All posts by Greg Laden

Can we please be done with fetishizing early voting?

It is said that about two thirds, maybe more, of Democrats who participated in the Nevada Caucuses of a few days ago had voted, using early voting, prior to the nationally televised and widely watched Democratic presidential debate in which Elizabeth Warren performed so well that pollsters and pundits assumed she would gain a significant boost. But because most of the voters voted before Warren’s very good day, nothing happened.

An uninformed vote is not as good as an informed vote. In the dynamic electoral process in which we undeniably live, especially during a primary, an early vote is a less informed vote, and thus, not as good as a vote on voting day itself.

Early voting and similar programs were created to make it possible for more people to get to the polls. It was not created to help a majority of voters become less informed. Yet, it seems to have had that effect.

Meanwhile, we have placed early voting on a pedestal it does not deserve to be on. During the last election cycle, I witnessed the same scene several times. At the launch of a door-to-door canvas, the organizer implores the volunteers, who will be knocking on scores of doors to engage potential voters, to remember to remind people that they can vote early. Why? Because early voting is how we win! When challenged, when asked how we win by voting earlier instead of later, the response was usually simple and almost cult like: When we vote early we win!

What is behind that idea? This: When early voting started to happen, Democrats did a lot of it, and at the same time, this increased Democratic turnout. (After a few years of early voting in a region, this effect might in some cases flatten out and early voting stops favoring one party.) More turnout is thought to help Democrats, and more Democratic turnout, obviously, helps Democrats. So, early voting gave Democrats a leg up. Why does early voting help Democrats? Because early voting offsets the limitations some people have with respect to time, health, mobility, etc. Republican tend to not have these negative priv-points. Republicans just have the priv. They can mostly vote on election day because they are more likely to be the ones in charge of deciding where other people go, or to have the resources to overcome what might to others be limitations. It is also probably true that Republicans are more politically disciplined than Democrats. A very typical community might have 40% Republicans and 55% Democrats, but Republicans win with margins of 52-48% at the voting booth, because Republicans all get out to vote and Democrats often don’t. But in years when Democrats really rock the vote, they win, barely, in those same places by increasing turnout. It is an old and tried and tested formula. The first 5-8% of extra turnout may be something like 70% Democratic.

This makes early voting a good thing for Democrats, all else being equal.

What has been missed, though, is that people who were going to vote anyway, no matter what, don’t get a better vote when they vote early. Their vote is not worth more. Their vote does not do more, or get more, or count for more. But, it is a vote they may be casting and regretting.

Vote early if you need to. If not, don’t fetishize the ability to vote early. Don’t think your early vote is a better vote. Stop trying to talk everybody into always doing it. Don’t be a totally time-abled and physical-abled person and run around bragging that you voted two months early in the middle of a rapidly changing context. Your vote might be a less informed vote, and thus, not as good as a vote you cast on election day.

Having early voting as an option is a good thing. Actually voting early, way early, when you don’t have to, is not necessarily a good thing.

Lack of coronavirus COVID-19 in Subsaharan Africa?

That there is no coronavirus COVID-19 reported in Subsaharan Africa is a huge concern.


1) It seems likely that this virus spread out of China in part by Chinese people working or visiting overseas.

2) China has had a long standing diplomatic and commercial presence in several areas of Subsaharan Africa including the Congo and Sudan, and some other places.

3) These are places where illness are only barely monitored and generally not well reported.

My guess is that coronavirus COVID-19 is in the Congo and Sudan and a few other places, and it is not being addressed.

Sara Gideon Vs The Pearl Cluther

Everyone in the world is annoyed with Maine Senator Susan Collins. She is constantly pausing to grab the nearest string of pearls, to clutch vibrantly in front of whatever media outlet is watching. Then when push comes to shove, or as they say in Maine, it’s time to cut bait or fish, she’s back in the lobster boat pulling traps for Mitch or Donnie.

A recent poll shows that one of the handful of challengers that have emerged to replace Collins, Sara Gideon, has pulled neck and neck. Or, as they say in Maine, this race has become tighter than bark on a tree. Collins is in a gaum at 42% and Sara Gideon is happier than a clam at high tide with 43%. That difference is just a dite, but considering Collins’ last election, it feels a like christly big gap.

In 2014, Collins left her opponent, Shenna Bellows, in the culch with a 36% margin. Being neck and neck with Collins in this most recent poll is a wicked pissah.

The poll is here.

Gideon’s campaign site is here.

A dictionary of Maine terms that will help you translate this post is heah, heah, heah, and heah.

