Tell me again why I should trust “the science”…

June 18, 2021

Prominent scientist admits that info was withheld because it lent credence to Trump’s claims
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Yesterday, we posted: A scientist shreds Fauci’s “attacking me is attacking science” canard.

Today, let’s throw another log on that fire…

NBC News published a nice recap of the lab-leak controversy.

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So, what changed since since early 2020 when a gold standard scientific journals published a letter from 28 scientists dismissing the lab-leak hypothesis as “unfounded” and “debunked”?

The article points out that the was scant data to prove (or disprove) the lab-leak hypothesis at the time … and, given China’s stonewalling, there isn’t much more data now.

According to NBC interviews with virologists:

While public discussion of a potential lab leak has shifted significantly in recent months, as more people pay attention to a theory that was originally promulgated by former President Donald Trump and his followers, the scientific evidence has remained unchanged, according to interviews with five virologists who have experience in microbiology, infectious disease ecology and viral evolution.

So, what changed?

The politics.

The shift reflects how some scientists who previously avoided the topic or were quick to dismiss it are grappling with enduring uncertainties about the virus’s origin, free from the politicization that clouded such discussions during the Trump administration.

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Alina Chan was one of 18 scientists who published a letter in the journal Science last month calling for a more in-depth investigation into the virus’s origin.

She bluntly told NBC:

Chan said there had been trepidation among some scientists about publicly discussing the lab leak hypothesis for fear that their words could be misconstrued or used to support Trump fueled accusations that the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a research lab in the city where the first Covid-19 cases were reported, was connected to the outbreak.

Said differently, if Trump said it, it’s probably wrong … and, even if it’s true, it’s “noble” to withhold evidence and public support.

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Bottom line: “Science” may be be pure and worthy of being followed … but some “scientists” not so much.

That raises a dilemma: How to “follow the science” if scientists are distorting — either through omission or commission?

That question may linger long after covid is a distant memory.

A scientist shreds Fauci’s “attacking me is attacking science” canard…

June 17, 2021

The weekend WSJ published an interview with Filippa Lentzos — a social scientist who studies biological threats.

A  Scientist Who Said No to Covid Groupthink

According to the WSJ, Ms. Lentzos was early-on questioning the source of the coronavirus, and frustrated by the “premature enforced consensus” that was dismissive of the lab-leak possibility.

Lentzos asserts that she and her compatriots were inquisitive “not because we are conspiracy theorists  but because, as scientists, this is our profession.”

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Now Ms. Lentzos observes that the lab-leak scenario has gained traction … and, is emerging as a front-runner.

“As time goes on, there has been more and more circumstantial evidence for the lab-leak theory that’s come out, and less and less from the natural-spillover theory.”

Why did the realization take so long?

Lentzos says that “the most significant problem came from the scientific community.”

Some of the scientists in this area very quickly closed ranks.

American liberals — including many scientists — conflated open-mindedness about the question with support for Mr. Trump.

But, partisanship wasn’t their only motive.

“Like most things in life, there are power plays.

There are agendas that are part of the scientific community. Just like any other community, there are strong vested interests.

A lab mistake that killed millions would be bad for reputations.

Some researchers have taken part in gain-of-function research, which can make viruses deadlier or easier to transmit.

Who would permit, much less fund, such research if it proved so catastrophic?

There were people that did not talk about this, because they feared for their careers. They feared for their grants.”

So, The lab-leak theory began to be treated “like an attack on science, the sciences.

The teaching point…

Lentzos counsels against idealizing scientists and warns that “a scientific consensus isn’t always true … and peer review is sometimes peer pressure.”

Accordingly, she advises a constructive skepticism:

Sees science and scientific activity, and how the community works, not as an inner sacred sanctum that’s devoid of any conflicts of interests, or agendas … but seeing science as a social activity, where there are good players and bad players.

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My take:

Science and the scientific method are inherently good … but they are sometimes compromised by “bad actors”, including even well-intentioned scientists who fall victim to personal biases and agendas; shoddy work and false prophets; and ego-driven self-promotion.

So, Dr. Fauci, criticizing your behavior and performance is not an attack on science.

Period.

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P.S. The WSJ’s entire interview with Ms. Lentos is worth reading …  “A  Scientist Who Said No to Covid Groupthink

More re: college vaccine mandates … liability?

June 16, 2021

Northwestern student reportedly dies of heart failure after getting vaccinated.
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Yesterday morning, we explored the ethics of college vaccine mandates.

Then, yesterday afternoon, I caught a chilling, related story:

  • Northwestern is one of roughly 450 colleges requiring that students get vaccinated.
  • In compliance, 19 year old Simone Scott got vaccinated.
  • On May 16, two weeks after getting her 2nd vaccine dose, she suffered a case of apparent myocarditis-induced heart failure … a known but rare side effect of the vaccine.
  • Despite heroic medical efforts — including a heart transplant — Simone died on June 11.
  • Her doctors have not specified the vaccination as causal, but have provided no alternative explanation.

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My questions:

  1. Why hasn’t this story been widely reported?
  2. To what extent is Northwestern (and other colleges)  liable if they coerce students to get vaccinated … and the  students suffer severe, potentially fatal side effects.

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Regarding, the lack of media coverage, the answer is fairly obvious.

First, the story would certainly throw  some cold water on the current push to get everybody vaccinated.

Second, yesterday’s reporting was by Alex Berenson — a former NY Times reporter — with a history of challenging Facebook-approved covid orthodoxy in books and on a web site bannered “Unreported Truths”.

Said differently, the MSM brands him a conspiracy theorist — despite his data-rich, fact-based analyses.

My take: reading and listening to Berenson, he strikes me as a fairly balanced reporter who tells it like it is … and doesn’t tow either party’s line.

That said, I encourage everybody to read Berenson’s detailed account of Simone’s story … and draw your own conclusions.

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My take on the liability question …

For sure, colleges and universities are going to be subject to ethical challenges and  headline-quality lawsuits over liability in the albeit rare cases when vaccination side effects take a toll.

It’s easy to foresee things getting pretty messy … very fast.

And, it’s only a matter of time until “the issue” spreads to corporate vaccine mandates.

Are college vaccine mandates ethical?

June 15, 2021

That’s a question posed in a WSJ opinion piece by a medical ethics prof and a lawyer…

The essence of their argument:

The central canon of medical ethics  is the free and informed consent of the research subject.

The current trio of vaccines are operating under emergency use authorizations, not full approval.

Courts have ruled that, in such situations, group members cannot be coerced into “serving as guinea pigs for experimental drugs”.

Never before have colleges insisted that students or employees receive an experimental vaccine as a condition of attendance or employment.

I think the authors make a compelling case … and, they deftly handle the usual counter-arguments.

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But, elementary schools require pediatric vaccinations.

True, but those vaccines are fully approved for use (i.e. not experimental) … and justified as directly protecting the recipient students from infection and significant health risks.

But, data consistently shows that “for those under 30, the risks of serious morbidity and mortality are close to zero … and. that the vaccines pose “an excess risk for heart inflammation”

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But, vaccinating college students protects against transmission to potentially vulnerable groups, both directly and by building herd immunity.

A person may freely choose to accept medical risks for the benefit of others, as when one donates a kidney for transplant.

Those who make such sacrifices for others must truly be volunteers, not conscripts drafted by college administrators.

==============

But, faculty and staff will resist resuming classes unless they feel safer.

Yeah, but they have the opportunity to protect themselves by  getting vaccinated.

The burden need not be shifted to students … especially those who are low risk, especially if they are covid survivors with natural immunity.

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The entire WSJ article is worth reading:
College students aren’t guinea pigs.

Joe says: “What inflation?”

June 14, 2021

The government reported CPI went up 5% in May.

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Source: WaPo

Though Biden and his team of free-spenders are sanguine, ordinary folks are starting to notice.

