Open Thread 152

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, but please try to avoid hot-button political and social topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit – and also check out the SSC Podcast. Also:

1. There’s an online SSC “meetup” happening next Sunday, April 26, at 10:30 PDT. See here for more details.

2. Berkeley’s rationalist community center, REACH, has also gone online, so their meetings and talks and so on are now open to anyone who’s interested. Learn more at their Facebook page here.

3. You may previously have seen the sidebar ad for Altruisto, a browser app that automatically donates a portion of your online shopping spending to effective charity at no cost to you. They want me to let you know that there’s an updated version available.

4. Thanks to everyone who sent me comments about “A Failure, But Not Of Prediction” (though as always I prefer you post the comments on the blog so other people can see them). An especially common concern was that my dichotomy between “official sources” (wrong) and “random smart people online” (right) was unfair in a few ways. First, because some official sources (like independent expert epidemiologists) got things right early. Second, because many of the smart people online I mentioned didn’t get things right until late February/early March, by which time some of the media was also starting to get things right (see Anonymous Bosch’s complaint here, Scott Aaronson’s response here, and Sarah Constantin’s comment here). I’m sorry I’m not up for the amount of work it would take to respond to these concerns fairly and correct all my inconsistencies here, but there’s some good discussion at the linked comments.

Another frequent topic was nominations of worthy people who deserved public praise for getting things right early. I was trying to avoid having this be a “hall of shame, hall of fame” post, because there are so many people who deserve mention in both that it would inevitably be unfair. I tried to sidestep this entire issue by quoting a previous list someone else had made. But two names that came up a lot were Steve Hsu (see eg January post here, check also the comments) and Curtis Yarvin (February 1st article here). I’m sure I’m still forgetting many great people who deserve recognition.

A third frequent topic was people who said the pandemic was actually easy to predict; some of these people backed this up with proof that they in fact predicted it, and an explanation of the (completely logical) thought processes they used to do that. Again, these people are great and deserve praise. But I don’t consider a few people getting it right proof that it was “easy to predict” in a meaningful way. If predictions regarding some event follow a standard distribution from overly denialist to overly alarmist, then every event that turns out to be alarming will necessarily have some people who correctly predicted it (eg were the right level of alarmed) before the fact. But to do anything useful, we need to be able to identify those people beforehand. So for me, the interesting question is whether there’s some consistent way for a bird’s-eye Outside View observer to predict something before the fact, eg by using certain prediction aggregators or known reliable experts. If you can’t do that, I think it’s fair to call an event “hard to predict” from a social standpoint, even if it was easy for some people, and even if it should have been easy for everyone based on how logical it was.

5. Some people have brought up that my thrive vs. survive theory of the political spectrum does an unusually bad job predicting current events, especially the thing where Democrats mostly want to maintain lockdown and Republicans mostly want to take their chances. I don’t have much to say about this, but I acknowledge it’s true, and you should update your models accordingly.

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1,240 Responses to Open Thread 152

  1. Null42 says:

    Re survive-thrive: I think it has explanatory value if you see it as one of many factors, which in this case is swamped by the standard red-blue tribalism.

    Douthat said as much:

    There were a small number of conservative bloggers (some probably known to people here) who called this early, particularly ones not tied to the institutional GOP, but after it turned into a red-blue thing people took their appointed side. Basically, if it’s serious, Trump screwed up, so if you like Trump, it’s not serious, and vice versa. (And this is not meant to apply to anyone here–y’all can think for yourselves!)

    • albatross11 says:

      It’s important to remember how much tribalism is a mind-killer. At least as much as fear. People will routinely express very strong opinions about things they know next to nothing about, ignore evidence that’s right in front of their eyes but is inconvenient for their side, and tune out contradictory ideas even from people they otherwise like and trust under the influence of tribalism.

    • LadyJane says:

      I think it’s a bit of a mischaracterization to boil down that article to “this is because of political tribalism.” Douthat’s argument wasn’t “Trump made a totally random mistake, and everything else has been a result of his supporters trying to downplay that mistake.” There’s a reason that Trump erred in this particular direction, and a reason his base followed his lead beyond partisanship and blind loyalty; there was not an equally likely chance that Trump would’ve overreacted to the pandemic and thus caused Republicans to overwhelmingly support strict quarantine measures.

      The core of Douthat’s argument was closer to something like “yes, this was driven by certain moral values and psychological tendencies, but modern American right-wing populists have a radically different set of values and tendencies than traditional conservatives.” To quote him directly:

      “But the right’s varying responses to the pandemic also illustrate two further points. The first point is that what we call “American conservatism” is probably more ideologically and psychologically heterogeneous than the conservative mind-set that social scientists aspire to measure and pin down. In particular, it includes an incredibly powerful streak of what you might call folk libertarianism […] This mentality, with its reflexive Ayn Randism and its Panglossian hyper-individualism, is definitely essential to understanding part of the American right. But it’s very much an American thing unto itself, and I’m doubtful that it corresponds to any universal set of psychological tendencies that we could reasonably call conservative.

      The second point is that on the fringes of the right, among QAnon devotees and believers in the satanic depravity of liberalism, the only psychology that matters is paranoia, not conservatism. And their minimizing response to the coronavirus illustrates the unwillingness of the conspiratorial mind to ever take yes for an answer — meaning that even true events that seem to vindicate a somewhat paranoid worldview will be dismissed as not true enough, not the deepest truth, not the Grandest of All Grand Conspiracies that will someday (someday) be unraveled.”

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I can imagine a world where the conservatives are urging shutdowns and the liberals are fighting against it, but it requires me to ignore what other countries are doing.

        Trump likes to hear good news. He doesn’t like to hear bad news. People who report problems get filtered out. (Obama had a similar problem but to a much smaller degree. With healthcare-dot-gov, the inner circle refused to hear problems and called the people trying to raise alarm “bedwetters,” but that only lasted until it blew up in their face.) Trump is still looking for easy fixes that show it wasn’t that big a deal, anyway, what are you getting so upset about?

  2. albatross11 says:

    This VOX article by Kelsey Piper describes the results of some contact tracing, showing:

    a. Asymptomatic spread

    b. Likely spread from contaminated surfaces (from an asymptomatic person)

    c. Transmission associated with singing

    Here’s a quote from the original report from Singapore:

    A woman aged 55 years (patient A1) and a man aged 56 years (patient A2) were tourists from Wuhan, China, who arrived in Singapore on January 19. They visited a local church the same day and had symptom onset on January 22 (patient A1) and January 24 (patient A2). Three other persons, a man aged 53 years (patient A3), a woman aged 39 years (patient A4), and a woman aged 52 years (patient A5) attended the same church that day and subsequently developed symptoms on January 23, January 30, and February 3, respectively. Patient A5 occupied the same seat in the church that patients A1 and A2 had occupied earlier that day (captured by closed-circuit camera) (5). Investigations of other attendees did not reveal any other symptomatic persons who attended the church that day.

    Patient A5 seems very likely to have caught the virus from surface contamination–at a guess, rubbing his eyes or nose after touching the pew or hymnal or something.

    There’s also this one:

    Cluster F. A woman aged 58 years (patient F1) attended a singing class on February 27, where she was exposed to a patient with confirmed COVID-19. She attended a church service on March 1, where she likely infected a woman aged 26 years (patient F2) and a man aged 29 years (patient F3), both of whom sat one row behind her. Patient F1 developed symptoms on March 3, and patients F2 and F3 developed symptoms on March 3 and March 5, respectively.

    This seems to add to the circumstantial evidence that singing is probably a pretty good way of spreading the virus. My guess is that when you sing, you’re producing more respiratory droplets and flinging them several feet. Church services and singing classes and choir practices and such all seem pretty likely places to transmit the virus. (When church services start happening again, I can imagine holding them outdoors with everyone seated pretty far apart, and not having any singing.). My intuition is that yelling, cheering, etc., is probably also pretty good at launching those droplets far away. Both might also actually be able to make enough very small airborne droplets to infect someone at a great distance–that would be interesting to check up on, but if it’s true, it would support keeping concerts and sporting events shut down.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      If sitting in a seat that an infected person sat in earlier is a good way to catch it, a subway becomes a bloodbath.

      • Matt M says:

        Which could very well explain New York, as compared to the rest of the country.

        • BBA says:

          The data doesn’t back it up. Now I admit that Levy is a pro-transit partisan (as am I), but the infection map in the linked post clearly shows that the densest, most transit-centric parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn have been spared the worst of the outbreak, while positively suburban Staten Island which isn’t even on a subway line is among the hardest hit.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Commuting is Manhattan-centric; those commuting from the outer boroughs spend longer on the subways and buses (and the ferry) than those in Manhattan, generally.

          • meh says:

            Aren’t the denset most transit-centric parts usually commercial, and not where people live? I assume outbreak zip codes use where you live, not where you commute to. If you do live in a transit hub zip code, you are probably walking to work, not taking the train.

          • BBA says:

            I considered that, but it doesn’t explain why Flushing (in the northeast corner of Queens) has been so lightly hit. Their subway rides to Manhattan go through Jackson Heights (the disaster area in north central Queens), shouldn’t they be getting an equal or greater viral load?

            The other obvious correlates are wealth and race, but those also don’t explain Staten Island.

            The more residential areas of Manhattan (Tribeca, the Village, etc.) are also light yellow. Some of them are close enough to walk to the main office districts in Midtown and FiDi but there are still a lot of intra-Manhattan subway commuters.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I wasn’t impressed with the original paper mapping subway usage to outbreaks. It was very vague and I felt if there were a strong case they would have made it.

            I’m very inclined to believe subway usage is a super-spreader, because it seems so obvious. But that paper made me slightly less likely to believe it.

          • albatross11 says:

            That’s a mystery, though, because of the three plausible ways to transmit the virus to strangers, a crowded subway car, bus, or commuter train should be very close to optimal. And indeed, NYC has been much harder hit than Washington State or California, even though there’s evidence of community spread in both states for probably at least as long as the virus has been in the NYC area.

            As I understand it, the virus infects tissue in your upper respiratory tract–nose, throat, sinuses–and probably also your lungs and sometimes your intestines. Short of giving someone a big wet kiss on the mouth, the way you transmit the virus (and I think this is true for all or almost all respiratory viruses) is by little droplets of water and mucus coming out of your nose and mouth. This blog post discusses different droplet sizes and how they carry viruses.

            You produce those droplets just by breathing, but you probably produce more (and I think you must propel them further) by coughing or sneezing, and probably also by singing or shouting. Maybe also when you’re exercising?

            Bigger droplets fall to the ground fairly close to where you are. Think of this like tossing a ball–when you’re just breathing normally, they’re like tossing the ball lightly. When you’re singing, shouting, coughing, or sneezing, it’s like throwing a ball as hard as you can–the ball’s going to travel a lot further before hitting the ground.

            The big droplets that land on your eyes or go up your nose or into your mouth can infect you directly. This seems to have happened in various cases like that Wuhan restaurant, where people at the tables on either side of the first infected people got sick, but nobody else did. Also in the Singapore church, where one infected person infected a few other people sitting near her, but nobody else.

            Those droplets can also land on surfaces and then end up infecting you if they’re somehow transferred to your eye/nose/mouth. That one case in the Singapore church where the person who sat in the same spot as the infected person later on caught the virus is an example.

            The smallest droplets (less than about 10 microns, so about 1/10 of the width of a human hair) very quickly evaporate into tiny motes of dried goo and virus called droplet nuclei, and can hang in the air for minutes to hours in a nice healthy cloud of contagion. There are cases of transmission of the virus that seem like they must have been from these tiny particles, because they seem to have affected people far away from the first infected person. (The Washington choir practice thing might have been tiny droplet nuclei, or might have been big droplets that were being propelled really far thanks to choir members singing out–I don’t think anyone knows. The big Boston biotech conference that had so many people get infected also seems very likely to have been from airborne transmission, as I understand it.)

            All that’s just to say that the virus seems to transmit by big droplets landing on you, big droplets landing on surfaces and getting on your hands and eventually into your eyes/nose/mouth, and tiny dried-out droplet nuclei floating around until you inhale a nice deep breath of them.

            Given all that, it’s hard to imagine that crowded public transit *isn’t* a great place to spread the virus. My guess is that the pattern he’s seeing almost has to be from some kind of confounders. But there’s also the fact that it seems to have taken quite a long time for the virus to become a crisis in Japan, and they’re famous for their insanely crowded and heavily-used transit systems.

            So it would be interesting to untangle what’s going on there.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I considered that, but it doesn’t explain why Flushing (in the northeast corner of Queens) has been so lightly hit.

            That’s not Flushing. It’s Bayside and Oakland Gardens. Bayside has an LIRR stop but no subway; Oakland Gardens has neither. Flushing is light and dark purple on the “cases” graph and nearly all dark purple on the “positivity” graph.

            Staten Island was (apparently) more lightly hit earlier on, then got worse. Not sure what’s going on there, perhaps there is a concentration of health care or other essential workers there.

  3. Copasetic says:

    Two cool space facts. 🙂

    The first person to see Neptune was probably Galileo. In Jan 1613, while using his telescope to observe Jupiter and its satellites, Galileo noted a “star” less than 1 arcmin from Neptune’s (then) location. He even subsequently noted in his observation log this star seemed to have moved in relation to the other stars. He would have been hard pressed to identify Neptune as a planet, however, since its motion against the background stars is so slow (it changes position in the sky by 2 degrees/year.)

    Triton, Neptune’s largest moon, has a salmon pink south pole. Triton is the coldest place we know of in the solar system, with a surface temperature just 38 degrees above absolute zero. This temperature is low enough to freeze nitrogen – and nitrogen frost is salmon pink!

    Triton has a retrograde orbit (it orbits in the opposite direction to Neptune’s rotation.) Moons that form alongside a planet tend to orbit prograde (in the direction of their planet’s rotation) since both the moon and the planet form out of the same swirling debris cloud. It is therefore likely that Triton was once a free-roaming planetoid caught by Neptune’s gravity.

    Tidal forces cause moons that orbiting prograde (slower than their planet rotates) to slowly spiral out into space. The moon, for example, is spirals 4 cm away from Earth every year. Conversely, tidal forces gradually rob Triton’s retrograde orbit of energy, causing it to spiral into Neptune. In about 100 million years, Triton will fall through Neptune’s Roche limit and be torn to pieces, giving Neptune a spectacular ring system.

    Source: Universe (10th Edition). Roger A Freedman, Robert M Geller, and William J Kaufmann III.

  4. j1000000 says:

    What happened to commenter Nabil ad Dajjal? Just suddenly stopped posting a while back, from what I can tell. Thought he occupied a specific niche in the SSC commentariat.

    • Bobobob says:

      Also, is Plumber wedged in a pipe somewhere? I guess a problem with SSC is that very few commenters know each other’s real names/contact info.

      • Matt M says:

        Plumber told us he had a problem with his phone, and wouldn’t be commenting until it gets fixed. I’m guessing in this environment, fixing a phone is harder than it used to be.

        In a sense, you might say that the state of California has declared SSC commenting to be a non-essential activity 🙂

  5. kai.teorn says:

    > 5. Some people have brought up that my thrive vs. survive theory of the political spectrum does an unusually bad job predicting current events, especially the thing where Democrats mostly want to maintain lockdown and Republicans mostly want to take their chances.