NOAA Gets Cool New Computers

NOAA will be adding two new Cray computers (one operational and one backup) to replace existing hardware used in weather forecasting. According to a press release, “the computers — each with a 12 petaflop capacity — will be operational and ready to implement model upgrades by early 2022 after a period of code migration and testing. They will replace the existing Cray and Dell systems, “Luna” and “Mars” in Reston, Virginia, and “Surge” and “Venus” in Orlando, Florida.”

When combined with other hardware that will remain in use, the total capacity will rise to 40 petaflops. (A petaflop is a measure of computing speed equal to one thousand million million (1015) floating-point operations per second.) Given upgrades in storage and connectivity, and this increasing computing power, there will be a noticeable increase in resolution and other features of NOAA’s modeling of earth systems.

There is a rumor that the Trump Whitehouse plans to sell off the hardware to some friends who live out near the airport in Queens, and replace it with lower grade equipment that Trump claims works just as well (see illustration).

Though the press release does not give details, a spokesperson for NOAA just informed me that these computers will run the Linux operating system. I had assumed so, but wanted to check. Linux is the standard operating system for super computers, because it is a super operating system. Nobody wants to see the Blue Screen of Death in the middle of their tornado warning.

Specifically, the computers will run the Cray Shasta Linux Environment. This is a high performance suit designed to run large and complex applications on more than a half a million cores, with docker container support, and the robust Cray system management support including staged upgrading capabilities and the low overhead Cray system snapshot analyze.

Your Cranky Uncle vs Climate Change

It is said that scientists are lousy at communication, lousy at telling everyone else about their science, in understandable and compelling terms.

This is of course absurd. There are tens of millions of scientists, and dozens of them are really excellent communicators!

This IS the book you are looking for.
Among the many sciences, there is a science of science communication. It overlaps, unironically, with the science of conspiracy ideation, and borrows a great deal from the broader communication fields.

One of the leading science communicators of the day is cognitive scientist John Cook. John is at George Mason University. He is so tightly linked to the founding and development of the Skeptical Science project that “Skeptical Science” is the name of his Wikipedia entry. This binds John and his mission to a lot of us. Where we once might have said, “I am Spartacus,” we now say, “I am Skeptical. Science!” For John, it is just “I am SkepticalScience.”

Cook is likely known to you for the Consensus project. There were two main projects, a few years back, in which scientist attempted to measure the degree of consensus over the idea that anthropocentric climate change is real. (It is real, and the consensus is near 100% in both peer reviewed literature and the conclusions of actual scientists.) John and his colleagues did one of those, and beyond that, widely promoted the results so that everyone knows about it.

Guy from 1917 (left) and cognitive scientist John Cook (right). Whatever made me think about that sticking the head up out of the trench analogy?
Like I said above, there are tens of millions of scientists. Developing and disseminating the results of consensus research in climate scientist was equivalent to being the only guy sticking your head up out of the trench in that movie, 1917. Science deniers, both avocational and bought-and-paid-for, got all over cook like skin on a grape. Didn’t phase him, though. He continued to develop a series of new projects including a massive online course (Making Sense of Climate Science Denial), an artificial intelligence system for detecting fake science, and most recently, the Cranky Uncle project.

Cranky Uncle vs. Climate Change: How to Understand and Respond to Climate Science Deniers” is a crowdsourced book (and an app). There will be a book launch on March 4th in Arlington. This book gives us the whole ball of wax that is the science of climate science denial in a very funny, really well produced, and compelling wrapping. It will amuse you, and it will advise you. Your cranky uncle is done for.

I don’t have a cranky uncle anymore (he died). But I do have a lot of neighbors who like to write in ALL CAPS. They show up when I give a talk on climate change, and they bring their conspiracy theories, logical fallacies, cherry picked “facts”, absurd expectations, and references to fake research done by fake experts. It is a lot to deal with. But now, I can use the Lewis Black technique for dealing with evolution deniers, but instead of pulling out a trilobite, holding it up and saying “Fossil!” I can pull out a copy of Cranky Uncle vs. Climate Change and say “Oh yeah? Imma look up what you just said in this BOOK!” or words to that effect.

Cranky Uncle vs. Climate Change: How to Understand and Respond to Climate Science Deniers is the book now. Pre-order it!

For completeness, here is Lewis Black demonstrating the fossil technique:

Should I wear a facemask to avoid the flu or some other nasty virus like Coronavirus COVIC-19?

