Friday, May 15, 2020

The lockdown and appeals to authority


Here are two things every serious student of logical fallacies understands.  First, if what is at issue is the soundness of an argument, then the motives and expertise of the person giving the argument are completely irrelevant.  To fail to see this is to commit an ad hominem fallacy of “poisoning the well.”  Second, if what is at issue is the credibility of expert testimony, then the motives and expertise of the person giving the testimony are highly relevant.  To fail to see this is to commit a fallacy of “appeal to authority.”

Appealing to authority

For those who have forgotten or never knew, appealing to authority is not per se a fallacy.  If you believe that Caesar crossed the Rubicon on the basis of what your history professor told you, there is no fallacy there at all.  Your professor has expert knowledge of such things, and no reason to mislead you.  Rather, an appeal to authority is fallacious under one or both of two conditions: either the purported authority in question does not actually have relevant expertise, or you have reason to doubt his objectivity. 

The basic idea is clear enough, though not equally easy to apply in all cases.  Some cases are crystal clear.  If you believe that the MacBook Air is the best computer on the market simply because your favorite philosopher Ed Feser happens to own one, you would be committing the first kind of fallacy of appeal to authority.  I am no expert on computers.  If you believe the MacBook Air is the best computer on the market simply because the guy who works at the Apple store told you so, you are committing the second kind of fallacy of appeal to authority.  Though the guy who works at the Apple store has the relevant expertise, you have good reason to doubt that he is giving you an unbiased opinion.

But what about a case where, say, a history professor swears by Howard Zinn, and reacts with anger when you politely question the veracity of Zinn’s People’s History?  You would have good reason at least to wonder about his judgement and objectivity.  Though his education clearly does give him expertise in history, his political bias indicates that he might lack knowledge of or interest in aspects of the subject that do not support his opinions and/or that he is not likely to give you a dispassionate account of those aspects.  Hence, while you would not want entirely to dismiss what he tells you, it would be reasonable to have reservations about it.

The lockdown

Now, a problematic aspect of the lockdown is that most of what is said about the subject rests either directly or indirectly on the testimony of experts or purported experts.  Contrast that with a case of the sort with which readers of this blog are familiar.  Philosophical arguments can, for the most part, be evaluated entirely independently of any considerations about the knowledge or objectivity of the person giving them.  For example, you can evaluate Chalmers’ Zombie Argument, or Nozick’s Wilt Chamberlin Argument, or Searle’s Chinese Room Argument, without knowing anything about the expertise or biases of Chalmers, Nozick, or Searle. 

Of course, you might think that the fact that they gave these arguments reflects certain biases or expertise on their part.  But that is entirely irrelevant to how good or bad the arguments themselves are.  There is no premise in any of these arguments that requires you to assume that Chalmers, Nozick, or Searle made a correct judgment call.  You don’t have to take their word for anything.  For purposes of evaluating the arguments (as opposed to the purposes of, say, doing intellectual history) you can treat them as if they fell from the sky and have no essential connection to their authors. 

Little of what is said by way of defending or criticizing the lockdown is like that.  Most people’s opinions depend crucially on what they have heard from political commentators, journalists, politicians, and scientists.  None of what any of these people say can be evaluated the way a philosophical argument can, viz. in a manner that entirely abstracts from considerations about the knowledge and biases of the people giving the arguments.  And that includes, to some extent, the scientists.  Moreover, the knowledge and biases of these experts give us grounds for having at least some reservations about what they say.  And that too includes, at least to some extent, the scientists. 

Before I proceed, and to forestall premature hyperventilating, please take careful note of what I am not saying.  I am not saying that the epidemiological opinions of a Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow should be given the same weight as those of an Anthony Fauci.  I am not saying that scientists qua scientists are in general as prone to political bias as opinion columnists and elected officials are.  I am not saying that we are within our rights in dismissing whatever they have to say if we don’t like it, or that we should throw up our hands and conclude that we can’t trust anyone.

What I am saying is no more and no less than what I already wrote, with nothing hiding between the lines.  There are grounds for having some reservations.  Science, when done well, is much more immune to the problems of ignorance and bias than journalism and politics are, but it is not entirely immune.  And to pretend otherwise is, here too, to commit a fallacy of appeal to authority.

Politicians and journalists

Let’s start with the more obvious cases, though.  If you believe what you believe about the lockdown because of what Carlson or Maddow or Donald Trump or Andrew Cuomo has said, then your opinion is based not on abstract arguments but on the authority of someone you take to have the relevant expertise.  But of course, politicians, journalists, and opinion makers are in general not experts in epidemiology or public health, and they have strong political biases.  That doesn’t mean that you should entirely dismiss what is said by a commentator or public official you judge to be in general competent and honest, but you certainly should take the views of even the best of them with more than a grain of salt.

Let’s put aside for present purposes the more unhinged and blatantly partisan accusations, such as that conservatives don’t care about whether the elderly die or that liberals favor the lockdown only because they hope it will hurt Trump.  Even when these are factored out, there are some biases that do plausibly influence the way commentators and politicians approach the current crisis.

For example, conservatives are temperamentally bound to be suspicious of governmental measures that dramatically interfere with the everyday functioning of families, churches, and businesses.  This can reflect either the libertarian strain in modern American conservatism or the concern for subsidiarity among more traditionalist conservatives.  Naturally, since I am a traditionalist conservative, I regard this as a perfectly normal and healthy instinct.  But there is no doubt that, if one is not careful, this instinct can lead one too quickly to dismiss such measures even when they are necessary.

But liberals deceive themselves if they think the bias is all on the conservative side.  If the right-wing bias is in the direction of liberty and decentralization, the left-wing bias is in an egalitarian and “one size fits all” direction.  This is obvious from the way left-wingers tend to think about healthcare and poverty.

For example, take the premise (with which I agree) that government ought to do something to remedy the fact that some people don’t have adequate healthcare.  All that follows is that government should assist those specific people.  What does not follow is that we should have a single-payer system.  “Government should guarantee that everyone has healthcare” does not entail “Government should be the sole provider of healthcare to everyone.”  That some people need governmental assistance doesn’t entail that everyone needs it.  The left-wing tendency here is to make the exceptional case the rule for all.  Similarly with “universal basic income” schemes.  That some people don’t have sufficient income entails at most that government should assist those particular people.  It doesn’t follow that government should send everyone a check every month. 

Nevertheless, if you don’t favor single-payer healthcare or a universal basic income, some (not all, but some) left-wingers are quick to accuse you of not caring about the needy.  Their tendency is to suppose that if you don’t want far-reaching government action in these areas, then you must want no government action.

There is a parallel with the divergence between conservative and liberal reactions to the lockdown situation.  It seems pretty clear by now that most people are not in danger of death or even serious illness from Covid-19.  It is primarily the elderly and those with certain medical conditions who are at risk, and even then the virus seems to be more of a problem in some parts of the country than others.  Nor, as it turns out, have U.S. hospitals been overwhelmed or medical supplies run short (which would affect everyone).  Hence, conservatives reasonably wonder why a completely general lockdown is still necessary.  Why shouldn’t the lockdown be relaxed, and confined only to the most vulnerable parts of the population? 

Some liberals respond with the accusation that conservatives don’t care whether grandma dies – which is as ridiculous as saying that unless you favor single-payer healthcare and a universal basic income, you must not care about the poor.  They seem reflexively to think that a policy that is needed for some people must be applied to all.  Accordingly, it is perfectly reasonable for conservatives to suspect that some left-wing public officials and journalists have let their bias toward statist and “one size fits all” policies unduly influence their thinking about the lockdown.

Another bias to which all politicians, left and right, are prone is the “sunk cost” fallacy.  They are unlikely to want to retreat from a risky or costly policy, precisely because it is risky and costly.  To do so would invite the accusation that they have made a colossal blunder.  Hence there is a temptation to move the goalposts and look for new rationalizations of such policies. 

Many today would say that this is what happened with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But they seem not to consider that there is a danger of the same thing happening with the lockdown.  The original rationale was to “flatten the curve” so as to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed and medical supplies from being depleted.  And again, those things have not happened.  Mission accomplished.  So why is a general lockdown still necessary?  As I have argued before, it is not sufficient to reply by suggesting that these bad outcomes could still happen if the lockdown were relaxed.  What we need is solid evidence that that is likely. 

It is not unreasonable, then, to worry that “sunk cost” thinking and “goalpost moving” is also a factor in some politicians’ thinking about the lockdown.

Here is another potential source of bias.  Consider the sorts of people who have primary responsibility for shaping policy and opinion on the lockdown – politicians, journalists and other writers, scientists and other intellectuals, administrators, and the like.  For the most part, these are people whose livelihoods have not been affected by the lockdown.  Many of them work at home anyway, so that the lockdown is for them largely business as usual.  It is not unreasonable for people whose lives and livelihoods have been dramatically affected to believe that the policy- and opinion-makers don’t have “skin in the game,” and thus lack a sufficient grasp of the gravity of the lockdown’s effects.

Finally, though it is foolish to suppose that left-of-center journalists and politicians favor a lockdown merely for the purpose of hurting Trump politically, it cannot reasonably be denied that there is a political slant to much coverage of the crisis.  For example, though New York has the highest Covid-19 body count in the country and Governor Cuomo’s administration has made serious mistakes in dealing with the crisis, he has enjoyed hagiographic media attention.  Does anyone seriously believe that Trump or any other Republican would have gotten the same treatment under those circumstances? 

For reasons like these, it is not irrational for people to have reservations about media reports and statements from public officials concerning the lockdown.  They are not necessarily guilty of an ad hominem fallacy.  On the contrary, they would be guilty of a fallacy of appeal to authority if they didn’t have at least some reservations about what politicians and journalists say on the subject.

But the science!

Some will respond that what matters is what “the science” tells us, so that the biases of journalists and politicians wash out as irrelevant.  But one problem with this is that very few people are getting “the science” straight from the scientists.  Rather, most are getting it only as filtered through the testimony of… journalists and politicians.  This is true to some extent even when scientists are allowed to speak for themselves in interviews.  Interviewers, of both the right and the left, will often try to goad their subjects into saying something they can use as political fodder, or otherwise choose or formulate their questions in a way that reflects a certain bias.  Even if a scientist tries to correct for all this, much of what he says might still end up on the cutting room floor.

Then there is the fact that scientists themselves have their own biases, simply because they are human beings.  You shouldn’t have to have read writers like Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend in order to realize this, but it helps.  Even when dealing with theoretical abstractions remote from everyday experience, even when the empirical evidence is rich and well understood, and even when they have the leisure to take years calmly to mull things over in relative privacy, scientists are influenced in their thinking by extra-scientific considerations of a philosophical and even political kind.  It would be absurd to think things are any different in a context where the evidence is poorly understood and changes daily, the media attention is intense, and the social, political, and economic implications of their advice are enormous. 

Scientists also have biases just by virtue of being scientists.  What I mean is that, if they are not careful, scientists are prone to look at an issue from a purely scientific perspective even when it has important extra-scientific aspects, or to look at it purely from the perspective of their own scientific sub-discipline even when it has aspects that fall outside the competence of that sub-discipline.  Everyone knows this is true of the social sciences, as is evidenced by the genre of “economist jokes.”  But it is no less true of the natural sciences.

Now, the question of how to deal with the Covid-19 situation is, of course, an epidemiological and medical question.  But it is not just that, because human life is multifaceted, and there are, accordingly, other crucial aspects of any policy implemented in order to deal with the virus.  For example, how much economic damage is likely to be done by a lockdown?  How will such damage ramify over time?  How does the gravity of such damage weigh against the damage the virus is likely to do?  At what point might a lockdown result in more sickness and death, given factors such as the lack of herd immunity, neglect of ailments other than Covid-19, the insolvency of medical institutions and their funding sources, etc.?  What sort of psychological toll is a lockdown likely to take on people?  What sort of social instability is it likely to produce over time?  What effects will it have on education?