Let’s look at a couple of benchmarks…

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Gasoline

Key consumer benchmark: gasoline prices … they’re up a whopping 47% in the past year.

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Housing

Zillow says that the price of a typical mid-tier existing home is up 13.2% over the past year … and is projected to go up another 14% this year … for a combined impact of almost 30%.

The price of new homes is skyrocketing …  in part, because of the almost quadrupling of lumber prices.

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According to CNBC the surge in lumber prices in the past year has added $35,872 to the price of an average new single-family home … which translates to about $15 per square foot … just for lumber!

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Food

The measured CPI for food rose “only” 2.2% in the government calculation.

Many (most?) consumers scoff at the 2.2% number … and benchmark their high volume staples (e.g milk, diapers) or personal favorites.

For example, a Homa family benchmark is the price of an Arby roast beef sandwich.

Not that long ago, Arby would regularly promote the sandwiches at 5 for $5.

Earlier this year, Arby’s went to 5 for $10.

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Now, my price scouts report that an Arby’s roast beef sandwich regularly costs $4 …and the special is 2 for $6  … at $3 a sandwich, that’s up 50% from earlier this year, and triple the price from the good old days.

Ouch.

This inflation thing is getting personal….

“Pandemics naturally thrive most in big cities”

June 11, 2021

So, don’t paint suburban and rural locales with the same herd immunity paintbrush.
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In a post earlier this week post, we concluded:

Covid transmissibility is, in the final analysis, a local dynamic.

So, a national vaccination rate may be an interesting barometer, but it’s not determining.

Said differently, some communities will likely reach the herd immunity threshold, even if the entire United States does not. Source

Specifically, viral spread in dense urban areas has little relevance to sparsely populated rural areas.

To provide some added context to that last point, let’s flashback to one of our early-on covid posts …

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Originally posted April 6, 2020

Previously, we recapped the IHME Murray Model — the coronavirus forecasting model that was foundational to the Coronavirus Task Force’s thinking.

The model’s developers make clear that the model does not consider either population density, household size or the utilization of public mass transit.

In other words, it doesn’t consider the effect of urbanization.

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I expect that the model will be refined to consider the urbanization variable since Dr. Birx keeps saying “we’ll be drilling down to the county level” …  and since some pandemic historians note that pandemics naturally thrive most in big cities.

Here’s what they’re talking about…

Read the rest of this entry »

Cleveland Clinic: “Natural immunity” is for real…

June 10, 2021

A hopeful sign for herd immunity
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In yesterday’s post, we observed:

The political-scientists still refuse to acknowledge that the vast majority of covid survivors have developed protective antibodies.

The implication: The percentage of the population that has some degree of covid protection is higher than the current 64% of 1st-shot adults … probably way higher.

And, we cited Hopkins’ Dr. Marty Makary (who is right way more often than, say, Fauci):

More than 64% have received at least one vaccine dose and, of those who haven’t, roughly half have natural immunity from prior infection.

So, some 80% to 85% of American adults are immune to the virus.

Some in “the science community” may be skeptical.

But, right on cue, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic have reported out results from study that cuts to the chase.

Specifically, the researchers tracked 52,238  of Cleveland Clinic employees, recording their infection and vaccination status over a 5 month period.

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And, the data says…

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> 2,579 (5% of the 52,238 total sample) had been infected with covid

> 28,102 (54% of the 52,238 total sample) got vaccinated (2-shots of Moderna)

> Less than 1% of the employees who were vaccinated subsequently caught covid

Note: The report stated “There was a “steady increase in cumulative incidence among previously uninfected subjects who remained unvaccinated” … but didn’t provide a specific number.

The infection rate in the vaxed group was in line with prior effectiveness results … in fact. better than previously reported from clinical studies.

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Here’s the big news…

> 1,359 of the Cleveland Clinic employees had a previously confirmed COVID infection but did not get vaccinated .

> NONE of these unvaxed covid survivors got infected with covid during the study period

To say the least, that’s statistically significant!

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The implications:

> The effectiveness of the Moderna vaccine was confirmed (at a higher level)

> At least in this large scale study, covid survivors appear to be protected (at least over the short-term) whether or not they get vaccinated.

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In other words, the Cleveland Clinic study seems to lend credence to Dr. Markary’s conclusion:

More than 64% have received at least one vaccine dose and, of those who haven’t, roughly half have natural immunity from prior infection.

So, some 80% to 85% of American adults are immune to the virus.

If we’re not at herd immunity levels, we’re pretty darn close!

Don’t fret if Biden’s 70% goal isn’t reached…

June 9, 2021

Life is heading back to normal regardless.
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Biden-Fauci promised that we could have small family BBQs on July 4 if 70% of adults get at least their 1st shot of a vaccine.

It’s looking like we’ll fall short of Biden’s goal.

But, not to worry.

If you’ve been out recently, you’ve probably noticed that many (most?) folks don’t care what Biden & Fauci have to say any more.

Americans are responsibly easing back into life and guess what: case counts are dropping and covid deaths are dropping (albeit, slowly).

That’s an entirely rational approach since…

> There’s no magic number re: herd immunity or its close cousin: adult vaccinations.

There’s no specific herd immunity threshold.

Best evidence is Fauci’s constant rising of the herd immunity requirement from 60% to 70% to 80% to 85% to whatever he’s pitching on MSNBC today.

Said differently, there’s no covid  on-off switch set at 70% vaccinations.

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And, vaccination rates are only part of the story…

> The political-scientists still refuse to acknowledge that the vast majority of covid survivors have developed protective antibodies.

Some number of unvaccinated people fall into that category.

The implication: Some 80% to 85% of American adults are immune to the virus: More than 64% have received at least one vaccine dose and, of those who haven’t, roughly half have natural immunity from prior infection. Source

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> Transmissibility is not fixed: It can vary based on a population’s behavior, demographics and health.

We’ve seen this in action with Covid-19, which has spread far more quickly in some populations, as a result of differences in disease-mitigation efforts, housing density, age, occupations and both community and individual  health conditions.   Source

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> More specifically, transmissibility is, in the final analysis, a local dynamic.

A national vaccination rate may be an interesting barometer, but it’s not determining.

Said differently, some communities will likely reach the herd immunity threshold, even if the entire United States does not. Source

Conditions in New York and New Jersey have little impact on, say, Wyoming.

Viral spread in dense urban areas has little relevance to sparsely populated rural areas.

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The bottom line: Don’t fret over Biden & Fauci’s faux thresholds.

Pay attention to conditions in your local community.

If the number of hospitalizations and covid deaths keep declining … then get on with getting on.

DISCLAIMER: I’m neither a medical professional nor a scientist — just a curious, self-interested guy.  So, don’t take anything that I say or write as medical advice. Get that from your doctor!

Why are so many old people still dying of covid?

June 8, 2021

With an 86% vaccination rate, shouldn’t fatalities be closer to zero?
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I still think that the covid death rate, while itself a bit fuzzy, is still the cleanest covid severity metric.

So, I’m trying to understand why covid death rates — which have dropped  from pandemic highs  — are stubbornly hovering near 600 per day.

image

Who’s dying?

One might expect them to be relatively young and unvaccinated.

Certainly not vax-prioritized seniors, right?

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Let’s look at some data…

The CDC doesn’t report the demographics of daily new covid deaths … or, at least, I can’t find it.

So, I’ve tried to decompose the cumulative data that is reported…

Below is data for February 2021 (about 6 weeks into the vax rollout) and May 2021 (the most current) … and, calculated data for the period between those 2 dates.

image

Cumulatively since the start of the pandemic, the 65 & over cohort accounted for around 80% of covid-related fatalities.

OK, that’s not new news.

Most notably, the senior cohort has still been accounting for a 75% share of covid deaths over the past couple of months.

Said bluntly, the vast majority of covid deaths are still among those 65 & over.

What’s going on?

Are all of these deaths are coming from the 14% of seniors (roughly 8 million) who haven’t been vaccinated?

