• A Coronavirus Vaccine Is Still Months Away, but an Antibody Treatment Could Be Closer

    Vaccines have gotten all the attention in the race to fight Covid-19, but there is a major push in the United States to develop antibody therapies to treat coronavirus. Jen Christensen writes for CNN that there’s so much of a push that some scientists think these treatments may be available this year, even before a vaccine.

  • We Ran the CDC. Here’s How to Talk to the Public in a Health Crisis.

    With just a few words uttered during a media briefing in Geneva on Monday, the World Health Organization’s technical lead for coronavirus response sent a lightning bolt of doubt around the globe as to how transmission might occur during this pandemic. Jeffrey P. Koplan and Richard E. Besser — they each ran the CDC during a public health emergency – write in Barron’sthat when Maria Van Kerkhove walked back her statement about asymptomatic transmission a day later, noting that how often people without symptoms spread the disease “is a major unknown,” the damage already had been done. Communication failures like this, and the muted voice and ignored expertise of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during this pandemic, undermine the institutions we need and can have a dramatic impact on people’s health. Without trust, transparency, and truth, public health officials and government leaders will struggle to inform people and drive behaviors to serve the greater good.

  • Proper Perspective, and a New, Post-Pandemic Economic Paradigm

    Governments around the world have imposed economic and social lockdown in their countries in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. These decisions were driven by dire predictions of several influential epidemiological models. Three months into the lockdowns and shutdowns, these decisions are subject to renewed examination and criticism.
    Ross Clark (also see here) questions the usefulness of variables such as “R”-naught (R0), and the underlying figures used in calculating them. Alistair Haimes and Greg Weiner raise more fundamental questions: were government leaders, facing a complex situation requiring costly decisions, too willing – indeed, eager — to accept the recommendations of scientists and modelers, without subjecting these recommendations to searching critiques and thorough examinations? “[I]t is already clear that there has been an unexampled disregard for the foundational pillars of the scientific method even as governments trumpet that they are ‘following the science’,” Haimes writes. Weiner writes that in tough situations, leaders should not outsource decisions to others. Exercising judgment – seasoned by experience, evenness of temperament, and due regard for expertise – “as the means of making political decisions is not only correct; it is unavoidable.”
    And judgment leavened by experience, Dr. Waqar Rashid writes, would help us keep this epidemic in perspective. He tells the story of the 1996 mad cow disease (BSE) scare to show that with a better perspective, an initial panicky reaction to a scary new outbreak is often found to have been unjustified.
    On 1 December 1862, President Abraham Lincoln sent a message to Congress, proposing the compensated emancipation of slaves. “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present,” he wrote. “As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.” This is also Arnold Kling’s argument. The novel virus has created a novel economic predicament. “What is clear, however, is that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the deterioration of the concepts that underpin contemporary macroeconomic-policy thinking in America,” he writes. “The time has come to jettison both the Keynesian and monetarist paradigms that macroeconomic policymakers employ and to pursue an alternative paradigm more suitable to the conditions prevailing in today’s economy.”

  • Ignoring the COVID Evidence

    There is no need to wait for history books to analyze and dissect every aspect of the disease and the U.K. governments’ response to it, Alistair Haimes writes in The Critic, “but it is already clear that there has been an unexampled disregard for the foundational pillars of the scientific method even as governments trumpet that they are ‘following the science’.” He argues that at every stage, the U.K. government has failed to apply scrutiny where it is due, or even to stop and check that it was on the right ladder before it carried on climbing. He adds: “I have no idea whether there will be either a second wave or a totally different epidemic in the next few years. But we urgently need to repair the infrastructure not just of our healthcare and procurement systems but also of the decision-making processes underpinning our scientific advice, our policy response and our legislative safeguards, ready for the next crisis that comes along. It should start with ensuring that the right questions will be asked, and that scrutiny is maintained and sustained when the going gets tough. We did not have to get this wrong the way we did: we must not repeat the fatal steps that brought us to where we are now.”

  • Controversy on COVID-19 Mask Study Spotlights Messiness of Science during a Pandemic

    Late last week, a group of researchers posted a letter that they had sent to the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNASrequesting the retraction of a study published the week before that purportedly showed mask use was the most effective intervention in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in New York City. Stephanie Soucheray writes for CIDRAP that though PNAS editors have yet to respond to the request, scientists have roundly criticized the study’s methodology, and the entire kerfuffle has highlighted the difficulty of “doing science” amid a full-blown pandemic.

