(CNN) Researchers reject Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s misuse of their studies to support mask denialism.

(CNN) Researchers reject Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s misuse of their studies to support mask denialism.

Upfront: Laura Ingraham may be stupid, evil, or both, but this is a missed opportunity for CNN to explain the science in an accessible way. It could be done in three sentences with schoolyard vocabulary. Comments for CNN at the end.

The study in question: (Annals of Internal Medicine) Effectiveness of Adding a Mask Recommendation to Other Public Health Measures to Prevent SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Danish Mask Wearers. The study authors present conclusions valid to professional statisticians, yet fail to inform public health policy. The  implication that masks fail to protect the wearer is unjustified. How can this be?

Imagine you are a scientist investigating coin tosses. You use your funding to buy a single penny. You toss it six times; you get five heads.  The chance of this happening is 5%. The chance of five tails  is 5%.  Is 5% sheer random chance definitive? This is a demo of the Central Limit Theorem. Maybe you should drop your plan to write, “Random Variation of Coin Tosses With Implications for Gang Warfare”. The study is weak, lacking statistical power. 

Instead of a binary outcome, the study observes:

  • 5% chance mask use reduced any degree of COVID  infection, including asymptomatic by 46%. This is statistically weak. A study that measured reduction of severe infection could be much stronger.
  • 5% chance mask use increased infection by 23%, which is absurd. This connects with weak statistical power.
  • In case you haven’t noticed, the above is contradictory, a red flag.
  • Severity of infection was not measured, only immune reaction, likely a limitation of sample size limited by budget.

Reduction of severe infection is crucial and unmeasured, which the authors acknowledge:

“Masks have been hypothesized to reduce inoculum size (34) and could increase the likelihood that infected mask users are asymptomatic, but this hypothesis has been challenged (35).”

There is a 5% chance of absurdity, that masks increase infection. The study authors are completely honest, acknowledging this with stated limitations:

“Inconclusive results, missing data, variable adherence, patient-reported findings on home tests, no blinding, and no assessment of whether masks could decrease disease transmission from mask wearers to others.”

Now for the journalism. Laura Ingraham is untouched by CNN as long as CNN’s scathing criticism is confined to the political domain. “Follow the leader” is a strong political meme that can’t be countered with “believe us not them”. Some significant minority of our society is amenable to reasoning with facts. Any political piece that goes beyond sheer tactics deserves a few nibbles of reason from the natural world, with companion schoolyard logic.

 

 

(CNN) George Bush’s Greeting Card; Complement to the Image

(click to enlarge)

(CNN) George W. Bush sends holiday card with pointed message as Trump denies election loss. My  secular complement appears above. The painting previously appeared  in COVID-19 and Augury; A Painting for Today, a dismissal of blind hope.

But as with poetry, a painting contains its diametric opposite. This is the season for hope, not blind hope, but firm hope that turns into resolution.

If we pull hard enough on those bootstraps, maybe we can do it.

 

 

(CNN) White House chief of staff told FDA chief vaccine must be authorized Friday or he needs to resign

(CNN) White House chief of staff told FDA chief vaccine must be authorized Friday or he needs to resign.

Stephen Hahn’s dilemma is real:

  • The Pfizer vaccine will certainly save lives of those who receive it. It is relatively safe compared to immunizations commonly given to international travelers, but  not as safe as a flu shot.
  • Unless administered in locations well equipped to handle anaphylactic shock, a few people may die in a very public manner.
  • People who die in public view are amplified by the media, transcending numbers and the net benefit of the shot to the public.
  • Those few casualties would greatly inhibit uptake of the Pfizer shot, and  even safer vaccines yet to come.
  • The result would be prolongation of the epidemic, possibly with more total deaths than if approval were denied.

(CNN) Allergy warning for Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine after UK health workers with allergy history suffer reaction

(CNN) Allergy warning for Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine after UK health workers with allergy history suffer reaction.

This was anticipated, but I did not want to risk being identified as an antivaxer.  I would take the Pfizer vaccine, but only in a hospital  or well equipped clinic.  The presentation of anaphylactic shock is sudden and often severe. Sometimes it requires transfer to an ER. If anaphylactic shock does not occur within the first half hour, it is unlikely to occur, or be severe. mRNA decays rapidly. So unlike the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine, the known risk factor is short term.

It is oft said that one cannot be allergic on first exposure to a potential allergen, but there is a big loophole, cross-reactivity of IgE antibodies to a substance with a similar shape.

The synthesis of a class of antibodies  is restricted to  processes that do not require a lot of energy, and without toxic byproducts.  This means that all antibodies of a class are more similar than different. An antibody binds very weakly to the target, like the crummy adhesive of a Post-It note. The bond is so weak, antibodies are constantly falling of their targets.  Shape — lock and key — target and antibody, is crucial to  the grip.