    Not at all. “Survive” does not mean survival of everyone. It means making sacrifices, if necessary, of the least valuable members of the tribe so that the tribe as a whole can live on. “Thrive”, on the other hand, means spreading the benefits of a safe environment equally so as to maximize the returns. To me, the pandemic looks like a perfect showcase of the two isms. Leftism is the safe-environment psychology where random death is rare so each one matters; it also favors equality, so tries to minimize risks for everyone. Rightistm, on the other hand, is the psychology of the unsafe world where random death and inequality are unavoidable; it does not view the disease as bad enough to threaten the survival of the tribe/country/mankind, so sees the demands of the left as oppressive.

  6. salvorhardin says:

    PSA: there’s now a letter from a bipartisan (though looks mostly D) group of Congresspeople urging the FDA to, inter alia, allow human challenge trials for vaccine effectiveness.

    For those of us in the US who favor human challenge trials, now might be a good time to contact our representatives to urge them to sign on. Apparently the strategy here is that if enough of Congress signs on, the FDA will worry less about suffering backlash because they can say “we’re just doing what Congress wants us to do.”

    • CatCube says:

      This makes me nuts. These are Congressmen! Draft up a bill that overrides the FDA and forces through a vaccine and introduce it. Even if it has no chance of going anywhere it’s still a better symbolic action than petitioning federal agencies like they’re the fucking Rotary Club. If they don’t know the right action to take sufficient to write a bill that makes that happen, then they should shut up.

      This has been a bugbear of mine for a while, where we in the federal bureaucracy are tasked with trying to satisfy a bunch of mutually-exclusive demands of their constituents, while Congressional delegations hem and haw about how hard it is when the tangle of laws preventing action is pointed out. This is just spinelessness, fobbing off decisions onto the civil service so they don’t have to take a stand or make a decision that might make somebody mad, while trying to act like they’re helping.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Congress is not really in session.

        • CatCube says:

          That is a fair point.

          • salvorhardin says:

            Wait a minute, is it really? How did they pass CARES, and how are they going to pass the latest small business bailout extension, without Congress being enough in session that they could also pass this?

            (and thanks for the nudge to follow up my emails to reps with “why aren’t you actually passing legislation about this then”)

          • Statismagician says:

            Also, Congress controls their own schedule, so they’re only out of session because they chose to be (or at least didn’t choose not to be). And because apparently nobody thought they might want the capacity to do remote voting at any point in the last fifty years, which is frankly inexcusable.

      • Garrett says:

        You’re saying this like it isn’t intentional.

        This allows Congress to reap all of the rewards of “doing something” while not having to face the downsides of actually doing something.

        • CatCube says:

          I know it’s intentional: that’s why it makes me nuts. They pass a bunch of laws that require fiddly rules to implement, then go “Oh, how could that mean federal agency have a bunch of fiddly rules that you can’t understand? Let me call them and ask them to pretty please not have fiddly rules! [makes call] Sorry, they said no. Let us commiserate together about what meenies they are!”

          This is part of the cession of Congressional power to the executive, and should be reversed.

          Though to be fair, a lot of it is just finding somebody else to blame for doing the right thing. To use an example from above in the discussion of dams: one of the things that makes locals mad about dams is that we don’t store enough water, or let it out early and can’t fill the reservoir for the summer recreation season, or that required releases for maintaining minimum river flows cause us to draft the reservoir.

          One big reason for this is we have to meet a series of rules for operating the reservoir (the rule curve) for how much flood control space we are required to have on any particular day. This rule curve was passed as part of the enabling legislation for the dam, and can only be changed by Congress–and they could change it without our input, if they wanted to make the particular interlocutor happy! However, changing the way you operate a dam without putting in a bunch of effort to study the changes is…not a good idea. So instead of telling the person complaining that what they want is stupid, or can’t be done without fifteen years of study, it gets deflected to the permanent civil service as “sorry, part of the rules.”

          I’d really rather have a muscular Congress that’s willing to tell people “no” but is visibly in charge of the federal government than the current flabby, spineless version that dithers and farms out telling bad news to people. However, the reason they do this is because we (the American public) vote against legislators that tell them “no”. So this is a matter of “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’d really rather have a muscular Congress that’s willing to tell people “no” but is visibly in charge of the federal government

            I think what you are really asking for here is a different populace, and I’d surmise that different populace is one that understands that expertise is difficult.

          • CatCube says:


            I think what you are really asking for here is a different populace…

            That…would be why I said “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Fair. Considering me as supporting rather than contending your point.

            There is another point here, but I’ll leave it till some other time.

        • Deiseach says:

          They pass a bunch of laws that require fiddly rules to implement, then go “Oh, how could that mean federal agency have a bunch of fiddly rules that you can’t understand? Let me call them and ask them to pretty please not have fiddly rules! [makes call] Sorry, they said no. Let us commiserate together about what meenies they are!”

          I’m with CatCube on this. Ordinary people have no idea how the sausage, once it is made, gets portioned up in the butcher’s window, so to speak.

          Then they go on rants about how the local public/civil servants are all big meanies who are deliberately depriving them of their rights about [thing], oftentimes complaining to the very parliamentary representatives who are the ones who caused [thing] to be drafted in the first place, and said politicians then nod and smile and promise to intervene, all the while knowing that the public servants can’t do a damn thing about it since [conditions governing thing] are part of legislation, they can’t unilaterally change laws, and the people who do have the power are the current government.

          But the politicians don’t want to upset their constituents and potential voters, so they let the poor frontline staff carry the can – “Very sorry, Mrs Jones, I spoke to the department about it but Acting Grade III Clerk Smith sent me this refusal letter”.

          As an example – which thankfully has since been tackled – that I had experience of: school transport. Mileage limits and boundaries for areas for particular schools had been drawn up and never looked at again, and were at least thirty years out of date. They badly needed to be investigated, tidied up, and redrawn, but that was (a) a huge job (b) would tread on somebody’s toes no matter what you did re: redrawing boundaries so people living in this townland fell into the catchment area and (c) would need the Minister(s) of the relevant government department(s) to officially move this, then get the legislation drawn up and passed. Nobody with the actual power to do it wanted to do that, so it was allowed to go on unchanged from year to year.

          Every year, without fail, there were angry letters and phone calls from parents about “How come my little Johnny didn’t get a seat on the school bus?” “How come my neighbour who lives only a hundred yards down the road got her kids on the school bus?” “How come I have to send little Johnny to School A if I want free transport, but I want to send him to School B instead and I know that there is a seat available on the bus running that route?”

          And every year, those angry parents threatened to get their local public representatives involved, and every year those public representatives wrote ‘letters of representation’ to us, despite having the facts explained to them every year about why we could do bugger-all about getting Mrs Murphy’s little Johnny on the bus for School B. The staff members dealing with school transport applications used to go out of their way to see if they could squeeze an exception out – they’d drive the route in their own cars outside of work hours (and not be recompensed expenses for it) and measure the mileage to see if they could work it that “School B is the minimum distance away from where Mrs Murphy lives, so little Johnny is living within the catchment area and is eligible” if it was at all possible. Often it wasn’t.

          Guess who got to carry the can for that? Not the elected politicians. As I said, thank God it’s since been sorted out, but I’ve been the minor minion on the receiving end of angry blasts from the public and you can’t even go “Listen bud, this is how it works and this is why you are not going to get anywhere” to them, you have to smile and be emollient.

          • sharper13 says:

            “I’m sorry Mrs. Parent. I’d love to be able to send your son on the bus to school B, but politicians H-L continue to refuse to change the law to allow that and I prefer not to be arrested. Please speak to them about it and once they make it legal, we’ll be happy to accommodate you.”

            Of course, bureaucrats pointing complaints back at policy-makers is likely only doable for bureaucrats with an existing exit plan. 🙂

          • matkoniecz says:

            Or for bureaucrats deeply isolated from policy-makers.

  7. Gerry Quinn says:

    I think ‘thrive vs. survive’ works reasonably well. Because coronavirus isn’t the Black Death. We could ignore it, and we (most of us) would survive. All this coccooning could be considered an attempt to avoid reality.

    Strategically, it’s not wrong to take some time, work out what tech we need to ameliorate the effects. But we can’t go on like this forever.

  8. ana53294 says:

    So they’ve cancelled the Oktoberfest. Which happens in September.

    It’s not like I particularly care about it, but this shows how long they’re expecting this whole thing to last in Germany. And things aren’t even that bad in Germany.

    When will international travel and mass gatherings be allowed? I do hope they allow travel by Christmas (with full planes, none of that social distancing; it’s impossible to accomodate typical Christmas volumes with social distancing).

    • We’ve been wondering if Pennsic, the two week SCA medieval camping event in August, is going to be canceled. We go to that every year.

      The one good thing about it, if it is, aside from saving all the effort involved in preparing and going, is that I may finally find out what my greengage plums taste like. It’s one of the first fruit trees I planted here, twenty some years ago, but it comes ripe during our Pennsic trip — which, including traveling and visiting friends and relations going and coming, takes about a month.

      • Garrett says:

        FYI – I’m located nearby. If you’re interested in meeting up briefly while out here (way in/out/whatever) I’d be delighted.

      • Deiseach says:

        Will you be jam making with the greengages?

        • That probably depends on how many there are. My wife and daughter just did a bunch of marmalade from lemons and sour oranges. The early peach is one of our most productive trees and should come ripe in another week or two, at which point I expect a good deal of it will get either frozen or turned into jam or peach leather. By the time the greengage comes ripe Betty and Becca may have run out of jam making energy.

          Drying fruit is my department, and I may try to see how it works for greengages.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            I expect a good deal of it will get either frozen or turned into jam or peach leather.

            Peach leather does not sound appetizing.

          • And yet it is.

            Liquify peaches in a food processor. Spread the result out in a dehydrator. Dry it. Adding a little honey, cinnamon, or coriander to the liquid is optional.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            It’s actually great, much better than drying the peaches normally – no fuzz, no tough bits, just a nice smooth texture.

  9. HeelBearCub says:

    A question for those of you who still use your maths. [Yes, I used the English expression. Seemed better somehow.]

    In “A Failure, But Not Of Prediction” I made the claim that in the absence of effective infection control letting in either N people from an infection hotspot or 1/2N people makes no real difference to the progression of the disease.

    Eventually David Friedman distilled down his claim, which I can’t make any sense of:

    Disease numbers are linear in number initially infected, as long as most people are neither infected nor immune. That’s linear as a function of number infected, not as a function of time. And it is just as true if growth over time is exponential.

    Assume growth is exponential, most people are neither infected nor immune. My claim is that:

    Number infected(t) = (Number infected (to))(B^(t-to))

    That’s linear in number earlier infected, exponential in time. It isn’t precisely true because the number who can get infected is falling over time, but it’s close to true as long as most people are neither infected nor immune.

    So the claim is that the bolded equation is “linear in number earlier infected, exponential in time”.

    This seems “not even wrong” to me, as it don’t know what meaning it would have to ignore time here.

    However, I don’t even think the claim as stated is true. I asked my dad (who actually did use his maths past college, being an Econ prof) and his conclusion was:

    What the person is saying is that the function he gives for number infected has two arguments on the right hand side. The first is the past value of number infected. The second is an exponential in time. At a moment in time (t constant), infections today are proportional to infections at t0. But his claim of linearity is false since the proportionality parameter, B (t-t0), is not constant but varies through time. A linear relationship as normally defined would have a constant parameter.

    The function is not linear in the standard sense of the term.

    So, the question I have is:
    a) Is the equation a linear equation?
    b) Does it have any meaning to look at it as a linear equation?

    • dont-want says:

      The volume of a cylinder is V(r,h) = π * r^2 * h.

      That function is linear in height (h), but quadratic in radius (r). It’s implied that the respective other parameter is assumed constant.

      Replace time, and number of initially infected people, respectively. (And quadratic with exponential.)

      When you’re talking about how the number of infected people develops over time, that’s an exponential process.

      When you’re talking about what the number of infected people now would be, had there been a different number of initially infected people, that would be a linear relationship, according to the claim you quoted.

      It says that while your claim that the number of initially infected people makes no difference to the progression of the disease may be true, it does make the difference that with half as many initially sick people, half as many people would be sick now, and that would be the case for any other point in time, and that is what linearity means in this case.

      If you’re a programmer, think of the linear function as a function whose return value is not a number, but an entire process over time.

    • J Mann says:

      I’m not great at math, so let me use a concrete hypothetical and work backward.

      Let’s say we let N infected people in the country on Day 0, and that the number of infected people doubles every 3 days. (We’ll assume for simplicity that there’s no change in R and we don’t start to run out of people or hit immunity effects over the relevant period.)

      After 30 days, the number of people has increased exponentially to 2^10=1024 the number of initial infected.

      If we let in 10 people on day 0, we now have 10,240 infected. On the other hand, if we let in 20 people, we now have 20,480 people.

      Your initial statement was “letting in either N people from an infection hotspot or 1/2N people makes no real difference to the progression of the disease”

      You and David might have different understandings of the word “progression.” Letting 1/2 the infected people in in my simplified hypothetical results in 1/2 the infected on any given day, which under those assumptions is the same as 3 days. (People in the immigration restricted immigration world have as many infected on Day N as the non-immigration restricted people have on Day N-3).

      Therefore, I interpret David as saying that the number of infected people prior to hitting limits is a function with linear characteristics relative to people we let in (i.e., if we let in 1/2 the number of infected people, we end up with 1/2 the number of infected people) and a exponential characteristics relative to the amount of time we let go by.

      • EchoChaos says:

        Yeah, this is basically what I understood his statement to mean as well.

        If after day 14 of doubling you are going to put into place measures to stop the spread, then having a starting number of 100 versus 50 makes a big difference in how many people get it.

        If you’re going to put measures in place at 1000 cases, then it probably doesn’t.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        This point was one I was rather explicitly making, but one I think you are drawing the wrong conclusion from.

        N vs. 1/2 N gains you, at most, one doubling of the infections. Absent measures to control infection spread that is all it buys you.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Sure, but measures to control the infection are going to be put in place, and one doubling can be a REALLY big deal. If we had one more doubling in NY, it would be even more horrifying. If we had 2 more doublings, NY alone would have more deaths than any country in the world.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Sure, but measures to control the infection are going to be put in place, and one doubling can be a REALLY big deal.

            Sure, but when local restrictions were put in place are very much tied to how noticeable the infection was. And community spread was well underway before the travel restrictions, so the number of total cases isn’t likely to be greatly impacted by those who came from China to NYC.

            March 17th Cuomo says NYC can’t be locked down. March 20th he announces NYC will be locked down. That’s two weeks past when the China travel ban goes into effect on March 2nd. The timing doesn’t work.

          • EchoChaos says:


            NYC mostly got infected from Italy, not directly from China, as I understand it. The travel ban from Italy was March 12th.

            That’s 5-8 days, i.e. 1-2 doubling periods.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Well, that just makes the EU travel ban even less consequential. It’s pretty clear that NYCs case numbers weren’t changed in much of any way at all by the imposition of the ban.

            My point isn’t that we don’t need travel restrictions, but that travel restrictions by themselves are essentially pointless if they aren’t what’s keep the disease from getting to the point of community spread.

