Goalless Solutions Make Things Worse

Thorsteinn Siglaugsson wrote at Brownstone Institute The Chief Cause of Problems Is Bad Solutions.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds and added images.

When H. William Dettmer started working with Dr. Eli Goldratt’s Thinking Process framework for solving profound problems in the 1990s, he soon realised how very often people focused on the wrong problems, and then spent their time and effort on figuring out root causes behind often trivial issues.

Dettmer’s solution to this was based on a simple, yet profound insight: A problem is not really a problem unless it prevents us from reaching our goal. The first step in problem-solving should therefore be to define the goal, and in Dettmer’s amended framework not only a goal but also the factors critical to achieve it. This way, focus on what actually mattered would be ensured; the problem solver could rest assured he was not wasting his time on trivialities.

Source: Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning

What we perceive as important problems are often things that annoy us, but which really do not matter in the bigger context. I might perceive a cluttered inbox or a broken coffee machine in the office as a major problem, while those are totally unimportant to the long-term success of the company.

As long as I realise such issues are important only to me personally, no harm is done. But as soon as my focus shifts to the trivial problems and I become obsessed with them, I may be headed for wrong decisions, a situation exemplified by Eric Sevareid’s insight:

Eli Goldratt’s book, The Goal, is one of the most influential management books of all time and his ideas have had a profound impact, especially in production and project management. Goldratt’s first axiom is that every decision must aim at furthering the company’s overall goal. Self-evident as it may sound, all senior managers know the constant effort it takes to maintain this focus.

What happens if we have no clear goal? In that case any undesired change may come to be perceived as an important problem. The more sudden or unexpected the change, the more likely this is.

If there is no goal, we have no way to judge the importance.

Source: Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning

What Goals Directed Covid Responses? 

In the summer of 2020 I had a long discussion with a consultant friend in Paris, another of Goldratt’s disciples, on the situation and outlook after the Covid-19 crisis struck. Our first instinct was of course to try and define a goal. We agreed that when it comes to public health the goal should always be to minimise the loss of life-years, or rather quality-adjusted life-years, both now and in the future.

This was shortly after the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo had claimed that any severity of measures against the coronavirus was worth it, if they saved just one life. Across the world, national leaders constantly repeated the mantra of “following the science,” meaning the whole of society should be managed based on the advice of experts in a narrow field of medical science, focusing on suppressing or even eradicating a single disease. An ethics professor I interviewed in late 2020 said it was morally right to brush aside all concerns of collateral damage because we were “in a pandemic.”

Maximising the number of life-years might well be a proper goal for healthcare. It calls for both short and long-term strategies, including prevention, treatment, even nutritional policies and many other strategies. But when we look at society as a whole, the maximum number of life-years, even when “quality-adjusted,” is hardly a proper overall goal; it focuses on physical existence only, ignoring all the other complex factors which make life worth living.

What then about the goal of “following the science” or of preventing even just one death from a coronavirus at all costs? It should be obvious how absurd it is to view those as true goals when it comes to governing a society. But for some reason, over the past 30 months, those and other similar extremely narrow objectives became the chief goals of public health authorities and governments in almost the whole world.

There is little doubt that the phenomenon of mass formation described by Mattias Desmet has played a role here. I clearly remember how many people had convinced themselves that nothing mattered except to stop the virus in its tracks, to delay infections. And when I say nothing I mean nothing. “The only thing that matters is preventing infections,” someone told me back in 2020. And when I pressed him, asking if he meant the only thing that mattered in the whole wide world was slowing the spread of the virus, if everything else was really of no consequence, education, the economy, poverty, mental health; everything else, the answer was a resounding “Yes!”

Escaping the Problem Obsession Trap

What those cases have in common is how, in the absence of a goal, our focus is diverted towards a problem, otherwise insignificant, or at least not the only problem in the world, and eliminating the problem becomes the goal.

This is why the key to successful problem-solving is to first agree on a common goal, otherwise we may end up solving the wrong problems.

The loss of focus we have experienced during the past 30 months rests on two pillars. One is the power of mass formation. But the other one, no less important, is the loss of leadership. In both Sweden and the Faroe Islands the leadership, epidemiologist Anders Tegnell in the case of Sweden, and the government in the case of the Faroe Islands, never succumbed to irrational fear. If they had, it would surely have taken over in both countries.

The chief reason it didn’t was the stance taken by the leaders who, guided by common sense. never lost sight of the goal of government; ensuring the well-being of society as a whole, or, at the individual level, ensuring man’s possibility to live a full life, as Eli Goldratt once put it. Neither is clear-cut of course, but however fuzzy and imperfect the goal statement may be, once we lose sight of it, we are in grave danger of succumbing to mass formation. It only takes a sudden change or an unforeseen threat, blown out of proportion, unrestrained by the common goal.

When almost the whole world loses sight of the common goal of human society, and the elimination of a single problem, in the end a rather unimportant one, takes precedence over everything else, thus becoming the goal – a distorted and absurd one, a disastrous and ruinous one for sure – this is an indication of a fundamental loss of common sense.

A healthy society does not succumb to mass formation. The reason this can happen is that we have no common goal any more, no common sense. To get out of this situation and to avoid it in the future, we must find our goal again, we must reestablish our focus, we must regain our common sense.

Footnote:  Preface to The Goal by Eli Goldratt

I  view science as nothing more than an understanding of the way the world is and why it is that way. At any given time our scientific knowledge is simply the current state of the art of our understanding. I do not believe in absolute truths. I fear such beliefs because they block the search for better understanding. Whenever we think we have final answers progress, science, and better understanding ceases. Understanding of our world is not something to be pursued for its own sake, however. Knowledge should be pursued, I believe, to make our world better—to make life more fulfilling.

There are several reasons I chose a novel to explain my understanding of manufacturing—how it works (reality) and why it works that way. First, I want to make these principles more understandable and show how they can bring order to the chaos that so often exists in our plants. Second, I wanted to illustrate the power of this understanding and the benefits it can bring. The results achieved are not fantasy; they have been, and are being, achieved in real plants. The western world does not have to become a second or third rate manufacturing power. If we just understand and apply the correct principles, we can compete with anyone. I also hope that readers would see the validity and value of these principles in other organizations such as banks, hospitals, insurance companies and our families. Maybe the same potential for growth and improvement exists in all organizations.

Finally, and most importantly, I wanted to show that we can all be outstanding scientists. The secret of being a good scientist, I believe, lies not in our brain power. We have enough. We simply need to look at reality and think logically and precisely about what we see. The key ingredient is to have the courage to face inconsistencies between what we see and deduce and the way things are done. This challenging of basic assumptions is essential to breakthroughs. Almost everyone who has worked in a plant is at least uneasy about the use of cost accounting efficiencies to control our actions. Yet few have challenged this sacred cow directly. Progress in understanding requires that we challenge basic assumptions about how the world is  and why it is that way. If we can better understand our world and the principles that govern it, I suspect all our lives will be better.

Good luck in your search for these principles and for your own understanding of “The Goal.”

Link to The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eli Goldratt

Judging Truth in the Disinformation Age

The fad of the moment is to claim that information detrimental to one’s point of view is either “Misinformation” or “Disinformation”, depending on whether you are also claiming the other person is lying in addition to being mistaken.  That presupposes that you know what’s inside someone else’s head.  

More importantly, many caught up in these insult exchanges are unable or unwilling to apply critical thinking to the subjects under discussion.  A background essay below defines the concepts of Data, Facts, and Information to help with this deficit in current discourse.  It is important to know firstly, how information depends facts and data, and secondly, that information is also based upon a value system, IOW a story about situational realities.  In this sense, information is typically part of a story, and shares the values of people committed to that story.  Many of the attacks regarding false information are really objections to an alternate story contrary to the attacker’s point of view.

Background from Previous Post Data, Facts and Information

In following many blogs related to climate science, it seems that confusion reigns regarding some fundamentals of scientific thought and practice. So this post attempts to clarify three important scientific concepts: Data, Facts, and Information.

