We are not surprised to find life on Venus …

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… or are we?

Recently announced research suggests that there is life on Venus.

This research identified phosphine (PH3) in the atmosphere of Venus. According to the researchers, the only way to get phosphine is from life.

I might disagree, and here is why: We think of phosphine as only associated with life because we live on Earth, where there is lots of life, and that is where we find phosphine. There are a gazillian chemical compounds that no one thought would or could exist, or even imagined one might exist, that have been synthesized by chemists over the years. The synthesis of some of these compounds depended on the novel synthesis of other, earlier “discovered” compounds. The idea that no chemist will ever figure out how to synthesize phosphine without an organism being involved does not seem likely to me.

But, I’m not a chemist, and especially, I’m not Clara Sousa-Silva, who has devoted her entire research career to understanding phosphine and related problems. She is not a chemist either, but rather, a physicist, who specializes in analysis of extraterrestrial chemicals.

There may or may not be life on Venus, but there is plenty of science fiction set there.
So, is this going to be Mono Lake II, or an amazing new discovery? Only time will tell. I’m just adding this caveat: Since we live on a planet with life, and we see chemical signatures of life, but life is literally everywhere messing around with all the chemical processes, there might be a number of signatures of life that would still exist in life-free environments, but since we have no life free environments on Earth (to speak of) we are ignorant of that set of processes.

This is like the Enigma of Socrates. Socrates speaks. Socrates has two legs, not four. Therefore Socrates is a man, right? That logic would be hard to beat on a planet with no parrots. But on a planet with parrots, Socrates could be a parrot.

“Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus” with about 20 authors, in Nature Astronomy has no public or open source copy. The New York Times has it, but you will need a subscription to read that. Clara has a web site devoted to phosphine, here.


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A very stormy Atlantic Hurricane Season

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Sally is going to turn into a hurricane, probably category 1 or weak category 3, and slam into the golf coat, possibly very close to New Orleans. In fact, Sally might approach New Orleans at a really dangerous angle. This storm is expected to bring a lot of water in land, for some major flooding, and storm surges may be pretty bad in a few spots.

Paulette will stay out in the Atlantic and head in the general direction of Europe, although some models having it cycling back to Africa and hitting Morocco. That would be strange. Somewhere along the way, Paulette may reach category 3 strength, barely.

Renee is going to wander around in the mid Atlantic fo a while in a state of depression, and might dissipate over the next few days. But sometimes, such a storm later turns into the next storm in line, so this blob of unsettled air will require some further attention.

Then there is Tropical Depression Twenty. This storm is going to be a hurricane by mid week or sooner. It is going to stay in the mid atlantic according to all the models but one or two (which has it grazing Canada). But, it will become a Category 2 hurricane.

Then, there is Disturbance 2. Check back on Disturbance 2, now near Africa, maybe Thursday. This storm has some potential.

There is also a Disturbance 1 in the Gulf of mexico which is not expected to do anything major at least for several days.

If Twenty and One become named storms, they will be Teddy and Vicky. Then there is only one name ready, Wilfred. The chance that we are going to run out of names is about 100%.

If that happens, we go to the Greek alphabet.

Usually, but this time, there are about 7 named storms and maybe 3 or 4 hurricanes. So far we have had 18 named storms and 5 hurricanes (one major). So we are about average on hurricane number but high on storms in general.

Very few of the predictions for this year suggested such a high number, but NCSU, SMN, and NOAA’s May 21st came close. I don’t count NOAA in early August, that’s cheating.

Several records were set this season so far. Cristobal is the earliest C storm, beating 2016’s Colin by three days. Edouard is the earliest E storm, Fay, the earliest F storm by a large margin, Gonzalo the earliest G storm by a couple of days, Hanna the earliest H storm by nearly two weeks. Etc. Seven other storms beat this record prior to the currently active three. Paulette, Rene, and Sally are the earliest of their letter by ten or more days each, with the previous records set in the infamous 2005 (which is when most of the earliest per letter records were set … that was an intense year).


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What Churchill Said vs What Trump Said

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What Churchill Said

“I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. … Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

What Trump Said

“Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. … One of my people came up to me and said, ‘Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia.’ That didn’t work out too well. They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything, they tried it over and over. … And this is their new hoax.”


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How to debunk a myth. The science of it.

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Method 1: Yell at the passing clouds.

