In better discourse this week, I have a long reply to Scott Alexander’s Bounded Distrust. I also spun off another piece about a toolkit that’s advocating for schools to return to normal, The Urgency of Normal: An Exercise in Bounded Distrust.

As a result of all that, I ran out of time before I could get to everything this week, so this post does not include any coverage of The Convoy, which is getting pushed into either its own post or next week, depending on what I find when I dig into it more.

Executive Summary

  1. Cases declining quickly.
  2. My people are being let go in some places but not many yet, mostly slowly.
  3. Looks like we’ve got us a convoy up in Canada as a protest, will cover later.

Let’s run the numbers.

The Numbers

Predictions

Prediction from last week: 2.85mm cases (-30%) and 20,000 deaths (+25%).

Results: 2.48mm cases (-39%) and 17,669 deaths (+10%)

Prediction for next week: 1.49mm cases (-40%) and 18,000 deaths (+2%).

Basically the whole nation is in rapid decline in cases so no reason not to expect the trend to continue another week. At some point the decline will slow, but it should be a while before there’s enough adjustments for too much of that. Deaths were a pleasant surprise after an unpleasant one, which usually means things are evening out from some wonkiness. The death peak should be approaching soon given the curve of cases. On reflection I do expect one final increase, and we might see two or possibly a small third one, but that should be it and I doubt we ever hit 20,000 in a week.

Deaths

Worth noting that recent rise in UK deaths is due to a backlog, actual new deaths are falling.

Also figured I’d post this here.

Cases

That’s an even bigger decline than I expected, and it is happening across 49 states and all four regions. You love to see it. Now that the trend is clear, no reason not to expect it to continue.

New York ER doctor who has given us several updates in the past reports no Covid patients his entire shift.

Vaccinations 

You know. For kids. Pfizer is officially applying to the FDA to allow them to vaccinate children as young as six months.

This is vitally needed, because everyone involved is responding to the inability to vaccinate those children by acting completely crazy given that these children are at essentially zero risk.

Let’s be honest. We are not going to be vaccinating one-year-olds against Covid-19. We are going to be vaccinating one-year-olds against Covid-19 prevention. With two (or perhaps three) shots that have an acceptable level of short term side effects, we protect such children against being unable to show their face or see the faces of others, of being unable to go to playgrounds and the houses of family friends, and allow them to be children again.

Does the vaccine prevent Covid-19 in children this young given the doses we’ll be giving them?Um, well, yeah, heard to say, quite possibly no? They cut the dose quite a lot, and the data looks a lot like it mostly doesn’t work for kids over the age of two. If it does, it likely requires a booster shot, at which point being immune will matter even less.

But also why should we much care?

Once this is done, we no longer have to hear about ‘and some of us have children who aren’t eligible for vaccination.’ If you want to be paranoid parent and take care of that, sure, great, you can go do that. Let my people go.

I have skin in this game. I have a four-year-old. If I could tell no one whether he’s vaccinated, would I get him vaccinated? Probably not, but both costs and benefits are tiny so it’s not clear.

But is it worth it if it lets everyone involved relax? If it means the preschool lets them take their masks off a lot faster and we don’t have to test constantly for no reason? Then yes, of course it is worth it.

Sure, there’s some minor problems with this approach.

But hey, no one said these trade-offs were easy.

The timing of this application is interesting. It’s almost as if applications are based on whether they’ll be approved.

That is, indeed, what I would do if I were Pfizer.

Also, Moderna got full approval, no one cared.

The CDC attempts to tout vaccines in children.

This is the classic pattern of making two statements together to imply to the reader that a connection should be drawn between them leading to a conclusion. Whereas the first statement is saying that only 2,200 kids were even hospitalized, total, in two years. Only a third of those needed the ICU or a ventilator. That doesn’t make me jump to vaccinate or boost my young child. It also groups all kids together in a highly misleading way, since younger children are at far lower risk than that, and most kids who did get sick also had other conditions.