Show Me the Data

Data pertains to observations of happenings in the world, independent of the observer. In a court of law, a witness on the stand gives his or her observations. For example, I heard person x say this, or I saw person y do that. This is evidence all right, but it is not data.  And an artist or filmmaker can capture an event as evidence, but again it is not data in that format.

By definition, data is quantitative. And applying numbers to observations means using standard measurements so that these observations can be compared, contrasted, and replicated, as well as compiled with other similar observations. Each subject of study has one or more units of measurement pertinent to that inquiry. For example, observing a moving object requires distance and time, such as kilometers per minute, or rates of acceleration, such as meters per second per second, or m/s^2.

To summarize, data are a set of observations expressed in standard units of measurement.

What are the Facts

Taiichi Ohno was the central thinker behind the Toyota way of manufacturing. In his view facts are observed “in situ” by a knowledgeable and purposeful agent, an human expert. Facts are the result of direct observation of a process, product or part, including any measured data and the correct context for such data. Context means what relevant conditions, incidents, phenomena, and situations were occurring prior, during and after the data were collected.

In science a fact is a pattern detected in a data set. Thus, a fact is a finding, a meaning supported by data. And, importantly, a fact is particular to the place and time where the data was obtained. The pattern and meaning derives from interpreting the data (observations) in the specific place and time where the happenings occurred understanding the historical situation and context.

We hear a lot these days about fake news or facts in relation to political or cultural news. There, the spin and narratives overwhelm objective observations, and the report serves only to motivate audience acceptance or rejection of the subjects, the truth is irrelevant.  Unfortunately, fact “checking” has morphed into substituting one spin for another.

In science, facts are supported by data, but each fact represents a pattern in the data seen in the context of a specific place and time. So, for example, it can be a fact that civilian deaths in Syria have increased by x% in the past year. Importantly, facts depend on persons with deep knowledge of the particular place and time.

To summarize, a scientific fact is a pattern in data in the context of a specific place and time.

The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

Information stands on facts, which themselves stand on data. Information consists of conclusions from weighing and judging the importance of various sets of facts regarding a situation. Based on the above, all the facts have a basis in data, but they are not equally significant. And the significance is relative to the concerns of the information analyst.

Information is not absolute, but serves to inform action. Facts are value-free, but information is not. Information draws on facts to form a conclusion as to the direction a situation is moving, out of a concern to intervene or not, according to the interests of the observers. In that sense, information is always actionable, or intends to be so.

As an example of this facet of information, consider media charges that someone is citing “alternate facts.” Now a fact is always true, meaning it is supported by data and corresponds to reality. Or it is not a fact, but a fiction not supported by data and in contradiction to reality.

In legal proceedings, frequently there are “alternate facts.” One party, say the prosecution, presents a set of facts comprising all the information supporting their explanation or theory of a criminal event. The defense presents an alternative explanation or theory of the event supported by other facts either ignored or discounted in the prosecution’s case. Such “alternate facts” are no less true, they simply form an alternate information convincing to those who place more weight on them.

A similar process goes on in scientific disputes where each side accuses the other of “cherry-picking” by referring only to those facts which support one theory. Honest science attempts to explain all relevant facts, and sometimes (e.g. Wave vs. Particle theories of light) holds competing theories in tension while a more comprehensive meta-theory can be formed and proved.

Information results from organizing data and facts into a perspective respecting the context of the facts and supporting humans’ need to anticipate the future. Forming theories of what to expect and how to respond or intervene is fundamental to human survival.

That’s the way I see it.

For a great example of how deep knowledge applied to data leads to a productive theory and discovery see Quebec Teen Studies Stars, Discovers Ancient Maya City

Fun Footnote:

Science depends on measuring things, so you need to know the correct units for what you are studying.

Below are some obscure measures for collecting data in special situations.

17. Quantity of beauty required to launch a single ship = 1 millihelen h/t vuurklip

Why Federalized Science is Rotten

J Scott Turner writes at American Mind Modern Science’s Broken Bargain.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds and added images.

The founding manifesto of the modern scientific enterprise—Vannevar Bush’s 1945 classic Science: The Endless Frontier—laid down a promise: that federalizing the academic sciences would protect the universities as bastions of free inquiry and curiosity-driven research. Without such support, Bush argued, the academic sciences would be captured and enslaved by government and corporate political interests. That argument was persuasive to the political authorities of the time. Now, seven decades later, that promise stands broken. Science’s “endless frontier” has become Big Science, a self-aggrandizing cartel organized around the aggressive pursuit of federal money.

Science is grounded in Enlightenment virtues. Its core attributes are unfettered freedom of intellect; cultivation of curiosity; skepticism; dispassionate reason; and dedication to evidence. A robust modern science immensely enriches our society. In return, our society affords the sciences enormous privilege and prestige. This mutually beneficial bargain held for many generations. Scientists were free to roam the intellectual frontiers, the public mostly watched from a respectful distance, and both science and society flourished.

That bargain is now unraveling, damaging both science and the society that supports it.

Less and less do the sciences serve as bulwarks of reason against political and corporatist aims. To the contrary, the sciences are becoming stridently politicized, acting as a vanguard for an authoritarianism of “expertise”. Increasingly, science is being used as a cloak to shield political agendas from normal scrutiny and debate, thereby betraying the scientific ideal.

These trends, and the reasons for them, are not hard to discern. Scientists’ careers are no longer charted by the esteem of peers, but increasingly by conformity to institutional and political interests. The natural immunity of tenure, which is intended to protect university scientists’ intellectual freedom, is being systematically gutted. Adhering to science’s core virtues, listed above, is becoming a career hazard. In the face of this, fellow scientists either remain silent, or become eager participants in a masquerade of “consensus.” Public trust in science, which turns on the common perception that scientists are avatars of dispassionate and independent inquiry, is becoming increasingly tattered.

The COVID-19 spectacle is demonstrating just how fragile that public trust is.

This trend is not new, but the intrusion of identity politics into the sciences has made it toxic. Distinguished scientific careers are snuffed out in an instant. The interests of favored identity groups become the primary criteria for advancement, trumping credentials, ability, and qualification. Fealty to dogma, not respect for reason, now determines whether careers will grow, be terminated prematurely, or be aborted before they begin. Conformity and risk-aversion, behaviors once alien to the scientific enterprise, are now pervasive, enforced in Star Chamber Human Resources inquisitions.

The roots of this problem were planted in the aftermath of World War II, with the political decision to federalize scientific research. Academic science is now the client of an enormous federal spending program, dwarfing all other sources of support. This spending does not just support the work of scientists, it also provides universities a lucrative revenue stream which enables the growth of political, administrative and institutional power, to the detriment of scientists.

With the growth of the Big Science cartel, the culture of discovery that had so long been the source of scientific greatness, has been transformed into a culture of “production,” where scientists are incentivized and rewarded through bogus measures of scientific “productivity.” These metrics have only tenuous relation to intellectual innovation and discovery. They are, however, powerful conformity machines that reward grantsmanship, crowd-following, mediocrity, and allegiance to political and institutional masters. Scientific discovery has been shoved to the back of the line.

In short, the academy is no longer the vigorous custodian of the core values of a robust science. Rather, the academy has become the place where those virtues are facing their gravest threat. The academic sciences have become utterly debased, turning all members of the Big Science cartel into participants in a massive grift on the public treasury. Climate “science”, for example, is not science per se, but the stalking horse for a diversion of tens of trillions of dollars into the hands of favored political and corporate interests. There is simply no scientific basis for claiming a climate “crisis”, despite the attempts of politicians to stampede the public into thinking so. The political heavy-handedness behind COVID-19 pandemic policy has been remarkable in its suppression of science.

Lurking beneath is a barely-hidden web of collusion between governments, NGOs, universities, and self-interested scientists, all motivated by the desire to keep the money flowing.

The modern social bargain struck with science after the War was founded on the assumption that independent, skeptical, and dispassionate scholars would be an invaluable source of methodical good judgment and resistance to half-cocked political and corporate agendas. The Big Science cartel, propped up by enormous federal subsidies, has mostly subordinated those virtues. It is time to face a hard truth: the seventy year experiment to federalize the sciences has been a failure. The task now is to prevent the Big Science cartel from further dehumanizing society and delegitimizing science.