Or, are the vaccines’ effectiveness rates being overstated — and not preventing  90% of fatalities, as promised?

Hmm.

Something just doesn’t smell right…

================

I wish the CDC, et. al,, would start reporting more meaningful data.

Case in point: I’d like to see daily covid deaths broken down by age (seniors young adults, teens, kids) … and by their vaccination status.

But, as usual, I won’t hold my breath.

If you can’t trust your barber, who can you trust?

June 7, 2021

So much for following the science …
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Welp, it looks like Biden’s goal of 70% adults getting 1st shots by July 4 isn’t the slam dunk that it initially seemed.

See Biden sets another low bar vaccination goal

With about a month to go, almost 12 million adults over 18 still have to get 1st shots to hit the target.

That works out to about 500,000 first shots per day … roughly the recent 7-day moving average of 1st shots … a number that has been declining and is being buoyed by teenagers (who don’t count against Biden’s target).

image

Recognizing that the goal is in jeopardy, Team Biden has thrown its weight behind a new program.

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Last week, Biden announced “Shots at the Shop” an initiative bringing together 1,000 Black-owned barbershops and beauty salons across the nation to serve as vaccination locations … leveraging the trust and significance they have in Black communities. Source

OK, I understand the need to deliver healthcare to underserved communities … and to use credible messengers.

But, this program raises some obvious questions…

(1) Do we really want barbers and hair stylists to be dishing out medical advice?

They’re probably as spot-on as, say, Dr. Fauci … but still, is that a precedent that Biden wants to establish?

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(2) Is it a good idea to have groups of unvaccinated people converging on barbershops to seek counsel … and maybe get vaccinated?

Program proponents say: “You don’t have to be tethered to a hospital”

Hmm.

I don’t know about your’s, but my barbershop is small-spaced, indoors and not-to-be confused with a sterile operating room.

Bluntly, I avoided my barbershop like the plague during covid until I got fully vaccinated.

If I knew that it was a hang-out for the unvaxed, I would have continued my avoidance.

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(3) When did the vaccines suddenly become easy to store, easy to prepare and easy to administer?

Up to now, we’ve been told that (a) the vaccines need to be kept frozen at sub-zero temperatures (b) need a couple of hours of medically precise preparation (c) must be administered within a few hours after being thawed.

I started to wonder how it was possible for small, low volume retail pharmacies to to handle the constraints.

A medically-attuned friend advised me that (a) shipment batch sizes were reduced from about 1,000 doses to about 100. (b) some pharmacies already have deep freezers … others can get them for about $2,500 each (probably with some gov’t subsidies offsetting that amount) (c) pharmacists are well-able to safely perform the thaw and shoot process.

That’s pharmacies (and pharmacists), but it still begs the question …

Barbershops and barbers?

Excuse my skepticism, but this program just doesn’t sound very scientific to me.

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P.S. Some of the above vaccine storage & prep constraints are less limiting with the up-to-now problematic J&J vaccine.

But, that opens a bigger can of worms that we’ll address in a future post.…

WaPo: Biden’s goal of 70% by July 4 looks out of reach …

June 7, 2021

…. as the pace of shots slows drastically.
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Not my words, straight from the Washington Post  … here’s the data … 11.5 million shots needed in 28 days … below current running rate.,

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COVID origins: Vanity Fair “smashes the scientific consensus to smithereens”…

June 4, 2021

… by following the money, outing bureaucratic infighting and connecting the dots.
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Yesterday, Vanity Fair — hardly a right-wing, conspiracy-minde rag — published a “must read “ article:

The Lab-Leak Theory: Inside the Fight to Uncover COVID-19’s Origins

The article is relatively balanced politically (including the obligatory swipes at Trump), thoroughly sourced (with names) and documented (with links), very logical and well argued.

Note: The article is long and very detailed.  If you want a quick read (or are pay-walled by Vanity Fair, here’s a PDF version (complete with my highlighting).

VF’s overall conclusion:

Throughout 2020, the notion that the novel coronavirus leaked from a lab was off-limits.

Those who dared to push for transparency say toxic politics and hidden agendas kept them in the dark.

Specifically, VF builds the case supporting the lab-leak theory of covid’s origin … and reports how China “doves” within the government and self-interested, grant-funded scientists tried to shut-down consideration of a possible lab-leak explanation.

Here are some highlights…

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Hostility to “open inquiry”

> National security and public health experts and officials across a range of departments in the executive branch were locked in high-stakes battles over what could and couldn’t be investigated and made public.

> Investigators inside the U.S. government  were operating in an environment that was politicized and hostile to open inquiry.

> Investigators were told “not to pursue an investigation into the origin of COVID-19” because it would “‘open a can of worms’ if it continued.”

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A “conflicted” scientific community

> Conflicts of interest, stemming in part from large government grants supporting controversial virology research, hampered the U.S. investigation into COVID-19’s origin at every step.

> Many leading scientists had either received or approved funding for gain-of-function research. Their conflicted status played a profound role in muddying the waters and contaminating the shot at having an impartial inquiry.”

> If the pandemic started as part of a lab leak, it had the potential to do to virology what Three Mile Island and Chernobyl did to nuclear science. It could mire the field indefinitely in moratoriums and funding restrictions.

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A gain-of-function bureaucracy

> Investigators were told not to say anything that would point to the U.S. government’s own role in gain-of-function research … because that would make clear that “there is a huge gain-of-function bureaucracy” inside the federal government.

> In one State Department meeting, officials were explicitly told by colleagues not to explore the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s gain-of-function research, because it would bring unwelcome attention to U.S. government funding of it.

> Inside the NIH, which funded such research, the P3CO approval  framework was largely met with shrugs and eye rolls.

If you ban gain-of-function research, you ban all of virology.

Ever since the moratorium , everyone’s gone wink-wink and just done gain-of-function research anyway.

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About the Chinese military…

> On January 15, five days before President Joe Biden’s swearing in, the State Department released a fact sheet about activity at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, disclosing that:

  • Researchers there had collaborated on secret projects with China’s military and “engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017.”

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Oh my…

Again, the entire article is worth reading for details and context.

Original online article   Highlighted PDF

See also: Fauci: “Doing gain-of-function research was worth the risk of a pandemic.”

Fauci: “Doing gain-of-function research was worth the risk of a pandemic.”

June 3, 2021

Rhetorical question: Why isn’t this getting more media coverage?
============

According to The Weekend Australian (channeled thru Townhall)….

In October 2012, Dr. Anthony Fauci wrote   in the Journal of the  American Society for Microbiology  that “continuing gain-of-function research (on coronaviruses) is worth the risk of a pandemic”.

Say, what?

==============

To put the quote in context…

> Gain-of-function (GOF) research modifies viruses to make them more transmissible and more dangerous (i.e. lethal) to humans.

> Ostensibly, the research is (was) done to understand how the mutations can occur … and to fast-start development of preventive therapeutics and specific antidotes should they occur.

> Prior to 2014, GOF research was conducted in the U.S. in both military and private (e.g. university) laboratories.

> At the time, there were broadening ethical concerns that such research could be weaponized … and posed a public health risk (i.e. accidental release of the virus)

> In 2014, President Obama — nudged by  a handful of reported laboratory “accidents” — issued an executive order banning GOF research in the U.S. and the funding of such research.

> But, of course, Obama’s EO had no force to stop GOF research outside the U.S., say, in China.

=================

OK, that sets the stage…

Again, Fauci is on record as a proponent of GOF research:

In an unlikely but conceivable turn of events, what if that scientist becomes infected with the virus, which leads to an outbreak and ultimately triggers a pandemic?

Many ask reasonable questions: given the possibility of such a scenario – however remote – should the initial experiments have been performed and/or published in the first place, and what were the processes involved in this decision?