The link goes to PoliMath’s outrage at how misleading the statement is as a summary of the linked study, but this is what good behavior from something like the CDC looks like. Within the rules of bounded distrust, this is far better than the baseline I expect. It’s a fully true statement. Does it give a fully nuanced impression that tells parents the exact statistics they need to know? No, but that’s a completely unrealistic request even if this wasn’t Twitter, to the extent that I don’t even think I’d want them holding themselves to that high a standard on the margin. Complexity costs would be too high.

CNN asks, in light of the coming Omicron boosters, whether one should wait for them, because that article needs to be reported in some form seemingly every week. Answer is still very obviously no, waiting makes no sense.

Another option is to pay nurses $220 to create a fake vaccination record and enter them into the state database, which earned those nurses profits of $1.5 million before they got arrested. I’d pass on that one.

Vaccine Mandates

I continue to be amazed at how very smart and successful people (who in this case even work in venture capital!) do not understand probabilities can be higher than other probabilities and why that might matter. As in: Sober people sometimes crash cars, so it isn’t logical to not let them drink? How are we still doing this?

Kid Rock’s new tour will avoid any venues with vaccine mandates. Given his clientele, I can’t say I blame him. Good business decision. I do like a few of his songs, but my attempt to listen to his new single (literally “We The People”) about the current situation made my life worse more than I thought was possible in that short a time. I mean, wow, I’m almost impressed. The things I do for my readers.

Italy and France consider infection to count as a booster shot for purposes of restrictions, which is an existence proof that the logistics work.

Bob Watcher asks if we should get a fourth shot.

So no, then? And definitely no on question one? Not so fast, it seems.

The cut-by-half estimate seems way too high to me on priors, and as is shortly pointed out, by that time Paxlovid is likely available as well. He still solves for NNT (number needed to treat) and gets 1,163, which is both very high and depends on those involved getting infected. Then he gets into T-cell exhaustion, and there’s always the issue that the day after the shot is going to reliably suck.

So this seems to come down clearly on the side of the fourth shot not being worthwhile at this time, being 65 years old is nowhere near enough reason to endure that.

NPIs Including Mask and Testing Mandates 

If I’m reading this correctly, Biden Administration to continue restrictions indefinitely because not doing so would risk being further embarrassed if something changed and they have no physical model of the world.

As far as I can tell this is real? Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, the people in charge of safety, requires quarantine of its plans?

Standard government operating procedure on test kits, going from restricting supply to seizing supply for public purposes while denying they are doing it, disrupting existing distribution channels and making everything a giant mess. Not the USA this time.

A 538 discussion tries to have a physical model that includes uncertainty, and ends up mostly throwing up its hands because it can’t be sufficiently systematized to give sensible decisions on countermeasures once all the restrictions on how one can think are taken into account. It seems the lessons of uncertainty have in some places been overlearned. It also features the ‘case numbers are no longer a good measure’ line followed by worries about the costs of using lagging indicators. Cases, on the contrary, are still an excellent measure of the situation, if you adjust for circumstances. Thus, you reduce by a fixed factor for Omicron, and for vaccination and previous infection status, and so on. This isn’t easy, but it’s also not that hard.

Governor Newsome tries to weasel out of his last bout of rank hypocrisy, this time at the championship game taking a celebrity photo, continues to enforce the mandates. Morale remains low.

L.A. Mayor Garcetti’s turn to explain came shortly thereafter. What was his excuse?

New York extends its mask mandate, but only an additional nine days. The infinite series may yet have a finite sum.

Let My People Go

People are increasingly unhappy. Democrats are especially unhappy. Let my people go.

Matthew Yglesias is exactly right here. If we want to return to normal and live life we need to, for example, stop being afraid of physical contact and starving ourselves of human connection. My only real quibble with Matthew is his framing of the conflict over being allowed to live life as between health experts and political thinkers, rather than being between health experts and the people.

He’s also right in this Twitter thread about many interventions having high costs and low benefits going forward, even if they arguably made sense in the past.

Norway lets my people go.

Finland lets my people go. Marin strikes again. There’s something right in Scandinavian culture that’s allowing them to figure this one out quickly. I wonder what it is.

Sweden lets my people go. I saw this right after I wrote the above note.

Denmark lets my people go, for the same reason, to some people’s confusion when they can’t understand the shift away from pandemic logic. Also see the linked additional thread for more local info.