The scientific jury is not unanimous on this issue, but it looks like wearing a surgical mask matters enough to recommend their use under certain conditions, and their use, or the use of a more effective respirator, is recommended under certain conditions. In my experience, face masks are routinely distributed patients arriving in urgent care centers and similar when influenza is cranked up in the community.

Washing your hands a lot AND using a face mask seems to reduce transmission within a household where there is a sick person. This practice probably works, and is standard and recommended, for health care workers. People wandering around on the landscape who don’t have the flu or other virus probably don’t get real protection from wearing a surgical mask, but sick people probably transmit less, if for no other reason than it reduces the amount of nose/mouth-to-hand transfer of viral kooties.

Most of the research on this topic was done during either the H1N1 or SARS hyperawareness period, as expected, but I’ve not seen anything contradictory since. Here are some examples:

” Face masks and hand hygiene combined may reduce the rate of ILI and confirmed influenza in community settings. These non-pharmaceutical measures should be recommended in crowded settings at the start of an influenza pandemic.” (Aiello et al 2012)

“This is the first RCT on mask use to be conducted and provides data to inform pandemic planning. We found compliance to be low, but compliance is affected by perception of risk. In a pandemic, we would expect compliance to improve. In compliant users, masks were highly efficacious. A larger study is required to enumerate the difference in efficacy (if any) between surgical and non-fit tested P2 masks.” (MacIntyre et al, 2008)

“Hand hygiene with or without facemasks seemed to reduce influenza transmission, but the differences compared with the control group were not significant. In 154 households in which interventions were implemented within 36 hours of symptom onset in the index patient, transmission of RT-PCR–confirmed infection seemed reduced, an effect attributable to fewer infections among participants using facemasks plus hand hygiene (adjusted odds ratio, 0.33 [95% CI, 0.13 to 0.87]). Adherence to interventions varied.” (Cowling et al. 2009)

The CDC is not sure if asymptomatic non healthcare workers get much benefit, but they don’t say not to do it. They do say to get your vaccinations, and if you get sick, get medical attention which might include an anti-viral. Health care workers are told (by CDC) to always have a mask or respirator if they are within 6 feet of a sneezy coughy diseased person.

Where to go to get the info on Climate Science and its deniers

My field is paleoanthropology, where I’ve focused on the relationship between large scale change in climate (like the spread of grassland habitats, or the cooling of the Earth since the Miocene) and the evolution of our family, genus, and species. So when people say “climate has changed before,” I get it. How does one understand the importance of ongoing anthropogenic climate change in the context of such large, long term change?

A partial answer to that question: 1) most changes in the past have been slower; 2) When they were fast they were devastating; and 3) our genius emerged less than 2 million years ago, and our species less than a half million years ago. Everything recently adapted about us is adapted to a cooler environment than the one we are heading for now. You think climate change super-charged storms are bad? Well, they are, but when a three degree latitude band around the equator becomes uninhabitable by mammals, that point will become very clear.

If you go to the Skeptical Science web site, my go-to web resource for climate science denial answers, you’ll see “Climate’s changed before” right at the top of the list of “Most Used Climate Mythis” (left sidebar). Click that, then click the “intermediate” tab, and you’ll find the Skeptical Science answer to that myth, with excellent graphics.

Skeptical Science does not shy away from complex and nuanced questions. It is the single best, and most comprehensive, source of description and explanation for both climate science denial and the science itself. Skeptical Science links peer reviewed research with the thoughtful study of communication and brings them right to your uncle Bob.

Is Forbes Magazine a Danger to Scientists?

The other day a friend asked me, “Is Forbes Magazine legit? Should I believe what it says about climate change?”

It was a good question, since there are many outlets that have clear biases in favor of climate inaction, or even, climate reality denial.

I’m actually not sure if Forbes is a trustworthy source. I’ve seen articles about energy that are informative, and I’ve seen articles about energy that are misleading. I don’t remember off hand any articles about climate change per se.

Until now.

Roger Pielke Junior has an op ed that does damage to Forbes’ reputation, and to Roger’s reputation as well. And, unfortunately, it is a sad story. In the OpEd Roger seems to be claiming that the volunteer organization, Skeptical Science, has done damage to a short list of academics, including his father, his colleague Judith Curry, and himself. What Roger does not understand is that the criticisms that come from Skeptical Science are true. The damage to these three was self inflicted.

Here is the story.