Method 2: Rely on your experience of fifty hears ago during which you got some bug up your butt.

Method 3: Demand rational thinking using a series of ignroance-based irrational arguments.

Method 4 (preferred method): Watch this video:

I find it interesting that Seifert (and thus by extension Cook) use a fire as an example. This harkens back to Eco’s use of a fire (in a couple of different contexts, including the cause of a building fire) to suss out the semiotics of meaning and linguistic processing.


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Minnesota’s First Congressional District’s Jim Hagedorn Found To Be Crooked

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Minnesota’s First Congressional District includes much of the southern part of the state. This is a very conservative area, and also a very white area. There are counties that have more combines than people of color. A lot more.

It happens to include Rochester, which is where the Mayo Clinic is located, which gives Liberals (or, at least, Centrists) a chance. This is why Tim Walz, a high school teacher and National Guard lifer was able to represent CD1 as an elected DFLer (DFL = Minnesota’s Democratic Party) for several terms. He had to walk that fine line. He is essentially a progressive, but won there anyway. For various reasons, however, he almost lost his most recent election, and was destine to finally get voted out by an increasingly Trumpian mass of corn farmer, despite having support in the medico-academic community around Mayo and the University in Rochester. He ran that cycle for Governor, and that is what he is now.

Two years ago, Dan Feehan, representing the DFL, and Jim Hagedorn, representing the Republicans, faced off. Dan was a great candidate and a great person, a Paul Wellstone inspired combat veteran. He served for a time as the acting Assistant Secretary of Defense, under Barack Obama. He has since worked with the Farmers Union in Minnesota, focusing on Healthcare.

Jim Hagedorn was the offspring of a former US Representative (Tom Hagedorn) and was half raised in McLean, Virginia and half Truman, Minnesota. For years he ran a blog called “Mr Conservative” that included a LOT of sexist, misogynistic, racist, islamophobic, and anti-Native American yammering. When people noticed and he got called out, he claimed he was only joking. The Washington Examiner declared him “the worst midterm candidate in America” last cycle.

When the corn farmers and medical professionals of the increasingly conservative 1st District were asked to chose between the two, 291,085 people voted, and by virtue of a mere 658 votes, Hagedorn had won the district.

Then he went to work being an asshole. I won’t go into all the details, but here is the latest in a DFL press release:

Hagedorn’s Report Confirms Corruption Within Congressional Office

Independent investigation needed to answer remaining questions

St. Paul, MN – On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, Congressman Jim Hagedorn quietly released his internal review of the ongoing corruption scandal in his Congressional office. Despite Hagedorn hiring a lawyer for crooked politicians to get him off the hook, the basic facts of the report are damning:

  • “Congressman Hagedorn fully agrees that he is ultimately responsible” for the potentially illegal mismanagement of over $450,000 in taxpayer dollars.
  • Abernathy West is likely tied to Congressman Hagedorn’s top staffer who spent half a year breaking ethics rules and potentially directing our tax dollars into his pockets.
  • Congressman Hagedorn allowed two businesses to rip off U.S. taxpayers by dramatically overcharging Hagedorn’s office for services for over half a year.
  • Congressman Hagedorn is still employing John Sample, a staffer whose company received over $110,000 in taxpayer dollars from the Congressman’s office. As multiple ethics experts have said, Hagedorn’s decision to do business with his own staffer “violated House rules” and constitutes “a problem,” raising “neon signs flashing red signals all over the place.”

Hagedorn’s far-from-independent report fails to answer numerous, serious questions:

  • Why did Congressman Hagedorn lie about completely delegating his mail program to his chief of staff when that was clearly not true?
  • Why did it take reporting months after-the-fact for Hagedorn to become aware of the potentially illegal activity taking place within his own office?
  • How was it that Congressman Hagedorn hired two different staffers who funnel our tax dollars into their pockets?

The report confirms that there still needs to be an independent investigation and Congressman Hagedorn owes it to the people of southern Minnesota to publicly release all relevant correspondence including text messages, emails, and letters prior to Election Day.

DFL Chairman Ken Martin released the following statement:

“It’s laughable that Jim Hagedorn would ask the public to trust him and his bought-and-paid-for report after Hagedorn spent months lying to Minnesotans and trying to cover up the corruption within his own office. Even a lawyer for crooked politicians couldn’t conceal the fact that there was massive wrongdoing in Hagedorn’s office and that an independent investigation is needed to get to the bottom of it.

