the timing of SIP policies is endogenous, as you point out - the only way SIP could be exogenous is if a bunch of countries did lockdowns by coincidence at the exact same time the virus was spreading!

What do the authors have to say about this 'possible' confounder, that countries implement SIP right before the epidemic gets bad, so of course excess deaths go up right after SIP?

After several pages confirming that, yes, we do see deaths rise after lockdowns were called and this effect is statistically significant after an event analysis, we get to the only part of the paper that matters, that being the part where they claim that their results aren't confounded to hell and back by the fact that the timings and severities of lockdowns are all blended in with how bad the covid situation was in a given country:

"difference in excess mortality between countries that implemented SIP versus countries that did not implement SIP was trending downwards in the weeks prior to SIP implementation" (p13), so... 'the pre-existing trend reversed following implementation of SIP policies'

In other words, in the 'weeks' before lockdowns there was a pre-existing trend of lower excess deaths in countries that eventually locked down, compared to countries that later didn't lock down, and then this flipped around. From that, they think we can conclude that it actually was the lockdowns that caused worse outcomes because they reversed this 'preexisting trend of lower excess deaths'.

Since we're talking about mid-march here for most of these lockdowns, and 4 weeks before mid-March there were ~0 covid deaths in most of Europe and the US, and the excess death stats only started to spike in late March/early april as infections slowly translated to deaths, I think that this purported 'trend downwards' in the weeks before lockdown has nothing to do with covid at all. Taking the US and UK as examples, the excess mortality was either undetectable or only a few percent on the day the lockdowns were called - i.e. covid deaths hadn't even begun to show up in the statistics.

I've read the paper, and the details of this purported trend of lower excess deaths in later-lockdown countries are nowhere to be found. I predict the effect size of it is likely small compared to the eventual excess death figures and that these deaths have nothing to do with COVID-19. 

 

 

 

However, this paper is still better than the majority of anti-lockdown 'cost-benefit calculation' papers I've seen, because at least the authors acknowledge that even assuming they are correct, the conclusion is not that the lockdowns are responsible for all the social distancing related harm we've seen, but just that trading off slightly less economic harm (from voluntary panic behaviour and social distancing by choice rather than government mandates) for more virus deaths (from voluntary rather than involuntary suppression) would have been worth it. Page 2:

While social distancing is an important mechanism to avoid COVID-19 spread, the studies that use mobility tracking data find only modest additional social distancing responses following SIP policies (Cantor et al. 2020; Berry et al. 2021; Askitas, Tatsiramos, and Verheyden 2021; Xu 2021; Nguyen et al. 2020). Individuals concerned about COVID-19 risk may change behavior even in the absence of regulations or shelter-in-place advisories. Thus, it is unclear how much change in COVID-19 risk mitigation is due to formal SIP policies, compared to risk mitigation that would have occurred in the absence of these policies. 

I think that the claim that voluntary mitigation is more effective than legal mitigation is likely not true in general, but I could be convinced of it if you could somehow find un-confounded evidence of the impact of lockdowns vs direct voluntary behaviour change on the economy.

I'm willing to believe that for at least some actually existing given pairs of (more restrictions, fewer restrictions), the fewer restrictions option is better. You mentioned Florida vs some other states as an example here. I think Sweden vs neighbours is the strongest case against such arguments, but it's something about which reasonable disagreements can be had, and while this paper doesn't add much to that discussion, I look forward to future research about what the tradeoffs were.#

I think that, especially in developing countries, the cost-benefit calculation may have gone the other way. But we must all acknowledge that what we're doing in all the cases where we've failed at containment, is choosing between slightly differently composed colossal piles of misery, and that there are no easy ways out.

 

 

The most flawed anti-lockdown arguments are those that pile up all the costs of voluntary behaviour change and lockdowns, attribute them to lockdowns only, and then assume the counterfactual deaths from voluntary behaviour change without assuming their costs in the 'no lockdowns' case. Another paper combines all of these mistakes.

After (mostly correctly) dismantling flawed cost-benefit analyses which make the opposite mistake, the paper presents its own cost-benefit analysis,

The question is, however, how many lost years of life would have resulted from Covid-19 deaths if there had been no lockdown...

Assume that the number of Covid-19 deaths would have been 10% higher had there been no lockdown. Then Canada would have experienced an additional 2,271 deaths, which means there would have been additional 22,333 years of lost life due to Covid-19 deaths. The benefit of lockdown, therefore, was the avoidance of this extra 22,333 years of lost life. However, the cost of lockdown, as noted, was 6,300,000 years of lost life. The cost/benefit ratio of lockdown is 282 = 6,300,000/22,333.

In this scenario (ignore why the difference in COVID-19 deaths is so small for a moment), the difference is that in the lockdown scenario there would be 0.9 times as many deaths, however, the non-covid costs of lockdown would be this absurdly giant 6.3 million life-years lost (also ignore where this number came from for a moment).