  • Prudence, Protests, and Pandemics

    On 10 April, during one of the manic news briefings which initially characterized the Trump administration’s erratic response to the coronavirus pandemic, a reporter asked the president what “metrics” he would use to make decisions about re-opening the economy. “The metric’s right here,” Trump said, pointing to his head. “That’s my metrics. That’s all I can do. I can listen to 35 people. At the end, I’ve got to make a decision.”  — Greg Weiner writes in National Affairs that “Trump’s ruminations in these briefings — which have ranged from the false to the harebrained, from the confused to the dangerous — may encourage caustic reactions. But the remark about metrics ranks as one of the more sensible things he has said on the topic.” Weiner adds: “There is an excellent case that Trump’s judgment is questionable. Certainly, he has derided any notion of expertise as well as the sources — such as experience, as opposed to impulse — from which it could meaningfully arise. His own decisions have been poorer as a result. But Trump’s endorsement of judgment — seasoned, as one hopes it is, and as one must acknowledge the president’s has not been, by experience, evenness of temperament, and due regard for expertise — as the means of making political decisions is not only correct; it is unavoidable.”

  • Hysteria over Germany's Surging R-Number Shows Why It's an Absurd Way to Measure COVID

    Germany’s “R” number: 1.06 on Friday, rising to 1.79 on Saturday and 2.88 on Sunday. Should the Germans be worried? Ross Clark writes in The Telegraph that the Germans should not, because the apparent acceleration in Germany’s R number shows the foolishness of focusing so much on a single figure. The rise in the number is entirely due to an outbreak in an abattoir in the town of Gutersloh in the region of North Rhine Westphalia, where 650 workers were found to have the virus. That is a closed environment kept at a chilled temperature which seems to have been an ideal place to promote the spread of the virus. It tells us nothing about COVID-19 in the rest of Germany (where, in fact, the numbers are in decline). “When the history of COVID-19 comes to be written, one issue which will need addressing is how mass fear was spread by the constant feeding of statistics by government and their agencies – figures which many people struggled to put into perspective. Here’s just a little more perspective. Germany so far has recorded 8,882 deaths from COVID 19. That is less than 1 percent of the approximately one million people who die in Germany every year,” Clark writes.

  • Can the Mad Cow Disease Outbreak Teach Us Anything about COVID-19?

    When so-called “mad cow disease” hit the headlines in 1996, I was in the final stages of finishing my medical degree. Information back then was harder to come by without social media, but it was probably more accurate and varied without the echo chambers that are now created. Even so, relative panic ensued and there are parallels to be drawn with the current Covid-19 crisis. Dr. Waqar Rashid writes in The Spectator that the thought of a terrifying illness which we would have no protection against has always been lurking in the recesses of the human condition as one of our greatest fears. Children are taught about the bubonic plague; the ‘black death’ no less. Smallpox and tuberculosis epidemics were not that long ago. As time has gone on though we have been protected by improved hygiene and diet, antibiotics and vaccination. In the western world especially, we felt very safe and had become complacent. Even TB, which will almost certainly kill far more people this year than Covid-19, is thought by many people in Britain to have been consigned to the past not so long ago. “This isn’t, of course, to discount the threat from COVID-19,” he writes. “Tens of thousands have died and each of these deaths brings with it grieving relatives mourning a life cut short. But it is vital that we see this illness in a wider context. And remembering how we reacted to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) helps in some way towards doing that.”

  • The Limits of COVID Death Statistics

    As is often said, choose your statistics carefully and you can use them make just about any point you want to. Ross Clark writes in The Spectator, however, that rarely does the Office for National Statistics put out two releases – the first one here (showing that overall deaths in England and Wales, while they have fallen, are still running at 5.9 percent above the average for the time of year); the second one here (showing that overall deaths in England and Wales are running at 5.9 percent below the average of the past five years [8,686 compared with 9,233]). The differences are the result of different counting methods, and the fact that the second release covers a slightly longer period – but even so, we can assume that one contributing factor to the decline of overall death is almost certainly that COVID-19 has been killing large numbers of people who were close to death anyway – it brought their deaths forward, hence the large spike in April that will now be followed by a long period of below-average deaths. “One of the perverse outcomes of COVID-19 is that it might briefly flatter the figures for circulatory diseases and lung cancer. People whose deaths would have been attributed to those conditions will instead have gone down as Covid-19 deaths,” Clark writes.