There is a second hard truth: the necessary reforms will not come from within. Rather, it will be the people and their representatives that will have to impose them. To restore science to its rightful and valuable place, break up the Big Science cartel.

J Scott Turner is an emeritus professor of biology at the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry.

See also Wokeness Worms Eating Science Academies

Militant Medicine Breeds Bad Pandemic Policies

Perhaps you noticed how public health officials direct the war on coronavirus.  The generals obsess over “cases” and “deaths” while hiding numbers of “recoveries” and “cures.” The military paradigm has led pandemic policies seriously astray, as explained by Norman Doidge in his Tablet article Mad Science, Sane Science.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

There are more reasonable approaches to science and COVID-19 than the ‘eradication’ mentality that we lean on.

One cannot underestimate the extent to which modern medicine took up Bacon’s military metaphor of conquest and applied it to itself. This involved rejecting the ancient Hippocratic idea of healing, which—being part of that Greek worldview that saw us as of nature, and not against it—saw the physician as trying to work in alliance with nature, the patient (mind and body and spirit) and the patient’s family. But by the mid-1600s Thomas Sydenham, who became known as the “English Hippocrates,” saw medicine in a new way: “I attack the enemy within by means of cathartics and refrigerants, and by means of a diet”; he wrote, “a murderous array of disease has to be fought against, and the battle is not a battle for the sluggard …” Little has changed since. We see ourselves as engaged in endless wars: “The war against the virus,” “the war against cancer,” or against AIDS, “the war on drugs,” the “battle against heart disease,” we “combat” Alzheimer’s, and so on. As modern physicians came to see themselves as warriors and disease as “the enemy,” treatments became “weapons,” and drugs went from being healing potions to “magic bullets” and vaccines became “shots.”

We combat the enemy with “doctor’s orders,” from the medical “armamentarium,” or “arsenal” as we physicians call our bag of therapeutic tricks.

This military metaphor in medicine gives rise to a mentality that esteems invasive high-tech treatments as somehow more serious than less invasive ones—any collateral damage be damned. Of course, there is a time for a martial attitude in medicine, as, say, in emergencies: If a blood vessel in the brain bursts, the patient needs invasive surgery and a neurosurgeon with nerves of steel, to operate. But there are times when it sets us back. Today, rather than work with the patient as a key ally, we physicians often barely have time to listen to him or her speak. In this metaphor, the patient’s body is less an ally than the battlefield, and the patient is rendered passive, a helpless bystander, as he watches the confrontation that will determine his fate between the two great antagonists, the doctor (plus the scientific research establishment) and the disease (or pathogen). And of course, in the “war against the virus,” it is total “eradication” of such an enemy that is the goal. That, it would seem to us, Bacon’s offspring, as the only sensible approach.

As it turns out, so much of what ails us today are products of modern science and technology gone wild: lethal antibiotic-resistant organisms that our “total eradication of disease mentality” produced because we vastly overused the antibiotics we had (which, by the way, were originally natural products of nature, not the lab); pollution (of every element), chemicals in our baby food, toys, floors, and mattresses causing skyrocketing childhood illnesses; bioterrorism; loss of biodiversity affecting the food chain; fabulous totalitarian surveillance tools called cellphones, global networks that allow our enemies thousands of miles away to reach into the controls of our electrical grids, water systems, food delivery systems, banks, nuclear systems, computers, and control them, turning them on and off with a keystroke; 3D printers to make assault weapons in the basement, nuclear weapons to empower lunatics, industrialized death camps with cyanide showers, and, not to mention man-made environmental disruptions causing ecological catastrophes.

On this list of course, is also a pandemic that spread so rapidly because of air travel, and the “efficient” design of our urban centers which maximize overcrowding—and a microbe that may have originated in a lab known to be unsafe, and experimenting with bat viruses. “Just last year,” an article in Newsweek reported, “the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the organization led by Dr. Fauci, funded scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and other institutions for work on gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses.”

“Gain-of-function research” in this case means augmenting the virus’s contagiousness, and even lethality for the purpose of getting a head start on developing therapeutics or vaccines should it mutate in that direction. Such research is also the meat and potatoes germ-warfare research.. . . Whether or not Wuhan’s gain-of-function work involved creating an artificially enhanced coronavirus has been made almost impossible for outsiders to ascertain, because that lab’s government conveniently insisted it destroy its virus samples and records before an outside investigation could be done.

We are so reliably surprised and caught off guard by the unforeseen consequences of our technologies, and there are now so many serious cases of “science going wrong,” that it might be argued that, in practice, modern science (and the tech it produces) seems to be a machine designed to generate and maximize unintended consequences. And is hence, along with being powerful, also, quite often, ridiculous.

All of this is relevant to the current pandemic. In a way, there are three grand “strategies” to deal with a pandemic. But only one of them indulges the more lunatic strains of military metaphor in medicine.

  • The first strategy is never let it in.
  • The second, the approach most widely used at present, is to go to rather blunt lockdowns, while we develop therapeutics and vaccines to eradicate the virus.
  • The third is to resist lockdowns whenever possible, and instead focus on more differentiated measures than total societal closures, again while we develop therapeutics and vaccines to eradicate the virus.

If the virus doesn’t get in, people are not dying, there isn’t talk of eradication and the military metaphor isn’t used. That strategy has worked so far in Nauru, an island speck, in the paradise of Oceania, a country that is isolated, and small enough to walk across and around in one day, and which, along with Oceania’s Tuvalu, is tied for the record as being the least visited country in the world.

Even the relatively isolated, double-island paradise of New Zealand, was still too connected with the rest of the world to keep the virus out. When it did arrive there, New Zealand tried the second strategy, to eradicate it with a blunt lockdown.

The military metaphors began. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern set the goal of “complete elimination of the virus.” France’s President Emmanuel Macron said, “We are at war … The enemy is there—invisible, elusive—and it is advancing.” Donald Trump described himself as “a wartime president.” War requires emergency measures, which require emergency powers, which demand the immediate suspension of civil liberties—with executives not bothering to go to legislatures because the enemy is coming at us “in waves,” and “surges,” is “killing us in droves.” We “hunker in our bunkers”—in total lockdown. Home’s the only place that’s safe. We must “mobilize” all society in immobility. Punish those who disobey orders. We do it, too, for the health care workers, the heroes on “the frontline,” who risked their lives.

But these undeniable similarities do not mean that medicine is war, any more than war is healing.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the military metaphor, is how it causes us to narrow our focus almost exclusively on “eradicating the virus,” and “cases of the infected.” This causes us to miss other important ways of dealing with it, that might help us survive it. Public health officials in the “the eradication mode” almost never mention how we can boost our immune systems with vitamins D and C, and zinc, exercise and weight loss. Not their focus. And the narrow focus on eradicating the virus is now causing serious “collateral” harm and death.

But it was not maliciousness but rather the virus eradication mindset that has caused much of the harm. That mindset has led many politicians, and also public health officials, to become oblivious to the death, illness, and devastation that have resulted from the lockdowns. Tedros’ own language speaks this obliviousness, when he says he knows people are “understandably frustrated with being confined to their homes” as though “frustration” is the extent of the problem. What is actually happening is that people’s worlds are collapsing. Fauci early on called the lockdown measure “inconvenient.”

Tedros and other lockdown supporters are almost all themselves employed, and working comfortably, many from home.