Since most targets with interesting shapes are proteins, virtually all allergens are proteins, or protein complexes. mRNA, the active constituent of the Pfizer vaccine, is not a protein. Yet RNA is known to be allergenic, meaning that on occasion it can be misidentified as harmful. How can this be?

Proteins are made of small nitrogen containing molecules called amino acids, which can make chains called peptides. If a peptide is long enough, it’s called a protein. RNA is made of nucleobases, which contain sugars, nitrogen-containing compounds and other stuff. The presence of nitrogen is key to molecules with complex, distinctive shapes, a requirement of  allergens.

All proteins contain nitrogen, but not all nitrogenous chemicals are proteins. Four different nitrogen-containing nucleobases form long chains that spell the message of life, or in the Pfizer vaccine,  instructions to the molecular factories of a human cell for making COVID-19 spike protein, which provokes the immune system to manufacture spike protein antibodies.

Someone or something searching for a shape in the mRNA chain sees randomness unrelated to the purpose of mRNA as a carefully coded message. So it’s practically impossible to identify the cross-reactive region that caused an allergic reaction in a particular patient.  But the problem is even worse.

All molecules vibrate. They barely resemble the colorful sticks-and-balls models of illustration. Some molecules are pretty stable. Double-strand DNA is strong enough you could make golf-club shafts out of it. mRNA is the extreme opposite, constantly twisting and gyrating like a crazed break-dancer. Only  weighting the ends of the strand with molecular tails, and ultra-cold storage, keep it from tearing apart long enough to reach the patient.

Injected, the mRNA  is warmed to body temperature and exposed to hostile enzymes. Quickly vibrating to destruction, mRNA and its fragments present zillions of different, unpredictable shapes to circulating IgE antibodies. A few recipients will be unlucky, with antibodies cross-reactive to this mRNA or its fragments.

The unlucky few can be treated  in a well equipped clinic or ER, and the drama will be over in a few hours.  If you know how to play the odds, get the Pfizer shot.  Better vaccines will come a few months later, but I wouldn’t wait. I would only choose if choice is immediate.

 

 

 

(CNN) Florida police raid home of former state Covid-19 data scientist

(CNN) Florida police raid home of former state Covid-19 data scientist.

The article left me scratching my head. Is Rebekah Jones merely a rebel, or has she been faithful to the charge of her undergraduate major in journalism, which in public service means blowing the whistle?  How could I know more about her as a person?

Watch the first seven minutes of (YouTube) Conversation with Rebekah Jones ’12, an interview by one of her former Syracuse University professors.

Then tell me what you think.

(CNN)’Sonic attacks’ suffered by US diplomats likely caused by microwave energy, government study says

(CNN)‘Sonic attacks’ suffered by US diplomats likely caused by microwave energy, government study says.

Download the National Academy of Sciences report (pdf) here.

I wrote 16 articles on the attacks, which advance the theory that:

The ultrasound theory was not one of the four mechanisms identified as plausible by the NAS authors:

  • Directed radio frequency energy, that is, microwaves, with basis in the Frey Effect. Frey is still kicking, and thinks it might be correct.
  • Chemicals.
  • Infectious agents.
  • Psychological and social factors.

Since I “invested” in the ultrasound theory, the reader may suspect a bias against the NAS Report. I am not above suspicion. But it should not prevent a critical look at the Report.

Point 1: The Report is skimpy and weak.  Of the 77 pages, only pages 17-20 address microwaves. The bulk of the report is boilerplate, bibliography, and incomplete refutations of the other three mechanisms. The committee biographies actually occupy 8 pages, versus 3 for the microwave theory. This report wants you to accept because of who they are.

Point 2: The copyright is 2020.  Even if the report was completed in 2018, with delayed publication, that allows two years in which no  experimental work was performed.

Point 3: An equally eminent group, JASON, have different conclusions. Quoting from (Reuters) Special Report: Inside a Trump-era purge of military scientists at a legendary think tank,

More recently, the Jasons determined that a rare jungle cricket, not a mysterious radio frequency weapon, likely caused the odd sound that U.S. diplomats in Cuba had suspected caused them to fall ill in late 2016. No definitive cause of the illnesses has been determined.