Medical doctors and epidemiologists have no special expertise on such questions.  They fall instead under disciplines such as economics and social psychology.  But most importantly, weighing all of these considerations and determining how to balance them requires statesmanship, and the virtue of phronesis – practical wisdom or prudence – which you cannot acquire by reading a book or getting a degree. 

Scientists are no more likely to have this virtue than anyone else is.  And scientism – the view that science alone gives us knowledge – is one of the great enemies of phronesis.  It fits all of reality into an abstract procrustean bed, which rules out the grasp of nuance and concrete circumstances that phronesis requires.  And it is blind to what Michael Polanyi called the “tacit dimension” of knowledge that is embodied in habits and instincts acquired through experience rather than book-learning.  Yet this tacit knowledge is precisely the kind that phronesis requires. 

By no means are all scientists guilty of scientism.  But the people who most loudly and obnoxiously claim to have “the science” on their side in any dispute are typically guilty of it, and the degree of self-confidence they possess stands, accordingly, in inverse proportion to their possession of phronesis. 

A scientist like Anthony Fauci, then, is not some Philosopher-King whose word should be law, though neither is he a sinister Dr. Strangelove of whom we should be suspect.  He’s just one important expert giving valuable advice to be weighed seriously, alongside other valuable advice from other important experts.  Nothing less, and also nothing more.

Then there is the fact that “the science” on Covid-19 is very far from clear or settled anyway.  “Trust the science” is good advice if we’re talking about the Periodic Table, but just demagoguery in a context where, at least where crucial details are concerned, no one even knows what “the science” is.  Certainly it would be dishonest to pretend that science has established that a draconian lockdown strategy is better than, say, Sweden’s approach.

You might say: Why not just go with what “the best science” is telling us?  But how do we know which of the “the science” is the “best”?  Should we rely on journalists, politicians, and other non-scientists to tell us?  But the whole point of appealing to the authority of scientists was to avoid having to rely on these non-specialists!   So this answer would just take us back where we started.  Should we let scientists themselves, then – well, the best ones anyway – tell us?   If you can’t see what’s wrong with that answer, I’ve got a T-shirt to sell you. 

What all of this entails is that even an appeal to the authority of scientists can in this context be fallacious, not only because scientists too can be biased, but also because there are two respects in which they can lack the relevant expertise.  First, their expertise qua scientists concerns only one aspect of public policy vis-à-vis Covid-19 (albeit a very important aspect) and not the whole of it; and second, the body of information of which they have specialized knowledge is, in the first place, highly incomplete and in flux.  

The bottom line

The bottom line is that a non-expert is not necessarily unreasonable if he doubts the experts who favor continuing the lockdown – and indeed, that it would be unreasonable not to have at least some reservations about their advice.   That is not to say that everyone who doubts this expert advice is reasonable.  There are, of course, cranks among lockdown skeptics.  But there are cranks in every area of controversy. 

Indeed, if the case ultimately rests on appeal to the authority of experts, it is not at all clear that the grounds for continuing the lockdown are really any stronger than the grounds for winding it down, or at least greatly relaxing it.  Yet as I have argued elsewhere (and as others have too), the burden of proof is on those who favor continuing the lockdown, not on those who want to relax it.  I trust you have sufficient expertise to do the math.

126 comments:

  1. I agree but would caution against using Sweden as an example. Their death per capita is insane, and they still have 3 months to go for herd immunity: https://www.businessinsider.com/sweden-coronavirus-per-capita-death-rate-among-highest-2020-5

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    1. Huh? What do you mean by insane? That article suggests they are behind some European countries with lock downs.

      Also remember they messed up with old folks homes. That is a separate issue from them not pursuing a lock down. Nursing homes account for a large proportion of deaths from this virus across the West.

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    2. Also I am not sure why that article assumes that having a relatively high death toll at this stage is proof that Sweden's strategy failed. Not locking down made it likely that Sweden's death toll would be relatively high at first, unfortunately. The real issue is how it compares over the longer term, say a year. If it's death toll is lower or comparable to states that locked down, then that means it worked. Time will tell.

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    3. If Sweden had followed the route of most of its neighbours, both geographic and civilisational, and locked down whilst achieving the same results, would anyone worth listening to have said: 'Their death per capita is insane', or, noticed much of anything at all about their public health outcomes?

      (Delete and re-port with vital change).

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    4. S.F. Griffin

      Is that irrelevant hypothetical your way of pretending to be polite and reasonable, while also saying that I am not worth listening to for thinking a death rate 100% higher than the US and 500% higher than the lowest country on the list is insane?

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    5. No.

      If I wanted to say you are not worth listening to I would just say it.

      For instance, I thought you were worth listening to, but after your response to my reply, I do not.

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    6. Actions speak louder than empty claims. The language you used in approaching my original comment--and your subsequent reply--betrays your deficiency in charity. As does asking an hypothetical which amount to: "if Sweden did what everyone else did, would someone still have reason to suspect they did something different"

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    7. My original comment was fine.

      I was suggesting nobody worth listening to would say what you said in an alternate reality where Sweden had locked down with the same death rate. I doubt there would be Business Insider articles about hypothetical Sweden "paying a worrisome price" motivating people such as yourself to talk about how 'insane' their death rates are.

      This is not the same as saying that people in this world, motivated by such articles, such as yourself, are not worth listening to.

      Your passive aggressive rhetorical question implying that I was both impolite and lacked the guts to be up front about how I felt about you was not fine.

      Hence the forceful response.

      Beyond this, my hypothetical might be irrelevant, about which we could reasonbably disagree, but even if so it would not be the case that it shows a deficit in charity on my part, as you say here:

      ...betrays your deficiency in charity. As does asking an hypothetical which amount to: "if Sweden did what everyone else did, would someone still have reason to suspect they did something different"

      I might be wrong to think the hypothetical is relevant, but merely raising it does not show a lack of charity.

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    8. Scriba Dei, but that death rate is lower than France, Italy, and the UK, and Spain at the very least. That article itself raises issues about the Swedish data. And again it is true that Sweden messed up at first with its nursing homes policy. This is a separate issue from the lock down and probably led to a considerable part of those deaths. No one is saying we should follow Sweden in every particular.

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    9. Scriba Dei, New York State has 19.45 million people, Sweden has 10.23 million. Close enough to half. New York State has 28,134 deaths (today's figure from worldometers) and Sweden has 3,674 deaths. Or, NYS 1,446 deaths per million, Sweden 364 deaths per million. The continual selection of Sweden as the bad boy is bizarre.

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    10. Look, i'am no expert, but it is not better to compare Sweden with other nordic countries? They have similar poulations, economies, governments etc. This similarity is just what can help us be sure that the difference on the results probably is because of the diferent methods and not because of other differences.

      If you do that, Sweden estrategy seems pretty bad:

      "The highest number of confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the Nordic countries as of May 15, 2020 was in Sweden, where the number amounted to 29,207. Denmark followed with 10,791 cases, and Norway with 8,196 cases."
      https://www.statista.com/statistics/1102257/cumulative-coronavirus-cases-in-the-nordics/

      Sure we need to wait for the long run, but Sweden seems way worse that its neighbours until now.

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    11. But how similar are these countries? Just because they are Nordic doesn't mean they are similar in all or many relevant ways.

      Also isn't the point that Sweden would likely have initially high numbers, but the hope is that its numbers will be less per capita or at least comparable to those it would have had if it had locked down? So waiting for the long run is essential to assess its strategy.

      And how many of Sweden's deaths are due to its screw up over nursing or even due to differences in statistics, as the article quoted by Scriba Dei hints at? These seem important factors in the assessment.

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    12. Stockholm is apparently about twice the size of Oslo, Copenhagen, and Helsinki. That is only one area of comparison, but it might alert us to the fact that things are more complicated than just seeing Nordic countries as in all ways relevantly comparable.

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    13. In last year's New Orleans Bowl, UAB led App State 14-0 after the first quarter. UAB looked dominant. App State stuck with their gameplan and in the end won by 14 points.

      The moral of the story is that we don't count deaths for Covid-19 in the middle of a planned response.

      I guess it is a little unfair to say "planned response". The Swedes have and are executing one that was planned. Us? Not so much a plan as a bunch of things thrown at us to keep us sheltered and fearful enough to listen to the "experts" and leaders.

      One of the things that I like about the Swedish plan... is that they estimated the impact of their plan pretty accurately. They knew they'd have early deaths. The believed they could have herd immunity sufficient to avoid or minimize a second way this fall.

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    14. PS- NO ONE has accurate mortality numbers right now. FAR more people have been infected than are being counted in the denominator. Since Sweden has allowed the virus to spread more... it is VERY likely a higher % of their population has been infected than their neighbors. This fact... makes the denominator of their mortality % MUCH larger in a relative sense.

      When there is an accurate estimate of actual infections in those countries... when they stop using "confirmed cases" as the denominator... then we will likely see very similar mortality rates.

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    15. @Anon

      From what i know, Sweden is more similar to Denmark and Norway that it is to Spain, EUA or France. More similar in populations, history, economy, politics etc. Sure they have differences, but their similarities seems great enough to do it. At least i never saw someone making a analysis in one of these three contries where the other two where not used as comparison.

      I agree that we should wait more time to see if the swedish method works or not, i'am just saying that RIGHT NOW it seems that it was a bad idea.

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    16. But that is rather vague. Surely there are a good deal of similarities between Nordic countries that aren't especially important in terms of the Coronavirus. It remains to be seen if the other Nordic countries are the best comparisons in the areas that actually are most relevant.

      And we do need to exclude both Sweden's problematic nursing home policy and any issues with statistics from any comparison. But leaving that to one side what does it mean to say that right now it was a bad idea if the entire point is that Sweden is looking to the long, rather than short term? That's like assessing the profitability of a new business venture when you've paid out for all the new facilities and supplies but are just about to open. It doesn't make sense. Even if we ignore questions about the comparability of the Nordic countries in this area or the issues over statistics and nursing homes, Sweden's can only be compared long term with these countries. That's the point.

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    17. "I agree that we should wait more time to see if the swedish method works or not, i'am just saying that RIGHT NOW it seems that it was a bad idea."

      That claim (and much of the ongoing clueless argumentation in favour of the lockdown) seems to be based on the evidently false (indeed absurd) premise that the appropriate aim of any policy must be to minimize the total number of deaths attributed (directly) to coronavirus (within any given policy jurisdiction). And never mind about the big picture, global repercussions ("sunk costs" and all that), such as lost jobs in the billions, extreme poverty (entailing starvation, malnutrition, disease, crime, etc.) in the hundreds of millions, etc. All that matters is that it's possible (just possible, based on a superficial glance at a couple of statistics) that there might have been, say, 2000 or 2500 fewer deaths attributed to coronavirus in Sweden this year, if only they had tried to be more like Denmark or Finland. If that's where you're at with your thinking about this issue, you need to go back and read the rather obvious points about the need for phronesis recited by the good professor in this blog post.

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    18. @Anon

      I mean, economy, political organization, genetics, culture etc, these seems like pretty important factors on the crisis and Sweden seems more similar to Finland or Norway that to France or England on these things. If Sweden is similar enough to France or EUA that we can make a comparison, its Nordic brothers are useful too for sure.

      But i agree now that we need to look on the long run to see if this strategy works for Sweden. My initial impression was probably influenced by the fact that the health in my country sucks, so the Sweden rote would be suicide for us.

      @DavidMcPike

      "That claim (and much of the ongoing clueless argumentation in favour of the lockdown) seems to be based on the evidently false (indeed absurd) premise that the appropriate aim of any policy must be to minimize the total number of deaths attributed (directly) to coronavirus (within any given policy jurisdiction)"

      That is not my idea, but i see how my post could sugest that, it happens.

      What i say is, Sweden right now is losting more people that its neughbours and its economy seems to be hurt as well, even if less that the others:https://www.thelocal.se/20200518/swedens-lack-of-lockdown-wont-be-enough-to-save-the-economy-experts-warn

      I agree that it is wrong to judge right now, but it is the first impression we get, even if a wrong impression.