“Congressman Hagedorn is responsible for using almost half a million of our tax dollars to line the pockets of his employees. This corruption within Hagedorn’s office went on unchecked for months until media reports exposed it to the public, at which point Hagedorn lied to the public and tried to deflect blame. The people of Minnesota deserve better than crooked politicians like Jim Hagedorn.”

Now would be a good time to give Dan Feehan some money, or help his campaign in some other way.


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The Minnesota GOP’s Maskless Campaigning Puts Lives At Risk

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Press release from the Minnesota DFL (That’s what we Minnesotans call our version of the Democratic Party.)

The Minnesota GOP and Trump campaign even embarked on a tour of the state of Minnesota, which risked exposing Minnesotans to a deadly pandemic that has killed over 180,000 Americans and whose infection rates are growing here in Minnesota. Here’s what today’s speakers said:

“The plain truth here is that Minnesota Republicans and the Trump campaign are putting people’s lives at risk to win political campaigns,” said DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin. “The Minnesota Republican Party’s unsafe events could be spreading COVID-19 across our state, landing people in the hospital, and even killing them. If Minnesota Republican events have not caused serious harm, it is only because their fellow Minnesotans are taking this threat seriously and making the sacrifices necessary to save lives.”

“This is the perfect storm of everything people shouldn’t do: going from place to place with no knowledge of whether or not you’re sick and meeting with people,” said Andy Slavitt, former Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Many of them as you can see are not young, many of them are vulnerable, but there’s no way for people to know who’s vulnerable and who’s not and then.”

“To me, people’s lives are more important to people’s votes,” added Slavitt. “I think I would ask that of your elected representatives in your candidates: is my life more important than putting you in office? And is your behavior at suggesting that? So I just would say to anybody who doesn’t hold that value: it’s not too late to change because people are going to live or die by your decisions.”

“We have seen that places that do have fairly severe outbreaks, when they start to recommend masks, when they introduce mask mandates, they turn the corner,” said Dr. Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist and Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University who appeared in a non-partisan capacity to speak about the science behind masking and COVID-19. “Wearing a mask is important. I think social distancing is important and I would also prioritize outdoor events. I think if you’re able to do all three of those things: masks, social distancing, and outdoors, I think that’s relatively safe and I would feel comfortable in that situation for someone who is not older or someone without underlying health conditions. But indoors, maskless, close-quarters, those are all recipes for transmission”


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Consensus in Climate Change Science

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This is an excellent video put together by consensus in science expert John Cook. John is the author of the excellent must-read book Cranky Uncle vs. Climate Change: How to Understand and Respond to Climate Science Deniers.

I have always been interested in the concept of consensus, even before that word became centered in the pro vs. anti science debate. In Anthropology, we have huge problems with consensus. In at least one branch of Anthropology, consensus can never be achieved because all good work is defined as breaking consensus. The moment you get close to consensus, you’ve failed. (That’s socio-cultural anthropology, modern style). In another branch of Anthropology, we deal with questions that can’t really be answered at that level, but sort of can be. So there is never consensus in the sense that of the many possible explanations for a thing, there will always be a list of possible, and often very distinctly different, alternative explanations. But, over time, the list changes. One hopes for the list we have now being better than the list we had a decade ago, even if both lists are approximately the same length. (Example: Reasons for the origin of bipedality in the human lineage.)

There is a particular kind of consensus that to my knowledge my friend John Cook does not talk about (yet, he’s got most of this covered very well): Beer pitcher consensus. It goes like this. Suppose there is a range of thought on a particular narrowly defined scientific question. Since this is about climate, let’s do a climate one. The question might be: What is the best value for “climate sensitivity.” This is the number of degrees Celsius that the atmosphere at the Earth’s surface will go up with a doubling of atmospheric CO2 from pre-industrial values (say that was about 280ppm). (I’m oversimplifying the concept and the question slightly and I believe forgivably.) The answers range from a somewhat pedantic and absurd 2.0 to an alarming and probably alarmist 5.6 or so.

Now, get a bunch of experts on this question, say at a conference. Sit them down for a beer. After a couple of beers, tell them, “OK, folks, I’m giving each of you a piece of paper and a pencil. Write down a guess on the climate sensitivity value. Here’s the thing. Don’t show each other what you wrote down, only show it to me. And, if they are all the same value, I’ll buy pitchers of beer for the rest of your time at this conference, starting now.”