This is extremely generous to the anti-lockdown position in terms of covid deaths averted and life years lost. But given these assumptions, what happens to these 6.3 million life years lost due to social distancing related economic damage, in the no lockdown case? This cost-benefit calculation seems to assume that these costs are literally 0.

Which means, in terms of physical models, that in a world where there are only 1.1 times as many deaths as a world with a full lockdown (one so strict that it costs 6.3 million life-years), there are 0 deaths related to whatever voluntary behaviour changes reduced social contact by almost as much as the lockdown. This is impossible - whatever people would be doing in this counterfactual with 1.1x the COVID-19 deaths of a lockdown, it wouldn't be carrying on as normal.

Now, where does this 6.3 million life-years lost due to lockdowns come from in the first pace? The paper says, 'professor Caplan argues that X= 10 months is a conservative estimate. That is, on average, two months would be sacrificed to have avoided lockdown, and calculates based on this' And where does this argument originate? It's from a twitter poll of Bryan Caplan's extremely libertarian-inclined followers who he told to try as hard as possible to be objective in assessing pandemic costs because he asked them what 'the average American' would value...

EY is tacitly assuming that the procurement team that DC wanted to fast track would have done something averagely useful, so that the delay from the checks and balances was a nett loss. But we are now in a place where we know that a lot of these cronies were underperforming horribly. ("PPE company" does t mean they know hiw to manufacture PPE, or have an existing stock..a lot of these people are setting up shell companies and hoping to be able to import from somewhere cheap when they need to come up with the goods). And the point of the checks and balances is to stop public money going to incompetent people.

Who's lacking imagination? Can EY imagine that DC is operating under bias when he wants to throw public money at people he knows personally?

PS One of the weird things here is that EY knows about EA, and EA is all about the realisation that giving money to ineffective organisation costs lives!

"PPE company" does t mean they know hiw to manufacture PPE, or have an existing stock..a lot of these people are setting up shell companies and hoping to be able to import from somewhere cheap when they need to come up with the goods

There weren't enough people around who knew how to manufacture PPE. Manufacturing PPE was underfunded early in the pandemic and it was completely reasonable to fund people who don't have much existing experience. 

If you want to argue that the funding decisions were bad I think you have to demonstrate that there were people who were better capable of manufacturing PPE that didn't get funding. 

Can EY imagine that DC is operating under bias when he wants to throw public money at people he knows personally?

Robert Moses was likely biased when he hired the people who build New York where often a lot of corruption was involved. On the other hand he got things build. 

In a pandemic getting things done fast is more important then making "unbiased decisions".

PS One of the weird things here is that EY knows about EA, and EA is all about the realisation that giving money to ineffective organisation costs lives!

This is only true when money is scarce but you have plenty of time for analysis. In dealing with a pandemic money shouldn't be scarce as even ineffectively invested money has massive returns. On the other hand time is very precious. 

it was completely reasonable to fund people who don’t have much existing experience.

Yes, it's reasonable to fund averagely good, or good-enough people But what actually happened was far worse. From the BMJ:-

"Those who are seeking to purchase things must show that they have accepted the most economically advantageous offer, although this does not just mean the cheapest, as it can take into account things like the ability to deliver rapidly. But above all, they must publish details of all contracts within 30 days of them being awarded so that others can scrutinise what has been agreed. And this is what Matt Hancock did not do.

The struggles that patient facing health and social care workers faced when trying to obtain PPE are well known, although seemingly not to the health secretary when he told the BBC that there had been no national shortage. Some of the best accounts are in books by two British doctors, Rachel Clarke and Dominic Pimenta. Indeed, Pimenta stepped away from medicine to create a charity to source PPE for the NHS.

Yet equally shocking were the stories of how the procurement process was operated. In one of the most visible cases, only a fraction of 400 000 gowns ordered from a Turkish t shirt manufacturer arrived. When they did arrive they were late, despite the Royal Air Force being sent to collect them, and they were found to be unusable. Fifty million face masks, purchased through a company specialising in currency trading and offshore property, part of a £252m (€291m; $348m) contract, were also unusable. A Miami jewellery designer, awarded a £250m contract for PPE, was found to have paid £21m to a consultant to broker the deal. A pest control company with net assets of £19 000 was given a £108m contract for PPE. A highly critical report by the National Audit Office provides more example"

Note that the normal procurement process allows you to trade off money against time, so you don't have to do care it to does things up.

Robert Moses was likely biased when he hired the people who build New York where often a lot of corruption was involved. On the other hand he got things build.

Which is not analogous to the PPE procurement scandal , because the PPE was not delivered. An analogy would be Moses hiring jewelry designers to build bridges which then fall down.

In a pandemic getting things done fast is more important then making “unbiased decisions”.

Getting things done at all is part of getting things done fast.

Given that you ignored the suggestion, it seems like you don't know of any better targets to fund for PPE distribution. 

In a crisis like that it makes sense to fund a bunch of companies even if the expectation is that some of them won't be able to deliever. 

Given that you ignored the suggestion, it seems like you don’t know of any better targets to fund for PPE distribution

I am not claiming they should have gone to me for advice, I am claiming they should have followed procedures which are designed to get things done. It's a fallacy that you can cut corners and still get equally good results.