  • In France, Drones, Apps and Racial Profiling

    In the wake of the January 2015 terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, and the November 2015 terrorist attacks on several targets in Paris, France saw more and more troops patrolling the streets of major cities alongside the police, and the declaration of a state of emergency, which gave the state vast new powers to monitor citizens. Many in France fear this is happening again, under the umbrella of measures to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Critics point to a raft of areas where they believe personal freedoms have been compromised under the health emergency, which saw France imposing one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns. Lisa Bryant writes for VOA that, to be sure, similar concerns are being echoed elsewhere around the globe as governments fight the pandemic. But in France – where authorities still promote the country’s revolution-era moniker as the “land of human rights” – activists say the new measures fit a years’-long pattern. 

  • Economics after the Virus

    This novel virus has created a novel economic predicament. In a country after country, the government-imposed lockdowns have resulted in a recession which is fundamentally different from more typical recessions, which are the result of the market-driven business cycle. Arnold Kling, writing in National Affairs about the United States, argues that instead of crafting a new strategy to respond to these unprecedented circumstances, policymakers have dusted off the playbook they used during the 2008 financial crisis. “It is far from clear that these were the right plays to call in 2008,” he writes. “It is even less clear they are the right plays to call now.” He adds: “What is clear, however, is that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the deterioration of the concepts that underpin contemporary macroeconomic-policy thinking in America. That deterioration consists of a growing disconnect between the ideas that ground macroeconomic policy and the realities of the modern economy. The time has come to jettison both the Keynesian and monetarist paradigms that macroeconomic policymakers employ and to pursue an alternative paradigm more suitable to the conditions prevailing in today’s economy. Such a paradigm might be best described in terms of patterns of sustainable specialization and trade, or PSST. This new model offers us a more accurate understanding of the forces at work in our economy — and a more constructive foundation for public policy — than either the Keynesian or the monetarist models do.”

  • The Death of the Open-Plan Office? Not Quite, but a Revolution is in the Air

    COVID-19 does not spell the end of the centralized office predicted by futurists since at least the 1970s. The organizational benefits of the “propinquity effect” – the tendency to develop deeper relationships with those we see most regularly – are well-established (one of the chapters in Ian Fleming’s Diamonds Are Forever is titled: “Nothing propinks like propinquity”). Andrew Wallace writes in The Conversation that the open-plan office will have to evolve, though, finding its true purpose as a collaborative work space augmented by remote work. “If we’re smart about it, necessity might turn out to be the mother of reinvention, giving us the best of both centralized and decentralized, collaborative and private working worlds,” Wallace writes.

  • Islamic State Calls for Followers to Spread Coronavirus, Exploit Pandemic and Protests

    An Islamic State group online publication in India has called for its supporters to spread the coronavirus, saying “every brother and sister, even children, can contribute to Allah’s cause by becoming the carriers of this disease and striking the colonies of the disbelievers.” The group claims that devout Muslims will not be sickened, because “no disease can harm even a hair of a believer.” It is the latest in an effort by the Islamic State group and its followers to take advantage of the pandemic and general civic instability in the West. Brian Glyn Williams writes in The Conversation that Islamic State followers are excited at the prospect of a massive Western death toll from the coronavirus, which they defined as “God’s smallest soldier.” They also see the virus at work in U.S. military pullbacks related to the coronavirus – such as the March announcement from the Pentagon that it would stop sending troops to Iraq for at least two months. In addition, the U.S. pulled some troops out of Iraq, withdrew many more from six frontline operating bases and ordered the troops remaining in the country to stay on their bases – moves that ended most joint missions with local Iraqi and Kurdish troops.

  • Oxford Coronavirus Vaccine Will Be Rolled out in October under “Best Scenario”

    The Oxford vaccine against coronavirus will not be ready to be rolled out until October, researchers have said. Sarah Knapton writes in The Telegraph that there were hopes the vaccine could be in use by September if human trials continue to be successful, and drugs company AstraZeneca is ready to quickly produce 30 million vaccines. But Professor Adrian Hill, the director of the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford, told a webinar of the Spanish Society of Rheumatology that the “best scenario” would see results from clinical trials in August and September and deliveries from October. 

  • Viruses and Violence: How COVID-19 Has Impacted Extremism

    In April 2020, the Tony Blair Institute acknowledged that “extremist groups are beginning to recognize the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic, seeing opportunities to exploit fears, exacerbate tensions and mobilize supporters while government are occupied with trying to address COVID-19.” Extremists across the ideological spectrum have incorporated the pandemic into their messaging and their operations, though groups have differed on just what COVID-19 means and how to best exploit the pandemic and its resultant unrest.