There are two Roger Pielkes: Senior and Junior. Both are academics, and both have produced work that has been criticized by the climate science community. I’m not actually all that familiar with Senior’s work, but Junior’s work has been on my radar screen for some time, and it is an enemy ship, as it were. Junior’s main point is to contradict the increasingly well established science on the frequency, level of impact, and importance of major storms like Atlantic Hurricanes. He has variously made claims that they have not gotten stronger, that climate change is unrelated to these storms, that they are not coming with more frequency, and that their impact is not important. I believe that way down deep in his analysis, there is a fundamental flaw. He shows that the overall economic status of the US is not impacted by hurricanes, but the former is measured by GDP, and GDP increases with increasing devastation by major storms. This is because when a major storm comes along and wipes out cities or coastlines or whatever, there is so much economic activity spent on recovery that GDP goes up.

Junior has taken criticism from other academics poorly, and he has taken it personally. He has teamed up with another academic who has also been criticized heavily. This is Judith Curry. Curry’s work has been criticized by the climate community for a few reasons, but mainly this: She claims that the trend towards increasing global surface temperature is predictable by a non-global-warming scenario in which some other internal variation explains the warming. This idea, however, seems to come from a misunderstanding of the underlying stochastic (and other) dynamics of the models she has used. She is, I’m pretty sure, wrong. There may have been a time, perhaps 15 years ago, when her interpretation of the data could stay alive while more information was gathered, but that time has long past, and sadly, she has not allowed her hansom hypothesis to die an honorable death by fact.

The third element in the current drama is the organization and web site “Skeptical Science.” It is a volunteer run entity that has help from a lot of scientists and communicators. Some of my own work has been reprinted there, and I use it as a reliable and well organized source of information on climate denialism, and actually, climate change itself. If you don’t know skeptical science, you should. It is an excellent resource.

Now, here is the sad part. Rumor has it that Roger Pielke Sr. has recently become ill, and it appears that Junior is in a state of upset, possibly depression, and almost certainly in some kind of socio-psychotic episody state of some sort. I’m not qualified to diagnose so I won’t, but in the vernacular sense Junior has gone ’round the bend, and is in a mode of attacking the Skeptical Science people who, over the years, have been hard on Senior, Junior, and Curry, all three.

This is not an over the top inappropriate hardness, that Skeptical Science has produced. In fact, it is relatively toned down compared to the feelings the three deniateers have produced when they hate on science and love on the fossil fuel industry, indirectly, in their writings, their congressional testimony, and so on.

Having said that, I can’t say what exactly is going on with Roger Junior other than that he is clearly upset. He has produced a large number of tweets attacking Skeptical Science and its volunteers. He has tweeted out personal and private information about Skeptical Science people and other scientists, information that was previously stolen by denialist hackers. His tweets have been, at least in part if not majority, taken down by Twitter, and his account was, at least for a time, suspended.

Roger Pielke Junior attacked volunteers and scholars who had been defending science, attacked them, and science, in inappropriate ways, and for his trouble he has been chastised by Twitter.

I and several colleagues have contacted Roger, or friends of Roger, to see if someone can talk to him, to see if someone can talk him down.

But what happened instead, is Roger published an OpEd airing his grievances in Forbes, raising the stakes, and making his attack official and sanctioned by a major publishing outlet.

This is a credibility hit for Roger, but not one that will matter to him. This is a credibility hit for Forbes. I have no idea if Forbes Magazine cares about its credibility in the science community, or in the environmental community.

Regardless of what Forbes intended, or wanted, it got this: Scientists and science communicators must now regard Forbes Magazine, or its editorial staff, as dangerous. Roger Pielke Junior, having some sort of apparent breakdown, was easily able to weaponize Forbes. That can only have happened if Forbes wanted it to happen. Stay away from Forbes, my friends and colleagues. Don’t touch it with a ten foot pole, unless your ten foot Pole is a very tall Eastern European attorney with experience in libel law.

This is a developing situation. Much of it is happening on Twitter. One of the more pertinent tweets I’ve seen so far is this one by Climate Scientists Gavin Schmidt:

And now (added) Dana Nuccitelli has tweeted this, with a link to a new Skeptical Science post addressing this issue:

And from Katharine Hayhoe:

How the US National Press Is Hurting Democracy Right Now

I am astonished at how utterly ignorant journalists from national outlets are of the Iowa Caucus. If the Iowa Caucus going “wrong” can be the virtual end of the Democratic Party as we know it, and the end of all caucuses, you would think the press would know what they are. The press never notices that the total number of delegates awarded on precinct caucus night is less then the total number awarded by Iowa. You would think that if the caucus results being available a few hours after Chuck and Andrea’s bed time was an existential crisis for democracy, that they would also have noticed that half of the delegates that Iowa will send to the National Convention are not ever awarded on on this fateful evening to begin with. Until the TV talking heads can explain how that works, they should really tone down their rhetoric on what did and did not happen in Iowa.