Scientists working in this field might say – as indeed I have said – that the benefits of such experiments and the resulting knowledge outweigh the risks.  Source

That was in 2012

In 2014, Obama issued his EO banning U.S. involvement in GOF research.

==============

Subsequent to the 2014 EO, the NIH (i.e. Fauci) continued to fund internationally-based scientific research.

No problem with that, except …

Despite Fauci’s initial denials and obfuscations, it is becoming increasing evidentially apparent that some of the Fauci-approved NIH grants made their way to the Wuhan labs and — given the fungibility of research grants — likely supported their GOF research.

To be fair: (1) The potentially problematic Wuhan grant amounts were small — reported to be under $1 million (2) the grants were funneled through an intermediary not-for-profit (the EcoHealth Alliance), and (3) arguably, there were implied restrictions on the grants’ usage and a presumption that grantees would operate in compliance.

Nonetheless, (1) the grants were made under Fauci’s signature, (2)  they were channeled to Wuhan and (3) Wuhan was doing GOF research.

Said differently, Fauci has deep self-interest in positioning the pandemic’s source as a “natural evolutionary species-jump (from bats)” … and pooh-poohing the possibility that the source was a predictable lab-leak (with his fingerprints on it).

Otherwise, Fauci and the NIH have complicity in triggering the coronavirus.

Hmm.

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So, the question that I’d like somebody to ask:

“Dr. Fauci, given a covid fatality rate of more than a million deaths globally — and over  600,000 deaths in the U.S. — do you stand by your 2012 position that gain-of-function research on coronaviruses was  worth the risk of a pandemic?”

My hunch: His views have “evolved”…

June 3: COVID Dashboard

June 3, 2021

Now that the Memorial Day holiday is in the books and data reporting seems to have caught up…

> Daily confirmed case counts below 20,000; deaths still hovering around 600 per day.

Implication: The CFR (case fatality rate) has soared to around 4% (chart below) … why?

> Vaccination rate still falling despite … and that number is buoyed by teenage vaccinations (now over 6 million)

Note: about 13 million adults over 18 need to get 1st shots to hit Biden’s target of 70% by July 4

image

image

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Fauci: “Doing gain-of-function research was worth the risk of a pandemic.”

June 1, 2021

Rhetorical question: Why isn’t this getting more media coverage?
============

According to The Weekend Australian (channeled thru Townhall)….

In October 2012, Dr. Anthony Fauci wrote   in the Journal of the  American Society for Microbiology  that “continuing gain-of-function research (on coronaviruses) is worth the risk of a pandemic”.

Say, what?

==============

To put the quote in context…

> Gain-of-function (GOF) research modifies viruses to make them more transmissible and more dangerous (i.e. lethal) to humans.

> Ostensibly, the research is (was) done to understand how the mutations can occur … and to fast-start development of preventive therapeutics and specific antidotes should they occur.

> Prior to 2014, GOF research was conducted in the U.S. in both military and private (e.g. university) laboratories.

> At the time, there were broadening ethical concerns that such research could be weaponized … and posed a public health risk (i.e. accidental release of the virus)

> In 2014, President Obama — nudged by  a handful of reported laboratory “accidents” — issued an executive order banning GOF research in the U.S. and the funding of such research.

> But, of course, Obama’s EO had no force to stop GOF research outside the U.S., say, in China.

=================

OK, that sets the stage…

Again, Fauci is on record as a proponent of GOF research:

In an unlikely but conceivable turn of events, what if that scientist becomes infected with the virus, which leads to an outbreak and ultimately triggers a pandemic?

Many ask reasonable questions: given the possibility of such a scenario – however remote – should the initial experiments have been performed and/or published in the first place, and what were the processes involved in this decision?

Scientists working in this field might say – as indeed I have said – that the benefits of such experiments and the resulting knowledge outweigh the risks.  Source

That was in 2012

In 2014, Obama issued his EO banning U.S. involvement in GOF research.

==============

Subsequent to the 2014 EO, the NIH (i.e. Fauci) continued to fund internationally-based scientific research.

No problem with that, except …

Despite Fauci’s initial denials and obfuscations, it is becoming increasing evidentially apparent that some of the Fauci-approved NIH grants made their way to the Wuhan labs and — given the fungibility of research grants — likely supported their GOF research.

To be fair: (1) The potentially problematic Wuhan grant amounts were small — reported to be under $1 million (2) the grants were funneled through an intermediary not-for-profit (the EcoHealth Alliance), and (3) arguably, there were implied restrictions on the grants’ usage and a presumption that grantees would operate in compliance.

Nonetheless, (1) the grants were made under Fauci’s signature, (2)  they were channeled to Wuhan and (3) Wuhan was doing GOF research.

Said differently, Fauci has deep self-interest in positioning the pandemic’s source as a “natural evolutionary species-jump (from bats)” … and pooh-poohing the possibility that the source was a predictable lab-leak (with his fingerprints on it).

Otherwise, Fauci and the NIH have complicity in triggering the coronavirus.

Hmm.

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So, the question that I’d like somebody to ask:

“Dr. Fauci, given a covid fatality rate of more than a million deaths globally — and over  600,000 deaths in the U.S. — do you stand by your 2012 position that gain-of-function research on coronaviruses was  worth the risk of a pandemic?”

My hunch: His views have “evolved”…

On this Memorial Day …

May 30, 2021

 Remember all who gave their lives on our behalf
   … and thank those who are serving us now. 

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May 29: COVID Dashboard

May 29, 2021

> Slight uptick in covid deaths

> Almost 1 in 4 teens 1st shot vaccinated

> Over 18 vaccinations still slowing

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So, why are covid death rates higher in some states?

May 28, 2021

A common hypothesis is that there’s a strong correlation between death rates and the percentage of a state’s population that that is vaccinated.

The hypothesis seems reasonable, so I decided to to test it…

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Below is a scatter chart of the 50 states … on the horizontal axis is the current vaccination rate (% of residents 18 and over who have received at least 1 shot) on the vertical axis is the past month’s covid death rate (deaths per million residents).

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To the naked eye, the chart is more buckshot than correlation.

Arguably, there’s a slight positive relationship … with emphasis on “slight” since the R-squared is a mere .0325 … which is, for all practical purposes, not statistically different from zero.

Let’s dig a little deeper…

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Below is a matrix that puts names names on the above dots.

The rows are vaccination rates — over 60% at the top (good), under 40% at the bottom (bad).

The columns are the  past month’s covid death rates — left is under 40 deaths per million (good), right is over 0 deaths per million (bad).

So, for example, the states in the blue quadrant have high vaccination rates and low death rates.

The states in the red quadrant have low vaccination rates and high death rates.

Those are to be expected.

But, there are a lot of states in the orange (high death rates despite high vax rates) and yellow quadrants (low death rates despite low vax rates)

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click for a full-size, printable PDF

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Let’s look at the top rows … the states that have vaccinated the highest percentages of their residents.

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A couple of observations:

> Nearly all of the states in the top 2 rows (high vaccination rates) are Northern Blue  states … most with dense metro population centers.

> A majority of these high vaccination rate states still have high death rates … and, in aggregate, these states account for a disproportionate share of current covid deaths.

See Nums: 10 states account for 2/3′;s of covid deaths

> Most of the current high death rate states have had high death rates from the get-go … vaccinations  may have cut the death rate from previously high levels, but the states are still challenged.

> Two states — Massachusetts & California — have currently low death rates substantially below their pre-vax levels … likely attributable to vaccinations, but there may be other factors in play.

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What about the bottom rows – the low vaccination rate states?

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> Generally, states with low vax rates are Red states with dispersed populations … more rural … with many in sunnier Southern climates.

> Michigan and Wisconsin are outliers to the general rule … Michigan is particularly interesting since it has been one of the most locked down, masked states … yet, the state has a relatively low vax rate (which their wacky gov has laid off against supply constraints) … and still has a sky high death rate.

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Bottom line: Covid death rates are a lot more complicated than simply tying them to vaccination rates.