Swiss considering letting my people go, which is a weird thing to be news?

Canada’s Saskatchewan province lets my people go, to the extent they can do that.

Iowa Governor lets my people go, also to the extent they can do that.

San Francisco lets my people go to the gym or office without a mask if everyone is vaccinated and boosted. Better than nothing.

Let My People Go To Nightclubs.

It’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off for them. They’re right on the logic, but it’s not that hard to shut down nightclubs. The question is whether the authorities will blink. I would be curious to see a prediction market, especially if I was a nightclub owner considering doing this.

China very much not letting anyone go, and taking containment of the Olympics seriously, while still not approving the Pfizer vaccine. It’s quite the price to pay for pride.

Ministry of Truth

In the warm-up, Nature publishes demand that scientists be given more preferential treatment, and those who contradict or criticize them be censored more aggressively on Facebook and Twitter.

The main event, of course, is perennial target Joe Rogan.

Joe Rogan has been a target for a long time, originally for reasons unrelated to Covid and more the standard things that get people censored these days. Rogan is a person who is trying in good faith to construct the most accurate model of the physical world he can and who is willing to listen to people with rather out there beliefs. Also he likes to hang out with cool and funny people with no agenda and talk for a few hours, and lets us listen. A lot of people enjoy this, and he reached 5 million listeners. A lot of other people very much do not like this and think they should be allowed to force him to stop, or at least tell him what he can and can’t say.

When Rogan joined Spotify, a bunch of employees tried to get him aggressively censored, which mostly didn’t work although a few older episodes did get taken out of circulation.

There was the whole thing earlier where Rogan didn’t get vaccinated because he thinks healthy people shouldn’t have to (which likely stopped a lot of people from getting vaccinated), then Rogan got Covid-19, took a bunch of stuff including Ivermectin and recovered, and CNN and a lot of others were on the kick of calling it horse de-wormer constantly (which is classic Bounded Distrust behavior, technically true but very much intended to centrally mislead) as if that was going to convince people of things, and this made him angry and others angry at him, leading to the podcast with Gupta, where Gupta tried to convince Rogan to get vaccinated and Rogan tried to convince Gupta that CNN were acting like a bunch of assholes, and alas they could not figure out they were both right.

I had the chance slash obligation to cover Rogan’s podcast with Gupta a few months back. It was a clear illustration that Rogan is real person acting in good faith to try and construct the most accurate physical world model possible. It’s no surprise that many want to censor him for it. At first it was for social justice issues where he disagrees with left-wing Shibboleths. Now the beefs are mostly about Covid-19.

This round is mostly about the fact that Rogan recently had two doctors on his program. Those doctors have what look on paper like excellent credentials, and shall we say they Have Concerns about the Covid-19 vaccines. And those concerns are not what I would call accurate. One might plausibly call them ‘dangerous misinformation.’

There’s no question in my mind that Rogan is importantly wrong about vaccines and other aspects of Covid-19, and also that he’s entertained guests who expressed views that are rather more wrong than Rogan’s, and that these mistakes can have serious real-world consequences when five million people are listening.

Of course, I don’t think that we should be in the habit of censoring ‘dangerous misinformation’ and that goes double when it’s truth seeking in good faith.

Many others, especially on the left these days, strongly disagree with that, and in addition to their usual toothless attacks on Substack are trying to target Spotify. They don’t even care that Rogan would have an even bigger audience after being kicked off Spotify because he would no longer be exclusive. All you’d be doing is sending the message that you censor aggressively, which of course is exactly what such folks want to do, despite it causing those who like Rogan to distrust you that much more.

In this chapter, there were demands that Rogan be removed from Spotify entirely. Neil Young made it clear it was either him or Rogan, and pulled his catalogue. Joni Mitchell followed suit, followed by a few others, and it became trendy to say you were uninstalling the app. Mike Solana offered exactly the take you would expect. The usual.

Spotify decided to slap warnings on the two episodes in question. I don’t love the slipperiness of the slope and don’t have any urge to compromise on free speech. It’s only mildly annoying as such, but it acknowledges the jurisdiction of the court, that you have an obligation to Do Something about this. Never do that.