Here is a piece of information that might be helpful. If the following is new to you, then you didn’t really know what the caucuses are. If it sounds familiar, you probably still don’t know, but at least you have a vague idea. If you read and absorb all of this, you still don’t know because this is a 20,000 foot look at parts of a large and important grassroots system.

There is no such thing as “a caucus.” On “caucus night” there are hundreds of individual caucuses, and although there are prevailing rules, they are independent conversations happening among voters during which several tings are decided, including electing a very large number (maybe thousands?) of delegates to go on to engage in other levels of activity, things like resolutions to shape the party platform, party business, party officers, and so on. Oh, and during the Iowa precinct caucus process, there is the first part of a multi-part process that involves deciding on some of the national delegates. So in that sense, what we think of as the Iowa Caucus is one piece of a multi-part part of a multi part thing. The day Chuck Todd can tell us how that works without screwing up the explanation is the day he gets to tell us what went wrong in any given year.

“The Iowa Caucus” is also not “A caucus” because it is the first of several stages of meetings. The first one is called a caucus, and the later ones are called conventions. But the conventions are still caucuses, and at them, delegates are elected, generally among the larger initial number. I believe (I’m a Minnesota caucus guy, not an Iowa caucus guy, so I many have this muddled a bit) that Iowa ultimately selects, during precinct caucuses, delegates who will ultimately be selected among to operate at the County level, Congressional District level, State level and National level. These are grassroots party activists who engage in several important party activities, basically running the party, thus ensuring that the Iowa Democratic Party remains a grassroots organization with lots of knowledgeable and engaged volunteers.

Here is a common conversation on social media I am having these days:

Other person: “Caucuses suck. They dont’ work. There should just be a primary. The system is broke. Bla bla bla.”

Me: “Which caucuses have you been involved in, I’d love to know specifically what is wrong.”

Other person: silence because they have never been to a caucus and have no clue

Make no mistake. There are people who are involved in caucuses who don’t like them. But, that doesn’t make them right. Most of the complaints they have are invalid for one of the following reasons:

1) There are things wrong with caucus, and things wrong with primaries. You can’t only complain about the one and not the other.

2) Things like “accessibility” and the like are often complained about. That is a factor, but it can be fixed, and good organizing units have fixed it. For instance, the caucus I help run is done at a huge facility that is among the most accessible in the region, and since the facility is capable of handling many thousands of people all day every day, our caucuses don’t stress things like handicapped parking, etc. (Other caucuses are not as good as us, but that is not the problem of the caucus, but a problem that can and should be fixed.”)

3) Complaining about the caucus but ignoring the entire party structure, with conventions, central committees, etc. is like saying you don’t like a person because of their hat. Maybe they have a stupid hat, but their hat is not as bad as your determination that they are a bad person because they have a bad hat.

4) It is said by haters that a caucus limits participation because it is held at a certain time at a certain place. That is true, for some potential participants. But it is also true that the caucus and convention system on balance enhances involvement, and that matters. In addition, as noted several times already, the caucus is part of a larger process. Anybody in Minnesota’s Senate District 44 want to get meaningfully involved in DFL politics but can’t do the caucus? Find me, I’ll fix you up. You can be very involved, influentially involved, meaningfully involved. But not if we have only a primary.

For every complaint about caucuses, I have one countervailing complaint about primaries: You can’t really buy a caucus (no, you can’t), but you can buy a primary. In a time when we should be eating the rich, do we really want to give up the last of our grassroots power?

I’ll just add this to complexity things. Tonight I’m going to caucus with some people over support of a particular candidate for a local race. Two night ago, Iowa had its precinct caucus, and on Feb 25th Minnesota does that as well (though there will be nothing about the presidential race at that caucus). I’m a member of the DFL Environmental caucus, which does not caucus. Recently, the Democrats in Minnesota, whose caucus is in the majority in the house but not in the Senate, formed the House Climate Change Action Caucus. And so on.

Not only is the thing that they call the “caucus” only one part of a larger, and good, thing, but the word “caucus” is a bit like the word “desktop” in that it means many things. Until Chuck and Andrea and the other national reporters can keep all of this straight, and not just some of it, it is irresponsible of them to force changes in our political system because they are annoyed at the scheduling of events.