Had I simply asked this group of experts to tell me the climate sensitivity value, it would start a conversation that would go on for hours, and there would not be a single number. But if I do it as described here, they would all write down one number, and it would be 3.5 (I’m pretty sure).

That is the beer pitcher consensus.

Anyway, have a look at John Cook’s excellent video. It shows why most of the time you as a science oriented concerned lay citizen usually get this wrong, but in a harmless way. There is not a “97%” consensus. There is a full consensus; the number 97% is kinds of silly, and it is only part of the picture. The idea that global warming is happening and is human caused is, simply put, established scientific fact. There is no valid dissent. But, the number “97%” does have an important meaning and history in the debate. More to the point, not only is there a consensus on climate change and the human cause of it, but there is a consensus on the fact that there is a consensus!


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Excellent Kids STEM Book: Copycat Science

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Copycat Science: Step into the shoes of the world’s greatest scientists! by Mike Barfield looks like a graphic novel, acts like a very densely packed activity book, but stealthily serves as a textbook for learning all kinds of science.

Every page or two has something to do, using common household ingredients. You can extract and actually see DNA from an organism, play around with air pressure, create lightning, mess around with light, and of course, achieve a deeper than usual understanding of slime.

This is one of the better home science activity books I’ve seen, and it comes at a perfect time. For example, our school district is, for fifth grade, going to skip science for the first several weeks of Covid induced distance learning. Well, we may use this book each day during that hiatus, and thereby learn random things. Can’t hurt!

Strangely, the author is not a scientist, but a poet and ukulele maestro, but with excellent drawing skills.

It is a nicely formatted book, of solid construction.*


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Covid-19 Update: Vaccines, Airborne, Seasonality, Irony

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A tale of two vaccines

Two vaccines are racing to the finish line. We can’t say which one will arrive first, because they each have a different finish line.

The good vaccine, the one likely to be safe (though not necessarily without some side effects) and effective (though you may need two doses, which is normal for vaccines so don’t panic about that) had this deadline: When it is ready, as in, finished with Phase 3 trials. My money is still on the Oxford Jenner vaccine. If that is the first one ready, don’t expect to see it in the US because a) Jared Kushner does not have any ownership in it and b) Jared’s F-I-L is the corrupt leader of the formerly Democratic Republic of the United States. We’ll get it after Joe and Kamala, if they are not killed by Putin, are in the White House.

What? You think we are going to let you have a vaccine that I don’t make money off of? Nope, not going to happen as long as the Trump Crime Family is in charge!
The bad vaccine is whatever vaccine the Trump Crime Family has decided they can sell us. The deadline for that is November 3rd, but really, earlier, because of early voting. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, a member of the Trump Crime Family has started to say, “Oh, no, if we approve a vaccine early, and that is possible, then it will be a great vaccine, a really great vaccine, don’t worry, we are not going to play political games here. Nope. No October Surprise from the FDA, no sir.” Meanwhile all of the senior actual scientists in the government that have anything to do with this have warned Hahn, uselessly, that he should not do this, because they expect him to do this.

I’m fine with this. The fake vaccine might actually work. It will be distributed among Republicans first, and they will blindly take it because they are morons and the head of the Trump Crime Family will order them to do it. If the vaccine turns out to be dangerous, it will be they that suffer, deservedly for the adults (sorry, kids, your parents are dangerous assholes) and it will be they that later sue (if they live) Hahn and Trump over the damage done. If, on the other hand, the fake vaccine is actually a good vaccine, an emergency use authorization by Hahn will certainly speed up data collection, owing to the additional rats, er, lab rats.

See “Here’s how the U.S. could release a COVID-19 vaccine before the election—and why that scares some

The Second Coming

Never mind what you may have heard about Covid-19’s virus not being seasonal. The assertions that it is not were falsehoods, mostly generated by the press misunderstanding what this all means, spread by people who, amazingly, are not actual epidemiologists, on Facebook. OK, admittedly, I am not actually an epidemiologist either, though back in Grad school when I discovered it exists, I almost jumped ship. And, I do play one in the classroom in the class I co-teach on immunology and epidemiology. Point is, I know a little better than the average person when I’m about to say something stupid. Usually, I then shut up. But not always, so beware.