            This is all the context of arguing what effect the China (half) ban had, when it was implemented without any measures that would be sufficient to detect and prevent community spread.

          • EchoChaos says:


            If we’re talking about the China travel ban, that one looks much better because we very nearly got the West Coast under control and even today it’s doing fairly well. We DID try test and trace on the West Coast cases, although the CDC made mistakes with early tests, and for a bit it looked good. We WERE doing everything by the book. Lock down, test and trace any cases and quarantine.

            The East Coast got hammered because we were too slow to realize that we were getting secondary infections from Europe. That was a major mistake, no question, but if we added two doubling periods of travel before NYC locks down, that becomes very very bad. Even if the travel only added one doubling that’s horrible.

        • J Mann says:

          N vs. 1/2 N gains you, at most, one doubling of the infections. Absent measures to control infection spread that is all it buys you.

          Yeah, I agree that’s the point.

          – If you assume that people will put measures in place only when x% of the population is infected, then it doesn’t help at all.

          – If you assume that the measures get put in place based on external factors (when the news from Italy grows too strident to ignore; when we get tests on line (assuming those aren’t delayed by the travel ban, etc.), then not imposing the travel ban in your hypo as much doubles the number of dead, which seems like a lot.

          – (Presumably, if the date of control measures is influenced partially by external factors and partially by the number of infected, then the result is somewhere in between).

          Both your point and David’s are tautologically correct, IMHO – which one is more relevant depends on your assumptions about what triggered control measures.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @J Mann:
            I’m relatively sure that the point you are making on David’s behalf isn’t the argument he is making. I’m going to reply to David below, as I think I finally figured out what he means. Maybe.

            Actually, maybe it is his point. I remain confused about what point he is trying to make.

          • J. Mann has it correct, although I don’t think I had thought the argument through that clearly when I originally made it.

            Suppose we are considering an initial infection pool of either X or 2X (the immigration case is more complicated, for reasons I sketched in another post). If the assumption is that the contagion spreads until we hit herd immunity, then the only difference is how soon the relevant fraction of the population get infected, and with a doubling time of, say, a week, the difference is only a week.

            If the contagion spreads until a fixed date, at which point we stop it, either by a lockdown, a cure, or a vaccine, then the initial pool of 2X results in twice as many people dead as a pool of X, assuming that at that point most people have still not gotten it. Obviously if the date at which we stop it is at a point at which everyone not naturally immune has gotten infected, X and 2X have the same effect.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:

            If the contagion spreads until a fixed date, at which point we stop it, either by a lockdown, a cure, or a vaccine

            Cure and vaccine aren’t coming into play before we reach herd immunity absent doing something else.

            a) This actually specifically rejects the hypothetical, because now you are assuming that something to stop disease spread will occur. The hypothetical, and actual, thing that happened is that at the time of the initial travel ban, nothing else was being done to stop the spread of the virus. That was the entire point of the critique.

            b) Assuming that one wants to argue that the travel ban made a difference because there would be a lockdown at some point in the future, we need to ask what triggers the lockdown that had not yet happened at the point of the travel ban. Given that the argument continued to be made after the travel ban (by those who instituted it) that the travel ban had been efficacious in stopping infection, I’m curious why you think the travel ban can be assumed to have no effect on the lockdown date.

          • J Mann says:

            The nice thing is now we’ve pulled out the assumptions you guys are disagreeing about – you could take it to the next open thread if you thought that would be productive, or if not, you understand each other better.

    • bzium says:

      The two-argument function f(t, N0) = N0 * B^(t – t0) isn’t linear.

      The one-argument function g(N0) = N0 * B^(t1 – t0) which you get after fixing t to any particular value of t1 is linear.

    • J Mann says:

      I went back to the earlier discussion HBC and I am guessing both sides had some unstated assumptions.

      HBC is correct that if you assume that no one does anything to stop the spread of an exponential growth case (or, as EchoChaos points out, if you assume that no one will do anything until the number of deaths =X), then after one doubling, you end up with the exact same curve, shifted forward in time however many days it takes to double.

      On the other hand, if you assume that people are going to take action on a particular day (let’s say when the news from Italy becomes too serious to ignore), then shifting the curve forward in time produces a different curve.

      When HBC and DF were arguing about whether cutting the starting numbers of infected in half “does nothing,” I’m betting they had different assumptions about whether US action was triggered based on the size of US infection or on other events.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        In the context of the conversation, and in the real world, no actions were taken at the time of the travel restriction, or close there to.

        And as we can see in actuality, restrictions in the US were entirely dependent on local infections beginning to spike.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          It still seems to me that if you have two infected travelers coming into the country, one bound for L.A. and one bound for Chicago, and you only stopped half of them, you still spare a major city from an infection, and this is not worth nothing.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Certainly I completely realized there is a very real difference between 0 infections and 1. I even made that point in that thread.

            But you analysis assumes that the travel ban itself, imposed after community spread had started, would somehow prevent the virus from taking root in Chicago. There is no reason to believe that would be true. Travel inside the US dwarfs travel from the outside.

            ETA: Originally the first word in this post was Well. If someone takes the name “Certainly”, I don’t know what I’ll do.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I’m not convinced. Here in Seattle, Microsoft and a number of other major employers sent all employees to WFH a few days after community spread was first confirmed here. And that confirmation didn’t really depend on infections spiking, but on brave testers willing to defy the FDA and actually start testing people.

    • quanta413 says:

      What David Friedman says matches the terminology I’ve seen. I don’t know why your father thinks a coefficient cant be time varying. Maybe the terminology has shifted over time. Linear differential equations with time varying coefficients are now standard in introductory textbooks on differential equations and sometimes calculus books.

      Its also common with certain types of nonlinear models to distinguish linearity in the fitting parameters from linearity in the independent variable. Often linearity in the parameters is enough to guarantee various nice properties for fitting routines.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Ok, what would that mean in the context of disease propagation?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I’m hoping you will see this, as I do want to understand whether distinguishing “linearity in the fitting parameters from linearity in the independent variable” has some application to studying the geometric spread of contagion.

        • quanta413 says:

          Your real argument is about how much government (and other) responses were tied to time vs. the level of currently measured infections. This has nothing to do with questions about the terminology of linearity.

          Some governments responded at a much earlier level of infections than others. For those governments, avoiding one or two doublings could be very consequential. Although ideally they react so swiftly that they end up having almost no problem at all, when there’s so much uncertainty every improvement you get earlier helps a lot.

          For small communities due to the stochastic nature of outbreaks, it can be a big deal to cut the inflow in half even if the growth is exponential once the disease spreads far. You may have no outbreak at all, or you may gain much more time than one doubling period (of course, on the flip side, you may gain none at all due to the stochastic nature of things).

          For NYC shaving off a doubling or two probably wouldn’t have mattered to the end result. But if Taiwan or South Korea had had one or two more doublings before their response began it may have made things significantly worse.

          I don’t think there’s any way to know how many places were or are on the razor’s edge where shaving off a doubling or two would have led to a significantly improved outcome. In the short term at least. In the long term I think it’s just going to get reintroduced anywhere that has it under control but delaying the spread a few months might still be worth it. Considering how minimal a restriction travel bans are compared to many other restrictions imposed, it’s the sort of thing that probably ought to be used more than it is.

          EDIT: Although obviously, it’s much better if you quarantine everyone incoming who isn’t outright banned from travel. And so on and so forth you could imagine doing this sort of thing by state or province border, by city limit, etc. That ship has already sailed for most of the U.S. since in most places infections added by migration is probably below infections added by local spread, but for islands or other remote areas might still make a difference.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Isn’t everything you are saying predicated on assuming there is an efficacious effort to contain the virus coincident with the inflow?

          • quanta413 says:

            Clearly, you can’t do nothing or close to nothing like New York did. That’s why I said it probably wouldn’t matter in New York. But would probably matter in Taiwan or South Korea. I’m not sure how many places are at the extremes vs. how many are in a grey area where the benefit is unclear. The number of places in between may be small.

            My vague guess is I think you could maybe have done very roughly somewhat better with internal policy than California (which is pretty bad in an absolute sense, but better than a lot of states in a relative sense) but not nearly as good as South Korean or Taiwanese competence and still have seen meaningful benefit. That might net you a few fewer case clusters or delay the spread in some cities which could matter since California responded too late but not as too late as some other places. It’s hard to know.

            But really, you’d have to get down to brass tacks on timings of spread, response, and such to even get a reasonable estimate on how many infections you might prevent.

            It’s definitely not the highest payoff thing to add to your strategy if you’re going down the list of options while still screwing everything else up. It’s better if you crack down hard and fast in pretty much every way possible. For a lot of places, you probably need to cut inflow for that internal crackdown to work, but like you say it’s not gonna do much if you do nothing else.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      But absent measures to control infection spread, all of that matters very little. All that early noise rapidly goes away. That’s why I emphasized the point about measures to control spread.

    • Jon S says:

      The crux of disagreement seems to be DF’s emphasis on “as long as most people are neither infected nor immune”. While that assumption holds, I agree that DF is correct… Whereas the statement you emphasized is to me making a very different assumption – I think your argument boils down to “absent controlling the infection, it will spread until herd immunity is reached” – and I agree with you as well: if a population is going to reach herd immunity, the initial number of cases doesn’t much matter (it’ll slightly impact how long the spread takes; also if the initial number of cases is ~1 the population could get lucky and it could die off on its own).

    • AlesZiegler says:

      I think that DF is substantially correct. Clearest statement of his position in that thread is IMO this:

      Back before there is significant herd immunity, wouldn’t you expect the number of infected people at time t+20 to be roughly proportional to the number at time t?

      Well, in the absence of any infection control, yes.

      • HeelBearCub says:


        But the difference in infections between t+1 and t is equal to all the infections at time t. So it doesn’t matter. What matters is that t is moving onwards.

        If community spread of infections is already advanced, i.e I(t) >> I(n), then the difference between n and 1/2n is extremely inconsequential.

        If I(n) >> I(t), because community infection is not well advanced, then 1/2n bought you 3 days. The 3 days right after you stop travel. If you aren’t using those 3 days to rapidly introduce some means of stopping community spread, it’s just the same as letting in n people. Until you realize that community spread has to be stopped, you haven’t done anything.

        To the extent that the (half) travel ban delays introducing measure effective at stopping community spread, you are actually costing infections.

        • Since HBC has revived this, let me try again to say what I thought the argument was about.

          Another poster attacked the policy of banning travel of foreigners but not of Americans returning, claiming that doing it that way resulted in essentially no benefit. My response was that banning everyone would have about twice the effect of banning half the people.

          The claim I was criticizing would be correct if there were source of contagion other than people coming from abroad, since in that situation banning everybody means that the disease never gets started, banning half the people does not. But at the point when the ban went in, there was already substantial infection in the U.S.. If we imagine a one time scenario in which we start with A contagious people here and B who would like to come, then banning everyone leaves us with A, banning half the people with A+B/2, banning nobody with A+B. So banning half (the foreigners but not the returning Americans) reduces the number infected by half as many as banning all, so if banning all has a large effect, banning half has a substantial effect.

          I went on to argue that, until a significant fraction of the population is either infected or immune, the number infected at any time is proportional to the number who were infected at an earlier time. So, at any time after the initial scenario and until a significant fraction of the population are infected or immune, the number infected at that time will be reduced by twice as much if the initial ban was total than if it was on only returning foreigners.

          The number of infected people is a function of two variables, number initially infected and time, linear in the former and exponential in the latter.

          Obviously that abstracts away from the fact that immigration is not a one-time act but a flow over time, but I don’t think that affects the logic of the argument.

          In the special case where A, the number of initially contagious people, is zero, my result holds but the comment I was criticizing is nonetheless true, since the three alternatives are X, X/2, and 0. The complete ban reduces the number infected by twice as much as the half ban — but that reduces it to zero.

          I hope that makes my side of the argument clear.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            Yes, the number infected at any given time is proportional to those infected at a previous time. As you say, this remains true until we reach the maximum possible infections (everyone infected or herd immunity, whichever comes first).

            Another way of saying this is that, assuming R0 is fixed until herd immunity, each person infects a linear number (R0) of other persons. That’s the linear relationship we are playing with.

            All of the above is true.

            However, assuming no effort to stop the spread of infection, this has no impact at all on the total number of expected infections. You have made no difference in the number of expected final infections.

          • As you say, this remains true until we reach the maximum possible infections (everyone infected or herd immunity, whichever comes first).

            It’s a little more complicated than that. The effect of X vs 2X converges as you approach that end point. If you are most of the way there, 2X is infecting people less than twice as fast as X because, with 2X, there are fewer people left to be infected.

            That’s why I was saying that it was approximately linear as long as most people had not yet been infected.

            Other than that, what you wrote was correct.

    • Chris Phoenix says:

      If social distancing happens (and is effective) when a certain number of people get sick (AKA “I live on the West coast”), then it does not matter how many initial cases there were.

      If social distancing happens (and is effective) on a certain fixed date (AKA “I’m waiting for leadership from the Feds”), then it matters very much how many initial cases there were.

      Reality is somewhere in between, unless you live in CA, OR, WA, or NY.

      Note that even a little bit of extra testing (which the US had no capacity to do when it mattered) would have moved a lot of people into “Initial infection doesn’t matter” territory. The exceptions would be the “Shutdown violates my rights!” crowd.

      Residents of nursing homes and prisons likely are in the “It doesn’t matter, we’re going to get it no matter what” category, except in the case of very early lockdown that manages to keep almost the entire population uninfected.

  10. proyas says:

    Why do so many dams not have hydroelectric turbines? It seems wasteful to build a dam and not to install at least one turbine to generate electricity.

    • matkoniecz says:

      Where it happens? AFAIK it is not happening in Poland. Even nearby weir has small 3MW hydroelectric power station ( ).

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I think that your premise is incorrect. When people build dams in the era of electricity, they do build turbines. Why else would they build a dam? For a reservoir? I believe that reservoirs do have turbines.

      Hydropower is very overrated because people equivocate between different types of plants. Its value is its flexibility, but only the largest plants are flexible. Turbines that run at the whim of the river are of little value. Ones that can choose to run can do a daily cycle and run only at peak time. Best of all are those that can run backwards and store electricity generated elsewhere. These really are great, but I think that they are built pretty much everywhere they can be.

      There are many abandoned mill dams, before electricity. Should they be retrofitted? It’s marginal, but maybe it’s because people are unaware of the necessary design, not a turbine, but a reverse Archimedes screw. (The biggest plant on the chart is 1/10 as big as matkoniecz’s “small” plant.)

      • HeelBearCub says:

        When people build dams in the era of electricity, they do build turbines.

        I don’t think this is likely to be correct.

        According to ICOLD less than 20% of world’s large dams are used for hydroelectric generation.

      • Lambert says:

        The other reason for dams is to prevent flooding downstream.

        You build the dam such that water can only flow out at a limited rate above the normal flow rate of the river. Normally, the reservoir is fairly empty, but when a rainstorm comes or a load of snow melts, it fills up the reservoir. The water then flows out at a much lower rate than if the dame weren’t there.