Point 4: Kenneth R. Foster and I share a concern about a missing tell-tale of destructive microwave intensity, heat. (WAPO) Scientists and doctors zap theory that microwave weapon injured Cuba diplomats. Quoting,

It’s crazy,” said Kenneth R. Foster, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania who studied microwave phenomena while working at the Naval Medical Research Center in Bethesda. Foster, who was not involved in examining the diplomatic personnel, said that the reported illnesses remain mysterious and that he doesn’t have an explanation….“But it’s sure as heck not microwaves,” he added….University of Cincinnati neurologist Alberto J. Espay said, “Microwave weapons is the closest equivalent in science to fake news.”

Skin is a very sensitive detector of heat. In a simple undergraduate lab experiment the power of 25 milliwatt 5 gHz Gunn diode oscillator is measured with a thermocouple. No student can resist the temptation to briefly stick a finger in the beam. It’s warm. In the public reports of these attacks, there is no mention of warmth. Surely, in drill-down questioning, this would have been asked.

The lack of any experimental work is inexcusable. The research arm at Kirtland AFB was supposed to look at this, but we haven’t heard back.

  • A few sets duplicating the Havana residences would have provided insight into the propagation and directionality of  directed energy, EM or sonic.
  • From a propagation survey on these sets, the wavelengths can be inferred. From the wavelengths and locations within rooms of the sensations, the physical properties of  a directed energy beam can be inferred.
  • These properties must be consistent with depth of penetration into the skull. If they are, we have something resembling a solution.

Without, better to continue wondering, than repeat the error of Aristotle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advice for a New Secretary of State, Part 7

In September ’17, I wrote a  series for Rex Tillerson:

Since Tillerson’s background was not that of a professional diplomat with think-tank imprinting, there seemed an opening for new ideas. Before Part 7 was published, he was replaced by equally capable Mike Pompeo, who had national security experience. So I held Part 7 back. It now follows.

The appointees of the new administration are career professionals. The experience confers both advantage and disadvantage:

  • Long acquaintance with the levers of power and gears of bureaucracy promote smooth policy execution.
  • Institutional and cultural biases tend to impede innovation. Some of the ideas in this series remain edgily innovative.

You might wonder why Part 7 is about Russia, and not China. It was written in the shadow of a recent hot war between Ukraine and Russia.   Russia continues to complicate our approach to China for visceral reasons that elude wide understanding. In the style of good briefing material, a major point of Russian strategy comes first:

In  the creation by social media of a whole new world, that world would be incomplete without war.

Advice for a New Secretary of State, Part 7

I was tempted to remark that Russian subversion of democracies is unethical, while a counter-strategy based operant conditioning is ethically  beyond reproach. But there is always a chance that the Russians might open up a little, as during Perestroika. Rather than negate the possibility, I’d like to leave them with something to chew on. Vladimir Putin now seems a combination of a modern man with a nationalist in the historical mold. People who are combinations contain the possibility of change.

Let’s consider what forms the external image of the U.S., and circle back to Nikki Haley’s “…that is warfare.”

Between 1920 and 1950, reservoirs of romantic sympathy  in the West for Bolshevik revolution gradually faded away, replaced by a true appreciation of the horrors. Six years later, on February 2, 1956, the first official denunciation within the Soviet Union came in Khrushchev’s secret speech. This was really the first “perestroika.” But starting from the base of an historic brutality, it was only an increment. Three generations have passed since that speech, enough time for Western Europe to abandon the nationalism of conflict dating to the Treaty of Westphalia.

With three generations, the salt of Russia’s earth still have one foot in the past.  That foot threatens to drag us all back to the conflicts of centuries. This is why we are so unnerved by Russian subversion. But perhaps the Russians don’t appreciate the value of what they are trying to destroy.

Historical comparisons can be made between  human rights violations in Russia, and in the West. There  is the appearance of qualitative overlap, but this neglects the numbers. Russia had Stalin’s purges. The U.S. had racial lynching. Russia had extrajudicial capital punishment, via the infamous NKVD “troika.”  In the U.S., capital punishment is inconsistently applied, in some cases, to innocents. Neither society is perfect, but numbers tell the story.

  • While 20+ millions died in Stalin’s purges, the Tuskegee Institute documents a total of 4,733 lynchings since 1882.
  • According to  a study cited by Newsweek, U.S. miscarriage of justice in cases involving capital punishment since 1973 has been about 4.1%. Since 1973, 144 people on death row have been exonerated.
  • Estimates that date from the 1990’s of the peak Gulag population vary,  the lowest cited in Wikipedia as 4.5 million. In the U.S.,  people have gone to jail for political reasons, for participation in the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-War  movements, and some as almost purely as prisoners of conscience. Let the Russians come up with a list and we’ll do numbers.
  • U.S. and Russian covert activities in the Third World during the Cold War have significant symmetry. Manipulation of print and broadcast media correspond to social media manipulations. A good picture of this is given in the books by C.I.A. plank owner Miles Copeland. This epoch was swept away by the Church Committee, the Pike Committee, and so forth. Since then, concerns illuminated by legislative and public scrutiny, and leaks, have alternated in importance with the exigencies of 9/11.
  • The Russians may compare the former U.S. dominance in Latin America, interventions there, and the general attitude of the Monroe Doctrine, to the Iron Curtain of Eastern Europe. We don’t.