Generally, things are not getting done in the last decades since those procedures were introduced and a lot more got done in Moses time when those procedures didn't exist. See the debate on the Great Stagnation.

The main point of Brexit from Cummings side was to be able to deregulate and escape the Great Stagnation.

If you think that the bureaucracy that stiffled everything is helpful here, point to where you think the bureaucracy should have redirected the money towards.

Which things aren't getting done? The vaccine rollout was a big success, the track and trace system was an expensive failure. Its possible to look at evidence, you don't have to just pick a narrative.

The main point of Brexit from Cummings side was to be able to deregulate and escape the Great Stagnation

That was the theory. Yet his attempt to fast track PPE was a failure in practice . At what point is the theory revised according to the evidence?

where you think the bureaucracy should have redirected the money towards.

Someone who had PPE. It isn't difficult to do better than complete failure.

You haven't demonstrated that it was a failure and another strategy would have produced more PPE.

If I google I find statements like:

The Government’s PPE team has been working since at least September to stem the flow of kit from the Far East. Staff have been negotiating with suppliers to exit contracts and delay PPE production, say senior procurement sources in the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS. 

That sounds like the Cummings strategy succeeded in producing more then necessary PPE for the autumn/winter. They did spent a bunch of money for it, but PPE was really important so it's worthwhile to pay more to actually get the PPE that's needed.

It's worthwhile up to a point. Wasting money costs lives as well.

The costs of lockdowns is very huge. Compared to that the cost for PPE, vaccines and scientific research isn't that high so it makes sense to invest more capital into it instead of trying to save money and then ending up with to little. 

Its not an either/or thing. PPE,.lockdowns and travel bans were all needed simultaneously in early 2020.

There's been an investigation, which the BMJ article summarised.

Re: the Dominic Cummings "failure of imagination". 

From a UK context it's widely understood that during the PPE panic huge sums of money were thrown at friends of both Cummings and the elected Cabinet. In this context, a common interpretation on hearing stories of Cummings trying to bypass procurement rules isn't "hero takes down bureaucracy" it's "corrupt official wants less scrutiny on where public money is sent".

Personally, I fully agree that existing procurement rules are unlikely to be optimal, but there are few people who have proven themselves less trustworthy than Cummings in UK politics over the last few years.

I admire Dominic from a distance based more on reading old blog posts than on awareness of recent news (which I actively avoid in general in preference to getting information via word of mouth as a salience filter and then doing followup with active evidence seeking to test hypotheses).

there are few people who have proven themselves less trustworthy than Cummings in UK politics over the last few years.

Are you saying that he has a multi-year pattern of redirecting funds from public coffers to personal friends?

Or maybe... are you saying that he just has a halo, for you, of being someone that members of your tribe should say "boo" to by default?

Specifically, could you name things from the last few years which might update me decisively to not trusting Dominic in specific ways? I'd be specifically looking for official crimes (or gross normative violations) he may have committed that cross a coherent bright line. I currently model him as simply "an official villain that the press hates" because the press hated Brexit and so on and so forth?

So my structural model here is that you might be "simply downstream of the British press who I model as quite biased in predictable ways (so much so that I avoid the popular press on purpose in general)" or you might be "aware of specific crime-like actions done by Dominic that would surprise and sadden me and give me a specific threat model for how to be careful around him (that I might not know because I am often oblivious to many current events)"?

Links to the best evidence of the worst bright-line violations of behavioral norms by Dominic, that are clear, clean, and surprising to me would be appreciated <3

I’d be specifically looking for official crimes (or gross normative violations) he may have committed that cross a coherent bright line. I currently model him as simply “an official villain that the press hates” because the press hated Brexit and so on and so forth?

The issues in the leave (ie Brexit) campaign were

  1. The misleading claim about extra funding for the NHS,
  2. The claim about the entire population of Turkey settling in the UK, which was both misleading and racist
  3. The use of personal data by a company he hired, which has now folded under legal issues

I don't necessarily agree with your impression of the McAfee thing. The man was by all accounts a very strange person; it doesn't seem overly credulous to think that he might have been both suicidal and paranoid about being murdered and made to look like a suicide.

On the paper on loss of grey matter:

  • Mean age of subjects who got Covid was 61 or 62. The range was 50-80. We know effects of Covid are exponentially worse as a function of age. So not clear this would generalize to people in their 20s.
  • Decent Twitter thread discussing whether Covid caused the reduction and whether it might be reversible. https://twitter.com/Neuro_Skeptic/status/1406693917899341824
Also, if you think John McAfee found dead in a Spanish prison.

There is something wrong with this sentence, and the paragraph that follows. (Grammatically.)

Did you know that you… can… just… put… lines… into… graphs? And label them however you like, with no relation to reality?

Related, from T-Mobile's 2016 annual report:

What was McAfee actually facing? Wouldn't he have been able to plead and get minimum security (club fed) like most other wealthy defendants accused of financial crimes and tax evasion?