    • Well... says:

      I’ve thought the same thing about wind turbines in windy places, solar panels in sunny places, even turnstiles in high-traffic places. My guess is it’s just not worth it to the people who’d install them. Let’s say it costs $X to install a device that captures ambient energy, such as a turbine, and hook it up to something that can store and/or transmit power, but you don’t expect to recoup the investment for Y years. Meanwhile you could take that same $X and spend it some other way where you will recoup the investment in <Y years. You'll take the second option. (Keep in mind the turbine also has to be maintained.)

      • matkoniecz says:

        I am curious about cost of turbines vs cost of dam.

        It it would be 200 million for dam and its upkeep, 1 million for turbines/power lines/additional maintenance then most of costs is already spend anyway.

        It it would be 200 million for dam and its upkeep, 800 million for turbines/power lines/additional maintenance then it is less obvious that it would be a great deal.

      • gbear605 says:

        Turnstiles don’t seem like a good idea to me. They’re basically just a very low efficiency form of converting energy from food into electricity. You might as well burn the food. Of course, sometimes people *are* trying to burn energy: exercise. And in those cases, it does make sense to convert it back into electricity if possible, which is often done with some exercise machines. In a home gym, the converting process is too high cost for the gain, but in gyms they usually do have this. The gym at my university was very proud of running the whole building on primarily human generated electricity.

    • FLWAB says:

      Others have mentioned the many alternative uses for a dam than hydroelectric power. Another thing to note is that for a dammed reservoir to work efficiently as a source of hydroelectric power it needs certain characteristics.

      On the property I grew up on we had a small but reasonably sized creek. My dad was interested in putting up a dam (possibly to help flooding issues, I can’t remember) and wondered if it could generate power at a profit. My grandfather (who was a career Boeing engineer) did the math for him and found out that in order to make economic sense we would need something like a couple hundred feet of water depth in the reservoir, which would naturally require an enormous dam. I think he worked it out that we would either need a dam several hundred feet high or a dam twenty feet high but two hundred feet across or something ridiculous like that. So if you’re building a dam for flood control or irrigation there’s a good chance it won’t have the draw necessary for profitable power generation.

    • ECD says:

      Historically? Because there was an excess of power in the area, a lack of relevant expertise and it’s a lot harder than building a pure flood control structure.

      What aren’t the many non-powered dams having power generation added? A bunch of reasons. Congress is trying to push this, with various things to try to streamline FERC licensing and combine reviews for people who want to put power (or extra power) on Corps of Engineer dams.

      However, it’s still a painful process, especially in any area with ESA listed fish. You’re often better off just not touching anything until you have to do your FERC re-licensing. Also, if you’re looking at installation of new power, you’ll need to do a review to show your changes are safe. That’s quite likely to show that your dam isn’t up to snuff, which non-federal entities don’t want to know.

      Plus, even if you get the generation in, you need to comply with NERC regulations on power generation and distribution. This isn’t bad, if you’re a power generating company. It’s terrible if you’re a flood control district.

      Generally it’s a combination of hard to do safely, regulatory difficulty and coordination issue (as very few power transmission companies or generation companies actually own non-powered dams). And most of the dams I’m thinking of are either privately owned, or owned by local governments (flood control districts, irrigation control districts, etc.) which lack significant funding. Also profit is a lot lower than you might think.

    • CatCube says:

      What @ECD said.

      When you say “efficiency,” you’re probably just thinking of it in terms of efficiency for energy, but you have to consider efficiency for money instead. Many dams are not capable of producing power at a profit–many times not an economic profit, but sometimes not even an accounting profit.

      It’s not just a matter of tossing a bitty little turbine onto a dam and going “Whee, electricity!” at the scale you’re probably asking about. Now, there are places you can do that. If you’re looking to power something around your house, or you have a small remote site where it’s cost-prohibitive to run a line for commercial power, picohydro companies can supply you with options that may be a lot cheaper than a motor-generator set and that may be more reliable than solar. However, if you’re going to actually *sell* the power, the power company’s not interested in little quantities like this, as it’s not worth running lines out to get it.

      The amount of power you can generate is a function of head over the turbine (higher dam=more power) and the flowrate through the turbine (river with more flow=more power). So to get a salable amount of power, you’ll need some combination of a good-height dam and large amount of flow–you can trade off between these, but at this point you’re talking major structures, both a larger dam and larger powerhouse. At this scale, you’re not dealing with a bitty little flowrate that’s a rounding error compared to the dam (like the picohydro example above), it’s a major water passage that has to be considered as you actively manage the system.

      Firstly, you can’t just run a unit that size willy-nilly. The generator will overspeed if it’s not loaded, so you have to have a reliable connection to the power grid. For a large unit, you need a correspondingly large connection. The grid managers don’t want you to just run it whenever, since they need to schedule the power. So the generator needs to be run on a schedule.

      However, you can’t schedule the water. Every drop of water goes two one of two places: through your dam and to the tailrace, or into storage (a rise in forebay). But remember that the power produced is a function of head (i.e., forebay height) and flowrate. So the amount of power you can produce is going to have to be determined in a relatively short time horizon. You know what your forebay is, and you know what the inflow is, but you have to balance the power production with how that will cause your forebay to change. If you have to produce less power that would occur with the inflow at that head, you’re going to raise the forebay–and eventually you’ll run out. If you produce less, you’ll draft the reservoir–and can also eventually run out in that direction. If you fuck this up, you can kill a *lot* of people.

      Plus, you often have other requirements. As @ECD mentioned, there may be ESA-listed fish in your river, and you have to make sure you have minimum flowrates for preserving their habitat. Or you may be supplying water to a city downstream. Together, these mean you want to be careful about letting your forebay get too low, as once you reach dead pool you become run-of-the-river and can’t service these purposes. Or, you may also have flood-risk mitigation as another authorized purpose, and for that you need to provide a certain amount of empty space in the reservoir to absorb a flood, so you can’t let it get too high. So there’s a significant amount of effort in calculating how much power you can produce on a day-to-day basis and balancing that with how much can be used. On top of all of this, your powerhouse is a water passage through the dam: you have maintenance responsibilities for it, since it’s controlling water.

      The upshot of all of this: all of these things are somebody’s (or lots of sombodies’) job. This isn’t something that can be done on a shoestring, as you’re controlling very dangerous forces above major population centers. That feeds back to why there’s not much interest in teeny little plants–because at that point they’re not worth having somebody drive out there to adjust flows and maintain them. And for larger plants, the extra complexity may not be worth the sales of the power produced. And for the largest plants, where it’s definitely “worth” it from an economic perspective, most of them have been developed in the US, and most of the rest have environmental issues.

      • matkoniecz says:

        And note that large number of major dams (according to statistics tracked earlier) are for irrigation. I am guessing that dam for irrigation often requires stable water levels or storing water during one season to dispense it during another. What would conflict with water management for power generation purposes.

        • Garrett says:

          That brings up an interesting question. From a safety perspective, is there a point at which a dam’s head is too low to worry about? You can imagine a small community putting up a 6″ dam on a creek going through town to create a nifty reflecting pond as “not worth worrying about”. And something like the Grand Coolie Dam as “better inspect that thing routinely or we’re all going to die”. Are there any guidelines on what the lower-end category boundaries are?

          • CatCube says:

            A structure has to be logged in the National Inventory of Dams if it meets the following criteria:

            The NID consists of dams meeting at least one of the following criteria;
            1) High hazard potential classification – loss of human life is likely if the dam fails,
            2) Significant hazard potential classification – no probable loss of human life but can cause economic loss, environmental damage, disruption of lifeline facilities, or impact other concerns,
            3) Equal or exceed 25 feet in height and exceed 15 acre-feet in storage,
            4) Equal or exceed 50 acre-feet storage and exceed 6 feet in height.

            The first two are somewhat circular with your question, but the last two are where they start to say “we need to track it if you meet these objective numbers.” The first two, unfortunately, are both necessary and difficult to quantify in objective rules as they’ll depend on the particular site. If the river is small downstream of your theoretical 6″ reflecting pond and the pond extends far upstream (retaining a lot of water), losing the pool could potentially at least cause economic damage as the river exceeds its banks momentarily.

            Now, this database isn’t comprehensive, since it’s the attempt to build this information from the ground up. There was no central repository before, so there’s probably a lot still missing. But that’s at least a start to your question.

            I don’t know if the Association of State Dam Safety Officials website has criteria, but they probably have something buried in their directory tree.

  11. albatross11 says:

    Does anyone know what’s going on with this article?. The claim (I’ve seen it elsewhere) is that the feds are intercepting a lot of PPE headed for hospitals and comandeering it for some other use. If that’s true, it’s a big deal and we need to know what’s going on[1].

    So far about 0% of the useful and effective response to this virus seems to be coming from the federal government. The case for lots of centralized power and control and top-down responses to the virus seems to be really weak based on the way things have gone here. By contrast, various state and local officials and private labs seem to have managed to do a lot better. Is there maybe some way we could take this and decide to take some power and money away from the agencies that failed and hand it to the ones that succeeded?

    My gloomy prediction is that somehow, this will all necessitate an increase in power and funding and centralization of authority on all things pandemic and public health, which Congress will happily vote to support and we’ll end up with an even more restricted and inept response to the next disaster.

    More broadly, I’ve become enormously more gloomy about the competence of the relevant federal agencies, and about our ability to take any kind of useful action at the federal level. As best I can tell, the feds have mainly worked to prevent people responding effectively to the pandemic, and Congress has managed to vote some money for the public and a whole lot more money to a bunch of large companies with effective lobbyists. And they probably can’t *not* grease the palms of their donors and lobbyists–it’s just not how they work.

    [1] I suspect there’s probably a fair bit of local corruption going on–someone in DHS reselling the PPE or taking a bribe to route the PPE to someone else. If that’s going on, hopefully when this is all over, the nation’s federal prisons will have another few dozen guests formerly in the PPE-hijacking-and-resale business.

    • matkoniecz says:

      Does anyone know what’s going on with this article?. The claim (I’ve seen it elsewhere) is that the feds are intercepting a lot of PPE headed for hospitals and comandeering it for some other use. If that’s true, it’s a big deal and we need to know what’s going on.

      According to the quoted article FBI decided to not intercept shipment after verifying that it was actually destined to a hospital.

      I arrived by car to make the final call on whether to execute the deal. Two semi-trailer trucks, cleverly marked as food-service vehicles, met us at the warehouse. When fully loaded, the trucks would take two distinct routes back to Massachusetts to minimize the chances that their contents would be detained or redirected.


      Before we could send the funds by wire transfer, two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrived, showed their badges, and started questioning me. No, this shipment was not headed for resale or the black market. The agents checked my credentials, and I tried to convince them that the shipment of PPE was bound for hospitals. After receiving my assurances and hearing about our health system’s urgent needs, the agents let the boxes of equipment be released and loaded into the trucks. But I was soon shocked to learn that the Department of Homeland Security was still considering redirecting our PPE. Only some quick calls leading to intervention by our congressional representative prevented its seizure.

      I understand that interacting with FBI is scary but in this case I see no problems from any side.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        This is not the first story of its type. Before the story began, the protagonists were shipping the PPE in food containers in order to stop the Feds from finding and seizing it for — well, we don’t know.

        • matkoniecz says:

          Note I am not claiming that feds are managing it well. I am claiming that this specific story is not even claiming that anything wrong happened.

          “they should magically know that I am trustworthy” is not a viable demand for obvious reasons.

          And, yes – what lead to this situation is mismanagement, hospitals should not be forced into such bizarre schemes and people met at warehouses to buy PPE transported in food trucks.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yeah, when you’re saying “we disguised our trucks as something else and worked out routes that we wouldn’t be stopped and inspected”, that is screaming “maybe we’re trying to bring in something other than harmless and indeed necessary medical equipment”.

          I don’t see how, if you set up to avoid things and make yourself look like a criminal enterprise, you can then be very surprised if you’re treated like a criminal enterprise.

        • albatross11 says:

          In order to stop the PPE they were buying for their hospital from being stolen by the feds, they had to get their congressman involved. That sounds like shit that happens in banana republics, and if it’s happening here then some people need to lose their jobs and probably end up spending a decade or two in prison.

          • The Nybbler says:

            This is the _purpose_ of the Defense Production Act, which plenty of people were demanding be invoked. It allows the Federal Government to reallocate essential resources (which are whatever they say they are, and in this case include PPE) as they see fit.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That’s fine, as long as they then fill the PPE needs (and mandate increased immediate production).

            They don’t seem to actually be doing either.

            They also need to effectively communicate how their strategy has changed from “You are on your own, the stockpile isn’t yours and we aren’t shipping clerks” to … whatever it is now.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I wouldn’t mind at all if the Federal Government threw a lot of weight around to get companies to do the things that need doing. Who can make swabs? Who can run tests? Who is making sure that people have the things that they need?

            It’s the kind of thing that should have transparency, and not “hey, where did our PPE go?”

          • The Nybbler says:

            Sorry, you call up Leviathan, and it behaves like the beast it is, not like the beast you would like it to be. To the feds, someone sneaking around with PPE looks exactly like “someone trying to evade our rules on PPE distribution”.

          • matkoniecz says:

            In order to stop the PPE they were buying for their hospital from being stolen by the feds, they had to get their congressman involved.

            Note that they have not described whatever they attempted to do anything else with Homeland except getting congressman involved.

            If they solely got congressman involved without earlier steps then it is not proving anything.

            If they tried also something else before that step, then why it is not mentioned in the article?

            @Edward Scizorhands

            It’s the kind of thing that should have transparency, and not “hey, where did our PPE go?”

            Yes. It is not a war against an intelligent enemy, secrecy solves no useful purpose.

            Preferably, make entire tracking system of this goods public. Or at least publish (daily or hourly) dump of warehouse database and raport of materials being bought/requisitioned/moved/sold/dispensed/destroyed.

            Also, guidelines for collecting/distribution should be made available to public.

          • Matt M says:

            Sorry, you call up Leviathan, and it behaves like the beast it is, not like the beast you would like it to be.

            This. These complaints strike me as similar to the classic “communism works in theory lament.”

            The reason many of us oppose central planning is because we understand that this is the way central planning actually works, not the utopian fantasy you have where it works perfectly and causes no negative consequences anywhere.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            We already have central planning, since the Feds are seizing PPE shipments, that were bought and paid for and promised under contract law. Where did those shipments end up?

            What we have right now is the worst of both worlds. We have governors trying to figure out how international supply chains work to get tests from South Korea, and those governors trying to outbid each other to get supplies. And then maybe the Feds seize the shipment anyways.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        But I was soon shocked to learn that the Department of Homeland Security was still considering redirecting our PPE. Only some quick calls leading to intervention by our congressional representative prevented its seizure.

        • matkoniecz says:

          Department of Homeland Security is distinct from FBI, right? I read it as “we proved again to be a legitimate buyers”.

          And in interpreted “Only some quick call” as “we used this method other than other methods because it was easier”. If they actually demonstrated to Homeland that they are from hospital and it was ignored then it is problematic, but it is not mentioned in the story.

          “they should magically know that I am trustworthy” is not a viable demand for obvious reasons.

          And I agree that government agencies should cooperate rather than expect people to explain the same for N times.

      • Christophe Biocca says:

        Maybe I’m stupid, but why does the FBI care about the destination of the masks?