Rogan felt the pressure enough to come out with a nine-minute video, of which this is a clip. In general, apologizing or giving ground in such situations is a strategic error and only makes the wolves smell blood. Never acknowledge the jurisdiction of the court. Thus, I would not have promised to ‘make up ground’ in the future or anything, and would have stuck to the ‘this is why my decisions made sense’ part. Either way, he’s not making the mistake where he acknowledges how terrible he is, so he should mostly be fine there.

I was debating whether this all rose to the level of being worth mentioning at all, but then the White House Press Secretary said that Spotify needed to Do More. As usual, do more what exactly? That’s the thing, we’re not going to say, you figure it out. Her statement is really weird when I actually listened to it, because she claims the goal is that the platforms should work to ‘ensure everyone has access to accurate information.’

Which seems good? Yes, it’s good to spread and make available true information. Somehow that then becomes ‘censor bad information’ instead. We are not the same.

I’m still not going to listen to those two episodes, on the ever-popular grounds of ‘I don’t have to and you can’t make me.’ I have no reason to expect there’s things there worth my time debunking, or that would cause me to update.

Permanent Midnight

Elon Musk is on the case.

A meta-analysis concludes lockdowns did not even save lives, let alone do so cost-effectively. I decided not to do a dive here.

Normalization DARVO at work – we should ‘normalize’ people being ‘ok’ with masks on public transport because flu. This is the future these people have always wanted. Everyone’s ok with masks on public transport, what we’re not ok with is them being mandatory. Although the call for extra HEPA air filters everywhere seems sensible and I can get behind that as a ‘this makes sense permanently’ strategy. We’ve almost certainly been underinvesting in air filtering since at least the invention of air filters.

Then there are those who are flat out insane, regardless of when and why that got started.

It seems we need to be better at telling crazy people that they’re being crazy and maybe they should Stop It.

Not Forever Masking is racist?

So what was this racist tweet?

Ah, yes. Sounds right.

You can be in pandemic logic mode or you can be in endemic logic mode. When we move from pandemic logic to endemic logic, we go from one new case now meaning many new cases over time to one new case now plausibly implying fewer future cases over time due to immunity.

The argument for periodic but not permanent midnight, we can treat precautions against infection like precautions against weather and ramp them up and down appropriately. Yet people somehow use this to suggest we sometimes mandate those precautions, as opposed to pointing out people will do this on their own. You don’t have to mandate umbrellas to get people to use them when they’re raining. Also it helps that this is one of the few places they effectively allow price gouging.

This means that you need a different order of magnitude of prevention benefit to justify paying a given cost.

In the extreme, prevention becomes futile and worthless.

That extreme was essentially here with BA.1, without considering BA.2.

Scott Gottlieb points out (2 minute video) that even if we think the 10 cases per 100k per day threshold for demasking made sense under Delta it doesn’t make sense under Omicron. At a minimum we’d want to double that to 20. If we adjust for the move to endemic logic, the threshold should be much higher or not exist at all. If we were permanently in a 100 cases per 100k situation, that obviously does not justify permanent midnight.

Think of the Children

A fine question.

Report from the relatively sane (but not as good as usual at football) Clemson is not substantially different than reports from other campuses, and indicates that the pandemic has already mostly run its course there since 28% is doubtless a large understatement of the true case count.

And these are all young students so it’s all fine anyway. The response? To demand they Do More, of course.

Dartmouth, despite Doing More has had 23% of the student body test positive in the past month. So, presumably, we must Do More once again.

You know who is doing more? Yale. They’re doing a lot more, like having students report one another anonymously for not wearing masks when alone in a room, locking them within their rooms during the ‘investigation’ and then threatening them with expulsion from campus should it happen again. This is to ensure that they are guarding them against the dangers of such activities as outdoor dining. Remember.

Or you could be a Los Angeles high school that has unvaccinated students try to attend class and end up calling the cops to ‘detain’ them and then threatening them with ‘suspension’ until the girls agree to leave campus. I don’t know what else you can do, either you have a rule or you don’t have a rule and if someone is physically refusing to leave then at some point one needs to use some form of physical force. I do find it funny that students are told they’re not welcome on campus and have to leave, and what gets them to leave is when they are threatened with suspension. What do you call it when you’re not allowed at school, then?