They are part of a class that has government, bureaucratic, educational, media, and corporate salaries, or are in Big Tech, which thrives in lockdown. With an often staggering indifference, they gloss over that fact that the measures they recommend “for all of us” are devastating to those working-class people, the poor, and small-business owners who are losing or have already lost their life savings, health insurance, health, and who are at risk of, or who have already been evicted from their apartments. By September we knew that nearly 60% of (mostly small) businesses that had been forced to close in lockdown were destroyed so their workers would have no jobs to return to. Many more have gone under since. They were closed by often illegal edicts, that left their large corporate competitors like Costco and Walmart open. Thus, instead of going to small widely separated community stores, that admitted a few at a time, people crowded into a few stores without social distancing—the complete reverse of a sensible, scientifically based policy. How did public health officials get away with destroying small business? This is war! Ignore that a meta-analysis of 10 countries and their regions, shows that during last spring, stringent stay and home and business closures did no better in slowing the virus than those that rely on voluntary measures (such as hand washing, social distancing, discouraging travel and large gatherings, successful case tracking, and testing). Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s own latest scientific statistics confirm that 74% of all New York COVID-19 transmission comes from indoor gatherings in private homes, and only 1.4% from in-restaurant dining (all set up for COVID now). The commander in chief says no to indoor restaurant dining in December. Now, even the WHO, which supported lockdowns, is claiming that closed Western economies are devastating poorer countries that are trading partners, and its special envoy for COVID-19, Dr. David Nabarro, has said the WHO anticipates a doubling of world poverty and a doubling of childhood malnutrition because of lockdowns.

The officials, blinded by the eradication at all costs mentality, discarded the practical wisdom required to respond to such a crisis, and endorsed an intervention that defies the standard public health practice of taking a holistic approach and always taking into account a measure’s total effects, and not just its immediate effects on the pathogen labeled as “the invisible enemy.”

“COVID denial” is real. So is “COVID-management-induced-devastation denial.”

What does a scientific approach look like, one that takes the best of our modern instruments that Bacon helped to facilitate, but which does not get us tangled up in the military metaphor, or make delusional attempts to artificially cut us off from the rest of nature?

That would be the approach of Janelle Ayres, Ph.D., a brilliantly original and constructive molecular and systems physiologist, and expert in both immunology and evolution, who heads two labs affiliated with the Salk Institute. Ayres’ work opens up a radically different approach to infectious disease—radical in the original sense of the word, meaning having to do with the root, i.e., the broader biological foundations of infectious disease and health in the “biome,” the sphere of living organisms in which we dwell, and which dwell within us. Thus, to my mind, her work has echoes with some of the ancient insights and intuitions about biological interconnectedness, though I’ve not seen her make this claim.

Ayres’ work is helping us reconceive our relationship to microbial organisms, including pathogens, and showing how they can, for instance, influence our evolution, and we theirs, and it gives us a much more detailed picture of how we actually survive serious infections. She happens to have written one of the best articles ever on COVID-19, that shows a breadth and depth of biological comprehension that is extremely rare among modern scientists who are often specialists in very circumscribed areas, who analyze things into ever smaller parts, and know an incredible amount about incredibly little. Ayres is both a first-rank specialist, and a big-think generalist.

She says, “The way we have been thinking about treating infectious diseases is that we have to annihilate the pathogens through vaccines and antimicrobials.” She completely reframes the problem, and challenges our thinking:

“Instead of asking how do we fight infections, we should be asking ‘how do we survive infections?’”

Changing that single word—“fight” to “survive”—transforms everything. Consider, for example, that new organisms, and strains are evolving all the time. A new coronavirus strain identified in December is said to be 70% more transmissible. Some new strains may be resistant to our existing vaccines and antivirals. Developing different antibiotics or vaccines to eradicate each of them, is not always possible, and when it is, generally takes a long time, and costs a fortune. But if, as is often the case, death is caused by our bodies’ own reactions to the infection, reactions which are very similar, regardless of the pathogen that caused them, learning to block the body from going into overdrive should help people survive multiple infections. As well, there is no reason to believe this approach will cause antibiotic-resistant, antiviral-resistant, or vaccine-resistant strains, because it is not targeting the pathogen per se.

In cooperative co-evolution, there is an incentive for us (or any infested animal) to develop methods to both prevent collateral damage to ourselves, as well as fix it when it occurs. That is the essence of the tolerance system. What Ayres and her colleagues are doing is describing these mechanisms—in minute molecular detail—in the body, and learning to read how organisms that are co-evolving with their hosts are communicating with them—sending signals back and forth. Ideally, the lab would ultimately learn how to use this information to enhance co-evolution in some way, to treat disease.

Ayres’ approach to COVID is not to minimize other approaches but point out that “if we can step beyond our focus on the virus,” there is much more we can learn. For instance, it was assumed early in the pandemic, that severe cases were caused by high viral load, and now we know it is the secondary collateral damage caused by our bodies that is the real killer.

Fewer and fewer medical schools now require the graduating physician to take the ancient Hippocratic oath, the first recorded articulation of medical ethics, that sanctified medical confidentiality and the idea that the doctor worked for his or her patient, and not a third party. How sad, how telling.

It is the same Hippocrates, who boiled all medicine down to two principles in his Epidemics Book I, “Practice two things in your dealing with disease: either help or do not harm the patient.”

And, in this light—of doing no harm, or at least far less—we might remember that we are part of nature, depend on it, it lives in us, and we have links to parts we think remote from us, that we often cannot even see. We might consider setting aside the utopian dream that always becomes a nightmare, because all too often we can’t conquer nature without conquering ourselves.

See Also:

The Virus Wars

Rx for Covid-fighting Politicians

Twelve Forgotten Principles of Public Health




John Christy Rebuts Climatist Fake Smear Job

The cancel culture is driven by fears that a contrary point of view might be truer than one’s own way of thinking.  Dissing the messenger, and deplatforming if possible, is easier than reflection and self-examination.  Thus has John Christy been attacked and recently responded in his quiet and reasonable manner.  The article at AL.com is John Christy: We don’t ‘attack science’.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

On Nov 2nd 2020 InsideClimate News (ICN) and AL.com published a fairly long (5,000 words!) profile on the climate research that Dr. Roy Spencer and I perform at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. They spent a good bit of time criticizing our satellite data as well as my personal life. The article seems schizophrenic at times, bouncing from highly critical assertions to a depiction of me as a sort of nice, hardworking, churchgoing Alabama scientist.

A major problem here is the technique of quoting antagonists of our work, without giving us a chance to respond. This is the modus operandi of advocacy-journalism. Add to that the numerous editorialized opinions such as, “… Christy’s data have been corrected repeatedly and his conclusions contradicted time and again …” A look at the record indicates this is not so.

But with all of the misleading claims, I’m able to forgive the reporters because they also say, “… he looks 69 going on 50 …” Awesome. How could a 69-year-old not love that?

Unfortunately, ICN ran the story as part of series called “The Anti-Scientists” that explores “the Trump Administration’s attacks on the science underlying environmental protections.” However, kudos to AL.com for including a link to my congressional testimony so the reader could hear my on-the-record story.

It should be clear to all that this agendized “hit-piece” (as we call it), is designed to discredit me, but the truth is, we don’t “attack science,” we “employ science.” Now, I’ve always been told, never pick a fight with someone who buys ink (cloud-storage) by the barrel (terabyte), but here it goes.

In 1990, Roy and I created and today still publish monthly values of the global temperature of three atmospheric layers from satellite measurements. A 1997 paper suggested our dataset had abrupt “downward” jumps. In response, we demonstrated the purported jumps were found in the sea water temperatures they used, not in the deep atmosphere we measured – so they were mixing apples and oranges. The next claim stating there are gaps in the satellite record is just false as every new satellite is directly calibrated to a satellite already in orbit. Later, scientists in Washington State misled the community with papers that (1) allegedly discovered “contamination” of one of our products by stratospheric influence, and (2) that our correction to account for the satellite’s east-west drift over time was wrong.

Neither complaint applied to our datasets. We had always published accurate representations of what our products measured including the stratospheric impact.

In fact, 12 years earlier we created one without the stratospheric influence to deal with this issue directly. The second complaint was moot because we had already adopted an advanced, observations-based adjustment for the east-west drift, while their proposed model-based correction had serious problems.

Early on, though, the very clever scientists at Remote Sensing Systems in California discovered two issues with our dataset, both of which were immediately remedied 15 and 20 years ago respectively with only very small impacts.

While we recognize no dataset is perfect, a detailed evaluation of our temperature products was published in 2018, demonstrating that ours outperforms other satellite products when compared against independent data. Why was this not mentioned?