Vonnegut Book Cheep (Impeachment related)

Jailbird: A Novel by Kurt Vonnegut, for two bucks. This is related to current events:

Jailbird takes us into a fractured and comic, pure Vonnegut world of high crimes and misdemeanors in government—and in the heart. This wry tale follows bumbling bureaucrat Walter F. Starbuck from Harvard to the Nixon White House to the penitentiary as Watergate’s least known co-conspirator. But the humor turns dark when Vonnegut shines his spotlight on the cold hearts and calculated greed of the mighty, giving a razor-sharp edge to an unforgettable portrait of power and politics in our times.

Also, while we are talking about cheap books, Powder Burn by Carl Hiaasen, in case you are a Hiaasen fan. I’ve not read any of his more recent books, and maybe that is because I don’t like them as much as his earlier books, but I don’t want to put down any book I’ve not read.


Following on what I talked about here, we are starting to see a pattern in the Democratic primary. Patterns change, so watch for the change. But right now, according to recent polling by Morning Consult, this is turning into a Biden-Sanders two person race, with Elizabeth Warren the consistent third placer, but at a level that might exclude her from picking up delegates in several states because of the 15% rule (see this for more info on that).

That poll shows Biden in a moderately comfortable first place, but with Sanders a little behind, then Warren in a close third for Super Tuesday voters and nationally. Styer surges strongly ahead of Warren in early primary states. If that turns out to be a thing (and since he paid for it, I suppose Steyer will get it?) then that might down-shift Warren on Super Tuesday because of mo-jection* logic. Buttigieg and Bloomberg variously perform just below those noted so far.

Check out the source cited above, but here are the graphics for your handy review:

  • Momentum based projection.

Live Blogging 2019-nCoV (Wuhan coronavirus)

Added 12 march:

We had a bit of a conondrum when a legit looking analysis appeared in the Daily Mail. I normally won’t even look at the Daily Mail since it is a rag of teh worst kind. But, commenter Joseph M., a long time trusted friend and VSP (very smart person), and a scientist, dug in a bit farther, and he makes a convincing argument that this is worth posting.

The Daily Mail piece is here.

The following are Joseph M.’s notes and comments on it, and some graphics:

Professor Mark Handley, absolutely checks out – he’s much more than legit. As are every one of the other sources.


So I said I’d check out this article and I did just that, vetting it thoroughly. (Several hours of investigative journalism on a work of (initially) questionable journalism.) It’s the real deal, all right – it’s just a bit unfortunate that the journalistically despised tabloid The Daily Mail got the story instead of a respected London newspaper like The Guardian or The Observer. But WTF – that’s just the way this particular cookie crumbled, and one has to give credit where credit is due. I think they scored a scoop, and that were it published in one of the aforementioned establishment papers, world news media would have picked it up and run with it. (Maybe they did, but I didn’t see anything. As I may have told you, my friend Allan sent me the link – and I blew him off because of the tabloid source.)

The inconvenient truth is this: All the experts cited and interviewed in the article are at the top of their respective professional games. No slouches, these guys. The only question is, how much credence do we want to give to a computer scientist – are doctors not echoing his projection because they’re inherently more conservative, or because they have legitimate reasons to question his methodology – or are they falling back on a lame argument from [their medical] authority? I just don’t know, but I also know – we both know – that government reassurances and Anthony Faucci’s public cautiousness notwithstanding, the numbers we’re seeing exploding all over the map seem consistent with Handley’s argument. (Of course, were this my field of expertise and I had the patience to plug in all the numbers, I’d create my own graphs just for the sake of comparison. For whereas this was an off-the-cuff tweet by a concerned professor who discovered an alarming pattern – not a formal paper with any stated methodology – it looks like simple Algebra 101 to me – just numbers of cases as a function of time for each country … and compare the slopes, allowing for the slight offsets in commencement of infection …)

Mark Handley, the guy who created and tweeted the attention-grabbing graph, is Professor of Networked Systems, University College London; a member of The Royal Academy, and (a quick web search confirms) highly regarded by the epidemiologists and infectious disease people with whom he consults. He’s a computer network nerd – what can I say?

We are, after all, dealing with nothing if not network theory – and obviously his kind are crucial to epidemiological modeling; as we both realize, they work closely with I.D. specialists everywhere.

There’s also a prominent Chinese computer scientist and systems engineer, “Eric” Feiqi Deng, Professor and Director of the Systems Engineering Institute, School of Automation Science and Engineering (South China University of Technology, Guangzhou) – who sounded alarms early on and also tweeted graphs, like the simulation of Covid-19 transmission scenarios I sent you a day ago (and am re-attaching) – I can’t remember if you (or I) already uploaded it.