Mother offer to make free crepes for neighborhood children, is told to serve them outdoors in the freezing cold because of fear of Covid prevention.

‘Please serve the crepes outdoors,’ the parents repeated. The parents elaborated: ‘We aren’t so much afraid of our kids catching Covid from you, or from each other, and suffering illness from it. But we want to reduce the chances of our kids becoming infected with Covid. Any student who tests positive for Covid must then stay home – that is, away from school and out of physical classrooms – for ten days. And we don’t want our kids missing any more school.’

She did not serve the crepes outdoors.

In Other News

Excellent news, Vitalik is going to be directing $100 million in research and relief efforts, largely related to Covid. Very much worthwhile even at this late hour.

I apologize for earlier reports that Sarah Palin was outdoor dining after testing positive for Covid-19. It turns out she was also once again indoor dining.

Come to CNBC for the headline, don’t stay for the article it is quite bad: “Why do some people get Covid when others don’t? Here’s what we know so far.”

Worry that Omicron infection might not give all that great a level of protection against Omicron reinfection. Would be bad news if this holds up, but ultimately if the resulting reinfections are super mild there’s not much to be done about it that’s worth doing. In theory could even be good news if it meant that there’s less reason to worry about further mutations, since Omicron is relatively mild.

Freddie DeBoer offers the apt metaphor of Covid-19 as the liberal 9/11. The piece writes itself so even though it’s quite good there’s no need to read it. His comment afterwards does seem worth including.

What should we be doing? More. More what? That’s the thing. No one knows.

New York City offers same day home delivery of Paxlovid, which is great. Date of symptom onset must be on the prescription, which seems good. Race/ethnicity must also be on the prescription, which I notice fails to give me the warm or the fuzzies.

New Zealand to gradually reopen its borders with a full reopening by October. I am genuinely curious what they think doing this gradually is going to accomplish.

New Zealand meanwhile refuses re-entry to pregnant reporter who is a citizen, who is instead welcomed by the Taliban despite being unmarried. Details aren’t better.

WHO continues being unhelpful.

Covid-19 found to be safe in young adults via challenge trial.

Which way does this news update you about the value of peer review?

That’s still 7% chance the conclusions changed, or 17% Covid-19 papers. Curious to think that represents no value add. But how much of that comes from the review? How substantial are most of the changed conclusions? What about changes that don’t change the stated conclusion? Usually when I read a paper I draw my own conclusions.

Prediction Updates

China keeps daily cases under 50 per million through 2022: 40% → 45%.

I’m impressed by their protocols for the Olympics and time matters, as does India playing itself out like this. I’m starting to think they can do this.

Will There Be a Federal Mask Requirement on Domestic Flights as of November 8, 2022? 35% → 38%.

I’m nudging this higher because the Biden Administration is showing signs of being more reluctant, and also I expected someone to often adjust the market based on my adjustment and it didn’t happen, which makes me respect the market price more.

Chance that Omicron is vastly (75%+ in the same person) less virulent than Delta: 35% → 40%

Deaths back down below expectation, so this moves back.

Chance we will be getting boosters modified for Omicron within 6 months of our previous booster shot: 20% → 22%

I can feel the winds move a little, but only a little.

Not going to do a Polymarket feature this week because I’m out of time.

Not Covid

Some further discussions on bounded distrust, in addition to my long reaction piece. The public epistemic commons do seem pillaged, but far from completely. Julia points out that a petition saying ‘no evidence’ is exactly the kind of thing that can’t be trusted, and I’d go so far as to go in the opposite direction. If I saw a hundred scientists signing a petition saying there was no evidence for astrology I’d be tempted to investigate further.

In addition to last week’s Bounded Distrust, Scott Alexander wrote several other pieces this week, including a fun and rather epic takedown on a study that got taken down pretty much right away by pretty much everyone. He also asks why he sucks and comes up with a number of hypotheses, I might have more to say on that one later. And I still haven’t checked out his post on motivated reasoning.

