Misplaced Hopes for COVID Herd Immunity; Napkin Calculation

Herd immunity is all the rage. (NYT) When Could the United States Reach Herd Immunity? It’s Complicated. According to charts like these, the future is predictably bright. Not so fast.

When I saw the Penn and Teller  magician duo  show in Vegas, Penn began by insulting the audience (paraphrasing): “If you knew any math, you wouldn’t be in Vegas.” The audience laughed. Since you haven’t paid a hundred bucks to read this, and can X the tab any time you want, I’ll try to be more polite.

After all we’ve been through since Feb 2020, you really shouldn’t give the NY Times chart, or Alabama’s in-state projection, any credence. But, you argue, it is the product of experts? Epidemiologists are honorable scientists who are experts at many sub-specialties and technical tools of the science of epidemiology. One thing they are not experts at  is COVID prediction.

Expertise implies accuracy.  We have only trends, which like fads, continue for a while, ending unpredictably. Legend has J.P. Morgan on the stock market: “It will fluctuate.” Governor Cuomo already knows this. (CNN) Gupta: I’m stunned Gov. Cuomo said this about health experts; Sometimes You Just Have to Lie.

These reports directly challenge the NY Times chart:

So why is the NY Times chart so beguiling? Are we sucked in by an attractive graphic, even though it offers no accounting for mutant strains? Perhaps, like propaganda, it works in the absence of accessible alternative information.

The alternative will come in the form of a napkin calculation. The result will not be fact, but an alternative to the chart, which, in our ignorance, has equal weight. Refer to (Nature) Fast-spreading  COVID variant can elude immune responses. Quoting,

Pseudoviruses with the full package of 501Y.V2 mutations were fully resistant to convalescent serum from 21 out of 44 participants, and were partly resistant to the vast majority of people’s sera, Moore’s team found.

Quoting from (BioRxiv) SARS-CoV-2 501Y.V2 escapes neutralization by South African COVID-19 donor plasma,

SARS-CoV-2 501Y.V2, a novel lineage of the coronavirus causing COVID-19, contains multiple mutations within two immunodominant domains of the spike protein. Here we show that this lineage exhibits complete escape from three classes of therapeutically relevant monoclonal antibodies. Furthermore 501Y.V2 shows substantial or complete escape from neutralizing antibodies in COVID-19 convalescent plasma. These data highlight the prospect of reinfection with antigenically distinct variants and may foreshadow reduced efficacy of current spike-based vaccines.

Let’s get a number out of these citations. The number will be plausible, not factual. It will be on a collision course with the NY Times chart. The number is 1/2.  With respect to the entire population of the U.S., and the number of silent cases, administered vaccines, recovered-diagnosed: divide this sum, the NYT orange line, by half.

The NYT chart orange line of total immunity implies an increase of community immunity from a current 40% to 75% in six months.. This is an increase of  6% per month, which we use to correct the NYT graph. With anticipation of widespread SARS-CoV-2 501Y.V2 and other mutations, the factor of 1/2 could imply we are currently, not at 40%, but  20% immunity. To make up the difference of 20%, at 6% per month, we need 3+ more months.  The implies herd immunity in November/December, not August.

This is possible, not factual, if COVID doesn’t have more tricks up its sleeve. It takes influenza A about 25 years to cycle through its range of antigen permutations.

Even with the not-quite promise of herd immunity, COVID-19 is likely to remain a nasty, prevalent disease,  sparing only those with lucky genes,  and those who are exposed as children.

“There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Mark Twain et al.


Texas Power Grid Disaster

Climate change is real. Carbon neutral is vital to survival of humanity. But news coverage has recruited the Texas power crisis to support issues general to climate change, including pros and cons of renewable energy, and the threat of disasters in other geographic areas. This is misdirection; this disaster was made in Texas and stays in Texas.

Refer to (Climate Central) The Fuel You Use For Heating Depends on Where You Live. In the southeast, which includes Texas, electric heating is most common. In all other areas, fossil fuel predominates. Texans prefers electric heating because:

  • It is cheap to install.
  • The need is occasional, so  in the south, resistive electric heating, the most wasteful method of heating short of setting your house on fire, can be justified.
  • In areas further from the Gulf coast, at minimal additional manufacturing cost, an air conditioner can also function also as a heating device, a “heat pump.”

Let’s do some environmental arithmetic.  Electricity is energy, just like heat, except for one crucial difference: The entropy of electricity is zero, which means it can be converted into heat with 100% efficiency. The reverse is not so. At a fossil fuel power station, fuel is burned to create heat, which is a form of energy. In Texas,  natural gas is the fuel.  The average efficiency of a gas plant is 45%, held down by steam turbines. Newer internal combustion gas turbines from GE and Siemens hit 63%. (IEEE Spectrum) Gas Turbines Have Become by Far the Best Choice for Add-on Generating Power.