        I can see a few reasons why the Feds might intercept/seize a shipment:

        – It’s not actually masks, but some illegal goods.
        – It’s stolen property.
        – etc.

        But none of them have anything to do with who the buyer is.

        • matkoniecz says:

          Not sure is it something that FBI can/should do legally but

          – ensuring that medical supply that is in high demand is delivered to hospitals (especially where there are entire containers of it) rather to places where it is not actually needed
          – blocking price gouging
          – monitoring trade of important medical supplies

          seems to me as something within competence of a government, especially during pandemic.

          It may be possible that FBI is not supposed to do that and exceeded their bounds.

    • Christophe Biocca says:

      LA Times has decent-ish coverage of this:

      It seems to just be the introduction of a command economy for US medical supplies. The examples here all involve supplies meant for hospitals actually being seized so this is not just a case of blocking other, “illegitimate” acquirers.

      If this is frequent enough, that would explain the whole “disguising delivery trucks to avoid detection” gambit. Feds can’t seize supplies if they don’t know about them.

      • albatross11 says:

        Maybe US hospitals could import some experts from Venezuelan hospitals on how to deal with corrupt and incompetent federal officials trying to run a command economy while keeping their hospital functioning.

    • iamnoah says:

      So far about 0% of the useful and effective response to this virus seems to be coming from the federal government. The case for lots of centralized power and control and top-down responses to the virus seems to be really weak based on the way things have gone here.

      While this could be true in the US, please note that many other countries have actual top-down leadership who have saved the day. New Zealand has geographical advantages, but looks like it will also avoid an actual community outbreak thanks to effective top-down response (in part because it is very well coordinated with local authorities.)

      • EchoChaos says:

        I am suspicious that this is a just-so story based on strong geographic advantages.

        The technocratic governments of France and the UK got absolutely clobbered by this.

        Germany definitely looks like it’s done well, but I think for the most part postmortems will show who actually did well.

        • Creutzer says:

          Austria and the Czech Republic are doing well, too, and indeed far better than Germany because they started earlier. They are more centralised than Germany – but also much smaller. It seems to me that smaller countries with centralised top-down action do better, which, if you think about it, is very natural.

          • Robin says:

            In Greece, they have cancelled the carnival as early as 26 February. They just had around 2200 cases and 116 deaths so far.

            Remember, that article which urged us to act fast, came out on 10 March. Remember Chart 23 about what a difference one day makes.

            I wish in Germany they had cancelled the carnival in Heinsberg or the strong beer party in Tirschenreuth. Or that open door church in Northern France.

          • Creutzer says:

            Yes, but whether taking action earlier makes you perform better is not at issue, so this is a distraction. The question at issue is whether more centralised countries are doing better (very possibly by being able to pluck up their courage and taking measures earlier). Is Greece a relatively centralised country?

          • Robin says:

            OK, if that is what you’re after, I’d say Greece is another score for “centralized”.
            But I’m not sure the distinction centralized / federal is that decisive. Germany is federal, but they have managed to find a consensus of the minister presidents fairly well.

            I wouldn’t call the UK government “technocratic”, though, and Northern France had some bad luck with a superspreader event.

    • Chris Phoenix says:

      States are also centralized control. The fact that some states respond effectively shows that centralized control can work.

      The fact that other states are full of tragic disaster shows that truly local response is not sufficient.

      This makes it very important to understand why central control works or doesn’t work, and change governments so that they become less dysfunctional.

      In the case of the Federal government, it’s pretty obvious where a lot of the dysfunction comes from. I don’t know if it is fixable. I don’t know the right response if it is not.

  12. L (Zero) says:

    Shoutout to Richard Clarke for proposing a Black Swan board.

  13. Edward Scizorhands says:

    People here were watching patio11’s twitter for his prediction from March 21. He’s published it now

    • Douglas Knight says:

      This is a big problem about predicting factual issues.

      It looks to me that to the extent that he was making a interesting, precise prediction, he was wrong. Sure, Japan was massively undercounting, but were they undercounting any more than any western country? (except Germany) Cases were increasing 8% per day and they have continued to increase 8% per day. Deaths were also increasing 8% per day and they have continued to increase 8% per day (now up to 10% per day for the past 10 days). The numbers were basically correct. The best way to forecast the future was to trust the numbers and extrapolate the exponential. The increasing outbreak did not overwhelm the cluster-based methods, and grow even faster, probably because the cluster-based methods weren’t actually doing anything. Were there “widely geographically distributed outbreaks of coronavirus”? I don’t know, but doesn’t seem to have helped his predictions.

      The most precisely correct thing to say was: these numbers are right, and exponential growth is bad. 8% increase per day is unacceptable. The consensus that Japan was “weathering the coronavirus situation well” was contradicted by the existing data. The data predicted that with no more action, 200 people would die in the next month, and then 2,000, and then 20,000, …
      In as much as people weren’t making a prediction at all, they were making a bad prediction. But it’s hard to point out that failure to them. And if he had said that, would he have gotten any reaction? Perhaps it was more effective to claim that the numbers were wrong.

      • Chris Phoenix says:

        I think you are really missing the important points here. There are many lessons we can and should learn from this – in order to, as Harry Potter said, “change and be less stupid next time.”

        At the time he wrote the white paper, most policy makers did not know that Japan was undercounting. The numeric predictions were the least important part of this story.

        He and his colleagues spotted a major problem, did the research and math, wrote a white paper, and got it in front of people who were influenced by it to make better decisions.

        They probably saved thousands of lives with a few days of work by 4 people and less than $2000. And it was very low-hanging fruit. We should be doing a post-bonum on this, and studying the post-bonum, to see how to be more effective at mitigating policy disasters.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          If numbers were not important, why do you think “research” and “math” was important? Since accurate research didn’t happen, it’s damn good it didn’t matter.

          Have you learned nothing from what happened to Drexler?

  14. Anteros says:

    Every so often in Virus discussions, someone will make a comparison with seasonal ‘flu, although this seems to be becoming somewhat taboo, and the comparison usually elicits the response ‘No, more like Spanish ‘flu!’

    If seasonal flu kills on average 400k people (0.005% of the world’s population) per year and Spanish ‘flu killed as many as 100 million (5% of the 1918 population), then the difference between the two is three orders of magnitude. It’s quite plausible that Covid19 is at least an order of magnitude more serious than one and at least an order of magnitude less serious than the other.

    @Salvorhardin makes the point earlier on this thread that even if the IFR of Covid19 is not much higher than that of seasonal ‘flu (this study estimates between 0.1 and 0.36%) the latter is considerably less infectious – relatively unconstrained, it infects only 5% of the world’s population each year.

    However, the life expectancy of those killed by ‘flu is vastly greater than that of Covid19 victims. This may be even more taboo to mention than ‘flu comparisons, but is surely relevant for policy makers. It’s plausible that QALYs lost by a ‘flu death is at least 10 times that of a Covid19 one. After all, the current virus barely affects youngsters and the median life expectancy of people in care homes is, AFAIK, about six months. I don’t enjoy making the comparison myself, and it would be career suicide for a politician anywhere to forget to say that ‘All lives are sacred, and all deaths are a tragedy, and we must do whatever it takes to protect the most vulnerable among us’ even if the vulnerable being referred to are a week away from death anyway. I think I just confessed to being a mass murderer, again.

    This attitude, that the closer people are to the end of their lives the more efforts we should make to eke out a few more agony-filed breaths came to mind reading Scott’s post about Amish health care – and how little it costs. I’ve heard it said that 50% of healthcare costs amongst the English (i.e. Americans) is spent on the last 90 days of their lives.

    I think these things are all connected.

    • Randy M says:

      However, the life expectancy of those killed by ‘flu is vastly greater than that of Covid19 victims.

      Took me a moment to parse this sentence. But you’re saying people who die of the flu are younger and healthier than people who die of Covid.
      Is this a significant difference? I’d expect the old and compromised to die more often of nearly any infection.
      Edit: From Nybbler below:

      Flu, on the other hand, has a U-shaped mortality curve where it kills the young and the old.

      Ah, so maybe the difference is that youth are particularly strong against Covid but weak to flu. Is there an explanation for this? Something about development of alimentary system versus respiratory system?

      • Anteros says:

        Yes – Nybbler is correct about the U shaped mortality curve for ‘flu. Covid seems to almost not affect the young at all.

        My point was that the life expectancy of flu victims might be, say, 30 years, but for Covid it’s nearer three. But in almost no discussions of the mortality figures is this taken into consideration. I understand why, but at some level I think it should at least be acknowledged

        • EchoChaos says:

          If we get noticeable and chartable undermortality in the next couple years, this is plausible. But right now we are seeing SERIOUS excess mortality in hotspots.

        • Statismagician says:

          What you’re describing is Years of Potential Life Lost (YPLL). Along with QALY impacts it’s a standard metric for talking about disease burden among epidemiologists and public health professionals generally. You haven’t seen it out in the wild both for the obvious political reasons, and because we don’t yet know enough to do impact papers worth reading.

          Edit: unnecessary snark removed; it’s been a long morning.

        • Matt M says:

          Based on this tweet from Alex Berenson (note – have not checked the source or verified the numbers myself), COVID has currently killed approximately 1 in every 375,000 Americans under 45.

          • John Schilling says:

            For comparative purposes, that’s one-seventh the normal death rate for Americans under 45 from automobile accidents over the same period. Which is not a thing we normally worry too much about.

            And now it seems plausible that, for Americans under 45, the dominant medical effect of COVID-19 and our response to same may be the discovery that if we mandate almost everybody stay home almost all the time, there will be a large reduction in automobile-crash fatalities and the like. Which I’m pretty sure is something we already knew and rejected.

            It is likely only for the over-45 population that actual COVID-19 fatalities are more significant than the second- and third-order side effects of our reaction to COVID-19. And may be justified on that basis; there are a lot of old people at risk that we don’t want to see die quite yet if we can reasonably help it. But that’s where the argument is going to need to be won, not on the “but young people sometimes die of it too” front.

          • Anteros says:

            @john Schilling

            I’d guess that for people in reasonable health, it’ll only be for the over 60s that Covid-19 itself is more significant than our reaction to it.

            But yes indeed to your point, and reasoning.

          • Chris Phoenix says:

            @John Schilling

            A month ago, COVID had infected a tiny fraction of Americans. If it’s killed 1/7 of auto accidents already, then if we let it burn through all 50 states the way it burned through New York, we will be in a world of hurt.

          • John Schilling says:

            Depends on what you mean by “we”. If we let COVID-19 burn through all 50 states without taking any action, probably something like 50,000 people under the age of 45 would die. That’s larger than the number who die in auto accidents in an average year, but not an order of magnitude larger. It’s definitely in the range of numbers “we” are willing to live with if the alternative means seriously cramping our style or crippling our economy.

            Again, whatever action you think is justified, almost certainly needs to be justified by pointing to the older people who are at risk – “you youngsters aren’t immune!” is only going to get you so far, and not very far at that. The millions of older people at risk of dying, is the argument that might get you somewhere. Even among the young, who mostly still care about their parents and grandparents.

          • The millions of older people at risk of dying, is the argument that might get you somewhere.

            From that standpoint, isn’t the optimal policy to isolate the older people for a few months while the virus burns through everyone else?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The British plan was “isolate the old while we let it go through the rest of the population” but then they realized even this would overwhelm the NHS.

          • albatross11 says:

            I imagine high-risk people will be self-isolating as well as possible for the forseeable future, but over-50 isn’t all that easy to isolate. Lots of 50 year olds have to work to keep food on the table, and many of those jobs aren’t so easy to do from home. Lots of 50 year olds have kids in school and college kids coming home from college, and those kids will almost certainly not die of COVID-19 and may not even notice they have it, but they’ll likely bring it home.

            And as you get older, it probably gets harder. Nursing homes are trying as hard as they can to lock down and avoid infections, but that’s not so easy to manage. Those are places that need a fair number of employees to take care of the sick old people. Lots of those employees have wives/husbands and kids who maybe work in a grocery store or restaurant, go to school, teach preschool, etc.

          • @Edward:

            There is some evidence now, from testing to see whether people have had the virus, that suggests that it is much less lethal than initially believed, somewhere between .1% and 1%. If that is correct, the calculations showing the NHS being overwhelmed might be mistaken. Add to that the fact that ventilators seem to be less useful than initially believed, which means the capacity of the NHS isn’t limited by ventilators.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It’s not just lethality. It’s also hospital cases. Some new news that has my parents worried.

            If holing up the old people was a good idea in March and we didn’t know about it, it should still be a good idea now. If someone wants to make a case for it, I’m willing to hear it out. I mean, we’re going to end up with a lot of social isolation of the olds even during the first two phases of opening back up, so this just means we can keep going.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          My point was that the life expectancy of flu victims might be, say, 30 years, but for Covid it’s nearer three.

          Definitely false. The death rate for ordinary flu among 65+ is 100x the rate among 0-4. It’s J-shaped, not U-shaped. The chart doesn’t give an apples-to-apples comparison, but I’d guess that the average age of covid deaths is lower.

          • Anteros says:

            Thanks for pointing that out – I was indeed very wrong about the age profile of Flu deaths. Not remotely U- shaped, at least in the US. I assume it’s broadly similar across other developed countries.

      • Lambert says:

        I think it’s that a similar strain gives you partial immunity and old people have experienced more of those strains.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I expect that for “the world” looked at as a whole, this thing won’t be much worse than ordinary flu. It (probably) preferentially infects the old. Among those it infects it preferentially makes the old sick. Among those it makes sick, it preferentially makes the old extremely sick. And among those it makes extremely sick, it preferentially kills the old. Flu, on the other hand, has a U-shaped mortality curve where it kills the young and the old. “The world” as a whole is much younger than the developed world.

      • EchoChaos says:

        I’ll put money down that it will cause noticeable excess mortality. It’s hitting a lot of 60-70 year olds with underlying conditions like hypertension that are very survivable for a decade or more.

        It’s definitely worse than the flu and the excess death will be visible, but it isn’t the Spanish flu.

        • Matt M says:

          the excess death will be visible

          Visible how?

          Visible if you read government reports? Visible if you watch the news? Or visible to every individual person?

          I’m still thinking that when this all settles out, a whole lot of Americans will not know a single person who was killed, nearly killed, or suffered permanent damage from COVID. And a whole lot of those people will map to “no worse than the flu.” No matter how big the number in the WHO report is.

          • broblawsky says:

            I know one person who was killed by COVID (age 80+) and one person who was nearly hospitalized (age ~35).

          • EchoChaos says:

            I’m still thinking that when this all settles out, a whole lot of Americans will not know a single person who was killed, nearly killed, or suffered permanent damage from COVID.

            Absolutely will be true, especially among rural Americans. I currently don’t and live in the suburbs of a major city.

            Which doesn’t mean that notable excess death won’t be there.

          • baconbits9 says:

            My wife has an uncle with some underlying health conditions who likely has it, which is the most likely chance we know someone who dies from this. I have an uncle in England whose treatment for early stage cancer has been pushed off indefinitely as well, which puts another non covid, but covid caused, death potentially in our family.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I think the best thing to compare to are the recent spate of opiate deaths.