      And please, saying that the lockdown proponent do not know about the economic effects of the lockdown is really diferent than saying that the lockdown oponent do not care about the death people? Don't be a dick, not everyone cares about petty american politics.




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  2. Consider the sorts of people who have primary responsibility for shaping policy and opinion on the lockdown – politicians, journalists and other writers, scientists and other intellectuals, administrators, and the like. For the most part, these are people whose livelihoods have not been affected by the lockdown.

    I have two different perspectives on this. At the WU-Stl School of Medicine, the administrators all took pay cuts of 20%, and many the scientists are very eager to get back into their labs and be able to work again. So, they are eager for the lock down restrictions to ease.

    By contrast, my wife (who sells retail furniture) was laid off, and thanks to the boost in unemployment compensation, is bringing home more during the lock down than she was while working.

    So, we need to be careful about assumptions regarding who is eager to return to work and who is not affected by the lock down.

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    1. Hence, "for the most part."

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    2. Human beings are a smorgasbord of motivations, of which money is but one, as the discussion of sunken costs illustrates: ego/pride; saving face; the advancement of social/political agendas; etc.

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    3. TheOFloinn,
      Hence, "for the most part."

      As someone who regularly posts about how difficult it is to measure things, I'm sure you also agree we don't have a way to measure "for the most part", and thus should not be making conclusions based on this.

      Although, perhaps you only are inclined to present these objections against certain points of view.

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    4. We don't need to be able to measure all such statements with exact figures. We wouldn't be able to speak about a lot of things if that was necessary. We can and do rely on inexact impressions all the time.

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    5. Also your original response wasn't that we can't make conclusions because the data is limited but was just to raise counter-examples to what Feser claimed as a general, but not universal, trend. So you seem to have switched criticisms without acknowledging it. That's not good argumentative practice.

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    6. Tim,
      We don't need to be able to measure all such statements with exact figures.

      I believe I was referring to and responding to a particular poster, who has a particular pattern on his blog of saying the attempts to measure things are unworkable precisely when he politically disagrees with policy based on those measurements, but seems all to content to ignore measurement precision for his own points. So, the extension of this criticism to "we" is unwarranted.
      Also your original response wasn't that we can't make conclusions because the data is limited but was just to raise counter-examples to what Feser claimed as a general, but not universal, trend.

      A claim made without any evidence at all. Dr. Feser gave no indication that he had done any research into who may or may not have been taking pay cuts, which institutions may or may not have had their cash flows severely hampered, and may or may not have had their life's work interrupted. I know the BJC system and the WU-Stl School of Medicine are facing severe financial difficulties, many of the top administrators are taking pay cuts, and may of the scientists with wet experiments are aggravated by the circumstance. Yet, the organizations and the people affected are strongly supportive of the efforts to contain SARS-COV2, despite their personal difficulties.

      So you seem to have switched criticisms without acknowledging it. That's not good argumentative practice.

      Claiming that the people encouraging more caution are the ones unaffected by restrictions, and the people most vociferously against the lock downs are opposed due to financial need, is also bad argumentation. It's a careless and unconsidered demonization of one side of the argument.

      So you seem to have switched criticisms without acknowledging it. That's not good argumentative practice.

      I switched criticism because I was criticizing different people for different things. Personally, I would find criticizing TheOFloinn for the errors of Dr. Feser, or Dr. Feser for the errors of TheOFloinn, to be bad argumentative practice.

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    7. But you didn't make it clear you were switching criticisms, that was my point and that's a good part of the poor argumentative practices. Someone below also accuses you of not reading another person's post. Perhaps this is a pattern?

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    8. Tim,

      I quoted the person I was criticizing at the time. I thought that made it clear, but perhaps not. In the future, when I respond to a different person with a different point, would it be helpful for you if I clarify that every time? Something like, 'this comment is directed only at Tim, and should not be considered part of the conversation with any other poster'?

      Perhaps this is a pattern?

      Perhaps it is. I would if we would identify the same pattern?

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    9. Ah, I see, trolling. Whatever. Have your fun but don't think we're blind.

      Delete
    10. Tim,

      Self-blind, perhaps. How could I interpret your response to me as anything other than a silly criticism, and respond in kind? Do you feel Dr. Feser is trolling when he recommends the careful use of language in looking at this crisis, or do you reserve that accusation only for people you don't like?

      In truth, if anything I'm an anti-troll. I'd be quite content if you would just stop posting stupid comments.

      Delete
    11. Anyone ever told you you're a jack-a*s?

      It seems we have another troll here folks. Watch out.

      Delete
    12. Tim,
      Anyone ever told you you're a jack-a*s?

      Many times. Sometimes by people whom I respect, at which point I take their correction seriously.

      It seems we have another troll here folks. Watch out.

      I prefer serious conversations with serious people. Saying that I should not respond to different commentators in a different fashion is not a serious position. So far, I have no reason to respect you.

      Delete
    13. You can continue down this route if you wish. We'll see how long you are respected around here. How many people are you having the same kind of disputes with right now?

      Delete

    14. Tim,
      You can continue down this route if you wish. We'll see how long you are respected around here. How many people are you having the same kind of disputes with right now?

      Your concern for my reputation would be touching, if it had not come at the tail end of such pointless attacks. Since you asked, I've had interesting discussions with a couple of posters, pointless bickering with a couple, and at least one that was rather a mixture. I'm flexible.

      So, I thank you for your groundless criticism, your name-calling, and your false concern. I'll flounce now, and leave the last word to you in this little exchange.

      Delete
  3. Another issue that hasn't had enough attention in the public forum is the precise qualifications of the "public health" authorities. Some of the most prominent figures, such as Drs Birx and Fauci, do have MD degrees, but it's hard to say if they've ever practiced medicine. Dr Ferrer, the Los Angeles County "public health" authority, has a PhD in social justice theory or something, medicine or epidemiology nowhere in her background. I think powerful arguments ought to be brought against them by qualified medical professionals.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. John Bruce,

      I agree. We should be looking for the prominent epidemiologists who speak against the positions Drs. Fauci/Birx have taken to see how substantial the criticism of their policies truly is. I'll be interested to read such positions, should someone present them.

      Delete
    2. I agree. We should be looking for the prominent epidemiologists who speak against the positions Drs. Fauci/Birx have taken to see how substantial the criticism of their policies truly is.

      Did you read what John Bruce said?

      Delete
    3. Anonymous,
      Did you read what John Bruce said?

      Absolutely. Why would yo think otherwise?

      Delete
    4. John Bruce,

      You might find this interesting:

      https://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2020/03/an-expert-says-the-current-response-to-the-coronavirus-is-grotesque-absurd-and-very-dangerous.html

      https://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2020/04/professor-sucharit-bhakdis-open-letter-to-chancellor-angela-merkel-.html

      As well as this:

      https://www.globalresearch.ca/12-experts-questioning-coronavirus-panic/5707532

      They weren't/aren't necessarily questioning Fauci/Birx, but some similar policies.

      Delete
    5. Anonymous,

      Dr. Bhakdi makes some good points, but seems to sweep past the point that even at his lowest estimate, covid19 is five times deadlier than flu, and that does not account the the people who have permanent lung scarring when they survive.

      Drs. Wodarg and Kettner don't sound very informed.

      Dr. Ionnidias is wrong about "a bit worse than average", covid19 has killed more in the US this year than the flu in any two consecutive years for the past 20.

      Dr. Lass is apparently unfamiliar with the history of smallpox.

      Dr. Vernazza thinks exposing children is a great idea.

      Half-way through the 12, one doctor who is saying sensible things. I got bored at that point.

      Delete
    6. Dr. Bhakdi makes some good points, but seems to sweep past the point that even at his lowest estimate, covid19 is five times deadlier than flu

      If you adjust for the existence of a flu vaccine and lack of a COVID vaccine, the massive under-reporting of mild COVID cases, the number of people who died from rather than with COVID, and isolate and compare to bad strains of flus during bad flu years, that isn't so.

      But even if we ignore all that, the death tolls aren't anywhere near high enough in countries like Britain and Germany as compared to previous years to justify both lockdowns now and a lack of lockdowns then.

      (Aside, and to keep the general discussion from becoming too U.S.-centric, interesting British statistics gathered here:

      https://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2020/04/an-attempt-to-gather-some-facts-on-the-present-stateof-the-covid-19-crisis-warning-no-conclusion.html)

      Delete
    7. Dr. Vernazza thinks exposing children is a great idea.

      This is hyperbole. It's also a bit too quick, e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5wSe4w9Tv4 (As I understand, there were 3 cases of Kawasaki-like symptoms showing up in children at the time.)

      Delete
    8. Anonymous,

      If you adjust for the existence of a flu vaccine and lack of a COVID vaccine, the massive under-reporting of mild COVID cases, the number of people who died from rather than with COVID, and isolate and compare to bad strains of flus during bad flu years, that isn't so.

      Well, if we're going to hypothesize based on things that are counter to reality or when have no evidence of being true, should we not go both ways? For example, if we attribute the unexplained rise in deaths in February-March to an early appearance of SARS-COV2, that adds several thousands to the total. Several corona virus immunities only last a couple of years, so even with a vaccine, SARS-COV2 will be able to re-infect the vaccinated.

      We could both go on for a long time about might-bes and could-have -beens, but if we are discussing what we need to do today, we have to deal with the situation as we have it today.

      But even if we ignore all that, the death tolls aren't anywhere near high enough in countries like Britain and Germany as compared to previous years to justify both lockdowns now and a lack of lockdowns then.

      Lock down tend to be popular when the populace is afraid, and then decline in popularity when the populace can be reassured. Politicians won't keep people locked down longer than is needed.

      This is hyperbole.

      Children will only develop immunity if exposed.

      Still, thank you for bring sober, interesting conversation to the comment log.

      I find it interesting that Sen. Paul brought up Kentucky as an example of a state where the disease did not spread, when it is used by others as a state that benefited from an early lock down.

      Delete
    9. Suppose we ignore my other points. Suppose we allow that this is the case:

      1. We're in equipoise over the empirical evidence.
      2. If we're equipoise over the empirical evidence, we can't justify the lockdown based on empirical evidence.
      3. Hence, we can't justify the lockdown based on empirical evidence.
      4. If we can't justify the lockdown based on empirical evidence, we can't justify the lockdown.
      5. Hence, we can't justify the lockdown.
      6. If we can't justify the lockdown, we oughtn't to impose the lockdown.
      7. Hence, we oughtn't to impose the lockdown.

      1 is suggested both by the statistics I quoted and your comment; 2 follows from the definition of equipoise; 3 follows from 1 and 2 by modus ponens; 4 is argued for to some extent here; 5 follows from 3 and 4 by modus ponens; 6 is argued for here; 7 follows from 5 and 6 by modus ponens.

      The point I'm making (and the point that underlies the last couple articles on this here) is that it isn't enough for the lockdown proponent to argue for equipoise, suspension of judgment, or skepticism over the statistics. Absent strong justification for imposing lockdowns, we ought to not lockdown.

      Children will only develop immunity if exposed.

      Yes, but it doesn't follow that he thinks it's a “great” idea. Only that he thinks it's superior to the alternatives.

      Now, I don't have time to go back and forth and back and forth, but I urge everyone to look past One Brow's faint bluster and dismissiveness (e.g. his reply to the experts article), read what has been said, read the links, and make up their minds for themselves.

      Delete
    10. Anonymous,
      Suppose we ignore my other points. Suppose we allow that this is the case:

      1. We're in equipoise over the empirical evidence.


      This is where is falls apart. We're not in equipoise. You are quoting a contrarian (Dr. Bhakdi, who at least is presenting truthful statements) and a few people that are stating things contrary to fact. I'm relying on the judgment of the vast majority of the medical community.

      2. If we're equipoise over the empirical evidence, we can't justify the lockdown based on empirical evidence.

      Which lock down, where? For example, Illinois is already in phase 3 of a 5-phase recovery. Which state/country is currently in a locked down state that you think is too severe?

      Absent strong justification for imposing lockdowns, we ought to not lockdown.

      I agree.