Another scientist appears to refute our explicit conclusion that climate models are unrealistically aggressive in depicting the atmosphere’s warming rate. This is important because regulatory policies advocated in the media which include price-hikes for all our energy, are based on fears engendered by these models.

Again, our conclusion has stood the test of time, (that scientist published a similar result later). Even this year, more published studies continue to show climate models are poor tools for policy decision—they can’t reproduce the climate that has already happened, and they don’t agree with each other about the future.

Then, the clumsy attempt to connect me with an anti-evolution movement was misguided. The reporters would be chagrined to learn that I had testified before the Alabama State Board of Education advocating the removal of the “Evolution Disclaimer” from biology textbooks. Even the NY Times, of all places, took note and quoted me on the issue (Feb. 1, 2005.) So again, doing a little fact-checking rather than following today’s “jump-to-(my-biased)-conclusion” reporting style, would have saved us all some trouble.

Finally, a broader question to ask is this, “Why was so much effort and expense proffered to try to discredit a scientist like me?”

By the way, the title, “When Trump’s EPA needed a climate scientist, they called on Alabama’s John Christy” misinforms. I saw a federal notice asking for applications for the EPA Science Advisory Board and sent mine in, just like the others. I was eventually selected, based on my credentials, to be one of its 45 members.

But, the line that still carries the day for me is, ” … he looks 69 going on 50.”

Footnote:  Christy quote:

“The reason there is so much contention regarding “global warming” is relatively simple to understand: In climate change science we basically cannot prove anything about how the climate will change as a result of adding extra greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

So we are left to argue about unprovable claims.”

John R. Christy | Climate science isn’t necessarily ‘settled’

See also: Christy’s Common Sense about Climate

Note: John Christy of the University of Alabama at Huntsville testified before the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee on May 13, 2015, but his opening statement has been purged from the committee’s website.  In addition to the video above, his statement that day is available here.

In Praise of Science Skeptics

Pandemic Panic: Play or Quit? Only a skeptic gives you a choice.

Peter St. Onge writes at Mises Wire The COVID-19 Panic Shows Us Why Science Needs Skeptics Excerpts in italics with my bolds and images.

The dumpster fire of COVID predictions has shown exactly why it’s important to sustain and nurture skeptics, lest we blunder into scientific monoculture and groupthink. And yet the explosion of “cancel culture” intolerance of any opinion that doesn’t fit a shrinking “3 x 5 card” of right-think risks destroying the very tolerance and science that sustains our civilization.

Since World War II, America has suffered two respiratory pandemics comparable to COVID-19: the 1958 “Asian flu,” then the 1969 “Hong Kong flu.” In neither case did we shut down the economy—people were simply more careful. Not all that careful, of course—Jimi Hendrix was playing at Woodstock in the middle of the 1969 pandemic, and social distancing wasn’t really a thing in the “Summer of Love.”

And yet COVID-19 was very different thanks to a single “buggy mess” of a computer prediction from one Neil Ferguson, a British epidemiologist given to hysterical overestimates of deaths, from mad cow to bird flu to H1N1.

For COVID-19, Ferguson predicted 3 million deaths in America unless we basically shut down the economy. Panicked policymakers took his prediction as gospel, dressed as it was in the cloak of science.

Now, long after governments plunged half the world into a Great Depression, those panicked revisions are being quietly revised down by an order of magnitude, now suggesting a final tally comparable to 1958 and 1969.

COVID-19 would have been a deadly pandemic with or without Ferguson’s fantasies, but had we known the true scale and parameters of the threat we might have chosen better tailored means to both safeguard the elderly and at-risk, while sustaining the wider economy. After all, economists have long known that mass unemployment and widespread bankruptcies carry enormous health consequences that are very real to the victims suffering drained life savings, ruined businesses, broken families, widespread mental and physical health deterioration, even suicide. Decisions involve tradeoffs.

COVID-19 has illustrated the importance of free and robust inquiry. After all, panicked politicians facing media accusations of “killing grandma” aren’t in a very good position to evaluate these tradeoffs, and they need intellectual ammunition. Not only to show them which path is best, but to bolster them when a left-wing media establishment attacks.

Moreover, voters need this ammunition so they can actually tell the politicians what to do. This means two things: debate that is transparent, and debate that is tolerant of skeptics.

Transparency means data and computer code open to public scrutiny as the minimum requirement for any study that is used to justify policy, from lockdowns to carbon taxes to whatever comes next. These studies must be based on verifiable facts, code that does what it says it does, and the ensuing decision-making process must be transparent and open to the public.

One former Indian bureaucrat put it well: “Emergency situations like this pandemic should require a far higher—and not lower—level of scrutiny,” since policy choices have such tremendous impact. “This suggests a need for democracies to strengthen their critical thinking capacity by creating an independent ‘Black Hat’ institution whose purpose would be to question any technical foundations of government decisions.”

Even more important than transparency, debate must be tolerant of alternative opinions. This means ideas that are wrong, offensive, even dangerous, have to be tolerated, even celebrated. By all means, refute them—most alternative hypotheses are completely wrong, so it shouldn’t be hard to simply refute them without censorship. This, after all, is the essence of science—to generate hypotheses testable by anybody, not just licensed “experts.”

Whether we are faced with a new crisis, a new policy innovation, or simply designing a better mousetrap, groupthink and censorship are recipes for disaster and stagnation, while transparency and tolerance of new ideas are the very essence of progress. Indeed, it is largely this scientific tolerance that allowed us to rise up from the long, brutal darkness of poverty.

As Francis Bacon observed three hundred years ago, innovation and new knowledge do not come from prestigious “learned” insiders, rather progress comes from the questioner, the tinkerer, the skeptic.

Indeed, every major scientific advance challenged the “settled science” of its day, and was often denounced as pernicious and false, even dangerous. The modern blood transfusion, for example, was developed in the late 1600s, then banned for nearly a century by a hostile medical establishment, “canceling” tens of millions of lives at the altar of groupthink and hostility to skeptics.

It’s comforting to know that our problems are old ones, and also encouraging that our solution is both time-tested and simple: transparency and tolerance. After all, the very reason our culture elevates science is because it is built on a millennia-long evolutionary “battle of ideas” in which theories are constantly tested and retested in a delightfully endless search for ever better understanding.

This implies there is no such thing as “settled science”—the phrase itself is contrary to the scientific method. In reality, science is not some billion-dollar gleaming palace in Bethesda, rather it’s a gnarled mutant sewer rat that takes all comers because it’s been burned, cut, run over, crushed, run through the wood chipper, and survived. That ugly beast is our salvation, not the gleaming palace where we bow down to whichever random guy has the biggest degree in the room.

Only with free inquiry for the most unpopular, offensive, dangerous, and, yes, wrong ideas imaginable does that power sustain. And if we break that, we can expect a series of rapid catastrophes that, like failed golden ages of the past, return us to the nasty, brutish, and very short lives that have been humanity’s norm.

Whether pandemic, climate change, “institutional racism,” or whatever new crisis they conjure next, we have a fundamental right to tenaciously defend the transparency and tolerance that constitutes science itself so that it remains among humanity’s crowning achievements, and so that we preserve this golden age that would astound our ancestors.

Fight Coronavirus with Global Warming

An important study of our experience with the covid19 pandemic shows that warmer, more humid weather works against transmission of the disease.  The paper is High Temperature and High Humidity Reduce the Transmission of COVID-19 by Jingyuan Wang, Ke Tang, Kai Feng and Weifeng Lv. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Abstract: This paper investigates how air temperature and humidity influence the transmission of COVID-19. After estimating the serial interval of COVID-19 from 105 pairs of the virus carrier and the infected, we calculate the daily effective reproductive number, R, for each of all 100 Chinese cities with more than 40 cases. Using the daily R values from January 21 to 23, 2020 as proxies of non-intervened transmission intensity, we find, under a linear regression framework for 100 Chinese cities, high temperature and high relative humidity significantly reduce the transmission of COVID-19, respectively, even after controlling for population density and GDP per capita of cities. One degree Celsius increase in temperature and one percent increase in relative humidity lower R by 0.0383 and 0.0224, respectively. This result is consistent with the fact that the high temperature and high humidity significantly reduce the transmission of influenza. It indicates that the arrival of summer and rainy season in the northern hemisphere can effectively reduce the transmission of the COVID-19.