The industry standard approximation for transmission loss to your home is 6%.  Resistive electric heating is a climate change nightmare. When you plug in a resistive electric heater, when sometimes you can see a coil glow cherry red, you are burning almost twice as much fossil fuel as a  home gas heater.  Not exactly twice, because home gas heaters lose some energy in vented exhaust gases. In the 1960’s, half the heat went up the flue. Now the loss of home gas heat is down to about 15%.

Any Texan who can afford A/C buys an A/C heat pump  combo. Heat pumps have a trick. By reversing the Carnot cycle, a heat pump appears to produce more heat than the energy equivalent of the electricity required to run it. Down to an outside temp of 40F, this can be 3X as much. This neatly balances out the almost 2/3 losses of converting fossil fuel to electricity and transmission to your home.

As the outside temperature drops, the heat pump loses efficiency. At 5F, a non-specialty A/C heat pump combo supplies only as much heat as the electricity equivalent required to run the compressor. As the temperature continues to drop, the demand on the power grid exceeds summertime peaks. At extremes, a resistive electric heater actually becomes more efficient!

North of Oklahoma, which participates in the U.S. national grid, the climate is too severe for an A/C-heat pump combo. Specialty cold weather heat pumps can work far north, but make sense mostly where there is no gas grid. So the Texas Power Grid Disaster is unique to Texas. Disasters occur everywhere, but the only lessons we can take are general. Those that apply everywhere:

Why the Texas disaster is special:

  • An isolated grid subject to wintertime electricity consumption peaks that can exceed summertime.
  • Circumstances that almost uniquely favor electric heating in a region of climate extremes. In Texas, part of Tornado Alley,  warm Gulf flows and cold  fronts driven south by the jet stream are in constant opposition.

If you’re outside of Texas and looking for lessons, pick from the first list and ignore the second. Now what about climate change? (UCAR Center for Science Education) Why the Polar Vortex Keeps Breaking out of the Arctic states

Typically, a large difference in temperature between the air of the polar vortex and the air in the mid-latitudes drives the polar jet stream. However, the Arctic is warming faster than other areas of the planet… “Ironically and counterintuitive to many, the strong polar vortex can be linked, in part, to warmer temperatures.”

It’s probably true, yet due to the  complexities of turbulent systems, it’s not good for argument.   Ignorant rebuttals are just too easy:

Texans have a saying, “Don’t mess with Texas.” This did not stop the Fickle Finger of Fate.  What can the rest of us distill?

  • Everywhere in the U.S., we rely on systems that rely on heroics, or at least diligence, to avoid disaster.
  • Highly redundant systems can hold the Fickle Finger at bay, maybe long enough to fix the problem before disaster.
  • Vulnerabilities are tied to locale. There are no general solutions.

Since I live in the mid-Atlantic, I have a specific insight for gas heat. When Hurricane Sandy struck, we were without power for 3 days.  Our home gas heat hot water system requires about 500 watts of electricity to run the pumps, fans, thermostats, relays, and microprocessor. No electric, no heat. I made it through with a generator.

A Stirling engine is a sealed system that requires only a hot surface and a cold surface to work. A typical furnace room has both. The engine could be part of a furnace setup, turning a small electric generator. With a compatible furnace, a Stirling engine could produce enough power to run a  heating system at reduced output.

Stay warm. Some like it hot.








(CNN) With coup label, Capitol rioters join communist party in plotting against USA, university project says

(CNN) With coup label, Capitol rioters join communist party in plotting against USA, university project says. Quoting,

The Coup D’etat Project, an initiative of the University of Illinois’ Cline Center for Advanced Social Research, has determined the insurrection that unfolded at the Capitol on January 6 fits its definition of an attempted dissident coup.

The only other American entry in its global database is placed in 1948, in which members of Communist Party USA conspired to violently overthrow the government. They talked about it in their living rooms, and wrote plans.

This is a ludicrous comparison. The 1948 “coup attempt” survives in the public record only from the  trials of 11 members of the Communist Party of the U.S.A.,  Smith Act trials of Communist Party leaders, between 1949 and 1958. According to specific criteria of the Coup D’etat Project, this results in a single line in their .xls spreadsheet.

You may despise communism, as I do.  But Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black explains the difference in his dissent opinion for  a 1951 Smith trial, Dennis v. United States:

These petitioners were not charged with an attempt to overthrow the Government. They were not charged with overt acts of any kind designed to overthrow the Government. They were not even charged with saying anything or writing anything designed to overthrow the Government. The charge was that they agreed to assemble and to talk and publish certain ideas at a later date: The indictment is that they conspired to organize the Communist Party and to use speech or newspapers and other publications in the future to teach and advocate the forcible overthrow of the Government. No matter how it is worded, this is a virulent form of prior censorship of speech and press…

In the immediate postwar period, in the U.S. government as in Britain, there was a significant presence of Soviet moles. This sensitized Hoover’s FBI to the negligible threat of visible, self-identified communists who did share a vision of revolution. To put into perspective the efficiency with which the FBI nullified the CPUSA, from 1957-1977, the party paymaster, Morris Childs, was an agent for the FBI.