      Yes, but it doesn't follow that he thinks it's a “great” idea. Only that he thinks it's superior to the alternatives.

      Superior to not exposing children?

      Now, I don't have time to go back and forth and back and forth, but I urge everyone to look past One Brow's faint bluster and dismissiveness (e.g. his reply to the experts article), read what has been said, read the links, and make up their minds for themselves.

      Allow me to second that motion. No one should automatically believe me nor Anonymous, nor should anyone automatically disbelieve me nor Anonymous. Read the articles carefully and critically, evaluating what they are saying versus what you know of the truth.

      Delete
    11. Oh, please, don't think we're stupid. You claim to be "relying on the judgment of the vast majority of the medical community."
      This claim is obviously untrue, since you have not anywhere indicated how you have identified the "medical community", or how you have determined what "the vast majority" of this undefined community is (10%? 50%? 90%? of whomever you care to define as "medical community"). And at no point do you bother to indicate what the content of what you call the "judgment" might be.
      It is far more likely that you actually rely on whatever your news source of choice has been reporting on.

      Delete
    12. I'm going to reply to this, because it misunderstands the point of calling attention to expert disagreement and I think explaining how could be informative for a lot of readers here:

      This is where is falls apart. We're not in equipoise. You are quoting a contrarian (Dr. Bhakdi, who at least is presenting truthful statements) and a few people that are stating things contrary to fact. I'm relying on the judgment of the vast majority of the medical community.

      First, definitions for attitude and dispute. Someone takes an attitude to a question Q if he either accepts some proposition as the answer to Q, rejects some proposition as the answer to Q, or suspends judgment over Q. Two people dispute the answer to a Q whenever they take conflicting attitudes to it.

      Next, a distinction between historical decisions and rational decisions. Historical decisions concern the attitudes people take towards an issue; in contrast, rational decisions concern only the arguments for and against the issue. The dispute over the authenticity of the Magna Moralia is historically decided when everyone involved takes the same attitude towards its authenticity; it's rationally decided only when an argument determines the text's authenticity one way or the other. People come to historical decisions without having come to rational decisions for political or ideological reasons all the time. It's rational decisions that matter here.

      The sheer fact of expert disagreement (regardless of numbers) is meaningful because it provides evidence that the issue is rationally (rather than historically) contentious.* Hence, even if what you say is true (and other anonymous has questioned and given reasons to question whether it's true), it lacks the kind of weight you're giving it (or, to put it another way, it misunderstands the point of calling attention to disagreement among competent experts).

      I wrote that the empirical evidence puts us in equipoise, but that is more than I actually needed.

      You are quoting a contrarian (Dr. Bhakdi, who at least is presenting truthful statements)

      “Contrarian” implies false things about Dr. Bhakdi. It implies, or at least suggests, that he disagrees for the sake of disagreeing. He doesn't.

      Superior to not exposing children?

      The reason I sent you the exchange between Senator Paul (M.D.) and Dr. Fauci is to point out that children are even less affected by coronavirus than healthy young adults (in other words, not much at all). Dr. Fauci points out that coronavirus may have caused Kawasaki-like symptoms in children; however, it's worth noting that there were only three such cases (in other words, not comparably worse than other ailments we don't lockdown for).

      (It's a sort of rhetorical burlesque to keep pointing out that we're talking about children. Of course nobody wants children to be hurt, but the fact is that they sometimes are and that the sheer possibility of this doesn't justify locking them down at home. But I'm assuming you just missed the part of the Paul-Fauci exchange I linked the video for. This is my fault. I should have been explicit about why I linked it.)

      *These doctors are neither cranks, nor quibblers, nor liars. (They're, we're assuming, informed in all, or at least the same, relevant medical science, and so on.) They're competent experts, just like some of those for the lockdown.

      Delete
    13. Corrigendum

      "rationally (rather than historically) contentious" s/b "rationally (rather than historically) [undecided]"

      Delete
    14. Anonymous,
      Oh, please, don't think we're stupid. You claim to be "relying on the judgment of the vast majority of the medical community."
      This claim is obviously untrue, since you have not anywhere indicated how you have identified the "medical community", or how you have determined what "the vast majority" of this undefined community is (10%? 50%? 90%? of whomever you care to define as "medical community"). And at no point do you bother to indicate what the content of what you call the "judgment" might be.
      It is far more likely that you actually rely on whatever your news source of choice has been reporting on.


      I'm relying on the same medical community that's informing the CDC. The one where you have local researchers and local public health officials report their finding and determination up to the county level, then the state level, and then the national level. I read some of it in my job. That's my source of information. It's also Dr. Fauci's and Dr. Birx's.

      Delete
    15. Anonymous,
      The sheer fact of expert disagreement (regardless of numbers) is meaningful because it provides evidence that the issue is rationally (rather than historically) contentious.*

      *These doctors are neither cranks, nor quibblers, nor liars. (They're, we're assuming, informed in all, or at least the same, relevant medical science, and so on.) They're competent experts, just like some of those for the lockdown.


      Being a competent expert (which of the first in that article, seemingly only applies to Dr. Bhakdi) in no way prevents one from being a quibbler, liar, nor contrarian. I agree that competent experts are usually not cranks, but they can be very unscientific and/or irrational in their beliefs and presentations. For an example (not related to this discussion, but that we likely agree upon), we can look to Dr. Wells and Dr. Behe of the Discovery Institute.

      I find your divide of historical decisions vs. rational decisions to be arbitrary; in practice most decisions will be some combination of the two.

      “Contrarian” implies false things about Dr. Bhakdi. It implies, or at least suggests, that he disagrees for the sake of disagreeing. He doesn't.

      I agree I should not be assigning motives. There are a dozen different reasons he could be stating these positions.

      The reason I sent you the exchange between Senator Paul (M.D.) and Dr. Fauci is to point out that children are even less affected by coronavirus than healthy young adults (in other words, not much at all). Dr. Fauci points out that coronavirus may have caused Kawasaki-like symptoms in children; however, it's worth noting that there were only three such cases (in other words, not comparably worse than other ailments we don't lockdown for).

      We don't know the long-term effects of this virus on anyone, yet. I agree we have been operating on the side of caution, because it's what we don't know that we don't know that is the most dangerous (expect, to paraphrase Twain, for what we do know that is untrue).

      For example, one of the long-term effects of measles is that it weakens the immune response to other diseases. This is the type of knowledge you can only learn by looking at what's happened to a lot of people that got the measles and comparing them with those who did not, over an extended period of time. Even before we knew, when people thought they had measles (or mumps, rubella, etc.), they went under quarantine.

      The mistakes of too much lockdown will fade by the end of the next school year. The mistakes of too much exposure could last a life-time. On a risk-reward ratio, that's a big skew.

      Of course nobody wants children to be hurt, but the fact is that they sometimes are and that the sheer possibility of this doesn't justify locking them down at home.

      I agree completely. We need to decide the appropriate level of risk, based on what we know.

      But I'm assuming you just missed the part of the Paul-Fauci exchange I linked the video for.

      I think I just interpreted the video differently than you. For example, a politician looking only at mortality, while a public health official also speaking about deleterious effects to the survivors as well.

      Delete
    16. Another reply. This time to clarify “competent expert” in the previous:

      Being a competent expert (which of the first in that article, seemingly only applies to Dr. Bhakdi) in no way prevents one from being a quibbler, liar, nor contrarian. I agree that competent experts are usually not cranks, but they can be very unscientific and/or irrational in their beliefs and presentations. For an example (not related to this discussion, but that we likely agree upon), we can look to Dr. Wells and Dr. Behe of the Discovery Institute.

      I'm using “competent expert” as a technical term similar to “competent practitioner” from the literature on disagreement. A competent practitioner isn't the same as an epistemic peer. x may be an epistemic peer of y, but incompetent. I won't try for a tight definition of competent practitioner here, but if x is a competent practitioner in a field, he's a sincere truthseeker, not a quibbler or a sophist; he's of sound mind; he knows logic and the empirical disciplines relevant to the subject he's discussing; he's read the relevant literature; and so on.

      The point is that if you examine each of the against experts individually (especially the more august ones), you find that as far as we can tell they're at least as likely competent as any other expert. You can, in spite of this, still deny that they're competent. (You must to avoid the argument.) But then people are prima facie justified in questioning whether you value the opinion of experts in the impartial way you say you do.

      I find your divide of historical decisions vs. rational decisions to be arbitrary; in practice most decisions will be some combination of the two.

      This is besides the point, and suggests that you've misunderstood the argument.

      We don't know the long-term effects of this virus on anyone, yet. I agree we have been operating on the side of caution, because it's what we don't know that we don't know that is the most dangerous (expect, to paraphrase Twain, for what we do know that is untrue).

      In so far as it's used as justification for lockdown, if we were to apply this degree of caution consistently, we wouldn't be able to so much as leave the house in the morning.

      (There is also a broad sense, which draws on knowledge from economics and other disciplines as well as medicine, in which it's not clear that we are, in fact, operating on the side of caution.)

      The mistakes of too much lockdown will fade by the end of the next school year. The mistakes of too much exposure could last a life-time. On a risk-reward ratio, that's a big skew.

      You need to justify assertions like this. Prima facie, it's incredible.

      Delete
    17. Here are clarifications of a couple parts of my post:

      I'm using “competent expert” as a technical term similar to “competent practitioner” from the literature on disagreement. A competent practitioner isn't the same as an epistemic peer. x may be an epistemic peer of y, but incompetent. I won't try for a tight definition of competent practitioner here, but if x is a competent practitioner in a field, he's a sincere truthseeker, not a quibbler or a sophist; he's of sound mind; he knows logic and the empirical disciplines relevant to the subject he's discussing; he's read the relevant literature; and so on.

      Likewise, he's not a liar or morally insufficient in some relevant way, etc.

      So, I distinguish between "experts" and "competent experts" in my earlier comment, where a competent expert is an expert who is also a competent practitioner in the above sense.

      In so far as it's used as justification for lockdown, if we were to apply this degree of caution consistently, we wouldn't be able to so much as leave the house in the morning.

      The point I was making here would have been clearer had I written:

      In so far as it's used as justification for lockdown, if we were to apply this degree of caution consistently, we wouldn't be able to so much as [get out of bed in the morning].

      Delete
    18. Those under 25 are several times more at risk from the flu. Perhaps we should shut the schools until we get that situation out of control?

      Delete
    19. Anonymous,
      Another reply. This time to clarify “competent expert” in the previous:

      I'm using “competent expert” as a technical term similar to “competent practitioner” from the literature on disagreement. A competent practitioner isn't the same as an epistemic peer. x may be an epistemic peer of y, but incompetent. I won't try for a tight definition of competent practitioner here, but if x is a competent practitioner in a field, he's a sincere truthseeker, not a quibbler or a sophist; he's of sound mind; he knows logic and the empirical disciplines relevant to the subject he's discussing; he's read the relevant literature; and so on.


      While I agree that we needn't bother with a tight definition, would you also agree that, for fields of complex and specialized knowledge, the best judges of the competent practitioners are their epistemic peers? That when one peer says things contrary to the basic consensus of their peers, we should consider that as one possible marker of a lack of competency?

      The point is that if you examine each of the against experts individually (especially the more august ones), you find that as far as we can tell they're at least as likely competent as any other expert. You can, in spite of this, still deny that they're competent. (You must to avoid the argument.) But then people are prima facie justified in questioning whether you value the opinion of experts in the impartial way you say you do.

      That's fair, as far as it goes. Looking at what I posted, I fully acknowledged the competency of Dr. Bhakdi. I did not go into details on my questioning of the others in the first six. I could do so, to make it clear that it was the points they were making that I found wanting. I'm not sure you'd want to read all that, these comments are long enough as it is.

      This is besides the point, and suggests that you've misunderstood the argument.

      Perhaps. In my experience, humans too often use their historical decisions to focus their thinking and make sure their seemingly rational decisions fit their historical decisions, and this is no different for seemingly competent practitioners. So I believe I understand your point, I just feel it does not reflect what seemingly competent practitioners actually do.