Are the most vulnerable being vaccinated? What other factors are in play?

We’ll keep thinking about it … your thoughts?

Currently, which states have the highest (and lowest) covid death rates?

May 27, 2021

Cumulative death rates — since the beginning of the pandemic — are largely irrelevant.

What matters now is recent covid activity!

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Yesterday, we pointed out that, in total, there were just under 22,000 covid deaths in the US over the past month.

Disaggregating that number…

10 states — which house about 1/2 of the US population — accounted for about 2/3’s of the total covid deaths in the past month.

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The high death counts are not just a matter of states’ big populations.

The death rate in Top 10 states is running about 20% higher than the national average … and is about 50% higher  than in the other 40 states (79.7 deaths per million  versus 51.4).

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Today, let’s dig a little deeper on the state death rates over the past month….

Michigan — which tops the above Top 10 list — had more than triple the national average rate of covid deaths over the past month (215 deaths per million versus  to 67).

Pennsylvania and New Jersey follow with more than 100 deaths per million in the past month.

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Re-sorting the data, below are the 10 states with the highest death rates over the past month.

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3 states that are in the Top 10 for number of deaths aren’t in the Top 10 for death rates: California, Texas and Ohio … suggesting that their high death counts are largely population driven

7 states (highlighted in light red above) are in the Top 10 for number of deaths and the Top 10 for death rates… suggesting that high death rates are a major contributor to their high fatality counts.

3 states that didn’t make the Top 10 for death counts, do make the Top 10 in death rates: Hawaii, Kentucky and Maryland … raising obvious concern.

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Flipping the data, here are the states that have had the lowest death rate over the past month:

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Note that these low death states are relatively small,  geographically diverse and politically skewed (8 Red, 4 Blue).

Note: West Virginia made a significant downward adjustment to its reported  fatalities and is excluded in this ranking.

Click here for a list of all stats’ data

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OK, enough for the descriptive data…

What’s going on with the recent death rates?

A popular hypothesis is that states with high vaccination rates have have low death rates  … and vice versa.

Spoiler alert: It’s not vaccination rates.

Stay tuned … we’ll dig into the Vaccination – death rate relationship tomorrow.

May 27: COVID Dashboard

May 27, 2021

> 1st vax shots drop to 700,000 / day

> Deaths hovering between 500 and 600 per day

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Nums: 10 states account for 2/3’s of the past month’s covid deaths…

May 26, 2021

I’ve been digging into the surprisingly slow decline in the daily covid rates.

Let’s start with some state-by-state data…

Relevant time series data is hard to find, but I was able to find month ago cumulative covid deaths by state that I could match against current cumulative totals to calculate the number of deaths in the past month.

And, the answer is…

In total, there were just under 22,000 covid deaths in the US over the past month.

Data check: That’s about 750 deaths per day

10 states — which house about 1/2 of the US population — accounted for about 2/3’s of the total covid deaths in the past month.

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Of course, the death count is a function of states’ population and their death rate (usually reported per million residents).

So, highly populated states  states are heavily represented in the Top 10, e.g. Florida, California, Texas and New York.

But, it’s not just a matter of population.

The death rate in Top 10 states is running about 20% higher than the national average … and is about 50% higher  than in the other 40 states (79.7 deaths per million  versus 51.4).

A couple of the Top 10 states had death rates that were below the national average: California, Texas and Ohio.

So, their presence on the Top 10 list can be mostly attributable to population.

Conversely, a couple of Top 10 states are still on fire…

Leading the pack: Heavily locked-down Michigan — which tops the Top 10 list — had more than triple the national average of covid deaths over the past month (215 deaths per million versus  to 67).

Pennsylvania and New Jersey each had more than 100 deaths per million in the past month.

Hmmm.

So, what explains the variance in death rates across states?

Spoiler alert: It’s not vaccination rates.

Stay tuned … more to come.

May 26: COVID Dashboard

May 26, 2021

> Vaccination rate slowing after initial teenage surge

> Death rate continues slow decline

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Shocker: Mask policies fraying teacher-student relationships…

May 25, 2021

Shoulda seen this coming, right?
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Predictably, these incidents have started spreading like wildfire: teachers being called out for bullying, hypocrisy and irrationality.

The first incident that caught my eye:

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Source: DailyMail.com

The name-calling is unacceptable … and the teachers premise “I don’t want to get sick and die” is laughable.

“The science” has said all along that kids have a low risk of catching and transmitting covid.

Vaccinated kids pose zero risk — with or without.

On the other hand, obesity is very high covid risk factor.

BMI Categories
Underweight = <18.5
Normal weight = 18.5–24.9
Overweight = 25–29.9
Obese = greater than 30

The kid showed restraint by not pointing out that — if the teacher was really concerned about her health — she might accept some personal responsibility for her well being and  speed dial Jenny Craig.

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Calculate your BMI here

 

May 25: COVID Dashboard

May 25, 2021

> Death rate continuing slow decline

> Initial surge of teen vaccinations waning

> Vaccine stockpile growing … over 80 million doses

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May 23: COVID Dashboard

May 24, 2021

> Approx. 1 in 5 teens have been vaccinated

> Cases declining faster than deaths 9which are still hovering slightly under 600 per day)

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Yep, the candy bar is getting smaller … it’s inflation’s evil twin: “shrinkflation”

May 21, 2021

Many companies masking inflation by holding prices … but shrinking products
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I used to remind students that there are two ways to increase prices: (1) you can just increase nominal price (i.e. “sticker price”) or (2) you can hold price constant and offer less product (i.e. increase the “unit price”).

For example, assume that a 5 oz. candy bar sells for $1 … that’s 20 cents per oz.

Shrink the bar to 4.5 ounces, hold the price per bar at $1 and it’s 22 cents per oz.

Presto … an 11% “effective” price increase … with customers probably none the wiser … and the Feds reporting: “inflation in check”.

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You’ve probably noticed that gasoline and lumber prices have been soaring.

A gallon is a gallon … and an 8” board is an 8” board.

So,  those products show up clearly as inflation.

But, many companies can mask their price increases by shrinking their products by less than a “just noticeable difference”.

For example. Red Flag Deals reports that Costco has cut the size of its private label paper towels from 160 sheets to 140 sheets.

No harm, no foul, right?

Wrong.

That’s a 12.5% reduction in quantity and a 14.3% price increase

Assume that a roll is priced at $5 before and after the size change. The effective price before the size reduction was 3.125 cents per sheet … after, it’s 3.571 cents per sheet … that’s equivalent to a 14.3% price increase.

And, it’s not just Costco.

One price tracking site has noticed that the following products are among those that did the same in 2020:

  • Powerade (Was: 32 oz.; Now: 28 oz.)
  • Lay’s Potato Chips, party bag (Was: 15.25 oz.; Now: 13 oz.)
  • Nutella (Was: 14.1 oz.; Now: 12.3 oz.)
  • Puffs tissue (Was: 56 count; Now: 48 count)
  • Dawn dish soap, small (Was: 8 oz.; Now: 7 oz.)
  • Hillshire Farms Kielbasa (Was: 16 oz.; Then: 15 oz.; Now: 14 oz.)
  • Nathan’s Hot Dogs: (Was: 16 count; Now: 14 count)
  • Keebler Club Crackers (Was: 13.7 oz.; Now: 12.5 oz.)
  • Charmin Ultra Strong toilet paper (Was 286 sheets; Now: 264 sheets)
  • Hershey’s kisses, family size (Was: 18 oz.; Now: 16 oz.)

As they say in marketing circles (and sometimes in court) … caveat emptor!

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For more examples (pre-2020), see the list below…

Read the rest of this entry »

May 21: COVID Dashboard

May 21, 2021

> Slim majority of 18 to 65 year olds vaccinated … pivotal demographic!