Anyway, for all the various scientific reasons, it might be seasonal. Consider group of immunologists and epidemiologist siting around having a beer, and someone asks the question, “Is Covid-19 seasonal?” you’d get a lot of hemming and hawing. Then, the inquisitor says, “OK, fine. Each of you take this slip of paper and pencil, and write down “yes” if you think it will turn out to be seasonal, and “no” if you don’t think so. Don’t share your work. If you all turn out to say the same answer, then the beer is free for the rest of the night.”

I strongly suspect they would all write down a non-committal but educated “yes.”

The thing is, an outbreak has its own momentum. Some of the worse influenza outbreaks violated the seasonal pattern we know influenza has. All the Covid-19 outbreaks we have been having have masked any possible obvious seasonality for Covid, though one study that looked at underlying factors linked to seasonality concluded that there is a pretty good chance Covid-19 is seasonal.

On top of that, we have another (not unrelated) set of seasonal factors. No matter what you do to mitigate against spread of the disease in a school, going back to school, even in some sort of limited “hybrid” pattern, WILL result in increased spread. This is not an uncertainty. And, we are starting that now, and as you probably know, it is happening. Between back to school and climate related seasonal effects, we are looking at a long hard winter.

Related: COVID-19 rising in 26 states as US hits 6 million cases

Covid-19 is probably not mainly airborne.

But it is totally airborne as well.

I think it is funny (as in “funny, holy crap, how stupid can people be????”) that once news came out that Covid-19 is very likely airbonre, that many people actually then asserted that it was NOT spread hand to object to hand. It still is folks! KEEP WASHING YOUR DAMN HANDS PEOPLE. Jeesh.

But anyway, the evidence of airborne transmission builds and our understanding of that phenomenon deepens.

COVID-19 patients in earlier stages exhaled millions of SARS-CoV-2 per hour

Exhaled breath samples had the highest positive rate (26.9%, n=52), followed by surface swabs (5.4%, n=242), and air samples (3.8%, n=26). COVID-19 patients recruited in Beijing exhaled millions of SARS-CoV-2 RNA copies into the air per hour. Exhaled breath emission may play an important role in the COVID-19 transmission.

For refernece, this is the very rough not yet accepted article that started this whole thing: Outbreak of COVID-19 in a nursing home associated with aerosol transmission as a result of inadequate ventilation

See this for a very current summary on the airborne situation.

Or, maybe you are just on your own

The latest plan from the Trump administration, other than faking a new vaccine to make money somehow, is the do nothing and wait for herd immunity to “kick in.”

New Trump pandemic adviser pushes controversial ‘herd immunity’ strategy, worrying public health officials

One of President Trump’s top medical advisers is urging the White House to embrace a controversial “herd immunity” strategy to combat the pandemic, which would entail allowing the coronavirus to spread through most of the population to quickly build resistance to the virus, while taking steps to protect those in nursing homes and other vulnerable populations, according to five people familiar with the discussions.

The administration has already begun to implement some policies along these lines, according to current and former officials as well as experts, particularly with regard to testing.

The approach’s chief proponent is Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist and fellow at Stanford’s conservative Hoover Institution, who joined the White House in August as a pandemic adviser. …

Irony

Yes, I am aware that the picture at the top of the post is an example of irony. That is why it is there.


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Our social distancing guidelines are underthought

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Seriously under-thought.

One way Covid-19 spread is you shove your hand in your mouth, then you use your hand to gob onto a door knob, then the next person to come along licks the door knob. So don’t do that!

If you think I’m being silly, watch some pre-schoolers for a while.

But even adults, at a somewhat lower rate, continuously shed their sheddable viruses a little at a time onto every surface, where the viruses either die over a period of a few hours or get picked up by the next person.

So imagine a scenario in which a person is sitting in a room and a stream of people come in, one at a time, to socially distance at 6 feet away, masked, to have a conversation with that person. Further, imagine the person sitting in place is a teacher, and the visitors are little kids getting to meet their teacher before a semester of distance learning.

Sounds totally safe. Indoors, six foot distance, masks. Nothing can possibly go wrong.