      In so far as it's used as justification for lockdown, if we were to apply this degree of caution consistently, we wouldn't be able to so much as leave the house in the morning.

      I know the dangers of riding the train, the elevator, or walking. I've lived with them all my life. I can manage them. We don't know the true dangers of covid19 yet.

      (There is also a broad sense, which draws on knowledge from economics and other disciplines as well as medicine, in which it's not clear that we are, in fact, operating on the side of caution.)

      I absolutely agree there needs to be careful consideration of the effects of any choice we make, including the economic effects thereof. That's why most states are working on lifting the lock down in stages.

      You need to justify assertions like this. Prima facie, it's incredible.

      You find the effects of scarred lungs incredible? Hmmmm.

      Delete
    20. Lieutenant Dan,

      Assuming that number is true, would ytou agree that we understand the flu much better than covid19, and know both how to tret it better and how to better avoid long-term complications?

      Delete
    21. That certainly makes sense. Let's shut down the whole school system, unlike Denmark or Taiwan, on the off-chance. Perhaps we can do this anytime a new disease or issue pops up, or even an old one we are unsure about? You are sure as smart as my friend Forrest.

      Delete
    22. Lieutenant Dan,

      That seems extreme. My kids continued school during the lock down, they just did it from home. I can remember when home schooling was a popular idea among conservatives.

      Fortunately, you don't need to worry about anyone on this site labeling you a troll, you're far too much in agreement with them.

      Delete
    23. O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us. To see oursels as ithers see us!

      Delete
  4. Human beings will always search intensely for some fixed star of certainty on which to build their reality; look at how the moderns sought to replace metaphysics with math. Covid-19 is but the latest heresy in the making.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Failing to properly deal with science is simply the Achilles' heel of the right. While more balanced than many other right-wing screeds, this post, in the end, assumes that acceptance of scientific claims is based essentially on arguments to authority.

    Now indeed, the soundness (or cogency) of an argument considered in itself (which has nothing to do with authority or expertise) is different with how one arrives at the conclusion that an argument is (or isn't) sound (which sometimes does depend on it, depending on how it is done).

    Sure, the arguments of Searle and Chalmers stand (or not) on their own. However, this doesn't mean one has necessarily the background knowledge or mental capacity to evaluate them properly. In that case (assuming this is an issue he cares about), he will rely on experts he trusts, with all the problems that entails. (And yes, philosophers also have their own biases.)

    But the same is true for science. So, yes, unfortunately it's true many don't have the background knowledge or mental capacity to evaluate scientific arguments. And therefore, they must rely on experts. This does not mean the arguments don't stand on their own, as though the truth of the matter in itself were dependent on an argument to authority.

    IOW, this:

    "None of what any of these people say can be evaluated the way a philosophical argument can, viz. in a manner that entirely abstracts from considerations about the knowledge and biases of the people giving the arguments. And that includes, to some extent, the scientists. Moreover, the knowledge and biases of these experts give us grounds for having at least some reservations about what they say. And that too includes, at least to some extent, the scientists. "

    is false. It is possible to evaluate the quality of scientific arguments independent of the scientists who are making them. The fact that some without scientific training are perhaps incapable of doing so does not mean it can't be done. Anyone can look up the relevant papers and data.

    Nor is the fact that science contains uncertainty, that quantities have error bars, and so on, availing to a certain epistemological nihilism. Just because we don't know some things doesn't mean we don't know anything, and just because an answer isn't EXACTLY correct doesn't mean it isn't closer to the truth than some other one.

    So, is there any good reason to think (beyond the wishful thinking of certain right-wingers) that the R0 of the coronavirus is much less than around 2.5, or that the IFR is much less than 0.5 - 1.0%? The answer is no, which means this is a serious threat and a menace to public health. That doesn't justify every single lockdown measure on the planet, but does show it to be a serious threat. The fact that you can cite someone like Ioannidis who disagrees does NOT mean there is a good reason, because scientific arguments aren't settled by appeals to authority. Anymore the fact that I can cite several philosophers who are atheists means there is a good reason to believe in atheism.

    Also, the argument that the reason for the shutdowns was to flatten the curve to avoid overwhelming the hospital systems, and they aren't overwhelmed, so why not lift them entirely misses the point. ONE reason for the shutdowns was to avoid overwhelming the hospital systems, but ANOTHER important reason was to attempt to buy time in order an effective treatment or vaccine.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @ Lonely Professor,

      OK, so you're saying that there is only one correct answer and we can know it by looking at the facts and the science and the stupid people don't know how to look at the facts and the science and we know who the correct scientists are because they have the correct assessment of the facts and the science and we can know who those scientists are because they have the right assessments of the facts and the science and they aren't right wingers. Whew! Got it!

      Delete
    2. Different experts are experts on different things. Epidemiologists are not economic experts nor experts on public policy. The epidemiologists can tell us the medical facts and risks, if we assume there is something like a consensus there (which doesn't seem quite correct), but they can't tell us how much economic or social damage a lock down might do or is doing.

      Also, I don't remember many politicians talking about buying time for a vaccine before these lock downs began. That seems to raise the question, anyway, of how much time? The time needed to develop a vaccine is measured in months, at the least. Early next year is the optimistic hope. Are we to stay locked down until then? There may never be a vaccine.

      Delete
    3. If I don't understand enough of the science, then I have to listen to experts. So does President Trump. Ioannidis is not the only expert who can be found disagreeing. Since this began I have seen several people online who were medical experts with apparently good qualifications from reputable institutions, who do the same. I also worked in the government bureaucracy long enough to know that experts employed there will not speak out publicly against policies, which they will tell you privately are nonsensical.
      I think that where there are well regarded experts disagreeing, the correct approach would be to have them discuss their views politely and at length in a public forum. Not a forum run as an entertainment as so many are, but one where each party is given plenty of time and resources to make its argument. Nothing like this is happening.

      Delete
    4. Attempting to claim that questioning science is only a flaw of the right, or even that it is worse on the right, pretty well ruins your credibility.

      Delete
    5. Jeremy,
      "Are we to stay locked down until then?"
      "We" are not locked down any more.

      Most people in most jobs in most places can go back to work if their employers choose to open up again.

      "There may never be a vaccine."
      No major government official is even talking about staying locked down until there is a vaccine.

      In New York governor Cuomo extended the lockdown for some counties and removed most of the lockdown in other counties. The criteria is infection rates and markers that an area either meets numerically or does not.

      In California, the location of the owner of this site, the lockdown was changed 9 days ago, so most Californians can go back to work now if their employers open up the business again. This is old news. Nobody in government is talking about keeping employment locked down until there is a vaccine.

      I think you said you live in Australia and they are opening up too.

      The hardest hit locations are still on full restrictions but targeting infection rate criteria to be able to open up in phases.

      Areas that were not hit as hard typically have already removed most restrictions to employment.

      The criteria nearly all government authorities are using are keeping infection rates at a manageable level, requiring employers to practice mitigation techniques, requiring the public to practice mitigation techniques while in public, and opening up in phases with the most essential and lower risk businesses opening up first, which has already happened in most locations for most people.

      Delete
    6. SP,

      Save your time and effort. I'm not biting.

      Delete
    7. Legion of Logic,
      Attempting to claim that questioning science is only a flaw of the right, or even that it is worse on the right, pretty well ruins your credibility.

      I completely agree questioning relatively settled science is not exclusive to the right. If it were possible to measure such a thing, I would say it is likely the difference was well under an order of magnitude. However, I would disagree that the are to the same degree.

      Delete
    8. Jeremy,
      "Save your time and effort. I'm not biting."
      With whom or what you discuss is, of course, up to you.

      All I can suggest is that you come up to speed on current events.

      The lockdown is over as a nearly universal maximum lockdown (excepting essential workers).

      Phase 2 of the process (some call it phase 1 of the reopening) started a week or two ago. Even in New York state the lockdown has been moved to the next phase in less populated counties that have already met the numerical target.

      In the state of Wisconsin the state supreme court overturned all restrictions, which has a lot of people very worried about the inevitable uptick in daily new cases. Foolish people are going to bars and large gatherings without any masks and obviously ignoring all the responsible advice from government officials to continue mitigation practices.

      I am very worried because I know some people in Wisconsin and the infection rate will undoubtedly go up as a result of this grossly irresponsible court ruling.

      Delete
    9. You are conflating two things: scientific arguments, and arguments made by scientists.

      Claims about the R0 and the IFR are scientific claims that stand on their own, and their veracity can be validated by those with sufficient background.

      Someone who goes on to argue that "the R0 and IFR are likely within such-and-such a range, therefore we must continue with the lockdown" is not making a scientific argument.

      Ioannidis - at least in his original critical piece - did not criticize the science. He was skeptical of the "draconian" policy response given the state of the science.

      Taleb, on the other hand, strongly criticized some of the science (the Imperial College of London models), while still supporting the lockdown due to the high uncertainty and downside risk. That's phronesis.

      Either of these people could be wrong about the science, or wrong in their practical judgment of policy preference, or both. The scientific argument certainly informs the policy argument, but let's not confuse the two.

      Delete
  6. Couldn’t the science speak for itself in a more unbiased manner if the public was presented with the epidemiological model for the effects of various policies complete with error bars and justification of the model and errors? The same could be done with the economy. If there are competing ideas and models, we could have a public debate to hash everything out. At least that would give some transparency and intellectual honesty to this whole ordeal instead of the constant sound bytes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The public might understand that presentation, but the media (who are self-selected largely from those who can’t do maths) certainly would not understand it. And, not understanding it, they would see no need to report it, and many of them would assume it must be false because it goes against the narrative they have been pushing.

      Delete
  7. > Nor, as it turns out, have U.S. hospitals been overwhelmed or medical supplies run short (which would affect everyone).

    This is a very strange claim. Personal protective equipment is notoriously in short supply

    > “We are out of everything,” wrote a staffer at a large hospital in Tennessee. “Providers using one mask for 3+ weeks. Many COVID patients. Zero gowns.”

    It's not like it's easy to miss this. Nurses like Celia Banego raised complaints about a lack of PPE .... before contracting Covid-19 and dying.

    These shortages continue to be a problem. And the shortages directly create difficulties for other important medical procedures--which does affect everyone else.

    These aren't recondite epidemiological questions; they're widely known facts. Unfortunately, a lot of people still get their information from the same outlets that said this wouldn't be any worse than the flu -- and that's a real problem if we are to have an informed public.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thomas,

      As the context makes clear, what I was talking about, specifically, was shortages of the sort to which the lockdown was supposed to be the remedy, i.e. of ventilators and other equipment that would run out because of hospitals being overwhelmed.

      Those are the sorts of shortages that have not happened, because hospitals have, for the most part, not been overwhelmed. Yes, there have been exceptions here and there, but not the massive, nationwide problem that made it crucial to "flatten the curve" and thus impose a lockdown.

      And yes, there are shortages of masks, but not because hospitals are being overwhelmed, so the lockdown has nothing to do with remedying that particular shortage. Rather, masks are running out because (unlike ventilators) so many non-medical personnel have been hoarding them.

      And the reason they have been doing so, of course, is that they have been told to wear masks by the same people who imposed the lockdown. And unlike the ventilator shortage, the mask shortage has continued, not decreased, since the lockdown was imposed.

      Now, that doesn't mean that it is wrong to tell people to wear masks. It just means that the mask shortage has nothing to do with whether or not a lockdown is still needed, and thus has nothing to do with what the post is about.

      So, where I "got my information" isn't the issue. The issue is reading what I wrote carefully and charitably.

      Delete
    2. I am from South-East Asia where Covid-19 hit us here way before it entered US. I hope US heath authorities have educated the public in US for everyone to wear an imperfect reusable and rewashable home-made masks instead of the medical-grade masks (save the latter for hospital staff) when they go out of their homes.