            It was noticeable if you paid attention, because life expectancy dropped for the first time in decades. But you had to be paying attention. In terms of media hysteria, it was barely noted at all.

          • acymetric says:

            I have an uncle in England whose treatment for early stage cancer has been pushed off indefinitely as well, which puts another non covid, but covid caused, death potentially in our family.

            I’m not entirely comfortable saying that would be COVID caused (I think it is important to differentiate between deaths caused by COVID and deaths caused by our COVID response). We are massively overlimiting medical services right now. I’ve mentioned elsewhere and others have mentioned (either this OT or the last one, and maybe the one before that too) that we’re going to see an increase in preventable deaths from things like heart/lung disease and cancer. Those deaths are not necessary, because the screenings and especially treatments for those already diagnosed could and should still be happening.

          • Matt M says:

            I have an uncle in England whose treatment for early stage cancer has been pushed off indefinitely as well, which puts another non covid, but covid caused, death potentially in our family.

            This is not COVID caused. This is “government reaction to COVID” caused.

          • Chalid says:

            In the long term, if pandemic restrictions are lifted or otherwise fail, and if treatments don’t improve (a big if), then I’d expect rural America will get hit about as bad as urban America. Urban centers got hit first, so it’s been worst for them so far, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be worst long term.

            Rural population sparsity slows spread, but in the absence of countermeasures most people will get it no matter where they live. Meanwhile rural areas have generally older and less healthy populations and also less access to medical care.

          • acymetric says:

            Rural population sparsity slows spread, but in the absence of countermeasures most people will get it no matter where they live.

            Depends on what you mean by most. There would likely still be a large portion of people who never get the disease (usually I’ve seen predicted infection rates capping at around 60-70%, so at least 30% of the country wouldn’t be expected to be sick). Wouldn’t be terrible surprising to find out that some of that 30% was comprised of entire rural communities who didn’t get infected.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            This is not COVID caused. This is “government reaction to COVID” caused.

            Signal boosting, because seeing the two mixed up is currently a pet peeve of mine.

          • The Nybbler says:

            In the long term, if pandemic restrictions are lifted or otherwise fail, and if treatments don’t improve (a big if), then I’d expect rural America will get hit about as bad as urban America.

            It’s not a given that an epidemic that can sustain itself in urban conditions can also sustain itself in rural conditions to the same saturation level; in fact, most models would predict otherwise.

          • Chalid says:

            Sure, the saturation level is undoubtably different (but rural areas still have schools and workplaces and churches and bars, it’s not like they’re naturally socially distancing all the time). Between the less-healthy rural population and the lower rural saturation level I’d not know whether to expect urban areas to be worse off than rural ones long-term.

          • Anteros says:

            @ Chalid

            ‘…most people will get it no matter where they live’

            I’m not sure this is the case, whatever the models say. With barely any impediments, Flu manages to infect about 5% of the population of the world. Spanish Flu got up to 25%. Swine Flu maybe 15%.

          • albatross11 says:

            Also like COVID-19/SARS2, the opiod deaths were heavily concentrated in particular regions and social classes. The deaths became visible to policymakers a lot later than they were likely visible to people in the hardest-hit communities because policymakers don’t have much to do with people in those communities. Working class and underclass whites in flyover country are almost invisible to policymakers and media and academic elites, as far as I can tell.

            Right now, COVID-19 is mostly clobbering East Coast cities, most notably NYC. It’s not clear if that will remain the case–a quite likely outcome IMO is that the lockdowns end, and then we get a second wave which clobbers a lot of red states. At which point, the people complaining that any further lockdowns would be counterproductive and silly and it’s just a bad flu will be the ones in densely-populated East Coast cities where a lot of people (especially in healthcare and other public facing jobs) have already had it, and a large chunk of the most susceptible people have either died or recovered. Three guesses which group determines the policy we’ll actually follow….

          • albatross11 says:


            Are there government orders demanding healthcare facilities stop doing nonessential procedures?

            My understanding is that most healthcare facilities cancelled non-emergency procedures before any government demand for them to do so. As I understand it, this is from:

            a. Difficulty getting PPE.
            b. Fear of providers catching the virus.
            c. Desire not to become a point of spread for the virus.
            d. Customers staying away for fear of catching the virus.

          • Randy M says:

            Yeah, as useful as it is to disentangle “caused by virus” and “caused by government overreaction*” it’s probably also useful to disentangle “caused by government overreaction” from “caused by corporate or institutional panic”.

            *Or even “caused by proper reaction”, as even appropriate measures can have downsides.

          • Lambert says:

            Also ’caused in anticipation of government response’.
            If you predict mandatory shutdowns are coming, you might want to start winding things down a bit earlier.
            So the chronology makes it look like an independant decision but it wouldn’t happen if not for the government response.

          • Randy M says:

            If you predict mandatory shutdowns are coming, you might want to start winding things down a bit earlier.

            Depends what kind of establishment (some might want to capture rush buying) but sure. Also might want to get PR was caring about customer safety when your hand is being forced anyway.

          • Matt M says:

            Are there government orders demanding healthcare facilities stop doing nonessential procedures?

            I can’t speak for all the orders everywhere, but I know that in Texas, a big part of the governor’s hype tour for his executive order to “re-open” is “allowing non-essential medical procedures to resume,” (in another few weeks, because hey, what’s the hurry right?) which would certainly imply that there are currently government rules which forbid them.

          • Matt M says:

            Also might want to get PR was caring about customer safety when your hand is being forced anyway.

            I said at the time all the major pro sports leagues shutting down before being mandated to do so was a PR move.

            Cancelling a season hurts a lot. Being blamed by the public for causing a global pandemic that kills millions probably puts you out of business forever. It’s a rational calculus, even if it personally annoys me to not have sports anymore.

          • Beck says:

            Are there government orders demanding healthcare facilities stop doing nonessential procedures?

            There is in Alabama, at least. I imagine it’s similar in some other states. A quote from the order:

            14. Effective March 28, 2020 at 5:00 P.M., all dental, medical, or surgical procedures
            shall be postponed until further notice, subject to the following exceptions:
            a. Dental, medical, or surgical procedures necessary to treat an emergency medical
            condition. For purposes of this order, “emergency medical condition” is defined as a medical
            condition manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain,
            psychiatric disturbances, and/or symptoms of substance abuse) such that the absence of
            immediate medical attention could reasonably be expected by a person’s licensed medical
            provider to result in placing the health of the person in serious jeopardy or causing serious
            impairment to bodily functions or serious dysfunction of bodily organs.
            b. Dental, medical, or surgical procedures necessary to avoid serious harm from an
            underlying condition or disease, or necessary as part of a patient’s ongoing and active treatment.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Anteros (or whoever understands this):

            I’m embarrassed by how naive this question is. You said:

            With barely any impediments, Flu manages to infect about 5% of the population of the world. Spanish Flu got up to 25%. Swine Flu maybe 15%.

   says regarding the Spanish Flu:

            By the summer of 1919, the flu pandemic came to an end, as those that were infected either died or developed immunity.

            I had the idea that to develop herd immunity you needed upward of 40% of the population with immunity, so how did 25% coverage for Spanish Flu suffice? They were working on vaccines even then, but as I understand it they were basically just trying vaccines for bacteria like pneumococcus and streptococcus, so it wasn’t that they managed to give everybody immunity with a vaccine, as we hope to be able to do with Covid-19 eventually.

          • albatross11 says:

            a. How much of the population you need to get herd immunity depends on how contagious the virus us.

            b. Nobody was doing antibody or RNA tests back then. There may have been people who were asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic and weren’t ever considered to have had the flu, since they never got sick enough.

          • simon says:

            I had the idea that to develop herd immunity you needed upward of 40% of the population with immunity, so how did 25% coverage for Spanish Flu suffice?

            One possibility here is variability between different people on the level of contact they have with others. Once your most frequent spreaders have had the disease, the effective spreading rate of the remaining susceptible population is much lower.

            So the actual amount of infected you need for herd immunity is much less than a simple SIR model would predict.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, this makes a lot of sense.

            Imagine a world where most people live in isolated small villages and almost never leave them, and a few people travel between the villages delivering or selling goods or services from outside. If you got all the traveling people immune to the virus, then the virus would probably die out. OTOH, early on, the virus would spread like wildfire once it got in a few of the traveling-between-the-villages people.

        • Anteros says:

          I think Niall Ferguson of Imperial College notoriety estimated that up to two thirds of those who die this year ‘from’ Covid19 would have died by the end of the year anyway. A lot of them from ‘flu.

          The excess mortality may not be so easy to see at the end of the year. And I seem to remember Scott’s first post about the virus claiming that the death toll was negative 40k and rising (i.e. falling)

          Lots of other things not happening as a result of the lockdown..

          • EchoChaos says:

            And I seem to remember Scott’s first post about the virus claiming that the death toll was negative 40k and rising (i.e. falling)

            This is very not true. Here are excess deaths in Europe relative to 2019 mortality rates.


            The USA looks similar in hotspots like NY.

          • Anteros says:


            Fair point

          • acymetric says:

            It is going to be really easy to make the numbers say whatever you want at the end of all this depending on what you adjust for and how you adjust for it.

            Which is bad news for anyone who hopes people will be willing to admit they were wrong about anything.

          • Garrett says:

            > up to two thirds of those who die this year ‘from’ Covid19 would have died by the end of the year anyway

            Is there a reputable source for this? I’d like to be able to link to it myself.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            I’ve been tracking the ONS stats for the past couple of weeks and currently England and Wales stand at +5.88% relative to average over the past five years (for the year through 10th April, which covers the latest ONS update).

            Eyeballing the graphs linked by EchoChaos, France may still have been below 2019 mortality as of 3rd April. Italy and Spain had almost certainly had more deaths as of the end dates than expected based on 2019.

          • Anteros says:


            Sorry, I don’t have a link – I read it on the BBC website about a week ago. An article by their Stats guy on the question of how big is the overlap between Covid deaths and would-have-died-from-flu deaths.

            Of course, I could be misremembering it

          • Tarpitz says:

            Niall Ferguson: historian

            Neil Ferguson: epidemiologist

      • Anteros says:

        @The Nybbler
        I think that’s about spot on.
        Of course what we probably won’t know with any degree of certainty, is how bad it would have been if we’d not stopped the world’s normal functioning for a couple of months.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          I dont’ think it’ll be that difficult an estimation, once things settle down. There’s bound to be places that only took the simplest of isolation measures, or if we’re lucky none at all – probably not whole countries, but still regions. And from that we can adjust for age and health system. We’d be looking at retrospective data and a lot of it, so much less uncertainty.

          The interesting question is – how well we could have gotten away if we applied fewer measures? We’re likely to find out that the answer is “quite a lot”, but unfortunately that’s a necessary price – part of what we bought was time to learn things.

          Which is why I’m moving away from being a #stayhomer – I think we know enough to start applying it, and I also think one month of not functioning is acceptable for most businesses, but two is not, and anything over two requires fantasy to imagine it can turn out well. We paid the price, time to get the benefits.

          (How would it look, to open things up? Mandatory masks for the next year, strict no to crowds, a bunch of safety measures that businesses need to respect to stay open. You can use all the free time health inspectors have to check on them).

      • albatross11 says:

        Also, the lockdown will have basically killed circulation of the flu.

    • Garrett says:

      > I’ve heard it said that 50% of healthcare costs amongst the English (i.e. Americans) is spent on the last 90 days of their lives.

      The problem is determining in-advance when that 90 days starts. It’s really easy to do retrospectively.

      • Anteros says:

        Seems obvious now you mention it, but I confess I hadn’t thought of that…

      • albatross11 says:

        I don’t know for sure if the claimed statistic is true, but it should apply more for younger people than older ones.

        For a lot of healthy people, their total healthcare expenditures before their first major health crisis just wasn’t all that high–they went to the doctor if they got really sick or broke a bone or something, but otherwise didn’t have much to do with the medical system. In a normal year, my total healthcare expenditures are not all that high, for example, and I think I’m older and less healthy than most people in the US. (As a datapoint, in the last year, I think I’ve seen a doctor twice–once for a check-up and once for an infected bug bite.).

        Suppose a basically healthy guy in his 40s has a heart attack. In the past decade, he may have spent a few thousand dollars on medical care[1]. Suddenly, he’s spending like a hundred thousand dollars that next month, for the emergency room and ambulance, the tests, for someone putting stents in his arteries, and for a great deal of followup care. The worse everything goes (short of him just dying right away), the more money he’s spending. If (as may very well happen) he dies within a few months of the heart attack, it’s easy to see how that last 90 days would be more than 90% of his total lifetime health care spending.

        Similar logic applies to the 19 year old who wraps his car around a telephone pole, or the healthy 35-year-old woman who discovers she has advanced breast cancer.

        I suspect this is less true as you get older, as a 70-year-old has probably already survived a couple serious health scares.

        [1] In the US, reported medical care prices are wildly inflated, so this would translate to having gone to a doctor maybe 2-3 times in a year and maybe having broken a bone once or something.

    • MisterA says:

      A big part of the difference in scale seems to be based both on the measure we are taking to contain this virus (which we don’t for flu) and the difference in medicine between now and 1918.

      I know Scott Gottlieb at American Enterprise Institute, whose plan for reopening the country is basically the one the White House has adopted and is moving forward with, has said that he thinks this virus is deadlier than Spanish flu. The two big differences are that a lot of people who would have just died in 1918 are getting medical care and surviving today, and the fact that we actually did lock down the way we did, which has drastically reduced infection spread and mortality.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Spanish flu had an estimated IFR of 10%, and furthermore killed the young and young adult as well as the old (a “w” shaped mortality curve). We don’t actually have a treatment for COVID-19. Anyone who thinks COVID-19 is deadlier than the Spanish Flu isn’t looking at the data.

        • Kaitian says:

          We may not have a cure for Covid-19, but we sure do have a lot of treatments for things like clearing fluid from the lungs, reducing fever, stabilizing heart rhythm, helping with breathing and treating any opportunistic bacterial infections. Without any of these things, covid would be much deadlier than it is now (probably still not as bad as Spanish flu, because most young people with covid don’t need those treatments).

        • MisterA says:

          Right, the argument is that it’s as Kaitian said – all the people who go to the hospital with COVID-19 but ultimately recover? In 1918 they just die.

      • Matt M says:

        Most of the people COVID is killing wouldn’t have even been alive in 1918 because something else would have already killed them by the time they were that old…

    • Deiseach says:

      This attitude, that the closer people are to the end of their lives the more efforts we should make to eke out a few more agony-filed breaths

      Not to be picking on you, but this particular phrase hit me hard. Because today I got an email from an online acquaintance (from another site where I used to hang out) who is suffering from ALS and they were describing their breathing problems:

      My breathing was really bad over the weekend. My chest muscles and diaphragm (the thin muscle that stretches under your lungs, allowing them to expand so you can get a deep breath) are very weak now. I was taking very shallow breaths, leading to foggy thinking and very low energy. (It’s still the same as I write this–it’s taking me a very long time to write this email. I have to keep stopping to rest. Crazy, huh?) I emailed my doc (actually, his nurse. We all know that nurses do the majority of the work!) yesterday morning with my symptoms. They contacted my respiratory therapist, who came over and measured my breathing–both my inhaling and exhaling strength. My numbers yesterday were a little less than half of what they were in January. Pas bon. No bueno. Not good.