> 4 million teens (16%) have been vaccinated … not exactly a groundswell given vax availability

> Death toll still hovering around 600 per day … why not a faster decline?

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NY Times: “Joe works tirelessly with an obsession for details … say, what?

May 20, 2021

Methinks the “old gray lady” doth protesth too much…
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OK, so Pres. Biden speaks in a creepy monotone as he squints from at a staff-loaded teleprompter … and steps in “it” when he “disobeys orders” and swings extemporaneously on soft-ball questions from his fawning media.

Not to worry.

Last week, the New York Times reported that “Beneath Joe Biden’s Folksy Demeanor, a Short Fuse and an Obsession With Details”.

The Times concludes that quick decision-making is just not Biden’s style … and, that’s a welcome relief from Trump’s “shoot first” style.

The Times concedes that “Biden’s method of governing can feel at odds with the urgency of a country still reeling from a pandemic and an economy struggling to recover.”

It’s not that he’s not willing & able to make decisions, it’s because he’s a deep thinker who has to feel comfortable with the details before reaching a decision that he’s comfortable pitching to the public in a finely honed teleprompter statement.

More specifically, “dozens” of current and former Biden associates told the Times:

  • The President’s mantra is ‘You can never give me too much detail.”
  • Advisers are “peppered with sometimes obscure questions, going beyond vague talking points.”
  • Biden sometimes loses sight of the bigger picture.
  • When frustrated with answers, he is prone to outbursts of frustration, often laced with profanity (but, of course, he “never erupts into fits of rage the way Trump did”).
  • He demands hours of debate from scores of policy experts.
  • He often takes days or weeks to make up his mind as he examines and second-guesses himself and others.
  • He needs time to process the material so that he feels comfortable selling it to the public.
  • He checkpoints decisions against campaign promises.
  • Biden stays in regular contact with a couple of historians: “four white men who are the ones the president goes to for a final gut-check before making a decision.”
  • He often calls aides as late as 10:30 or 11 p.m. as he gets ready for the next day’s speeches.
  • Aides say it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work to prepare him to project his assured demeanor.

To illustrate Biden’s style, aides throw DHS Secretary Xavier Becerra under the bus, leaking:

Some advisers who are new to Mr. Biden’s orbit have been on the receiving end of his anger in recent weeks.

During a meeting on March 30 in the Oval Office, the president lashed out at Xavier Becerra, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, for failing to have answers to his questions about the agency’s ability to take care of migrant children, according to two people familiar with the exchange.

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OK, so what’s the message that the Times is trying to convey?

> Biden is in charge, he’s the decision-maker … not Staff Chief Klain … nor Kamala … nor Susan Rice … nor Barack Obama.

> He is deep into the details of multiple complex issues … inclusive of alternative points-of-view

> He operates at game-speed … long hours in the White House, late night calls to aides.

> His “no drama” presentation style reflects his confidence and self-assurance.

> He obsesses over keeping his campaign promises (save for that part about being a bipartisan moderate.)

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My take: Nice try by the Times to conjure an Ox-like alternative universe … but, c’mon, man!

May 20: COVID Dashboard

May 20, 2021
  • Cases (& testing) declining
  • Deaths hovering around 600 per day
  • Daily 1st vax shots under 1 million
  • Unused vax stockpile accumulating

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Countering cyber-terrorism with equity math … say, what?

May 19, 2021

I’m still scratching my head over Team Biden’s public response to the Colonial Pipeline hack & shut-down.

Let me count the ways:

1. Biden: “The Russian government (i.e. the iron-fisted Putin) had no knowledge and no involvement.”

My take: Biden was probably confusing Putin with Sergeant “I See Nothing”  Schultz (from Hogan’s Heroes).

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2. Biden, when asked if he approved the policy-busting ransom payment to terrorists: “No comment”.

My take: If you think that paying people to not work doesn’t disincentivize job-seeking, then it logically follows that paying ransom to terrorists does not incentivize terrorist acts.

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3. Energy Secretary Granholm: “This is another good  reason to drive electric cars.”

My take: Does she have any idea where and how the electricity that fuels electric vehicles is produced?

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4. Biden when asked how U.S. will counter cyberterrorism: “More education”.

Let’s go into some detail on this one…

The first 3 are patently incredible on their obvious merits (demerits?).

The last, an off-the-cuff statement is another example of why Biden’s handlers don’t want him to answer questions.

For sure, U.S. needs more American students studying technical STEM subjects.

But, that’s, at best, a long-run fix that won’t provide much near-term protection.

Even then, there is a grand irony that Biden is casually promoting technical education at the same time that he’s supporting (or at least, not opposing) the “equity mathematics” movement that is advocating:

> The end of racially-toxic right answers and “dictated” solution methods … to be replaced by  free-form methods, approximate answers and “nice tries”.

> The elimination of advanced mathematics in high school …  to mitigate cultural disadvantage and keep all students at the same terminal level of proficiency.

With some American educators seriously considering those misdirections, I doubt that more education will counter the cyberterrorism threat either short- or long-run.

How many cyberterrorists do you think are rushing to enroll in equity-math courses?

If your answer is greater than zero, then I’m betting the under.

I’m all for mask freedom, but gotta ask…

May 18, 2021

What’s up with the covid cases and deaths data?
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To be crystal clear: I’m thrilled that the mask mandate has been ditched … and, I’m supremely confident that it’s not coming back.

But, I’m puzzled by “the data” that “the science” followed to make last weeks surprise mask announcement.

So, let’s drill down …

Below is our standard chart of cases & deaths — indexed to November 1st ( just to keep the series plotted on a common chart).

Unpacking the numbers, covid-related deaths peaked at about 2,000 per day in January … and have ranged around 650 for the past 6 weeks or so.

For reference, a high flu season averages about 500 deaths per day during the roughly 4 month flu season.

My take: We shouldn’t declare victory against covid until the death rate drops below 500, for sure or, more conservatively, below 250.

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I’ve longed argued that the daily death count is the purest metric of covid severity.

That said, let’s look at the case numbers that Biden , Fauci and Wolensky like to point to.

Note that cases peaked at about 200,000 per day right around Biden’s inauguration.

Then, case counts dropped quickly and sharply, almost miraculously, to under 100,000 … hovering around 65,000 for the past couple of months.

That is, until about a month ago … when case counts turned down again …  to its current level of about 35,000 … which Biden says justified “relaxed guidance”.

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Source: Bloomberg

So why have case counts dropped so much since Inauguration Day?

It could be that Biden is a miracle worker … or, it could be that the vaccines are kicking in … or, it could be another reason.

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Below is the JHU chart that tracks the number of daily covid tests.

Note how closely the number of tests and the number of confirmed cases seem to track.

In the month after Biden’s inauguration, testing dropped by 25% from about 2 million per day to under 1.5 million per day … and hovered there for a couple of months.

But, in the past month, testing has fallen to just over 1 million per day …. a 33% drop.

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Source: JHU

Let’s recap …

> Testing peaked around inauguration day … and so did cases.  Coincidence?

> After a couple of months of level testing and cases, both data series turned down again in the past couple of weeks.  Another coincidence?

Maybe I’m missing something….

Fauci: Slim majority of NIH employees have been vaxed…

May 17, 2021

Finally, an answer to a question that I’ve been asking.
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Frankly, when it comes to vaccine efficacy & safety, I don’t find testimonials from politcos, Hollywood celebs or sports stars to be very compelling.

The relevant info, in my opinion, comes from doctors and subject matter scientists: Have they (and their immediate family) been vaccinated? If yes, which brand of vaccine?

I’ve been frustrated getting credible numbers re: healthcare professionals. Best guess: 60% overall, 70% front line, 80% doctors.

See Why have so few healthcare workers been vaccinated?

And, there has been a data void re: employees at NIH or the CDC.

That is until now.

Last week, during a hearing, Sen. Burr asked Fauci and Wolensky a direct question: How many employees in your agencies have been vaccinated?