Of course, there’s been a veritable deluge of similar computer simulations and graphs – nothing new here – except for the interesting part, namely that ”we must flatten the curve” – terminology I’ve heard Trump administration people, CDC officials, and even reporters frequently use – is quickly becoming the newest American meme. [My physician friend Allan Wang (who himself has a deep understanding of infectious disease dynamics) forwarded me Deng’s tweeted (or published?) graph – and I’m unable to locate it online for context or proper citation. Don’t ask me why, but Deng took a helluva lot of international (and ad-hominem) heat for circulating this (I’m also guilty of dissing him in some emails, and I can’t even recall why!), and if I remember correctly he was slammed by (among other people) Harvard Chan School of Public Health epidemiologists – presumably for scaring the shit out of people when the graph went viral and for not being a biologist or physician.

The stink this raised lingeref for quite a few days – Deng was even interviewed in some newspaper articles – and now [this, alas, has become my constant refrain] I can’t even reconstruct what I read. Maybe my mention of the brouhaha will ring a bell with you?. Even without any context – the discussion (journal paper or tweet this was certainly part of), Deng’s graph is self-explanatory. – it’s essentially an elaborated version of the colored graph you posted on your Facebook page, or that article w/animated graph by the New Zealander that I posted there. (Frankly, this total immersion in Covid-19, compelling as it is, has me flailing around w/respect to my real obligations. What to do? The situation isn’t merely fluid or extremely dynamic – it might conceivably blow up into the worst domestic disaster we’ve ever seen – and no doubt the most unnecessary one, n the sense that, well, if only cooler heads were around to prevail … Did you read the anecdotes I posted on your blog about the violently irrational blowback I got from my brothers – all because of coronavirus?!)

Handley’s blunt tweet that “Everyone else will be Italy in 9-14 days time” was seconded by John K. Crane MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine, and Adjunct Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University of Buffalo – some obscure city in an obscure state I never heard of.

So in other words this Daily Mail article (despite its clickbait bold black headline and equally bold bullet points underneath) – with its most compelling content consisting of unedited tweets (!) – is not conventional journalism, to say the least Still, it is solidly reported and chock full of valuable resources (compelling color photos; American news videos). I highly recommend that at the minimum we post the graph and its legend, and maybe include one or two screen captures from the more substantive tweets, with a link to the actual article.

The extensive Twitter commentary is informative, especially the tweets from Dr. Nick Christakis (see below). Your perhaps skeptical readers (perhaps pacified with a line or two from one of us to soften them up) will just have “get over” their reflexive revulsion from seeing The Daily Mail masthead. This is most certainly not the typical sensationalized puff piece on the latest shenanigans of some obscure fourth cousin to the Queen.

To sum up, Mark Handley’s alarming numerical projections are consistent with all the data we’ve seen – and (sadly) with the high likelihood that our government – this particular administration – will continue to drop the ball in some fashion or another and make things much worse, even dire. (DJT has some pretty-fucking-scary emergency powers at his disposal, and we both know how and why he’ll be inclined – and by whom prodded – to deploy them.)

Handley’s graph shows that rates of increase in 8 of the 9 countries he examined follow the same slope, albeit with a predictable time lag correlated with the date of the respective initial outbreaks. (The graph is pretty ‘busy” and somewhat hard to read (precisely because eight of the plotted countries follow identical, overlapping trajectories), but per the black color coding it seems that the single low-slope country is Japan, – which as we know caught’ Covid-19 from Chinese travelers early on, and so is probably starting to flatten out.)

The article is 50% wheat, 50% chaff. For example, there’s the stark Daily Mail headline “America will be in lockdown like Italy in less than two weeks” and similar (but remarkably restrained) editorializing … What I therefore attempted was to “migrate” the good parts to a Word document as a preparatory step for GLB / FB posting. But it was just too cumbersome – my draft Word “repository’ wound up being over 20 pages long! This is largely because of the massive number of follow-up tweets from very relevant players – especially Nicholas Christakis and Jason Van Schoor, an anesthetist and clinical fellow at University College London , evidently highly respected,* who at the end of this long Daily Mail article relays powerfully disturbing real-time reporting from his medical friends on the front lines in Lombardy. We’ve all see news videos to the same effect.

[ * ? “I do not know van Schoor but he has had a Twitter account since 2012, has more than 8,000 followers which include some people in health care I know and respect. He was quoted today in an article by UK’s 3rd largest newspaper, the Daily Mail (link below). The fact that others are picking it up too does not make it sketchy.”]