      [The respiratory therapist] said this was a very drastic drop, and that she would expedite an order for a Trilogy ventilator for me. This is a portable machine with a mask I will wear that basically does my breathing for me. I will use it when I sleep, when I lie down to rest (which is more and more frequent–a couple times a day), and if I’m just sitting in my chair. In others words, most all of the time. Please pray it gets here soon.

      This is somebody who is not (yet) trying to “eke out a few more agony-filled breaths”, and they’re prepared that their death is inevitable, be it in a few months or maybe even a year’s time. But it’s hitting me right at the moment, so any talk about respiratory distress – please forgive me – comes across as a little glib or even heartless, where it’s not faceless numbers but real people who are suffering.

    • edmundgennings says:

      The flu does hit those younger than one worse than it hits teens, but those younger than one are still two orders of magnitude safer than those over 85.

      • Anteros says:

        Douglas knight also pointed out the same thing above – my understanding of Flu deaths was pretty off-beam..
        Thanks for the link.

    • Creutzer says:

      This may be an area where the QA in QALY makes a huge difference. If COVID-19 has long-term sequelae like those found in SARS, let alone those anecdotally found with COVID-19 (lung damage that lasts well beyond the illness even ind milder cases; may yet heal, or maybe not), then the picture should look quite different.

  15. baconbits9 says:

    Things I’m watching in the market today

    1. Ratio of S&P to Nasdaq- one likely sign of a new wave down in markets is the Nasdaq dropping faster than the S&P. Some hints of that happening now with the Nasdaq down 2.4% and S&P down 2%, and QQQ down 2.5%.

    2. Oil prices. Paring losses in next month delivery makes this more likely to be viewed as a once off event, remaining down in next month and in Brent delivery means more concern about long term problems.

    3. 5 and 10 year Treasury rates, 5 year rate touched an all time low while the 10 year rate opened below the April 3rd lows (but not the all time low set in early March).

  16. EchoChaos says:

    Fun economic fact!

    Tuvalu was assigned the Top Level Domain .tv

    This is also the abbreviation for “television”, of course. Some large sites that use Tuvalu are,, etc.

    Tuvalu is a poor Pacific island nation, so they lease out .tv to all sorts of people, which is paid back to the government. Currently .tv is 10% of all Tuvalu government revenues, and the revenue from .tv is the only reason that Tuvalu was able to afford UN membership.

    • Lambert says:

      .io is the British Indian Ocean terrirory.

      But now it’s best known for games.

      • 205guy says:

        I wonder if any of that money is going to the natives removed from Diego Garcia, the naval base leased to the Americans:

        • Lambert says:

          No. The Gov’t doesn’t see any of that money.


          Asked by Lord Avebury

          To ask Her Majesty’s Government what if any financial arrangements they have with the Internet Computer Bureau which allow the latter to make money from the sale of dependent territory domain names.[HL1060]

          Lord Popat (Con): The British Government has no financial arrangement with the Internet Computer Bureau, which is the Domain Name Registrar or Network Information Centre for a number of domains including for some of the Overseas Territories.

    • Bobobob says:

      Too bad there’s no such thing as the Principate of Resplendent Nauru (PORN). That would have been some revenue stream.

      Come to think of it, PORN has four letters, and probably can’t be used as a web suffix, so my joke self-destructed.

      • gph says:

        There is a TLD (Top-Level Domain) for .porn

        All the Country based TLDs are two letters, but there’s no limit on how long the TLDs can be (within reason that is). A lot of the new ones are full words, like .accountant or .construction

        The newer TLDs usually cost more than regular old .com, and I don’t think users understand or trust them much yet so they haven’t seen wide adoption yet.

        • The Pachyderminator says:

          I suspect the high prices and lack of adoption are directly related. Yeah, the cost of a domain name is usually small compared to the total cost of developing and hosting a website, but the owners of a lot of novelty TLDs are being very optimistic about the marginal value of their product. It doesn’t help that the good domains within a TLD are often designated as “premium” for an even higher price, often hundreds of dollars a year.

          • matkoniecz says:

            I have seen reasonably priced novelty domains, but I was scared by prices suddenly getting higher in future.

            Yes, currently it costs 10$/year. But what I will do when it jumps to 10000$/year?

            Increasing prices of .com domain to gazillion/year would cause a massive outcry. Current unreasonable prices set by Verisign corporation are very profitable, but they limit themselves to prices that are not blatantly ridiculous.

            Increasing prices of .noveltydomainforhipsters to gazillion/year? Yeah, I and 3 other domain owners can either pay or lose our domains.

            Potential of extorting .org domain owners is quite a big story and maybe this currently happening takeover can be even stopped ( – domain was sold to a shell organization, Public Interest Registry nonprofit that held it is now abandoning its nonprofit status. This was done almost immediately after ” ICANN proposed an end to the price cap of .org domains[18] and effectively removed it in July in spite of having received 3,252 opposing comments and only six in favor.”)

            the cost of a domain name is usually small compared to the total cost of developing and hosting a website

            Also, some (my case) are very sensitive to costs. My site is hosted for free (sponsored by Microsoft), development was purely my time, 100% of monetary costs is a domain registration. In .com his cost is anyway not very noticeable but 100$/year would be ridiculous for my usecase.

          • NostalgiaForInfinity says:

            I seem to recall porn websites being reluctant to use .porn domains because it would make it very easy for ISPs to block them.

        • VoiceOfTheVoid says:
        • m.alex.matt says:

          All the Country based TLDs are two letters, but there’s no limit on how long the TLDs can be (

          I imagine there are technical limitations. Some commonly used device that only reserves a certain character count’s worth of memory for the TLD. “Sorry, .onetwothree is not allowed, we only allow eleven characters, otherwise people’s smartwatches shit the bed”, or something.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      The Union of the Comoros has got to be watching this situation with interest.

      • 205guy says:

        Not sure why. Comors is .km
        Columbia is .co

        • bullseye says:

          It’s “Komori” in the Comoros language.

          The real challenge is to guess why Switzerland is .ch (it’s not from any of their languages).

          • John Schilling says:

            Confederation Helvetica, because the entire nation is populated by very opinionated typography nerds. And the huge army isn’t for defense, it’s for the long-awaited crusade against the People’s Republic of Comic Sans and their Papyrian allies.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          Tough crowd.

  17. Deiseach says:

    I’m going to presume that Amazon in the US has something similar, but I got notification in my email today from Amazon UK about free stuff available from Amazon (Kindle ebooks, music, etc.)

  18. EchoChaos says:

    My feeling is that it is too CW. I was going to wait until tomorrow in the .25 thread to discuss it.

    Anything related to borders and Trump pretty much guarantees some level of CW.

  19. Bobobob says:

    So I’ve been thinking about this whole negatively-priced-oil thing. I was always under the impression that the lowest a price could drop was to zero. Isn’t a negative price just a bookkeeping trick to hide an inversion of the buyer/seller relationship? The oil producer is now the customer, and the oil consumer charges a price to take on the oil?

    Anyway, are there any other examples from history where the price of a commodity became negative? I imagine even Dutch tulips retained some value after that bubble burst, and I can’t picture any country paying to have its grain surplus toted away

    (I have a feeling people here are going to point me to stocks and bonds, but I’m more interested in examples of this phenomenon relating to Actual Solid Things.)

    • Lambert says:

      It’s less awkward to talk about selling rubbish to a dump for a negative price than buying the absence of rubbish off them for a positive price.

      Also if a thing you value is a ‘good’ and a thing you would pay to have taken away is a ‘bad’, does that make garbage trucks ‘heavy bads vehicles’?

      • Bobobob says:

        Something with actual intrinsic value is more what I had in mind. But that does raise an interesting question–does garbage have any actual intrinsic value? What if it’s burned for energy, for example?

        • Lambert says:

          Depends where it is.
          Garbage in an incinerator, yes.
          Garbage on my floor, no.
          Ore in a smelter, yes.
          Ore in a mountainside, no.
          Crude in a refinery, yes.
          Crude in a truck, no.

          Sometimes it costs less to get the stuff to where it’s useful than the value of the stuff. Sometimes it costs more.

          • Bobobob says:

            This could be a poem in The Atlantic.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Eh, that’s not correct. Two of the things you say don’t have value usually do. Mineral rights contracts and crude oil sales are ongoing at positive prices, just not in that one place.

            And ore in a smelter would easily go to negative price if you need it gone so that you can mothball the smelter. Likely the same thing with crude in a refinery.

          • Lambert says:

            Those mineral rights are only getting sold because it’s viable to extract those minerals.

            Ore that’s not economic to mine is just mud.

          • matkoniecz says:

            Ore in a mountainside, no.

            This is more tricky. Unmined ore economic to mine has value (mineral rights)/

            Crude in a truck, no.

            Except extreme cases (like currently in some location in USA) it has value.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            All that means is that “intrinsic value” is determined by the value of the end use minus the cost of production. The only difference between crude oil in a truck and crude oil before the first column in a refinery is the cost of transport and storage.

            Natural rubber dropped precipitously in value because the alternative synthetic rubber was superior in end use value and cost of production, not because its intrinsic properties changed.

            But that didn’t mean that finished natural rubber products didn’t lose relative value, because synthetic rubber was better. Finished or near finished goods aren’t intrinsically more valuable aside from having less cost to finish production.

        • Matt M says:

          When you need to get rid of your garbage, does someone pay to purchase it from you? Or do you pay them to take it away?

          “Product with negative value” is practically the definition of garbage!

        • baconbits9 says:

          My vague understanding is that this has happened in recycling markets a lot for things like cardboard. There is sometimes a price for recyclable cardboard and sometimes a cost to dump it depending on the costs of recycling and demand for the recycled products.

          • Matt M says:

            It also depends on the location and delivery methods.

            When I was a kid, we used to do “newspaper drives” for Cub Scouts, where we’d go door to door collecting old newspapers from people, and deliver them to a local recycler, who would pay us something for them.

            But that didn’t mean that most people got paid for old newspaper. Most people just threw it away or recycled it themselves with no monetary exchange involved.

            The recycler was only interested in paying for it if someone brought it right to their plant, in significant volume.

        • matkoniecz says:

          does garbage have any actual intrinsic value

          Most kinds of garbage has value, but lower than transport & collection cost.

          Scrap metal is a common exemption and is likely to be valuable, with some poor people earning money by extracting it from other trash. But in most cases other jobs are more profitable – though note ship breaking operations in poor countries.

          Paper has some value but it is often so low that it is not covering even transportation cost.

 (“cat dancing disease”)

          Japanese company managed to cause so significant mercury pollution that it setup subsidiary to mine it.

          It was caused by the release of methylmercury in the industrial wastewater from the Chisso Corporation’s chemical factory, which continued from 1932 to 1968.

          Pollution was so heavy at the mouth of the wastewater canal, a figure of 2 kg of mercury per ton of sediment was measured: a level that would be economically viable to mine. Indeed, Chisso did later set up a subsidiary to reclaim and sell the mercury recovered from the sludge.

          (and yes, there was a typical coverup, lies and refusal to compensate victims)

        • Garrett says:

          Potential philosophical point: the only things with intrinsic value are human beings, because they are the only beings which can value themselves. Everything else has a value placed on it by other agents. Precious metals may have a long and reliable history of holding value, but a change in extraction technology (see, potentially: Spanish Price Revolution) could cause the supply to increase and relative value to drop.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Everything else has a value placed on it by other agents.

            Philosophically the agents aren’t placing a value on the other things, they’re placing a value on their internal representation of their relationship to that thing (i.e. they value what they think about the thing).

    • Matt M says:

      If someone backed up a tanker truck to your house and said “Here’s 1,000 barrels of oil, how much will you pay me to take it off my hands, right here and right now?” how much would you offer to pay him?

      Given that you have no capacity to store oil in your backyard, or to move it to somewhere you could store it, I assume your offer would be $0, and you’d kindly ask him to leave.

      But let’s say you had previously entered into a contract promising to take delivery of this oil at your house on this day. Well now you have a problem. You’ll probably have to pay him to keep it. And that represents a negative price.

    • Byrel Mitchell says:

      It’s because these aren’t exactly Actual Solid Things that the price went negative. The price that went negative is for a future’s contract, which specifies that you MUST take possession of a barrel of oil on a particular day.

      If you have no place to store a barrel of oil, and most people shipping it are shut down due to quarantine, and the refineries incoming tanks are already full (because of reduced usage and shutdowns)… then being legally forced to take possession of a bunch of oil in a distant city is a huge negative. And you’re happy to pay someone a small amount to take that giant problem off your plate.

      • Bobobob says:

        OK, I think that gets to the heart of the matter, which wasn’t really resolved in the thread below (or most news headlines, for that matter). I was wondering if someone could have pulled up an empty tanker to an oil refinery yesterday and get paid $40 million to cart the stuff away. If we’re talking strictly futures contracts, then that wasn’t an option, and the negative price is more virtual than real.

        • baconbits9 says:

          OK, I think that gets to the heart of the matter, which wasn’t really resolved in the thread below (or most news headlines, for that matter). I was wondering if someone could have pulled up an empty tanker to an oil refinery yesterday and get paid $40 million to cart the stuff away. If we’re talking strictly futures contracts, then that wasn’t an option, and the negative price is more virtual than real.

          If you had enough capacity to fulfill one contract (at least) and could get it to the specified place of delivery in the time frame (sometime in May I think) then yes, you absolutely could have bought an oil contract, showed up with tankers and been paid to take it away.

          The issue is that there has been contango (futures prices higher for next month than for this month) for a few weeks/months now. If you had that spare capacity you could have already made a couple of bucks a barrel (more than enough typically to induce major players to participate) in arbitrage to buy oil, take delivery and sell a next month contract locking in a profit. Eventually storage filled up, which is part of the reason this breakdown happened. What has not been explained very well is why, given that potential negative price was an expected outcome for several months (yes I can link predictions of zero and negative price eventually from more than a month ago) did it suddenly go from $17 a barrel to zero to negative $40 in a day.

          • Bobobob says:

            I wonder if this situation was so unexpected that absolutely *nobody* made a killing. That would have been the $20 bill lying on the sidewalk, as John Schilling said below.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Some people were short those oil contracts, they made an absolute killing (for every contract there was a buyer and a seller).

          • John Schilling says:

            And lots of people made a small killing(*) buying cheap oil last week, which left them ill-positioned to make a bigger killing today. The $20 bill on the sidewalk is the combination of negatively-priced oil and an empty tanker truck to carry it off.

            * Contingent on oil prices recovering at least partially later this year.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            I don’t think that’s quite right.

            If I buy oil delivered today, and simultaneously sell a contract to deliver oil later, my small killing isn’t contingent on oil prices recovering. On net, oil prices recovering reduce my profit a tiny amount, as that is inflationary. Oil prices not recovering might even increase my take, as the buyer of the contract may even later pay me not to deliver.

            I am giving up the opportunity to buy oil for even less (as I’ve given up my storage capacity)

          • John Schilling says:

            If I buy oil delivered today, and simultaneously sell a contract to deliver oil later, my small killing isn’t contingent on oil prices recovering.