What benefit derives from comparison with the sacking of the Capitol, while advocating murder with weapons in hand, egged on by a sitting POTUS? If you’re running an academic project, which is not without value, it gets you news coverage for the wrong reason.

The most powerful fact was ignored: The Capitol Insurrection was powered by hate speech which incited violence. In the Free World, the U.S. is the only country that constitutionally protects hate speech.

Is hate speech now an unaffordable luxury, or can doctoring social media diminish the now rampant forces of hate?





(CNN) Defense Secretary dismisses hundreds of members of Pentagon advisory boards including late Trump picks

(CNN) Defense Secretary dismisses hundreds of members of Pentagon advisory boards including late Trump picks.

Some, though not all of the appointments of the previous administration had a strong tinge of the political, and, going beyond that, personal loyalty, demanded by then-POTUS. This deprived DoD of the best possible civilian expertise.

If DoD were a civilian organization, uniform members would be the  point-men/women. Most officers have advanced degrees. But modern warfare is so complex, it is beyond the capacity of these individuals to have more than concentrated  knowledge. Command, strategy, and tactics are the consuming occupations. By themselves, they make a life.

A recent Pentagon study has a startling conclusion, that in some cases, forces within the military don’t know how to accomplish their assigned missions.  This is exemplified by at least one massive failure in procurement, the littoral combat ship, with two deficiencies:

  • The first four, virtually new ships are to be retired, due to construction defects that cannot be economically remedied.
  • Conceived when the Philippines was considered a stalwart ally, these lightly armed chameleons  would have  had thousands of miles of coastline to evade the Chinese Navy. They are not now survivable ships.

East Asia has changed, so the mission must change as well. In the near future,  relative strengths will be determined by cruise missiles, torpedoes, and logistics, followed later by directed energy weapons. Logistics may be the second most daunting problem. The most serious problem is erosion of U.S. soft power.

Since the advisory boards were  involved in defining this mission, it makes sense to reach  out for fresh thought.  We can aspire to ideals, but we must not let them dictate.

There  is likely one more reason of sinister necessity. In arrests from the Capitol insurrection, military veterans are over represented. If insurrectionist sentiment had any representation in the advisory committees, it could have facilitated subversion of the military chain of command. The preservation of it  is vital to defense of the Constitution.


(CNN) Gupta: I’m stunned Gov. Cuomo said this about health experts; Sometimes You Just Have to Lie

(CNN) Gupta: I’m stunned Gov. Cuomo said this about health experts.

My heart is on the side of the experts; see Why I Support Dr. Anthony Fauci. At the beginning of the COVID epidemic, almost everyone, expert or ignorant, were mostly wrong about the future. But the experts learned and applied new knowledge, while the ignorant continued to be ignorant. Epidemiologists apply the scientific method. Politicians do not.

But epidemiology has weak predictive powers. New plagues do not replicate old ones that have been studied. Mathematics, which works so well with the hard sciences, has not been successful in predicting the trajectory of COVID. To predict, you have to model. To model, you have to know  the system. The system by which COVID-19 propagates is too complex to model.

A partial transcript of the CNN video, from The Hill:

Neurosurgeon and CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta on Monday said that he was “stunned” by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) casting doubt on the input of experts amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“When I say ‘experts’ in air-quotes, it sounds like I don’t really trust the experts, because I don’t,” Cuomo said in a press briefing Friday.

Cuomo said this in preface to,

“The experts say that the trend for New York should continue to drop. That’s what the experts say…”

Skepticism was Cuomo’s qualifier, since like many of us, he is skeptical of trend predictions that do not take into account the likely effect of the new, more contagious strains. Which language is more broken:

  • Cuomo’s ironic observation, which has basis in fact?
  • A statistical product that is less informative than the number of sardines per cubic foot of seawater?

This is what happens when epidemiology, a science with weak powers of prediction, is pushed by popular demand to make unreliable predictions, and then skewered by politicians who are forced to make use of the product.

Affronted, the experts quit, because they understood

“When I say ‘experts’ in air-quotes, it sounds like I don’t really trust the experts, because I don’t.”

to mean “The experts are unworthy of public trust, or their guidance should be disregarded”, or “I don’t appreciate you or your job.”

Negative sentiments are appropriate towards Scott Atlas ((CNN) Dr. Scott Atlas Resigns from Corona Virus Task Force), but not for Cuomo’s experts. People like to be appreciated when they deserve it. There is a flaw in the system. Cuomo received a projection that requires a qualifier, preferably supplied by the experts themselves: The propagation of mutant strains makes the projection worthless.

Being smarter than the average bear, Cuomo recognized this. With the impatience of superior intellect, he made this known. His only mistake was not lying. All politicians should be fluent at lying, which can only be acquired with gratuitous practice.

My other favorite quote of Andrew Cuomo is (paraphrased), “America…was never that great”  (CNN) Gov. Cuomo: America was never that great. Tell it like it is, Andrew.

Governor Cuomo, you win the Fortune Cookie Honest Man Award.

*Honest Man Award Ceremony*