      The strategy is: When everyone wears such masks, everyone is protecting everyone else and hence everyone is protected by everyone else. The point of wearing imperfect rewashable homemade masks is to catch the emitted droplets of the wearer when the wearer talks or coughs or sneezes, so as to protect others around him. Imperfect homemade masks are quite effective for that. When everyone in the public is wearing such imperfect recyclable homemade masks, then everyone is protecting others, and consequently everyone is protected by everyone else!

      This would then result in the public not competing with hospital staff for the medical-grade masks.


      Cheers!
      johannes hui

      Delete
    3. johannes,
      "in US for everyone to wear an imperfect reusable and rewashable home-made masks instead of the medical-grade masks (save the latter for hospital staff)"
      You seem well intentioned but in my view only partially well informed.

      I do not accept the zero sum game approach to N95 masks or surgical masks. For myself, I already had some N95 masks so I am wearing them. I dry them daily with a small fan, and the straps have broken repeatedly, so I repair the straps. With careful handling an N95 mask can be used for months.

      Medical staff, on the other hand, typically prefer to use them once. Large hospitals have begun some sterilization techniques that individuals do not, in general, have access to, including exposure to sterilizing gas or vapor in a chamber, not something practical to do at home.

      Buying a few N95 masks to use to go to work, keeping them in good shape by handling them very carefully and drying them daily, and using them for months is not going to cause the health care professionals to lack the masks they need.

      It is up to business and government to pay the premium costs for rapid increase in mask production.

      All lives are important, not just the lives of health care professionals.

      Further, just because you refrain from buying an N95 mask in no way means that mask will go where you hope it will go. The market is vast and you have no control over where individual masks you do not buy will end up.

      "The point of wearing imperfect rewashable homemade masks is to catch the emitted droplets of the wearer when the wearer talks or coughs or sneezes, so as to protect others around him. "
      That is dangerously false information spread by the CDC and others because they do not know how to tell the truth effectively so they have told an assortment of lies and dangerously absurd advice.

      The mask is not a 1-way protection device. The mask does not only protect others from you. The mask also protects you from others.

      Why do you think health care workers wear a mask, to protect others? No, in fact many of the masks healthcare workers wear have a one-way valve that lets their own breath out unfiltered, while filtering inhaled air.

      Healthcare workers who wear a mask are primarily protecting themselves from being infected by the patients.

      The mechanism for protection is the same in both directions.

      A primary means of transmission is airborne water droplets that contain the virus. When that droplet lands on the mask it is absorbed, and as it is absorbed particulate matter in suspension in the droplet tends to be bonded to the filter material.

      In the event that the virus that was in suspension in the water droplet breaks free of the modest bond then a filter with very small openings has the higher chance of mechanically filtering that particle, the virus.

      That process works in both directions. You have been misinformed, my friend.

      Further, be sure to use dense material for your home made mask, if you must use a cloth mask at all. Hold the material up to the light, and if you can see through it at all the material is unsuitable because the openings in the fabric are huge compared to the virus, which is about 100nm (one tenth of one millionth of a meter, or one tenth of one thousandth of a millimeter). Some people suggest a water test such that if water drops pass through easily when the mask is outstretched the material is unsuitable.

      The correct advise is simple, wear the most effective mask you have available, for the purpose of protecting yourself from others, and just in case you are an asymptomatic transmitter, protecting others from you.

      Delete
  8. The excess of need over capacity is the definition of being overwhelmed. Hospitals were (and are) overwhelmed, at least in the sense that the need for PPE exceeds the supply (and in other respects as well, in hard hit areas).

    Hospitals don't have to be overwhelmed in every respect to be overwhelmed in important respects. One can't point to New Yorkers dying in waiting rooms during their surge and say -- "they're not overwhelmed, look at how the hip surgeons have nothing to do!"

    > the lockdown has nothing to do with remedying that particular shortage [the masks]

    Sure it does. The more prevalent COVID-19 is in a population, the more people need to be treated. With an infectious respiratory disease, masks are used to protect the medical personnel treating patients. Reusing masks can turn them from prophylactics into vectors of the disease. Not using masks can turn doctors and nurses into vectors of the disease.

    The causal connection between prevalence of COVID-19 in a population and the need for masks is pretty obvious. Lockdowns reduce that prevalence. Why would one think that the demand for masks would not, on balance, increase with higher rates of infected people?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ‘The excess of need over capacity is the definition of being overwhelmed. Hospitals were (and are) overwhelmed, at least in the sense that the need for PPE exceeds the supply…’

      As Dr. Feser has already pointed out, PPE shortages are not a problem particular to hospitals. Many hospitals, in fact, are severely under-utilized at this time, because so many patients were discharged and so many elective procedures banned in anticipation of a sudden influx of emergency patients that never happened. That is not what ‘overwhelmed’ looks like.

      Please try to address the question being discussed, instead of moving the goalposts halfway to Mars.

      Delete
    2. Tom:

      Hospitals are overwhelmed if a lack of resources (whether it be personnel, beds, or supplies) required to meet a standard of care. It's no more complicated than that.

      You don't need to be an Aristotelian to recognize that a proposition may be true in one respect and not another. Hospitals aren't going to be overwhelmed with plantar fasciitis surgeries or LASIK surgeries. System failure happens at bottlenecks.

      But then, whatever Rush Limbaugh may be attributing to others, no one meant that in the first place.

      Delete
    3. Please try to address the question being discussed, instead of moving the goalposts halfway to Mars.

      Precisely. To my memory, no one two months ago was calling for a lockdown on the grounds that we faced a mask shortage. Nor, even if they had, has the lockdown worked to prevent that, given that -- as Thomas himself emphasizes -- we still face a mask shortage.

      This isn't even goalpost moving. It's "forget about goalposts, let's change the subject."

      Delete
    4. But then, whatever Rush Limbaugh may be attributing to others, no one meant that in the first place.

      This is the kind of gratuitous and foolish remark that justifiably leads people to be suspicious. No one here is quoting Limbaugh, or otherwise making any kind of political statement. You are bringing politics into it.

      Delete
    5. ‘Hospitals are overwhelmed if a lack of resources (whether it be personnel, beds, or supplies) required to meet a standard of care. It's no more complicated than that.’

      Then by your own standard, the hospitals are not overwhelmed. The standard of care has not been compromised – if you can get into the hospitals in the first place. What has been compromised is the ability of patients who have not been infected with COVID-19 to receive any care at all.

      The authorities did not, for instance, restrict cancer patients from getting treatment because they feared that a shortage of surgical masks might develop. That would have been ridiculous. They did it because they feared that COVID-19 patients would be stacked in the corridors like cordwood. That is the definition of ‘overwhelmed’ that was used to make these public-health decisions, and by that definition, the hospitals are overwhelmed only in particular centres of infection like Milan or New York.

      You are clutching at straws to try to come up with a defence for an indefensible position.

      Delete
  9. I think the general principle would be to minimize the total number of deaths due to both COVID-19 and the responses to it, including lockdowns. The initial thinking seemed to be that the number of deaths due to lack of hospital care would be much greater than the deaths from a short-term lockdown (such as from patients with other serious illnesses not getting hospital care for their non-COVID 19 maladies. At this point, though, it appears that the deaths from families flung into poverty (suicides, domestic violence, additional drug overdoses, compromised immune systems from excessive time indoors, etc.) is poised to exceed those from COVID, especially if the lockdown continues for 12-18 months more, as we await a vaccine. Some COVID-related deaths may have merely moved up the time of death for elderly patients with serous co-morbidities. (If that's so, then there should be a drop in deaths attributable to diabetes, heart failure, etc. in the months ahead, cateris paribus.) From a religious point of view, those extra few months to get right with God might be the most important month's of an elderly person's life, but it's also important to know the impact of COVID over the medium term (e.g., a year or so.) There are complications: some of those that have recovered from COVID have sustained permanent damage to the lungs or other organs. So, case fatality rates aren't the only thing to factor in. My own take is to end the lockdown while taking commonsense precautions and, most importantly, to be able to change course quickly as new facts dictate. I've found Dr. Chris Martenson to be a sober presenter of the facts concerning COVID, facts that confound knee-jerk reactions from the left and the right. There is another, admittedly more speculative point to be made: The economy may have been heading for the precipice anyway (as evidenced by the repo market last fall), and the COVID lockdown may, however unwittingly, play the role a "most welcome fire" to an economy on the verge of declaring bankruptcy.

    ReplyDelete
  10. At what point might a lockdown result in more sickness and death, given factors such as the lack of herd immunity, neglect of ailments other than Covid-19, the insolvency of medical institutions and their funding sources, etc.?

    One more point: the lock down status will neither increase nor decrease herd immunity. Herd immunity only arises from a program of near-total exposure, usually through a vaccination regime. Humans have lived with diseases much more contagious than covid19 for millennia (e.g., measles, mumps, chickenpox), and never developed herd immunity. Unless you are proposing a program of deliberately exposing every person in the country to the disease, there will be no herd immunity.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmm.... Were not Amerindian populations devastated by smallpox (etc.) because they lacked herd immunity? The claim that "there will be no herd immunity unless..." appears to be based on the obviously false notion that herd immunity is all or nothing. If a disease is highly contagious and almost all who contract the disease have a successful immune response to it (i.e., survive), how can you not develop some degree of herd immunity to that disease after a pandemic?

      Delete
    2. David McPike,
      Hmm.... Were not Amerindian populations devastated by smallpox (etc.) because they lacked herd immunity?

      These don't seem quite comparable to me. Smallpox has a fatality rate of 30% even when caught by populations that had historically acquired the disease, it was contained by cultural practices (quarantine) and later by rudimentary vaccinations. By contrast, Native Americans had not adopted these practices.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_disease_and_epidemics
      Certain cultural and biological traits made Native Americans more susceptible to these diseases. Emphasis placed on visiting the sick led to the spread of disease through continual contact.

      I suppose there may have been a limited amount of immunity conferred by the survivorship of previous generations, as the people who were less likely to acquire smallpox were somewhat more likely to breed, but that is the type of immunity that develops over generations, not months.

      The claim that "there will be no herd immunity unless..." appears to be based on the obviously false notion that herd immunity is all or nothing. If a disease is highly contagious and almost all who contract the disease have a successful immune response to it (i.e., survive), how can you not develop some degree of herd immunity to that disease after a pandemic?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_reproduction_number

      We never develop herd immunity to diseases with much higher R0s than covid19. What's special about covid19 that we would here?

      Delete
    3. Note here that there is no such thing as "the" R0 for a given disease. It's always "the R0 relative to a particular model." The number is always dependent on the situation (thus the differential response in Amerindian populations). And it would seem that the same thing applies to "herd immunity." It is clearly not all or nothing.

      Delete
    4. David McPike,
      Note here that there is no such thing as "the" R0 for a given disease. It's always "the R0 relative to a particular model."

      That seems like a quibble. I'm sure you're not arguing that the R0 is so indeterminate as to be useless. Do you agree that being more contagious does not aid in creating herd immunity?

      And it would seem that the same thing applies to "herd immunity." It is clearly not all or nothing.

      Again, going by the example of measles, what we see is a very large drop-off in the effectiveness of herd immunity corresponding to a very small change in the percentage of immune people. When 95% are immune, the measles will at most spread to a couple of others, when 85% are immune, hundreds or thousands catch them, reaching almost everyone not immune or in quarantine. So, while it may not be all or nothing, the range between all and nothing can be very slim.

      Delete
  11. We should remember that every left wing person today thinks that the internment of Japanese-Americans was immoral because it violated these people's basic constitutional rights. At the time, people who favored the internment thought that individual freedoms were not so important when the country was in a very serious crisis. Today it is the political left who thinks that people's right to leave their homes and operate their businesses are not so important when we are in a serious crisis that threatens American lives. Every leftists should think about this. Why did they care about constitutional rights when the Japanese were interned, but not when the Corona virus arrived?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jonathan Lewis,

      I'm not aware of a constitutional right to leave your home operate your business. In fact, since most businesses require a license, I'm fairly sure very few people think the latter is a right.

      On the other hand, it's pretty clear we have a right to not be incarcerated without due process.

      Delete
    2. I quite sure we do have a right to not be put under house arrest without just cause.