OK, now lets backtrack and find the student in the parking lot. The student and her brother and two parents have just parked. They are coming from a sports event they’ve been attending weekly for a month, at which everyone is shouting and no one is wearing a mask. The are all infected but don’t know it yet. The family heads for the school, and let themselves in the front door. Four people have now touched the doorknob. They are now in the lobby and a school employee, masked and with a face shield, stops them and says, “OK, you’all stay here in the lobby but six feet away from the other families, and I’ll walk little sally to see Mr. Scary the teacher.”

While the student is away, the family gravitates over to some people they know, and start a conversation at what they think is a safe 6 foot distance, but they forget, don’t pay attention, whatever, and pretty soon they are closing in and talking around their masks at each other. Family 2 is now exposed, and has, say, a 1 in 30 chance of getting the virus. This scenario is, of course, playing out hundreds of times across the school district, so there will be some transmission at the door knobs and in the lobby. In the parking lot outside, even.

Little Sally is now being accompanied down an empty hallway by a person she does not know wearing a face shield and a mask, and she starts to cry (= major shedding) on the way down the hall and needs to have her hand held for the last few meters going into the room. While talking to her teacher she is overwrought being away from her parents in this strange place so she throws up breakfast. But that’s OK, the teacher and a para clean it up. But, remember, Little Sally is a carrier, so there is now a thin film of Covid-19 kooties from the lobby to the classroom, even where the hasty cleanup (everyone is behind schedule) happens. This is the first of a four day meet and greet, with two days this week, and two days next week. So this gives Mr. Scary and the para plenty of time to become contagious. So, on week two, one in 100 kids that come in to meet their teacher picks up Covid-19. That is’t many. But the school district has 10 elementary schools, and this scenario is happening in all of them, for a total of 3,000 kiddos. So there are now 30 sick and shedding elementary students mostly doing distance learning at home and, slowly, one by one, killing off the grandparents.

If you don’t like that scenario, make up your own. The point is, masking up and staying 6 feet apart slows, but does not eliminate, infection. As we return to schools, even with precautions, this is going to happen. Everywhere.

And now there is new research that gives us a better idea of how a 6 foot social distance is an oversimplified concept that provides a false, and in this case, deadly, sense of security. More to the point: People think that if everyone “wears” a “mask” (did you notice the scare quotes there?) and stays “six feet” away from each other, than the chance of infection is zero. It isn’t. It never was.

The following nuance inducing graphic is from “Two metres or one: what is the evidence for physical distancing in covid-19?” by Jones, Qureshi, et all, just published.

Risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from asymptomatic people in different settings and for different occupation times, venting, and crowding levels (ignoring variation in susceptibility and viral shedding rates). Face covering refers to those for the general population and not high grade respirators. The grades are indicative of qualitative relative risk and do not represent a quantitative measure. Other factors not presented in these tables may also need to be taken into account when considering transmission risk, including viral load of an infected person and people’s susceptibility to infection. Coughing or sneezing, even if these are due to irritation or allergies while asymptomatic, would exacerbate risk of exposure across an indoor space, regardless of ventilation

I’m not going to provide much of a summary of the article. It is very readable and clear. Just click here and find it, read it yourself.

“Instead of single, fixed physical distance rules, we propose graded recommendations that better reflect the multiple factors that combine to determine risk. This would provide greater protection in the highest risk settings but also greater freedom in lower risk settings, potentially enabling a return towards normality in some aspects of social and economic life.

Key messages:

  • Current rules on safe physical distancing are based on outdated science
  • Distribution of viral particles is affected by numerous factors, including air flow
  • Evidence suggests SARS-CoV-2 may travel more than 2 m through activities such as coughing and shouting
  • Rules on distancing should reflect the multiple factors that affect risk, including ventilation, occupancy, and exposure time


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Laura is a Formidable Hurricane

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That’s what the National Hurricane Center says.

At this moment, Laura is a Category 2 hurricane edging over the next few hours into Category 3 territory. It is possible that Laura will reach Category 4 status before making landfall, but the storm is expected to weaken a little prior to the eye coming ashore. Laura is large, so while still at maximum strength, it will be affecting the coast directly.

Laura, large, looming below the Louisiana littoral.

The most recent intensification, during which the storm grew in strength from Category 1 to Category 3 over several hours, is called “remarkable” by the NHC. Projections of Laura’s ultimate strength, days out, did not suggest that the storm would reach 3, close to 4, intensity. And, I think this is a pattern. Atlantic Hurricanes have developed this recent habit of either moving faster, forming more quickly, or getting stronger, than expected based on the usual models. It is like the models all need to have their sights adjusted a little.