A would-be op-ed from Robin Hanson pointing out that when people have better access to medical care it has been shown over and over to have very little effect on whether they die. Yet in 2020 we spent 19.7% of GDP.

New York Times has purchased Wordle. I’m glad the guy got to cash out. I don’t know if this makes me dislike NYT more for now containing Wordle, or dislike them less because they rewarded a creator and gave everyone an excuse to stop posting their Wordle scores all the time on Twitter, which honestly is getting pretty old and busted. Actually playing is fine, game sounds like fun, but I get nothing out of rows of boxes.

In the wake of the study that says pre-k doesn’t help kids and is functionally daycare, yet another major blogger, in this case Noah Smith, affirms that pre-k is daycare but says we should offer it for free anyway. But offer it as a choice, you see, because somehow ‘should we force the children into daycare at gunpoint?’ was a question that needed to be asked:

And staying home tutoring a kid all day is a lot of work. It’s free labor that isn’t counted in GDP statistics, and it prevents parents from going out and working in the market. Thus, even if it isn’t quite as good as intensive parenting, government-funded free pre-K frees parents to go work in the market and earn money for their families.

In other words, universal pre-K is probably just universal day care. So the best option, policy-wise, is probably to make day care free but not compulsory. That will give parents the choice of whether to put in the time tutoring the kids at home, or accept a potentially slightly worse education in exchange for a second income for the family.

Once again, can someone please explain to me why the solution to this problem is not to give parents money? Why should we impose this severe financial penalty on the parents who want to actually teach their children, which we’re acknowledging here is actively better for them? This is the opposite of acknowledging the free labor being asked of parents, it’s making them suffer financially even more.

Nate Silver predicts an NFL draft lottery in light of recent accusation that Dolphins offered their coach $100k per loss as part of a tanking effort. I would like to see a prediction market on that one.

There’s an $11.7 million dollar gold cube in Central Park as art complete with armed guards. I’m in favor of this if and only if anyone who successfully steals it without seriously injuring any of the guards gets to keep it.

The new and improved anti-inductive anxiety scale.

One case of reduced anxiety: Facebook use is down, nature is healing.

Even more good news, after twenty years of work and to much fanfare, San Francisco opens a public restroom. BART itself responded that this was very unfair, they had simply closed for 20 years after 9/11. Which is kind of even worse, because it means it took them twenty years to not build a bathroom. Instead, it took them 20 years to allow access to a bathroom that already existed, because… 9/11? I don’t know whether I’m pretending to be boggled or if I’m boggled for real. Also, I would be curious exactly how much no sane person would set foot into this bathroom when we check how it looks a week from now.

I can’t be outraged at the storming out here. They were forced to listen to Giuliani sing. No one deserves that.

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A small meta comment: i almost never look at Twitter, i think it's mostly a journalist echo chamber and that i will probably not like what I see if I look. Zvi you bring me there with your links, and it's much much worse than I though (except for E Musk. Maybe i should think more highly of him than my usual take on current tech giants) I don't know if i should be angry you increased my contact with this mouth of madness, or be thankfull and admirative you manage to swim into it to extract stuff ;-)

For the preprint --> journal point: if all the bad ones never made it to publication, that would show the same conclusion. Maybe journals are more filtering than enhancement sometimes.

Or, the norm of expecting to publish in a journal means people are motivated to do good work. If you preprint with the expectation to publish you'll do good work. But there can still be a lot of terrible science out there in preprints. I don't think what you wrote is evidence we should trust random PDFs on the internet.

Regarding NL Nightclubs opening regardless of the law, it may turn interesting (I live 100 km south so I will see from close)....

...but it's for 10 days after the announce (Feb 2nd), Saturday 12th. It looks more like a bluff to get better compensations than a real intention to open. Else I think they would have targeted this Friday or Saturday 5th.

Still, who knows, they will have only a minority of citizen supporting them....but this minority is also the harder to manage, they have shown that they do not necessarily peacefully comply with anything...

"Mercy sakes alive"

Love your reference to CW McCall, keep up the awesome work you do