      Delete
    3. Jonathan Lewis,

      "House arrest" is something done to an individual, "lock down" to a larger community. I agree you can't be put under house arrest (singled out as an untrustworthy person) without due process, but that's very different from being part of a community in lock down.

      Delete
    4. So I as an individual cannot be imprisoned in my house, but if everyone in my town is confined to theirs it is permissible? The constitution does give the us right to freedom of movement. In past court cases this has related to movement across state and national borders, but I sure there is a case to be made for allowing freedom of movement in the case of entering or leaving your home.

      Delete
    5. Jonathan Lewis,
      So I as an individual cannot be imprisoned in my house, but if everyone in my town is confined to theirs it is permissible?

      For specefic reasons of public safety, yes.

      The constitution does give the us right to freedom of movement.

      In the past, every single right granted by the US Constitution has had some sort of limits imposed upon it. We have no absolute rights.

      In past court cases this has related to movement across state and national borders, but I sure there is a case to be made for allowing freedom of movement in the case of entering or leaving your home.

      Such cases are be tried all across the nation, to my understanding.

      Delete
    6. One Brow,
      "every single right granted by the US Constitution"
      The US constitution does not grant rights, it limits or enumerates preexisting rights. This is made clear in The Declaration of Independence (not a controlling legal document but an indicator of original intent), and more importantly in the 9th and 10th amendments.

      "We have no absolute rights."
      Yes, and in times of riots or natural disasters the local authorities are within their legal powers to issue temporary restrictions on public movements, such as curfews, restrictions against gatherings, and restrictions against appearing in public.

      Further, the health department has the legal authority to close down businesses and restrict entry to locations that are determined to present substantial risk to the health and lives of the public.

      I remember one day when I was a kid in the summer out of school and my dad stayed home on a weekday. So I asked why he was staying home, a very unusual event, then he told me that there is a riot going on right now and the mayor has ordered all workers to stay home and has issued a 24 hour a day curfew.

      I am sure the mayor did not relish the loss of income, tax revenue, and freedom that would obviously result from the order, but he had the legal authority, there was a substantial threat to public safety, so he issued the order.

      Delete
  12. ED: The Coronavirus is so bad, I'm going to compare it to eternal damnation!

    LEADER OF AMERICAN CONSERVATIVES: Yeah, this whole thing is a reaaaal nothingburger. Lyin' Dr. Fauci is big fake news and a big league disappointment.

    ED: Well, you know, it is all relative in the end. Should we take strict quarantines like Illinois, or... perhaps... the more sophisticated, elegant and
    laissez-faire
    approach of Sweden? Maybe persay the herd immunity strategy of the UK. Hmm... it is quite fascinating and open-ended.

    If this is our leading Catholic thinker, then we are... in an uneviable spot. It is doubtful that we'll ever produce another Aquinas ever again.

    Corona-chan concurs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ED: The Coronavirus is so bad, I'm going to compare it to eternal damnation!

      That is not what I said. In fact, in that post, I said nothing at all about how serious the threat of the coronavirus was. What I said is that IF a Catholic takes the coronavirus seriously, how much more seriously should he take damnation? The post was about damnation, not the coronavirus.

      Also, I have said from the beginning that skeptics should be listened to and that the longer the lockdown went on, the harder it would be to justify. You seem to think that if I thought the lockdown was justifiable at the beginning (which it was) then to be consistent I must think it justifiable no matter how long it goes on -- which is not only absurd in itself, and not only something I never said, but in fact something I always explicitly rejected.

      Delete
    2. You seem to think that if I thought the lockdown was justifiable at the beginning (which it was) then to be consistent I must think it justifiable no matter how long it goes on

      The problem is that between that blogpost and now no new evidence came up showing that COVID-19 is less dangerous. No new evidence appeared that we're past the inflection point of the logistic curve. No new vaccines were invented nor distributed cheaply (in fact there has never been a vaccine for coronavirii in general).

      The only thing that happened is that someone many people in the USA see as a fatherly figure said it's nothing and many of his followers/children immediately changed course. That isn't rational!

      EDIT: I am sorry for the linked image including a vulgarity. I can avoid the grossest kind of vulgarity... but I probably can't avoid all of them.

      Delete
    3. The only thing that happened is that someone many people in the USA see as a fatherly figure said it's nothing and many of his followers/children immediately changed course.

      What a ridiculous and dishonest statement. Here is a partial list of things that have happened since the lockdown began:

      1. The curve has flattened and as a consequence, hospitals have not been overwhelmed, ventilators have not become scarce, etc.

      2. The example of Sweden has shown that it is at least arguable that an alternative to a total lockdown is possible.

      3. Economic circumstances have gotten progressively more dire, especially vis-a-vis unemployment, economic growth, the increase to the national debt, etc.

      4. We have two months worth of further evidence about who is most vulnerable to death or serious illness from the virus.

      All of that has the potential to change (and indeed, in my view, should change) our judgments about whether a total lockdown is still necessary.

      There is nothing whatsoever in this that has anything to do with Trump, or whoever you have in mind. You are keen to accuse me and others of being political, but that is total projection on your part. You are the one politicizing the issue by flinging such accusations, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever.

      Delete
    4. And by the way, the stuff about vaccines etc. is shameless goalpost-shifting. The original rationale for the lockdown was to avoid hospitals being overwhelmed, etc. That was the basis on which I and many other people originally supported it.

      Now that that goal has been accomplished, the lockdown should be relaxed. Yet instead we have some people fishing around for new rationalizations for it -- and all the while cynically accusing those who object to this sleight of hand of playing politics.

      If you don't want people to be suspicious of your motives, don't act suspiciously.

      Delete
    5. You are keen to accuse me and others of being political, but that is total projection on your part. You are the one politicizing the issue by flinging such accusations, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever.

      Accusation is telling someone that they're guilty. I didn't say that you're guilty, a sinner, or evil. I said that you were being unintelligent by ignoring external logic. Okay I think my initial remarks were too severe because it made it sound like you were eternally and forever unintelligent (static voice). They probably cane from a disordered sense of outrage. I'm sorry for that. Nobody deserves a judgment in the static voice unless it's kind. I'm going to say something kind at the end of this post to make up for that.

      It appears good that you have logically cogent reasons for your change of mind... except those may not be enough! Randal Rauser wrote a great piece about how Dan the Philosopher stole a book and gave a 100% correct reason for why he didn't sin stealing the book... except that he did sin because his reason was inconsistent with his core values i.e. personality type (viz. he wasn't a utilitarian). This is why one cannot completely divorce personality type from arguments because those arguments reflect core values and so need to be interpreted in light of those.

      Therefore I don't know whether you're making those arguments because they're the real you or because they're perfect but irreflective of you. Some people have a personality type that has "Daddy" and "Can we go home now Edith?" as core values and it looks like you're thinking from that perspective.

      You are keen to accuse me and others of being political...

      Maybe I am being political. But it seems that the only way to be apolitical in this 60,000+ death crisis is to be physically 10-years-old (an excellent strategy by the way, just one that is not available to fellows not named Peter Pan) or to tune out external logic. Politics is the logic of externalities (or as Bismark figuratively put it "war by other means," as war is the most external logic driven activity there is), so people whose personality type cannot tune out external logic... are gonna get emotional and dare-I-say-it political about it. Of course politics = poly-ticks so being political isn't supposed to be worn with pride.

      Now for the bons mots.

      Some cases are crystal clear. If you believe that the MacBook Air is the best computer on the market simply because your favorite philosopher Ed Feser happens to own one, you would be committing the first kind of fallacy of appeal to authority.

      If "best" means "being the most versatile home computer according to objective metrics" then yes it's a fallacy. If "best" means a value judgment then it appears at first not to be a fallacy... except the personality type that forms judgments based on comparing everything in reference to themself and another man (narcissist) is solipsistic and so would also be invalid. This remark indicates you have a very good understanding of types and how core values are organized.

      Delete
    6. And by the way, the stuff about vaccines etc. is shameless goalpost-shifting. The original rationale for the lockdown was to avoid hospitals being overwhelmed, etc. That was the basis on which I and many other people originally supported it.

      ?... I from the beginning of the WHO's commencement of this pandemic till now have always held to never get out of my house until a vaccine is made. Because that's the only way one can be absolutely certain herd immunity will stop the virus. So it's not moving the goal posts because that was always my goal post. My mention of vaccines in tandem to the curve was meant to be a disjoint recital of valid reasons to relax judgment.

      Delete
    7. Tomislav, your rants are incoherent. Feser is very patient for even trying to reason with you.

      Delete
    8. Tomislav, your rants are incoherent. Feser is very patient for even trying to reason with you.

      Why do they seem illucid to you? Also dropping my real name in order to make me a victim and vulnerable to doxing is a evil move. Don't think I didn't notice that coward.

      Delete
    9. I for one never knew that Tomislav was a unique name.....

      But thank you for another illustration of a claim wildly disconnected from the support for it.

      Delete
    10. @Anonymous If you couldn't understand what I wrote, all you had to do was ask me questions.

      Delete
  13. With almost all my conversations with the "normies" I have to battle overwhelming skepticism. Maybe this was the poison pill of critical thinking.

    What was not mentioned in the article was both the immediate national security aspects of a successful "attack" that penetrated every state and achieved a near 1% saturation rate. While standing on its own that doesn't sound very good, but what if we tried to attack China with a bio weapon. It looks like thy would be much more successful at a defense.

    Could we be witnessing the emergence of a real 5th generation warfare model?

    And what about relying on multi-year and multi-decade risk models? No one talks about what this will do in 30 years. The swedish model, as one person tagged it here, feels insane.

    Most people are not talking motivation. The motivation of the government. Why are we locked down? Truthfully it has nothing to do with deaths and health. It has everything to do with keep civil order. If they though they could let a half million people die and it would cause civil unrest I don't see any indication of them changing. We do it all the time with booze and cars.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pardon grammar. Writing OTM

      Delete
    2. Stragton,

      What sort of bio-weapon do you launch by infecting your own people first? That's pretty close to insane.

      Delete
    3. I don't think you read my statement. I didn't say this was. Maybe it could have been. Insane the Chinese are not. But that was not my supposition.

      If I was a military tactician, the likes of those who study Sun Tzu, I would see that the greatest military spender in the world is completely susceptible to a bio weapon attack. And now that the people are conditioned to resist and allowed to get away with it they will be embolden to do it again. If I was such a leader I would get one of the other super powers to harness this virus and drop another more potent strain somewhere near the CDC or Ft Deitrick. Game over homie.

      Delete
  14. Those in Britain might find this interesting:

    https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/lockdownlegalchallenge/

    Part of the issue, as I understand it, is that the document originally used to justify the lockdown only has provisions for quarantining the sick. (The Former Supreme Court Justice, Lord Sumption, makes the point in an interview here. Ignore the clickbait title. It's a decent interview.) You can find other details on the crowdjustice site.

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  15. Can I mention that some of the basic data seems to be in doubt, quite apart from conclusions drawn from it?

    Take the CDC data reported here and look at the US new cases per day graph: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html

    Look at US new cases per day, April 6: 43K cases. None of the other days around it approach even 40K, indeed the highest other day is 37K seventeen days later and even that is a clear outlier figure, probably wrong.

    Yes, the sheer # for April 6 is improbable on its face. What I am bothered about is different: not only is it improbable, NONE of the other sites giving statistics that (a) come even remotely close to 43K, nor (b) have April 6 be a particularly high day at all. When you look at the next day, 20K, it is suspiciously low (on the CDC graph). Almost certainly there was some kine of bad reporting deficiency that effectively stacked half of April 7th's cases onto April 6.

    Now, it is of course possible that CDC is effectively saying "that's what got reported to us: garbage in, garbage out". But that's not good enough. First, none of the other stats sites had trouble sorting out the bad reporting to make sensible data. Secondly, the data is being reported by 50 states (and who knows how many sub-bodies), are we supposed to think they are ALL making the same kind of mistakes in the same direction? - the errors should tend to balance out. Thirdly, the CDC has some control over the reporting procedure and models: no, they can't be in every hospital and morgue, but when they put out a guideline saying how to report, most administrators try to comply - it's just good sense to do so if reasonably possible (and if it's not reasonable, THAT's the problem, isn't it?).