Discussion: Rough observations of outbreaks of COVID-19 outside China show a noteworthy phenomenon. In the early dates of the outbreak, countries with relatively lower air temperature and lower humidity (e.g. Korea, Japan and Iran) see severe outbreaks than warmer and more humid countries (e.g. Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand) do. Considering the natural log of the average number of cases per day from February 8 to 29 as a rough measure of the severity of the COVID-19 outbreaks3 , in Figure 1, we show that the severity is negatively related to temperature and relative humidity using 14 countries with more than 20 new cases during this period.

Figure 1: Severity of COVID-19 outbreaks v.s. temperature and relative humidity for countries outside China.

Inside China, the COVID-19 has spread widely to many cities, and the intensity of transmission and weather conditions in these cities vary largely (shown in Table SI 1), we can, therefore, analyze the determinants of COVID-19 transmission, especially the weather factors. In order to formally quantify the transmission of COVID-19, we first fit 105 samples of serial intervals with the Weibull distribution (a distribution commonly used to fit the serial interval of influenza[8]), then calculate the effective reproductive number, R, a quantity measuring the severity of infectiousness[9] , for each of all 100 Chinese cities with more than 40 cases.

Figure 3: Effective reproductive number R v.s. temperature and relative humidity for 100 Chinese cities

Figure 2 shows the average R values from January 21 to 23 for different Chinese cities geographically. Compared with the southeast coast of China, cities in the northern area of China show relatively larger R values and lower temperatures and relative humidity. The scatter plots in Figure 3 illustrate two negative relations between the daily air temperature and R value and between the daily relative humidity and R value, respectively.

Our finding is consistent with the evidence that high temperature and high humidity reduce the transmission of influenza[10-14] , which can be explained by two possible reasons: First, the influenza virus is more stable in cold temperature, and respiratory droplets, as containers of viruses, remain airborne longer in dry air[15, 16] . Second, cold and dry weather can also weaken the hosts’ immunity and make them more susceptible to the virus[17, 18] . These mechanisms are also likely to apply to the COVID-19 transmission. Our result is also consistent with the evidence that high temperature and high relative humidity reduce the viability of SARS coronavirus[19,20] .

If omitting control variables, 7 the fixed-effects model of Table 2 provides an estimation of the R value for a certain city given its temperature and relative humidity:Assuming that the same relationship of Equation (1) applies to cities outside China and that the temperature and relative humid of 2020 are the same as those in 2019, we can draw a map of R values for worldwide cities in Figure 4 by plugging the average March and July temperatures and relative humidity of 2019 into Equation (1). This figure cautions people of the risk of COVID-19 outbreak worldwide, in March and July of 2020, respectively. As expected, the R values are larger for temperate countries and smaller for tropical countries in March. In July, the arrival of summer and rainy season in the northern hemisphere can effectively reduce the transmission of the COVID-19; however, risks remain in some countries in the southern hemisphere (e.g. Australia and South Africa). If we plug the normal summer temperature and relative humidity of Tokyo (28oC and 85%, respectively) into Equation (1), the transmission of the COVID19 in Tokyo will be seriously reduced between March and the Olympics: the estimated R value decreases from 1.914 to 0.992, a 48% drop!

Postscript:  Some Context on US Situation from Conrad Black

The United States is now outdone only by Germany and Canada, among countries with sophisticated public-health systems that publish believable numbers, in the small proportion of reported cases who die from the coronavirus. This is 674 people out of 51,542 cases reported, as of late afternoon Tuesday, or 1.25 percent of identified cases, and if those who are immune-challenged are removed from that figure, the percentage descends to less than half of 1 percent of the identified cases. Even though most of the people tested appeared to have possible coronavirus symptoms, only a little more than 15 percent of those tested have tested positively. Because the United States is ramping up its treatment capabilities so quickly, it has an inordinate number of the world’s reported cases, 23 percent of the world’s new cases reported on Monday, though it only has about 4 percent of the world’s population, but the world fatality rate is about 4 percent, more than three times the American rate. The disease is still spreading unavoidably, but if care is taken to insulate the elderly and infirm from contact, the mortality rate descends to a point not greatly above seasonal flu fatality numbers.

Though it is hard to be precise about it, less than 1 percent of the adult population of the U.S. have apparently reported coronavirus-like symptoms; of those, about 20 percent have been tested; of those, about a quarter have tested positive; and of those, apart from clearly vulnerable people, fewer than half of 1 percent have died. In epidemiological terms, this is a very serious penetration of the population by a very nasty virus, but it does not justify continuing the extreme restrictions on the economic life of the country, and specifically this lethal threat to the economic well-being of tens of millions of Americans.


Pandemic Good News Hidden in the Media

Given the mass media bias for amplifying bad news and speculating about the worst possibilities, it is hard to find news of any positives happening. I just watched a tv anchor interviewing a doctor and displaying a concerted effort to get the expert to say scary things confirming the anchor’s fears. The doc held his ground (No, droplets from sneezes or coughs do not stay in the air; No, surfaces are not infected for some fixed time; many factors affect how long the virus can live. )

There are hopeful things happening, and thanks to Peter Diamandis for posting these good news reports on his Tech blog and Doug for emailing me. All links can be accessed freely without any paywalls.

How about some good news for a change?

There have been A LOT of facts going around regarding COVID-19, and a flurry of “positive news” items to lift our spirits.

Here are a number of major victories from the Pandemic line. I’ve had my team fact-check these wins with links you can follow up on.

(1)Vaccine development: An experimental vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. began the first stage of a clinical trial on Monday, with testing on 45 healthy adults in Seattle. [link]

(2) China’s new cases plummet: China has now closed down its last temporary hospital built to handle COVID-19. Not enough new cases to warrant them. [link]

(3) Drugs that work: Doctors in India have successfully treated two Italian patients with COVID-19, administering a combination of drugs — principally Lopinavir and Ritonavir, alongside Oseltamivir and Chloroquine. Several are now suggesting the same medical treatment, on a case-by-case basis, globally. [link] [link]

(4) Antibodies to the rescue: Researchers at the Erasmus Medical Center claim to have found an antibody that can fend off infection by COVID-19. [link]

(5) 103-year-old recovery: A 103-year-old Chinese woman has made a full recovery from COVID-19 after being treated for 6 days in Wuhan, China, becoming the oldest patient to beat the disease. [link]

(6) Stores re-opening: Apple has reopened all 42 of its Apple retail stores in China. [link]

(7) Test results in 2 hours: Cleveland’s MetroHealth Medical Center has developed a COVID-19 test that can now deliver results in just two hours, rather than in a matter of days. [link]

(8) South Korea’s dramatic drop in new cases: After its peak of 909 newly reported COVID-19 cases on February 29th, South Korea has now seen a dramatic drop in the number of new cases reported daily. [link]

(9) Mortality rates inflated? Experts predict that Italy has seen a higher mortality rate of COVID-19 given its significant aging population, as well as its higher percentage of COVID-19 patients with pre-existing health conditions. This might suggest that COVID-19’s fatality rate may have been slightly more inflated than previously thought for the general population. [link]

(10) Israeli vaccine development: More than 50 scientists in Israel are now working to develop a vaccine and antibody for COVID-19, having reported significant breakthroughs in understanding the biological mechanism and characteristics of the novel coronavirus. [link]

(11) Full recoveries: Three patients in Maryland who tested positive for COVID-19 have now been reported to have “fully recovered.” [link]

(12) Isolated virus: A network of Canadian scientists isolated the COVID-19 virus, which can now be replicated to test diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines. [link]

(13) Yet another vaccine in the works: San Diego biotech company Arcturus Therapeutics is developing a COVID-19 vaccine in collaboration with Duke University and National University of Singapore. [link]

(14) Treatment protocols: Seven patients who were treated for COVID-19 at Jaipur’s Sawai Man Singh (SFS) Hospital and Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital in India have recovered. The treatment protocol will be widely scaled to other hospitals. [link]

(15) Another treatment: Plasma from newly recovered COVID-19 patients (involving the harvesting of virus-fighting antibodies) holds promise for treating others infected by the virus. [link]

Some of COVID-19’s hardest hit nation victims are already emerging strong after peak infection, and biomedical innovators are tackling the virus at unprecedented speeds.

IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER… While everyone is concerned about the super-high mortality rate of this virus — which is calculated by the “number dead” divided by “the number who have tested positive” (currently ~14,450/388,000) — the denominator, i.e. the number infected is actually VERY hard to know because so few people have been tested.

It may well be that 10x more are infected but subclinical. So is the mortality rate 4% or 0.4%?

We will find out as large scale-testing comes reliably online.

Wishing you the best. Remember that our most important tool during times of panic and crisis is our mindset.  -Peter Diamandis

Footnote (Update March 23) Senior vets recover from Covid19:

12 Of 14 Infected With Covid-19 Recover At Oregon Veteran’s Home

A home for senior veterans has been the hot spot in Oregon for positive coronavirus diagnoses, with 13 residents and one caretaker coming down with the virus.
However, as time has gone, 12 of the 14 are doing well, with one showing no symptoms anymore. It also looks like the virus isn’t transmitting as easily as we were led to believe, with 137 people who live and work at the facility testing negative.

How to Fight and Win Against Covid19

Dr. Bruce Aylward spoke in Geneva days after he left Wuhan province. He is not a contact and you can do what he did to not get the disease.

He was in Wuhan just a few days before. But he knew he was not a contact for COVID19 and so didn’t need to take any precautions. The press asked him why he wasn’t wearing a mask. He said that if he was a contact he wouldn’t be there, he’d be in quarantine, not talking to them with a mask on, it would make no sense (would not protect them adequately).

He is a top expert on such things – he led the campaign for almost complete eradication of Polio. He knows what he is doing.

COVID-19 ‘not beyond control,’ says Canadian WHO official Bruce Aylward

“What China demonstrates is that this one is not beyond control. It’s a function of your response,” said Bruce Aylward, who led an independent fact-finding mission to study the spread of the virus in China, as well as that country’s response.

COVID-19 spreads so rapidly that one Harvard researcher has warned that 40 to 70 per cent of the world’s adults will be infected. Its deadliness has raised frightening comparisons with the Spanish flu.

But “we don’t need to end up there,” said Dr. Aylward, who came away from China convinced that the virus is not spreading as easily as feared and that the outbreak can be arrested if public-health authorities prepare well and act swiftly. In China and elsewhere, there is little evidence of widespread community transmission, he said. Instead, “it is more a whole bunch of clusters of transmission.” Take the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan. Or members of a sect in South Korea. Or people living in single buildings in Beijing or Hong Kong.

That, he said, “is really important. Because you can get on top of that.”  But to do so, “speed is everything here.”

It Starts with the Right Hygiene

Robert Walker at Science 2.0 explains further in his well researched article How To Stop Yourself Getting Covid19 – And Help Stop The Spread – If Everyone Did This The Epidemic Would Soon Stop Excerpts in italics with my bolds

The WHO have said many times that governments can stop this disease by containing the virus swiftly and aggressively. Their most recent statement was the most blunt yet. They declared a pandemic, but one that we can stop. They said the question is not whether we can, but whether we will. Many governments have demonstrated this by doing it, including China, South Korea and Singapore.

Meanwhile you can stop yourself from getting the virus and so can your relatives and friends, by following the same simple rules that Bruce Aylward and his team used. This international team of experts toured the worst virus hotspots in China. They came away again confident that they are not contacts for the virus and didn’t need to be quarantined before talking directly to the press.

You can keep yourself safe from this virus in the same way, with the right hygiene. If most of us did this it would soon go extinct in the wild.

All of us who do this are helping our country and the world to contain the virus.

This is a graphic about it from the BBC.


  1. Wash hands frequently and thoroughly – that includes around the nails and between the fingers and the wrist.  You just need to use normal soap (or an alcohol wipe) because this is a virus, not a microbe. No need for anything antimicrobial. Soap completely destroys these viruses.
  2. Try to get out of the habit of touching your face, especially eyes nose, or mouth.  Don’t touch your face with unwashed hands after touching surfaces that could be infected.  If you can get completely out of the habit of touching your face then you don’t need to wash your hands so often. It can’t infect through the skin. Make sure you wash your hands before touching your eyes, nose or mouth – that’s the main thing.
  3. Keep a distance of 1 -2 meters from anyone sick especially if coughing or sneezing..Also if you cough or sneeze to cough into an elbow or into a tissue and dispose of it into a closed bin.  Disinfect surfaces you work with – and wash hands before during and after preparing food.

Do that and you won’t get it. You are also helping to stop it spreading.

Why These Behaviors Can Beat This Virus

While there is still much to be learned, we already know a great deal to be confident in following this protocol individually and collectively.  Some key things to remember.

This Disease is Hard to Get

It is very difficult to get this virus. Even if you are in a subway crowded together with others – for things like the flu you need to be there for 15 minutes or so to get it. But for this disease – so far there is no evidence of it being passed on to anyone else in public transport.

That is why it is so easy to contain it. The people who get it are usually people who were in prolonged or close contact.

Even with close contacts then between 95 and 99% of people don’t get it and for people living in the same household as a family or couple, then between 90% and 97% of people don’t get it – this is without taking any precautions to protect themselves.

This Disease is Not Airborne

This disease is not airborne (this was proved early on) – people sitting next to an infected person in an hours long plane journey won’t get it.

This is an early study that found that Canadian passengers in flights who had the disease didn’t infect anyone else (for SARS then in flight infections were a significant driver)

The evidence since then has been the same.

It Typically Only Spreads to Close or Prolonged Contacts

Normally you will get it from someone you know well, have close contact with or spend a lot of time with. This is why the contact tracing has worked so well. You are not likely to get it from a stranger at a busstop or on a train or plane.

This is different from SARS – there were many people got SARS from an infected person on the same flight. This has not yet happened at all with COVID 19 despite all the people who flew back from Wuhan with the virus.

Airborne spread has not been reported for COVID-19 and it is not believed to be a major driver of transmission.  See Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) 

Also few people get it even with close contacts. Between 1 and 5% of contacts, for people in the same households it ranges from 3 to 10%  So, even if you live in the same house as someone, 9 times out of 10 you won’t get it.  Even couples don’t get it from each other usually. Many stories of couples who are surprised their partner didn’t get it – you may have seen some on the media.

Not Likely to Catch It from Someone Without Symptoms

This is not a major factor for this disease – not a driver.

Transmission by people infected but not symptomatic is a major factor for flu but not for covid19.

Sometimes someone may be unwell but suppressing their fever using paracetemol as happened with the Chinese lady who infected many colleagues in Germany. But genuine asymptomatic spreading is exceedingly rare for covid19.

You can detect the virus before symptoms and some have such a mild version that they don’t even feel sick, these asymptomatic people don’t seem to be infecting others.

Almost No Genuine Community Spread Apart from Clusters

Although the Italian supermarkets are saying to stay a meter away from other customers – it’s the experience of China, Singapore etc that it doesn’t in fact spread this way.

They have found all the cases in Singapore through tracing close contacts all the way back to China.

Even in South Korea nearly all their over 7000 cases are from a few clusters.

The Italians are being hyper-cautious as it is a new disease and we are still learning about it. However there isn’t any evidence yet that this will make a significant difference to the spread.

As a personal guideline it is wise to keep a distance from anyone coughing and sneezing, and get out of the habit of touching your face if you can, wash hands frequently.

But even if someone coughs on you and they have covid19, in practice it is most unlikely that this infects anyone. Not just a single cough. It can’t because if it did this contact tracing would never have worked as effectively as it has.

The Disease Will Soon Stop if 75% of People Practice the Hygiene

It doesn’t need everyone to do this.