Added 11 March:

From this source:

COVID-19 can be spread before it causes symptoms, when it produces symptoms like those of the common cold, and as many as 12 days after recovery…

…Researchers at Johns Hopkins found a median incubation period for COVID-19 of 5.1 days—similar to that of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

… novel coronavirus quickly begins producing high viral loads, sheds efficiently, and grows well in the upper respiratory tract (nose, mouth, nasal cavity, and throat).

“Shedding of viral RNA from sputum outlasted the end of symptoms,” the authors wrote. “These findings suggest adjustments of current case definitions and re-evaluation of the prospects of outbreak containment.”

… “In SARS, it took 7 to 10 days after onset until peak RNA concentrations (of up to 5×105 copies per swab) were reached In the present study, peak concentrations were reached before day 5, and were more than 1,000 times higher.”

Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, which publishes CIDRAP News, said that the results challenge the World Health Organization’s assertion that COVID-19 can be contained.

The findings confirm that COVID-19 is spread simply through breathing, even without coughing, he said. They also challenge the idea that contact with contaminated surfaces is a primary means of spread, Osterholm said.

“Don’t forget about hand washing, but at the same time we’ve got to get people to understand that if you don’t want to get infected, you can’t be in crowds,” he said. “Social distancing is the most effective tool we have right now.”

…researchers estimated the median incubation period at 5.1 days (95% confidence interval [CI], 4.5 to 5.8 days). They found that 97.5% of patients who have symptoms do so within 11.5 days of infection (CI, 8.2 to 15.6 days).

After the recommended 14-day quarantine or active monitoring period, “it is highly unlikely that further symptomatic infections would be undetected among high-risk persons. However, substantial uncertainty remains in the classification of persons as being at ‘high,’ ‘medium,’ or ‘low’ risk for being symptomatic, and this method does not consider the role of asymptomatic infection.”

“The current recommendation of 14 days for active monitoring or quarantine is reasonable, although with that period some cases would be missed over the long-term.”

The sources of these comments:

Virological assessment of hospitalized cases of coronavirus disease 2019

The Incubation Period of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) From Publicly Reported Confirmed Cases: Estimation and Application

Original Post:

I’m not really going to live blog this virus, but I wanted to get a few thoughts down, and expect to be interrupted by a scheduled event in a few minutes. So, I’ll come back with more later. Perhaps this post will become a regularly updated/edited thing, we’ll see.

Call it 2019-nCoV (pronounced “Encovee”? — rhymes with anchovy –) because if you call it “coronavirus” you will have to spend time in the obligitory sidetrack: “Don’t panic about this virus, there are many kinds of coronaviruses, most of them are harmless, the common cold is a coronavirus.” That is much like saying “don’t panic about this serial killer that just started operating in your neighborhood, they are just humans, and most humans are totally harmless.”

Speaking of coronaviruses, yes, they are common, and this is likely to cause some, maybe much, variation in immunological response to Encovee, since there could be some cross effects of immunity from previous forms of the virus.

It is being noted by many that the flu is a much more common and deadly disease. Let’s talk about that for a second. Yes, it is, but most influenza viruses are moving across an experienced landscape of hosts that have a combination of prior immunity and vaccination. Encovee is treading on immunologically virgin ground. This likely means it will spread fast, almost with impunity. After that, maybe it will become just another one of the coronaviruses.

We really have no idea whatsoever what the rate of illness or mortality is. We can talk about this later, but this is a very complex and generally poorly understood thing. What we do know is that most people who get Encovee don’t die from it. We have no idea how many people are infected but show no symptoms, or the ratio of people who get a little sick vs. very sick, or, really, the ratio of those who get it and die. Graphs of the rate of its spread show an alarming verticality, but with mortality being a low almost flat line, at a very low percentage.

As of last night, here is what WHO was saying:

Their most recent situation report (of Jan 25) shows 1,320 confirmed cases, with most from China, HOng Kong, Macau, and Taipei. There were 23 confirmed cases outside of that area, 21 of which had history travelling to Wuhan, the Chinese epicenter. The others appear to be human to human contact within a family or similar.

Of a subset of 1287 cawses, 237 are counted as severe. There had been 41 deaths.

Note that all the scary numbers and charts you’ve seen, if you’ve seen them, are projections based on various models.

Projecting a disease outbreak at the beginning is like taking a bead on a certain direction and walking that way, and seeing where you get, but with this caveat: At the start of your journey, your compass sucks, and you don’t know how badly it works. Slowly over time, it improves, and it is hard at first to tell how much it improves. Eventually it starts to become a pretty good, but still limited, tool. Put another way, we can model the course (spread, magnitude) of a disease outbreak very very accurately — after it has happened.