I wouldn’t think that there would be any vax-hesitants walking those halls…. so, I’d expect the number to be near 100%.

WRONG!

When asked, Fauci stammered, then said “a little more than half”.

What?

That’s barely about the national average (which includes the media- labeled  “Neanterthal Trump supporters”)

Wolensky ducked the question: ‘There’s no Federal requirement for us to collect and report those numbers”.

Anybody remember Gore’s “There’s no controlling authority” defense for taking foreign campaign contributions?

English translation: “An embarrassingly low number.”

Here’s the 1-minute clip of the Q&A exchange.

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For sure, the clip won’t find it’s way into any vax- inspirational PSAs.

But, it’s gotta give pause to people yet to be vaccinated if the vaccine is being shunned by a statistically significant number scientists who are working on the vaccines and constantly pouring over the data re: efficacy and safety.

Do they know something that they’re not telling us?

Hmm…

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P.S. I’m fully vaccinated (Moderna) … and don’t regret my decision.  Now, I’m rooting for high mRNA vaccination rates, but not holding my breath.

Why aren’t more healthcare workers getting vaccinated?

May 17, 2021

Specifically, what’s the percentage of doctors who have gotten vaccinated?
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Let’s start with a basic fact: Frontline healthcare workers (very broadly defined) — along with long-term care patients — were the top priority for initial (and continuing) covid vaccinations.

But, according to a recent KFF-Washington Post survey …

Despite their first-dibs on the vaccines, only a 52% slim majority of “frontline healthcare workers” have gotten vaccinated.

That’s hardly a mobilizing inspiration for folks who are still unvaccinated, so let’s drill down on the numbers.

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According to the KFF-WaPo survey, the combined vaccination rate for healthcare workers varies widely by it’s component parts.

Only about 40% of administrative and “patient care” healthcare workers have gotten vaccinated.

But, about 7 in 10 “diagnosis & treatment” professionals (think: doctors & nurses) have gotten vaccinated.

The latter is an important number since doctors and nurses (a) have had ready access to the vaccine (b) are most likely to be frequently and directly exposed to covid, and (c) should be the most “in the know” re: the vaccines efficacy & safety.

So, the pivotal question: Is 70% a high number that should inspire confidence or a hard ceiling on the percentage of the broad population’s likelihood of getting vaccinated?

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Anecdotally, whenever I bump into a doc, I ask if they’ve been vaccinated, which brand, what about their staffs”?

So far, in my very small sample, all docs have been vaccinated (Pfizer or Moderna), as have the clear majority of their staffs.

Among the vax-hesitant staffers, the resistance rationales: (1) current workplace protocols have, for a year, kept them from being infected so why fret now? (b) their personal health considerations prevail (e.g. immune system disorders, current or hoped-for pregnancies ) and (c) they “wait & see” uncertainties about the long-run effects of the vaccines.

The latter could be a bit worrisome: Do they know something that we don’t know?

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For what it’s worth …

I’d like to see the numbers broken down by “doctors only” and all other “prescribers & treaters”.

In fact, expecting the doc’s number to be closer to 100%, it (along with a parade of doc testimonials) should be center-stage in an marketing program to cut vax-hesitancy.

That would be more compelling than a showcase of politicos and celebrities.

COVID Deaths pass grim milestone: 600,000

May 17, 2021

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May 16: COVID Dashboard

May 16, 2021

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Freedom to breath (and smile) again…

May 14, 2021

Thanks to a couple of inspiring “coincidences”.
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Earlier this week, I was gifted the  best-seller “Breath”.   I finishing reading it yesterday.

The book’s central premise:

The way we breath is important to our health … and 90% of us  breathe incorrectly, causing or aggravating a laundry list of chronic diseases.

The author provides the research support for several attitudes and techniques for better breathing … and better health.

Not surprising, wearing masks wasn’t on his list of remedies for bad breathing.

I was struck by the irony: Wearing masks for a year may have sheltered us from covid … but, may have also created a stockpile of unintended future heath problems.

Oh my.

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Then came the big announcement.

The nation’s chief political-scientists had an overnight epiphany regarding masks and advised: fuhgettaboutit.

Literally overnight, “the science” spun on a dime.

No more masking for eternity.

No more double or triple masking.

The new “guidance”: stow your masks … but don’t toss them in case the political landscape shifts, and our politically-sensitive scientists change their minds.

I like the long overdue direction, but it’s a head-scratcher.

There was no  scientific evidence provided that we hadn’t known for weeks (or months).

So what motivated the change?

The obvious: A variant of the old “wag the dog” technique.

Given a crisis on the southern border, a labor force getting paid to stay home, a heating up of inflation, a hijacked gas pipeline, and a Middle East that’s on fire …  maybe Team Biden just wanted to re-focus the spotlight.

Or, maybe I’m just being cynical…

May 14: COVID Dashboard.

May 14, 2021

MASKS OFF ! MASKS OFF!!  MASKS OFF!!!

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Was your home a covid petri dish?

May 13, 2021

Early on in the pandemic, it was noticeable that:

(1) covid was spreading among locked down families — especially high density, multi-generational households and

(2) workers in some open businesses  — think: grocery stores — weren’t experiencing pandemic levels of covid consequences.

Said differently, people confined to ostensibly protective “bubbles” were getting infected … but customer-facing workers weren’t.

Is this just Fauci-shunned non-projectible anecdotal evidence … or a relatively broad based truth?

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Casey Mulligan  — a University of Chicago economist — studied that question and recently published his results in a research paper:

The Backward Art of Slowing the Spread? Congregation Efficiencies during COVID-19

Conventional public health wisdom held that  lives would be saved by shutting workplaces and schools and telling people to stay home.

But, Mulligan found the opposite to be true:

Micro evidence contradicts the public-health ideal in which households would be places of solitary confinement and zero transmission.

Instead, the evidence suggests that “households show the highest transmission rates” and that “households are high-risk settings for the transmission of [COVID-19].

How can this be?

Mulligan argues that after the first months of the pandemic, organizations that adopted prevention protocols became safer places than the wider community.

Schools, businesses, and other organizations implemented a range of prevention protocols – from adjusting airflow to installing physical barriers to monitoring compliance to administering their own testing services  – that households did not, and perhaps could not

But, households were bubble-fortresses isolated from the virus, right?

Wrong.

Few households were strictly “bubbled off” completely.  The bubbles were routinely breached.

One or more members of practically all households would venture out to work or run errands — being exposed to the virus.

If the outside venturers happened to catch the virus, the other household members would be close-contact sitting ducks.

Without the business-level precautions, penetrated homes became veritable petri dishes for the virus.

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Mulligan’s conclusion:

Officials forgot that organizations are rational and look for cooperative solutions that improve the welfare of the group, such as reducing the risks of communicable disease.

Gee, who would have thought that self-interested private enterprises would be more creative, more efficient, more practical and more successful than government bureaucrats’ ivory-tower edicts..

May 13: COVID Daily Dashboard

May 13, 2021

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Ouch: I just paid $3,700 for $1,200 of lumber …

May 12, 2021

And, apparently I’m not alone.
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Team Biden says not to worry, their lucrative pay-to-not-play poli-finance money-printing isn’t impacting the labor market or inflation.

Bull-dinky!

I just got 2 shocks that suggest the contrary.

We’re in the process or re-siding part of  our house — just replacing some badly weathered boards.

The carpenter warned me that lumber prices were thru the roof.

Today, he handed me the bill.  A small load of cedar siding cost me $3,700 — just for the materials.

The carpenter said that a couple of months ago, it would have cost $1,200.

That’s completely consistent with news reports of a tripling in lumber prices due homebuilding demand and supply shortages. Source

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More broadly, the BLS reported today that the CPI is up 4.2% year-over-year … the sharpest YOY rise in over a decade … you know, back in the Obama-Biden years.  Is history repeating?