To see how it works – if you take no precautions at all, on average each person infects two others and the numbers double roughly every 4 days.

Starting with 100 people:

100 infects 200 new cases (day 4) infects 400 (day 8) infects 800 (day 12)
12 days later you have 1500 cases (100 + 200 + 400 + 800)

Now suppose we can stop 3/4 of those infections. This means that 100 people infect 50 instead of 200 (because you have stopped 3/4 of the infections)

100 infects 50 (day 4) infects 25 (day 8) infects 12 (day 12)
Now 12 days later you have 187 cases instead of 1500 (100 + 50 + 25 + 12).

This is a huge difference. Soon this outbreak will be over.

This is why the WHO say that although this is a pandemic, it can be the first pandemic we stop.

Most People Recover

Also most people get a mild version of the disease and nearly everyone recovers, 67,003 just now.

Most of the 125,865 cases will recover. Probably eventually many more than 120,000 will recover of the ones that have it so far.

For young people then its likely that out of 1000 cases 998 will recover with good health care (for under 40) and all 1000 for under 10s.

Most of the ones who haven’t recovered yet, and haven’t died yet, will recover.

Test Kits Are on the Way

Roche cobas SARS-CoV-2 Test Gets Emergency Use Authorization For Coronavirus

Coronavirus has been categorized since the 1960s, that is why the latest outbreak has a -19 on the end, so other tests will still work, but due to bizarre rules and red tape created by government – there is no point in blaming Trump, both Obama and Bush forced or allowed this bureaucracy creep – a test that worked for coronavirus in 2003 or 2018 has to be treated like a new drug.

The New York State Department of Health got fed up with it and declared they were going on their own, FDA retreated and is allowing the state to validate NY labs in lieu of pursuing an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) with FDA.

Congratulations to Roche for being allowed to be part of the solution to a problem government created.

We Can Stop This

We can stop it by any of these, or a combination:

  • Case finding – e.g. testing anyone with flu / pneumonia symptoms with travel history with infected areas
  • Contact tracing and isolation of all contacts of known cases
  • Case finding rapidly – China can now find cases in 3 days from onset of symptoms. This requires you to have lots of testing capacity – and educate the public to report symptoms right away.
  • Personal protection through washing hands etc.

Remember you only need to stop 3/4 of the transmisisons, or even just a bit over half would do. For instance if we find all cases within 3 days of symptoms, instead of 14 days later, then they only have 3 days to infect anyone else and that alone could be enough to stop this virus in a few weeks

South Korea are doing this. Italy is doing all the right things too. It is nerve wracking when the outbreak is still rising and shows no sign of stopping but there is always a delay of several days to a week.  You don’t see the effects right away.

Good News in China and South Korea

No native covid19 cases in China outside of Hubei province on the 9th March. The 4 new cases were all imported from outside of China.

China are closing down 11 of their 16 makeshift hospitals because they are no longer needed – the largest of them with 2000 beds.

China are going to reopen schools this week and may lift the travel restrictions on Hubei province soon.

This underlines what the WHO have been saying – this virus can be contained. They only did lockdown of cities in Hubei province – in the other provinces it was mainly rapid case finding with their fever clinics, contact tracing, and public hygiene education and some other restrictions but not a total lock down.

A few weeks ago on 29th January all provinces in China were at level 1 “red” for risk the highest possible risk – the whole of China was red.

South Korea is close to containing their outbreak too, had less daily cases than they have had for two weeks.

Footnote:  A helpful chart from WHO

Meanwhile, back in the mass media world:

Life on Arctic Seafloor Under the Ice

In some places, life manages to get a toehold in an otherwise barren landscape. (Photo: AWI, OFOBS team)

This is a great science story, untainted by activist agendas or grandstanding.  An article at ScienceNorway describes Here’s what it looks like 4000 meters below the Arctic ice.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Far below the Arctic ice lies a special area with volcanic activity. What lives down there? Scientists have gone on a journey to find out.

Hydrothermal vents were first discovered in 1979. They look like pipes sticking out of the seabed and emit warm “smoke”, which is actually hot fluid loaded with minerals.

In the Atlantic and Pacific, many of these vents, also called chimneys, are surrounded by unique ecosystems with clams, blind shrimp, beard worms and extremophile bacteria.

Life there does not get its energy from the sun, but from the interior of the earth.

Microorganisms use reduced compounds from the vents as an energy source to make organic matter, just as plants and algae use photons from the sun. Larger animals live in symbiosis with these microbes.

However, no one has previously looked at the fauna in this type of area in the Arctic.

What lives in these cold, deep waters, 4,000 metres below the ice?

“We wanted to see if this ecosystem had developed in isolation — whether it is very different from other places with hydrothermal vents, or whether the fields are interconnected,” says Eva Ramirez-Llodra.

“It was hard to plan the days, because you work at the mercy of the ice,” says Ramirez-Llodra.

Arctic sea ice is not quiet. It breaks up, freezes, and varies in thickness. That made it difficult to get to the right place. The researchers towed a camera after the boat to film the seabed.

On October 3, they finally got a good position over what they believed was the field. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on the screens in the control room and the tension was high.

The pictures show the typical fauna on the Aurora volcanic field. The first picture shows a large sinkhole. (Photo: AWI, OFOBS team)

It was a huge hydrothermal vent, a black smoker, and later the researchers found two others.

“We could see that we were approaching the vents, because the sediments became coarser, and there were more stones and colours on the sea floor,” Ramirez-Llodra says.

One encounter was a little close. The researchers pulled the camera up over a mound, and suddenly they saw black smoke billowing out of a gaping, underwater crater.

“It’s not actually smoke, but very hot liquid at about 350 degrees C. The camera ran right into it. It went so fast that we couldn’t stop it. Everything went black and we were scared that we had burned everything up,” she says. “Fortunately, we got the picture back after a few minutes. We could continue. This was our first close encounter with a black smoker.”

Scientists saw fields that shone like gold on the otherwise colourless bottom around the chimneys.

The material the researchers saw wasn’t gold but sulphite that is deposited by the black “smoke”, Ramirez-Llodra says, although there are also traces of gold and silver in the fluid that gushes from the vent. Around the vents were clusters of white organisms that glistened as they reflected the light from the camera.

The area around the Aurora field was covered by a thick layer of fine-grained sediments. Where the ground was solid enough for something to stick, there were white, spooky sponges. There were shrimp frolicking in the depths, and sea cucumbers and anemones. The occasional fish also swam around.

But the bulk of the organisms in the depths were glass sponges. They are relatively rare, can grow up to a metre wide, and some of them can live for several centuries, according to an article about the trip written by National Geographic. The sponges are largely made up of silica, and only a little of their mass is organic matter. They can be said to barely be alive.

Glass sponges and shrimp do not depend on the vents but thrive in the cold depths. Researchers aren’t yet certain exactly which species these are. (Photo: AWI, OFOBS team)

The researchers did not find the diversity of life that has been discovered around hydrothermal vents in other ocean areas.

“There wasn’t much life down there,” says Ramirez-Llodra. “But we’re not exactly sure why yet.”

Hydrothermal vents in the Atlantic and Pacific contain colourful communities of beard worms, clams and crabs that have adapted to the special environment around the vents.

“Most of these have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria and microorganisms that live by chemosynthesis. The bacteria can be inside their bodies or in special organs,” says Ramirez-Llodra.

“Some organisms don’t even have a mouth or digestive system, but only live from what the microbes inside their body produce.”

Ramirez-Llodra says the researchers don’t know yet if there is a similar relationship between organisms around the vents in the Aurora field.

Additional studies of the videos and samples the researchers took will reveal more about the previously unknown environment on the Gakkel Ridge.

Ramirez-Llodra says they will embark on a new expedition later, to take samples even closer to the vents.

Postscript:  How refreshing to know about scientists following their curiosity to discover something new about life and the universe.  It encourages one about the future in spite of all the crazy talk of climate “crises” or “emergencies”.  Best wishes and hopes for an unalarming 2020!

Global Volcanism Program, East Gakkel Ridge at 85°E

See Also  Overview: Seafloor Eruptions and Ocean Warming