Very soon, as of this writing, Laura will move in on the coast, and the eye will cross over in the wee hours of the morning Thursday AM. Some time between nightfall tonight and sun rise tomorrow, this Category 3 with gusts up to 150 mph will take a run at the Texas-Louisiana border. The best guess location for the eye to come ashore is between Beaumont Texas and Lake Charles Louisiana, with the front-right quadrant mainly in Louisiana.

Again, this is a large hurricane (and is a bit asymmetrical at least at the moment) so the storm surge flooding ie expected to cover a very large area, across the entire Louisiana coast line, even New Orleans. Much of the storm surge will be over 9 feet over the ground (not above sea level, but above where your feet are planted as you nail plywood over the front window of your house). There are complexities. Many areas along this coast have levees that will keep the storm surge completely out, until a levee is over-topped or breached. Then, it all comes in rather quickly.

You will recall that Hurricane Harvey (2017) messed up Port Arthur and Beaumont. These communities are under threat again, but the main effects will probably be to the east of there.

A typical Atlantic hurricane season has about 12 named storms, between 6 and 7 being hurricanes. Half the storms usually occur by about this time a year or a week or so later. So far this year, we have had 13 named storms, four of which have been hurricanes, and Laura, the only major one so far, is the strongest. All of the pre-season predictions said this was going to be an active year, and that has turned out to be true. This year seems to be characterized as having had an early start, with the formation of storms setting “earliest formed” records 10 times so far. This is a somewhat obscure statistic. For example, Cristobal, the third storm of the year, formed three days before the next earliest third storm (June 2 beating June 5). Laura, the 12th storm, formed 8 days earlier than the previos record holder, Luis, which formed August 29th 1995. Of note, most of the prior eariest records are from one year: 2005. You may remember that year, it included Katrina and Maria.


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Teachers: This one neat trick could save your life

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This is for all teachers, but only some of you will be able to do this. Depends on your topic. This may pertain mostly to biology teachers, maybe stats or math, but by extension, any science or empirical topic including history.

Never mind that the first thing bio students to know is about Hydrogen bonds, or that the first thing stats students need to know is basic probability theory. You already probably do some sort of introduction thing that gets the students oriented to your subject, with a “get to know you” component, etc.

Replace that with this. The first thing the students should encounter in your classroom is some sort of topic appropriate, level and age appropriate, encounter with pandemic reality. Many of your students are not taking this pandemic seriously. They’ve been hanging round mask-less and in close quarters with their friends all summer, maybe practicing on a team, whatever. They are not going to properly manage their own viral shed or the possibility of someone else’s pathogenic effluence. They are going to be gobbing all over each other, their desks, and you.

Now is the time to use your mad teaching skills to push at least some of your students in the direction of being more careful, and possibly, slowing the spread of the Covid-19 causing disease.

I know, I know, you are saying “we are doing distance learning, this does not matter.” But it does matter. The back to school outbreak is going to happen whether or not you, or your school, is doing distance learning, and your small part of the learning community overlaps with the rest of it. And, you never know when your college, HS administration, or school district is going to send the students back into your room. This is your chance. Take it.

Can’t think of an example of a lesson that would smart up your students, to enhance the behavioral part of their innate immune system? Don’t give me that! Of course you can, you are a great teacher! In face, once you’ve thought about it, I want to hear your ideas. Let’s get moving on this!


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Before the Covid-19 Vaccine, This.

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Antibodies may precede vaccines in fighting Covid-19. Antibody treatments involve producing antibodies against a disease, either by harvesting them from previously infected individuals or, better, making them using some sort of scientific magic (aka technology that is hard to explain). An antibody treatment can fight an existing virus, and avoid infection short term. Eventually the antibodies go away, so this does not confer immediate immunity.

This is not an uncommon situations. Lots of diseases appeared out of nowhere, and were initially treated this way until other longer term solutions could be developed. But many of those diseases were rare to begin with and remained rare, so the antibody treatment was not scaled up. Just read all those books and stories about “emerging diseases” from back in the “Hot Zone” literature days and you’ll see these stories played out.