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Note: “Energy Commodities“ prices were up almost 49% … and that’s before a CNN prediction that “Coming this summer: Gas stations will be running out of gas.”

Ouch.

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I always liked to ask my Trump-hating friends which they were most opposed to: the peace or the prosperity?

With prices soaring and former workers reinventing themselves as government-funded couch potatoes … and the Middle East literally exploding … we now have both less prosperity and less peace.

Maybe the Trump-haters think that’s a small price to pay for fewer mean tweets.

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P.S. And, I haven’t even mentioned the southern border … or faux school openings.

COVID: Daily Dashboard

May 12, 2021

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Do you personally know anyone who has died from covid?

May 11, 2021

Specifically, immediate family members or close friends?
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From the jump, I’ve opined the obvious: the people most likely to be vax-enthusiastic (the inverse of vax-hesitant) would be (1) those who are most vulnerable to dying if infected and (2) those who have been personally touched by the loss of a family member or close friend.

Since I’m age-qualified for the first category, I rushed to get vaccinated … as have about 85% of my fellow 65 and overs.

Nonetheless, I’ve been intrigued by the 2nd category — those who have a close friend or family member who has been hospitalized or died.

With almost 600,000 covid-related deaths, you’d expect that there would be a lot of folks in the “know somebody” category, right?

I don’t want to jinx my family and close friends by saying it, but (thankfully) I don’t personally know anybody who has been hospitalized or died of covid.

I wondered if I was just a lucky anomaly, so I started asking friends the headlined question.

After some head-scratching, most either answered “no” … or had to go a couple of “degrees of separation” to ID a victim … that is, go down a couple of layers to “friends of friends” or “some guy in the neighborhood”.

Expanding  from my very small sample, YouGov did a broad-scale survey and found that 2/3’s of Americans are like me, and don’t “personally know anyone who has died due to complications from covid-19”.

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So, for two-thirds of the population (minus those in the vulnerables’ categories) … covid has been more of an abstract notion than directly personal consequential .

So, it might make sense that these people might be less vaccination-energized than folks who have been more directly impacted.

If true, that might be a partial explanation for some of the oft-talked about vaccine-hesitancy.

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To that point…

YouGov also found that 43% of Biden voters have lost a close friend or family member…  only 1/3 of Trump voters have.

That’s a statistically significant difference!

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Maybe vax-hesitant Trump supporters aren’t just dumb rubes as the MSM reports … maybe they don’t live in dense metro hot spots… do enjoy relatively healthy (outdoor) lifestyles … and, as a result, have not been as deeply touched personally by covid.

If so, the need to be vaccinated may seem less urgent.

Hmm.

COVID: Daily Dashboard

May 11, 2021

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Kudos to teachers who have been teaching…

May 10, 2021

Don’t lump them in with the urban unions
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First, some background….

Occasionally over the past year, I’ve had opportunity to observe my grandkids  online learning.

One “pod” of grandkids is enrolled in a private DC parochial school … the other pod is enrolled in suburban Baltimore County public schools.

In common, both the private and public schools relied heavily on virtual (online) learning.

For the public school kids, up until a couple of weeks ago, all course work was online.  Now, there’s a hybrid  mix of online and “at school” learning.

For the private school kids, hybrid learning kicked in very early (last fall) with a “bias” towards in school learning … but, the school provided an all online option for parents who resisted the at school option … and there were a couple of weeks when the school had to resort to all online.

OK, so what did I observe?

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> First, teachers were faced with a formidable challenge.

For most (all?) instructing online was what’s euphemistically known as a “developmental opportunity” … that is,  something that they hadn’t done before and hadn’t been trained to do.

Early on, technical snafus were frequent and time-consuming, but they got worked out.

Teachers had to wear two hats — being prepped for both online and in person teaching … and, be ready to turn on a dime when administrators announced new rules & regs.

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> Second, all of the teachers that I saw in action — private & public — consistently demonstrated a constructive, positive attitude online.

They were well prepared for each session, they took the technical glitches in stride and tried their best to keep all their zoomed students engaged.

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> Third, teachers had to scale back the curriculum to deliver it online.

That’s not a criticism of the teachers … it’s a reality of online education.

We’ll have more on that in later posts…

1st vax shots down 65% from early peak…

May 10, 2021

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Daily cases’ average drops below 40,000 … but CFR up to 1.8%

May 9, 2021

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Shots drop below 2 million … 1st shots still plummeting.

May 8, 2021

Daily new deaths sticky at ~700.
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Let’s put vax rates in context…

May 7, 2021

Less than 50% of Americans get flu shots!
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Currently, over 80% of Americans 65 and older have gotten covid vax shots; almost 60% of adults over 18 have gotten jabbed …

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How does that stack up to the take-up rate for flu shots?

According to the official CDC numbers …

> Over the past decade, annual flu vaccination rates among adults over 18 have ranged from 37% to 48% … averaging about 45%.

> Our covid vaccination rate is already about 15 percentage points over that average …. driven by the 83% vax rate among folks over 65 … which is about 20 percentage points higher than historic averages.

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Note that only about 1/3 of adults 18 to 49 get flu shots … and it’s likely that the take-up rate is lowest among the younger adults in the 18 to 49 bracket?

All of this sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?

But, geez, this is a pandemic and vax effectiveness rates are very high?

So, shouldn’t covid vax rates be much higher?

Well, they are for the most consequentially vulnerable group — those over 65.

But, for the others, vaccination rates seem to be reverting to the historic means for flu shots.

Which suggests that classical vax-hesitancy reasons — e.g. fear of needles and side effects, perception of invincibility — make be kicking in.

We’re all creatures of our past experiences, right?

Awash with vaccine … shots still plummeting.

May 7, 2021

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Did rationing priorities induce vaccine hesitancy?

May 6, 2021

A story of messaging and first impressions.
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Back in early February, Dr. Scott Gottlieb — a former FDA Commissioner — offered an observation that stuck in my mind.

In a WSJ op-ed, Gottlieb wrote:

One reason for the hesitancy may be that it was necessary to ration scarce doses at the start, causing many Americans to internalize the idea that some people may be more likely to benefit or more deserving than others.

Let’s unpack Gottlieb’s observation…

Initially, scarce vaccine supplies were aimed at the elderly in  long-term-care facilities (where the vast majority of covid deaths were accumulating) … and to covid-patient-facing healthcare professionals (especially those in direct contact with confirmed covid patients).

Made sense: Protect the most vulnerable and the most exposed.

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But, what about people further down the priority pyramid?

For example, youngsters were initially told (by no less than chief political-scientist, Dr. Fauci) their covid risk was miniscule, so they should go to the end of the line.

English translation: Party on!

Now, people scratch their heads wondering why twenty-somethings are ambivalent about the vaccine.

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Early on, vulnerable old-timers (like me) were getting bumped by an expanding list of mostly unionized “essential employees”.

The vast majority of these government-coined “essentials” were under 60 (i.e. low consequential covid vulnerability).

And, after the frontline healthcare workers, many of them were of questionable essentiality (e.g. virtual teachers who had made no near-term commitment to in person teaching).

See What do lawyers, prisoners and ‘the media” have in common?

The message to the rest: You’re not essential (and really not that vulnerable) so so don’t clog the system.

The new message: The fate of the nation depends on you getting vaccinated.

The predictable reaction: Why wasn’t I important before?

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More generally, people down the pyramid were  getting pounded with a clear message:

You’re not at risk … and, by the way, you’re not essential … so, there’s no pressing need to get you vaccinated.

Now, it’s their turn, and these people aren’t rushing the gates to their shots.

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A couple of takeaways…

> First impressions “anchor” peoples perceptions … “adjusting” those perceptions is always a challenge … especially if they’ve been given time to harden.

> Solidifying perceptions requires strong, clear, consistent messaging … don’t signal people one thing on one day and another thing on another day.

> None of should be surprising… it’s straightforward behavioral economics.