The above implies varying shades of gray, with occasional marks of black. The blackest mark on our record is the Vietnam War. Can we exonerate our fathers  by saying, “We were fighting communism?” This is not to argue with you if you think we can, but the Russians, and many others, do not share the thought.

As Americans, we are free to vigorously defend the above, to be shamed,  or accept them as bygone attitudes engendered by the Soviet threat. The purpose of this recapitulation is to understand Russian attitudes, particularly of the overhang of older individuals in the Russian government.

Vladimir Putin was born in the last year of Stalin’s life. His formative years were in a society of glacial change. One would have to be truly exceptional to escape the molding of Stalin’s ghost. But by comparison, he is better than any ruler the Russians have ever had. The one thing that has been lost, which gleamed so brightly under Boris Yeltsin, is the chance  of further evolution of Russian society. The chance has been traded for stability.

Suppose that instead of multiple views spanning decades, we take snapshots of each society at various points in time, but in comparison mix up all the dates so that we are comparing snapshots from different periods, and leave out numbers.  This kind of picture combines with  personal individuality, to form the attitudes of someone who was formerly a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. With the scrambling, how is that person to know that we have changed?

This hints at why the Kremlin thinks it acceptable to engage in subversion that by our social standards is (pick your adjective) unfair, dastardly, despicable, under-handed, not gentlemanly, reprehensible, evil,  etc.  Their possible reasons:

  • It’s no better or worse than what they use for internal social control.
  • Dredging from the Bolshevik past, “The capitalists want profits, and they will hang themselves with their own ropes.” It sounds ludicrous. But even after the words have lost all meaning, the sentiment remains. The Russians themselves may not be consciously aware of the origin.
  • Pure Comintern habit. The Comintern was the international organ of communist subversion. It was dissolved in 1943, but the melody lingers on.
  • A grudge against the West. Exclusion from EEC markets, the expansion of NATO, the loss of Ukraine, can be combined in the conspiratorial mind.
  • The loss of a sphere of influence.
  • Valuation of Russians above all other people. An escape clause.
  • Fear for the security of Russia, which is not groundless but very misdirected.
  • A new Cold war, or a sense that the old one never ended. War is the escape clause that legitimizes conduct that would otherwise  be universally condemned. Perhaps Nikki Haley is right.  In  the creation by social media of a whole new world, that world would be incomplete without war.
  • All of the above. The human mind likes to take a little bit of this, and a little bit of that.

What does this imply for our characterization of people behind the threat?

 

 

COVID 2nd Wave; How Our Behavior Influences Virulence

This continues from:

and earlier posts. Since most readers are occupied with politics, this piece is sketchier than I had planned. It has an advantage: It’s easy to pass on. It is so simplified, it could figure  in mainstream media.

We’ve seen that a virus doesn’t have brains, but it acts as though it does. Most viruses mutate constantly, with random results and no particular direction, unless a mutation confers a survival advantage. Here we consider why a virus might “choose” to  be patient, or impatient, and the advantages of each.

  • Patient virus. When people to infect are scarce, or hard to infect because they wear masks, a virus wants its host (infected person) to be walking around as long as possible, giving it the best chance of infecting more people. This means the virus can’t make the host too sick, or the host will die before Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Impatient virus. If hosts are plentiful and unprotected by masks or distancing, it’s in the interest of the virus to infect as many people as quickly  possible. This requires quick production of as many new virus particles as possible, which requires severe infection. The host  (sick person) could die, but the virus doesn’t care.  This has all the advantages of torching a restaurant to collect the insurance.

Which strategy works best influences evolution of a virus to a less or more virulent form:

  • If people are careful and vigilant, the tendency is a shift towards less virulence, milder disease.
  • If people are unguarded, as was the case in army camps in the 1918 flu epidemic, the tendency is a shift towards greater virulence, more severe diseases.

Which strategy works best for COVID-19  is determined by social distancing, and mask wearing. It’s up to us.

We’re finding out that many adult Americans think like children. This was written for a child.  It’s more transparent than adherent to the AP Style Manual, or the stilted style of academe. It loses nothing, except the pretense of sophistication, of models that can’t deliver.

Try it out on friends. Maybe you can teach them something.

 

 

 

 

 

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