Anyway, here is what some experts say quoted in a recent Science coverage by Jon Cohen:

“If you were going to put your money down, you would bet that you get the answer with the monoclonal before you get the answer with a vaccine,” says Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

and

“Antibodies have the potential to be an important bridge until the vaccine is available,” says Ajay Nirula, a vice president at Eli Lilly, one of several large companies investing in them. Likely to be more effective than remdesivir and dexamethasone, the repurposed drugs shown to help against COVID-19, antibodies could protect the highest risk health care workers from becoming infected while also lessening the severity of the disease in hospitalized patients. But producing monoclonals involves using bioreactors to grow lines of B cells that make the proteins, raising concerns they could be scarce and expensive. On 15 July, Lilly, AbCellera, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Genentech, and Amgen jointly asked the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) whether they could share information about manufacturing their monoclonals without violating antitrust laws “to expand and expedite production.”

Antibody expert Amy Jenkins (Pandemic Prevention Platform (P3) program at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) suggests a N ovember-December time line for seeing this technology in the field is not unrealistic.


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Opening the schools, Plan B

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This should really be Plan A but no school district is going to adopt this plan until after just the right cute little kid or beloved teacher dies of Covid-19 on a news day with few other distractions. This plan pertains to High Schools only. Perhaps later we can extend a version of this to other grades.

Here’s the plan.

1) Admit there is a deadly pandemic and that we need to not feed the virus. Also recognize that a realistic estimate of when a vaccine starts to be available is during the school year after the upcoming one, and that it will take a year or so to fully deploy it in the US. The plan for starting school should not be, as it is now, “we’ll do this for the first week then… who knows?” The plan should be one that will flexible but outlined for a two or three year time range, because that is the time range over which this pandemic is going to play out.

2) Change the requirements for graduating from high school. Henceforth, students must meet the core* class requirements, and do not need to meet total credit requirements. All students who have met these requirements are graduated instantly. That would instantly reduce the number of students in the schools by a few percent.

4) Add one year to the high school plan. Call it “Covid-Extention-Year.” (Why? See below.)

3) Identify (mainly) Seniors and Juniors who have only a few core class requirements to finish. Spread those required classes over the next two years (some Seniors will thus be extending their school time into CEY). Many students in most schools will in this manner only have one class at a time, at most, with many semesters/quarters not having to attend school at all.

4) Restrict all other teaching to core requirements only. So, no electives. All teachers are switched to core requirements, all students are taking core requirements.

Suddenly, 3-4% of students would be gone. Within one semester, another 10-15% of students would be graduated, while another 20% of students would be committed to attending school for only one or two classes over about a year and a half. These first four changes simply thin out the herd gracefully and without killing anyone, as opposed to the current approach, which will thin out the herd the hard way.

5) Do as much distance learning as possible, but if classes are required…

6) Revise the one room schoolhouse model.

  • Students stay in one room.
  • Passing time and bathroom access is set up to minimize hallway contact.
  • Teachers move from room to room (teaching core classes only) and wear hazmat
  • Very few students in each room so when an infection pops up the total number of students removed from school is small. They can come back in a few weeks.
  • Since teachers are suited up they do not have to be quarantined when a student in their room tests positive.

It is essential to keep the teaching staff intact. There will be more needed than usual because several will be out sick for more time than usual. Classes, both distant and in person, should have smaller class size (for most classes, some distant learning classes may not need that). The one room schoolhouse method not only reduces infection, but serves another goal: Relationship building will be easier and more solid in mostly distance learning settings.

*Many schools use the term “core” to refer to a specific subset of academics. What I mean here is different, and includes more. Think of it this way: Look at a set of class records for a sample of seniors. Consider the total number of classes, and the types of classes, that make those students viable HS graduates, and cut out everything else. In other words, pare down. Most students manage to get what we think of as a full on high school degree with a few classes extra. Some students do everything in three years, and earn a year of college. This does not mean removing art or music. It means paring down the individual student’s total work, and probably, the full range of options.

By reducing the number of students and keeping the number of teachers the same, and simplifying the offerings, it is easier to have smaller one-room learning units. While distance learning is ongoing the one-room learning units are not necessary, but they are ready to go when the students and teachers are called back into the classroom. This might be after a vaccine is available, but is still being deployed, and the virus is in smaller numbers but still a threat, which one might estimate to be some time during the 2021-2022 school year.


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