    So maybe its taking CDC time to get the word out about how to make accurate reports? Well, they got exactly the same kind of 2-day hi-jinks a full month later: 31K (almost 32K) on May 16, and 13K on May 17, during a period when the average was in the low 20s.

    Are we really supposed to believe that a full 45 days into the crisis, CDC and hospital administrators, and state officials, are STILL making reporting errors of this magnitude? Or is it that CDC's methodology is unable to DEAL with the necessary steps of error-tracking and/or data refinement, so that they are effectively saying "yep, that's right folks, our data is garbage, you shouldn't trust it"? If that's so, why do they report it?

    And if THAT data is garbage, what else is?

    I believe it is more than possible that while the DAILY figures are individually unreliable, when you spread out and take weekly averages, and especially trends, those are more reliable. But what gets me is that if that's the case, and CDC knows that's the case, why would they continue to report the daily figures as if they MEAN something? Shouldn't they be doing something like "we'll report the stuff that WE think is reliable - and that's the weekly figures"?

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    1. I also would like to have a handle on how it is that the (many) other stats sites, each and every one of them, have DIFFERENT values for EVERY day? Aren't they mostly getting the same reports that the CDC is getting? (i.e. reports from state and county officials, etc). Sure, maybe there will be a few mix-ups causing some days to look different, or most days to be different by a few dozen here or there, but they all differ by THOUSANDS, every day. NONE of the sites are showing that they are getting the same data as the others. Well, then, what data ARE they getting? How is it that they ALL have access to data that the others don't have access to? Or, how is it that none of them believe anyone else's model on how to collect / collate the data is valid?

      I am not saying they should be in lockstep. I am saying that by now they should be in very close range of each other, and the fact that they are not is disturbing.

      Imagine 3 scientific researchers were collecting and reporting the data from 5 hospitals, all on the same issue. Imagine that none of the 3 reported the same values for any day, to the tune of about 5% (typically) variance every day. Assume that the scientists are encouraged to talk to each other, but that the variance persisted over 6 weeks. Would you be worried about the validity of their methodology(s)?

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    2. Tony,
      Look at US new cases per day, April 6: 43K cases. None of the other days around it approach even 40K, indeed the highest other day is 37K seventeen days later and even that is a clear outlier figure, probably wrong.

      The CDC has specific standards and procedures in place for who counts on which days. Other sites may or may not have different standards for which cases count on which day. So, we would expect some day-to-day deviation. The worst response to that would be to arbitrarily smooth the graph.

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    3. One_Brow, it is obvious that CDC's "specific standards" are resulting in bad aggregation of data: you don't have cases of an actual jump of 50% from one day to the next, and then a drop of 50% the following day. Anybody can see that some of the numbers reported for April 6 must really represent people for April 7. If it's because hospitals and state officials are unable to follow CDC's standards on reporting, then CDC needs to fix their procedures.

      I accept that other sites may have initially been using different standards or criteria. But the experts should all be talking to each other, and by this point they should have reached some relatively accepted conclusions at least with respect to SOME of the causes of difference, if not all. After all, the number of original reports (per day) is not in the millions - each hospital and or facility is presumably reporting to the county health officials, and each county is presumably reporting to state health officials. World-o-meter and Johns Hopkins U, etc, are not calling up every hospital and every nursing home on a daily basis to get that entity's report, and even if they were, I would think that each facility would report the same number to each stat organization's callers for the day. Unless World-o-meter is talking to whatever orderly answers the phone, and JHU is talking to the person who orders laundry soap.

      I agree that there is no need to smooth the graph arbitrarily. However, there are certainly extensive and well-founded sets of criteria for smoothing graph in lots and lots of data applications, and CDC is no stranger to doing so: it smooths graphs of death rates and such all the time. As it is, the "noise" of the graph actually makes it more difficult to see week-to-week trends, which is (I presume) where the real "information" of the graph resides, since it doesn't reside at the daily level. If they put out a mortality table graph that hinked around like this, they would be laughed out of business. (One way to deal with it is to put out the smoothed graph, and then simply NOTE that the raw(ish) data is available in a table accessed through another click or two. That way they aren't "hiding" anything from anyone who actually needs to check the raw(ish) data.)

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    4. Tony,
      One_Brow, it is obvious that CDC's "specific standards" are resulting in bad aggregation of data: you don't have cases of an actual jump of 50% from one day to the next, and then a drop of 50% the following day. Anybody can see that some of the numbers reported for April 6 must really represent people for April 7.

      Ihaven't played around with the Poisson probability distribution in a while, but from what I recall, that kind of variability (50% drop) is quite possible from a consistent probability situation when numbers are only in the thousands. However, you should probably not take my word. Ask a friendly statistician whom you trust.

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    5. Daily new case reports follow a weekly cycle, typically with peak numbers on Friday and minimum numbers on Monday.
      https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/
      Fri, April 24-peak
      Mon, April 27-min
      Fri, May 1-peak
      Mon, May 4-min

      There are some small variations to this pattern but there seems to be a connection between the work week and the processing and reporting of reports and data.

      The CDC data shows a similar weekly pattern of reported new cases.

      That's why we look at trend lines and don't get too excited about day to day variations.

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    6. I recognized the work-week pattern, and I discounted it for the comments above. The Poisson distribution - to the extent it applies here - would not account for the jumps we see here. It would well account for the pattern at any one hospital, yes. When you have 1000 facilities, we shouldn't have that large a variance one day to the next, they should dampen out the oscillations. The more facilities, the more regular should be the totals.

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    7. Tony,

      You could be right here, I have not examined this distribution in a while. Offhand, I see the standard deviation is about sqrt(lambda), so a deviation of thousands on a population of tens of thousands is a little large.

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  16. Again, no one has really debated the main point of Ed's claim, which is what I deny:

    "Indeed, if the case ultimately rests on appeal to the authority of experts..."

    It doesn't. The case ultimately rests on facts and inferences from those facts, from which subsequent prudential judgments are made. It only proximately rests on appeals to authority for those unable to make those inferences or understand the facts for themselves.


    If the R0 of the coronavirus is around 2.5 (with a typical average time for transmission around 3-4 days) and the IFR is between 0.5-1.0%, the experts were right to push the panic button. Without any distancing measures put in place, in a few months over 200 million would be infected before herd immunity would kick in, and in the neighborhood of 1.5 million (or more) deaths, and that's not even counting the fact the real IFR would be greater to the hospital systems being overwhelmed, and it's also making the (likely optimistic) assumption that infection and subsequent recovery would make one fully immune.

    Particularly exasperating is to hear arguments like: the lockdown was stated as necessary to avoid overwhelming the health care system. The health care system was (for the most part anyway) not overwhelmed. Therefore, we can completely lift the lockdown. This makes as much sense as saying: removing a bomb from a home was necessary to avoid having the house blow up. The house didn't blow up. Therefore, we can put the bomb back. Nothing has changed as far as R0 or IFR in the past couple months; therefore, the risk is as real now as it was then. (This is different from a gradual and prudent RELAXATION of the lockdown, as long as social distancing measures and other precautions like wearing masks are still kept in place, which I support; and some specific lockdown measures were ill-considered and extreme anyway.)

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    1. There is no such thing as "the" R0 of the coronavirus, is there? (You appear to have no idea what you're talking about. Am I mistaken?) Your argument that it was "right to hit the panic button" is utterly without substance: You don't clearly indicate what you are arguing for. (Is it ever helpful to "panic"?) Nor do you provide any real argument for whatever it is. (You want "facts," look at Sweden, and drop the faux fatalism.) This is entirely typical of lockdown arguments.

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    2. This is entirely typical of anti-lockdown arguments in that it is simply brazenly intellectually dishonest but plays to the uneducated and/or willfully ignorant crowd to score silly "gotcha" points in order to try to show that those educamated pointy-headed intellectuals are all blowing smoke.

      Yes there is such a thing as "the" R0 of the coronavirus. You can read for yourself its definition here, which you could have found via Google after two seconds.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_reproduction_number

      And yes, the article does use the terminology "THE basic reproduction number" in case you're interested. Yes, I'm quite aware that "the" R0 is not constant in time or space; that is PRECISELY the point of social distancing measures: they reduce R0. Your picking out of the term "the" in order to attempt to play to the crowd and indicate that I didn't realize R0 wasn't a constant is beyond silly. It's really jaw-droppingly stupid in fact.

      Similarly when I said that these numbers would indicate over a million deaths over the next few months indicated it being "right to hit the panic button". You call that "utterly without substance". So, exactly how many deaths would need to happen over what period of time before you would admit there was something actually of substance, I would like to know. "Hitting the panic button" is a colloquialism for the necessity of drastic measures, as you well know. The fact that I didn't, in that sentence, exactly spell out the drastic measures needed doesn't make my argument "utterly without substance". This is also jaw-droppingly stupid.

      What was, and is, necessary, are social distancing measures in order to reduce R0. Because if it isn't, over a million will die in the U.S. over the next few months. Now again, you might not find a million dead a "real argument", but I think most people will, because they're decent human beings and not sociopaths.

      Oh, and as for the facts about Sweden? Many more cases and many more deaths per capita as compared to their Scandanavian neighbors Norway, Finland, and Denmark. And this, with a very large portion of the population voluntarily practicing at least some social distancing measures even without being forced to by law, which certainly wouldn't happen in this country because "Muh Freedumb".




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    3. I asked this above, but what are the specific reasons for comparing Sweden to those other countries? Just geography and a vague idea of social and economic similarity? That seems superficial at best. Stockholm is twice the size of the largest cities in those nations, to take just one possibly important difference. Also Sweden messed up its nursing home policy as bad as Cuomo did, and a huge proportion of deaths from this virus have been in nursing homes. That is a separate issue from its policy on lock downs. Also someone above posted an article doubtful of Sweden that mentioned that there may be issues with the Swedish stats.

      Remember also we need to judge Sweden over a year, not now. Its policy will inevitably see relatively high deaths early on. The question is whether it will see more over the long term.

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    4. Different AnonymousMay 21, 2020 at 4:38 PM

      You don't have to guess, re: Sweden. There are, literally, Southern states that implemented Sweden-like policies because of worries about their weak economies. As far as I know, no piles of skulls in them yet.

      Muh Freedumb

      I share your distaste for the sweaty, beer drinking, gun-totin', almost self-parodying aesthetic of a lot of Americans, but (even if it sometimes leads to excesses) I wish more of us had their love of freedom. I sometimes think that Huxley, not Orwell, had the deeper insight into human psychology. Orwell had mass surveillance and the oppressive police state; Huxley said that we would come to love our slavery. I'm wary of how easily people in some countries have let themselves be herded indoors. Anyway, I wish you wouldn't mock this particular aspect of American identity, especially when there is so much else so easy to pick on.

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    5. Stockholm is not twice the size of Oslo, Copenhagen, or Helsinki. It's bigger, but not by that much. Also bear in mind the population of Sweden is about double that of Denmark, Norway, or Finland.

      City Population Urban Metropolitan

      Stockholm 1M 1.6M 2.4M
      Oslo 700k 1M 1.7M
      Copenhagen 800k 1.3M 2M
      Helsinki 650k 1.3M 1.5M

      Its nearest neighbors are clearly a better standard of comparison (although admittedly not perfect) due to population density, etc., then, say, France, due to huge population density in many places.

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  17. Different Anonymous,
    You don't have to guess, re: Sweden. There are, literally, Southern states that implemented Sweden-like policies because of worries about their weak economies. As far as I know, no piles of skulls in them yet.

    Nor would anyone have predicted piles of cases, much less piles of skulls, three weeks after the reopening. If there is almost no spread by the end of June, they will have been vindicated. I don't have the details' for all I know some of these states have a vigorous system of testing and tracing in place, in which case they were ready anyhow.

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