            Fair enough. Someone has to buy that contract for oil delivered later, so to make a killing there has to be a reasonably broad belief that oil prices will recover, but you can structure it so that you don’t have to believe that and lock in your profits ahead of the (possibly illusory) recovery.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:

            Someone has to buy that contract for oil delivered later, so to make a killing there has to be a reasonably broad belief that oil prices will recover

            Well sure, but that belief of others is captured in the price of the futures contracts that are currently trading. You don’t need to believe anything at all about the future price at all, you only need to believe you can take delivery of and store oil at (substantially less than) the difference of the two prices.

            It’s precisely the non-negotiable nature of these futures contracts that is causing the current price to be negative. The risk of not being able to deliver in the future is roughly the risk of the buyer becoming insolvent. That’s not a non-negative risk, but it’s not the same as believing price won’t suffer further downward pressure.

        • Chalid says:

          You could have been paid to take actual physical oil away from Cushing, Oklahoma, yesterday. This wouldn’t work anywhere else in the world.

    • Deiseach says:

      Okay, stupid question time.

      With the price of oil being a negative number now, is this the post-scarcity future we were promised?

      Because I remember seeing old publicity for nuclear power generation, one selling point being “electricity too cheap to meter!”

      Well, now we have oil so cheap that technically the producer will pay us to use it. Why am I not seeing loud exclamations of joy about how this will make home heating, electricity, and consumer goods so much cheaper because now the energy costs will be miniscule? Creativity and wealth for everybody – now even a peasant in the Third World can access cheap-as-dirt energy!

      I realise that there’s a lot of “Yeah but you’re forgetting the costs already baked in that it took to extract and process that oil” and “Businesses have to make a profit on what they make/supply” and “Overheads mean that the price is always going to be more”.

      Yes, and those concerns aren’t present in the post-scarcity paradise? It just struck me that for all our rhapsodising about what it will be like when Fairy Godmother AI reifies production so that robots do all the labour and we all have our own set of robots and we are all going to be rich from the magic beans, that today we have a resource that is necessary (so far) for our entire industrialised economy and it’s so cheap it’s almost being given away for free, and there is a conspicuous lack of “yippee, we’re all gonna be rich gentlepersons of leisure!”

      • John Schilling says:

        With the price of oil being a negative number now, is this the post-scarcity future we were promised?

        No, this is very much the scarcity present. Specifically, the scarcity of empty tanker railcars in Cushing, Oklahoma. “Negative price for oil” is the market equivalent of a positive bid for more tanker cars delivered to Oklahoma ASAP. Or for space to be opened up in storage tanks connected by pipeline to Oklahoma, or whatever. All things in scarce supply at the moment.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Oil is collapsing for several reasons, but the primary reason is the crash in demand. It’s only free because people aren’t allowed to use it.

      • The Nybbler says:

        With the price of oil being a negative number now, is this the post-scarcity future we were promised?

        The only reason the price of oil is negative is the men with guns won’t allow us to do most of the things that use it. So no post-scarcity society; the scarcity is just being enforced by fiat rather than price. If that lets up, the price of oil will quickly increase again.

        • albatross11 says:

          Some of the crash in demand is from men with guns forbidding use of fuel, but I think a large chunk of that crash is people no longer wanting to use it. The travel industry was getting clobbered before anyone locked down–airline and hotel reservations cratered a couple weeks before the first lockdowns–because people were afraid of getting sick or bringing the virus back home to their families. The middle of a pandemic is a hard time to sell airline tickets, cruises, beach vacations, trips to the amusement park, etc. Repeat that all over the world, and you get a crash in demand for oil. Also, isn’t there some kind of price war thing happening with Saudi Arabia?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Commuting wouldn’t be down _nearly_ as much without the men with guns. The travel industry was getting clobbered, but they likely would have lowered prices and catered to risk-tolerant bargain hunters (keep in mind that there were cruises that continued to run, with passengers, _after_ Diamond Princess). If the beaches weren’t closed, beach vacations wouldn’t be down nearly as much. There’s no doubt you’d get some drop in demand, but the men with guns are what drive it as low as it is and prevent bargain pricing from bringing it back up.

          • Matt M says:

            And note that as I’ve said elsewhere, the men with guns wouldn’t bother showing up and enforcing any of this stuff it they thought it would happen voluntarily on its own anyway.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Matt M

            You underestimate the enjoyment the men with guns get from enforcing stuff whether or not we’re following it generally.

          • Matt M says:


            But I think a lot of other people underestimate the risk tolerance of the average American.

            You know what lots of Americans do on the weekends? Ride dirt bikes. Without helmets. For fun. While drinking beer in the hot sun.

            Those people aren’t staying home because they’re scared of COVID. They aren’t even considering it.

            Just because grey-tribe rationalist SSCers mostly know people who started self-quarantining back in late February doesn’t mean the American public is anywhere near that level of terrified of this thing – even after two months of non-stop journalistic assault insisting that they have to be…

          • HeelBearCub says:

            An unexpected, immediate 50% drop in demand is devastating to most industries. It’s not, however, sufficient to get the benefits of reducing R0 enough to matter.

            So, you should probably consider that “the economy would be sucking right now [just less]” and “the lockdowns are necessary” can be both true at the same time.

      • ana53294 says:

        This is more like how when Germany produces excess electricity due to solar/wind, they pay their neighbours to take it, because electricity is dangerous and you’re better off paying to get rid of excess. Oil you can’t store safely is dangerous, and burning pure oil is a risky proposition.

    • EchoChaos says:

      The US government is going to step in and fully fill the national reserve, which is a bit of a final backstop, although we will now be at full capacity in the reserve.

      Which is right when we should do it, but we really are running out of storage capacity.

    • Incurian says:

      Regarding confusion about “value,” it may help to distinguish the naive “trade value” or “use value” from marginal utility.

      In our next portion from Menger, our author expands upon the concept of marginal utility—the idea that separates the classical economists like Marx and Smith from modern economists. Of course, as we have seen, marginal utility itself arises from the very idea of subjective value. Because all economic value originates in the minds of various subjects, and because those subjects act in order to fulfil their perceived needs, certain implications follow about the way people actually make their economic decisions. For one thing, people act on their most urgently felt needs first. And because all economic goods are scarce, economic actors must ration resources to satisfy as many needs as possible. When confronted with a series of goods with the same character, people must establish how much they value each particular unit of that good. Because additional units cannot continue to fulfil the same level of need, the value of any particular unit corresponds to the most urgent but as yet unmet need we may use that additional unit of the good to satisfy. In Menger’s revolutionary terminology, we may find the secret to value theory at the margins.

      Water is normally so abundant that we have virtually innumerable units available at our command, but lost in the desert we might find ourselves in very short supply. Our normal needs for water are met so easily that we value each additional unit of water at a very low level—but in the Atacama Desert (the driest place on Earth), an additional jug of water may make the difference between life and death. In either case, the individual values the water based on the uses they could put the next bit of water toward. If in reality—the actual circumstances of real people’s real lives—a bit of extra water will neither increase your chances of survival nor even quench a thirst, then it is worthless.

      Diamonds have no bearing on human survival, though, and yet they command high prices for exchange. You can’t eat them, you can’t drink them if you’re burning up in the desert, and many of us don’t even find them attractive. The marginal value of each additional diamond in the middle of the desert is extraordinarily low precisely because more important concerns press down upon the economic actor in question. They must revaluate goods based on the real conditions of their life and cause events to unfold such that their needs are met. If you are on the streets of London, New York, or Antwerp, you’ll find it quite easy to quench your thirst and indeed, extra water is usually a burden rather than a blessing. Diamonds, though—those rest at the margins of the goods available to most people; and the more base needs we have met, the higher we are able to value goods unrelated to survival. High market prices, then, do not correspond to the relative importance of a good to human survival. Rather, prices represent the very edges of what we want in life, the constant interchange between producers and consumers, and they will tend to flatten out as time goes on, needs are met, and production expands.


    • Vitor says:

      I have an example, but it’s not strictly speaking a commodity. The prices for shipping a container from port x to port y are occasionally negative.

      This is because there are a bunch of surcharges not unlike in passenger air travel. For example the shipping company might charge $500 fuel surcharge per container (the amount depends on what the ports x and y are). So even if the base price were -$100, the total amount of money changing hands is still $400. This makes sense because a fuel surcharge that is itemized separately allows the shipping company to engage in long-term contracts (which fix the base price), while still being able to pass on the highly volatile costs of fuel to the buyers.

      Even so, a negative base price fundamentally cannot be enough to cover the direct operating costs (assuming the fuel surcharge accurately reflects real expenses, which it does). But what makes it work is that most x, y pairs of ports have a very strong directionality of demand, with 80% of paying customers wanting to ship in the same direction (lets say x -> y). When dealing with the rare customer who actually wants to ship in the y -> x direction, the alternative for the shipping company is not refusing the sale and making 0 profit, it’s refusing the sale and then incurring the cost of shipping back an empty container, because that container is urgently needed at x.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Shipping containers themselves have, at times, had negative value. After trade collapsed in 2008, ports had piles of empty shipping containers on which they were paying insurance and were happy to give them away free. I don’t know stories of negative price, but that’s probably just because 0 is a Schelling fence / transaction costs of bargaining.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Are there long-term oil contracts? Matt Levine’s news letter made me think that the only way someone could buy oil for 30 years from now was to buy a one-month oil future contract and then roll it over 30*12 times.

      • baconbits9 says:

        You can buy oil futures contracts more than a year out for sure.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Southwestern, rather famously, solidified its existence by making very long term future aviation fuel contract purchases and reaped the reward of being able to maintain low prices in the face of rising present fuel costs.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Not as dramatic as yesterday but a lot of oil price action here today.

      May contract (expiring today) has climbed all the way up to 9 bucks a barrel, but June futures have dropped to meet them currently sitting at ~ $10 a barrel a 50% decline. Brent crude June futures have also been dragged down to under $20 a barrel for a ~27% decline here.

  20. Yair says:

    Can anyone recommend some resources/web pages/faqs/articles that can be used to de-brainwash an anti-vaxxer? Is it possible?

    I normally wouldn’t bother, but an ex-student of mine seems to have gone quite far into that rabbit hole and she is a good person …

    • Leafhopper says:

      Maybe unrealistic, but actual study of the science involved?

      My priors make me a pro-vaxxer, but I am averse to trusting the supposed expert consensus on some other issues, like [DATA EXPUNGED], so I could easily understand her ignoring non-scientists/media outlets/simple summaries.

    • Matt M says:

      The first step is to adopt a worldview in which people who disagree with you might not necessarily be “brainwashed,” and that their disagreement is not treated as evidence that they might be a bad person.

      • Well... says:

        I agree with this pretty hard. I would add that with stuff like anti-vaxxing or flat-earth or whatever else, a big draw is the sense of community and kinship afforded by going down these rabbit holes where the one thing everyone shares in common is a belief they’re ridiculed (or worse) for. (For all I know it might be what those people are really seeking — rather than “the truth” — in the first place.) So, it’s kind of a non-starter to frame the disagreement as “you’ve been brainwashed way over there and you ought to leave and come way over here”.

    • Well... says:

      I’m not all that familiar with the anti-vaxxer thing. I can think of, or am aware of, several possible objections to vaccines…

      1. The vaccines are claimed to produce, or potentially produce, undesirable secondary effects (most notoriously, autism) and this is seen as an unacceptable risk.

      2. The vaccines are mandatory, which is seen as a big encroachment upon one’s personal (bodily) rights/freedom.

      3. The vaccines are claimed to not actually protect the recipient from a given virus, and/or not actually contribute to herd immunity.

      As far as I’m aware, anti-vaxxers prioritize these objections in approximately the order I listed, and for all I know they might not ever make claim #3 at all.

      My understanding is that there isn’t 100% scientific consensus on #1, and there are inherent complexities in terms of how the relevant data is collected and measured that further obscure conclusions. Being honest about this might be disarming to your student and allow you to impart (either directly or through resources) that the smart money is still on “vaccines probably in most if not all cases do not cause autism”.

      #2 is a tough one, and might come down to a personal decision to make a small sacrifice (regularly get an injection) for the sake of the wider society around you. I don’t know how highly correlated anti-vaxxers are with people who don’t believe in wearing facemasks, but there’s a clear analogy there. But you could also analogize to speed limits or something.

      #3 is probably the simplest to debunk. We’ve known vaccines work for well over 100 years. We eradicated polio and smallpox with them. We know enough about the human immune system to explain exactly how they work. (Although for all I know if you go down the anti-vaxxer rabbit hole they’ve explained this away as hoaxes and cover-ups or something…)

      ETA: The biggest hurdle when having a discussion like this is probably finding evidence you both agree is valid, and agree on how to interpret, even if you disagree at first on what conclusions the evidence points to. Focus on that first.

      • albatross11 says:

        ISTR that when people looked, they did not find an increase in autism associated with the particular vaccine (MMR) that had the autism scare associated with it. Maybe looking up those studies would help.

        I mean, vaccines aren’t inherently safe–they can be screwed up in ways that make their patients sick. Regulators in the US and Europe mostly seem to do a decent job preventing those problems, but probably that’s done less by extreme competence than by having the slider bar all the way over on the “prevent bad outcomes” side, and all the way on the other side from the “let people have treatments that will help them” side.

        • Lambert says:

          When they looked, didn’t they find that Wakefield being paid off by parents of autistic kids who were looking for compensation or something? Stipped him of his medical license and everything.

          • NostalgiaForInfinity says:

            Yes. The fact that one of the heroes of the modern anti-vaccination movement is guilty of the exact conflict of interest they accuse pharmaceutical companies of is ironic.

          • broblawsky says:

            And Wakefield was trying to market an alternative vaccine to the existing MMR vaccine when he published his infamous study.

      • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

        My understanding is that there isn’t 100% scientific consensus on #1, and there are inherent complexities in terms of how the relevant data is collected and measured that further obscure conclusions. Being honest about this might be disarming to your student and allow you to impart (either directly or through resources) that the smart money is still on “vaccines probably in most if not all cases do not cause autism”.

        The problem with phrasing like that, is that you can accurately say that for any medical intervention and any side effect you dream up. Are we 100% certain that…penicillin doesn’t increase the risk of breast cancer? I doubt there even is relevant data. But there’s no reason to specifically think it would. To steal a quote from Eliezer’s 37 Ways That Words Can Be Wrong:

        Well, I haven’t the slightest shred of support one way or the other for who could’ve murdered those orphans… but have we considered John Q. Wiffleheim as a suspect?

        You might still be right in that those rhetorical techniques may be more likely to get anti-vaxxers to listen to you.

        • Well... says:

          That’s my point. Inasmuch as anti-vaxxers are anti-vaxxers because they seek truth (rather than a tribe) a large component of it might be their being put off by the absolutist and authoritarian language coming from certain journalists, lay pro-vaxxers, representatives of the medical establishment, etc.

          • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

            I think the issue is, there’s another contingent of people who will pounce on any expression of uncertainty and say things like, “The things you’re trying to peddle as facts are only theories, you admitted it yourself! Despite all your studies, you can’t even say with certainty that the vaccines you’re claiming are safe won’t seriously hurt us!”

            ETA: Though for an intelligent student, I wouldn’t expect much of that in response to a genuine attempt to convey the current state of the evidence and our small amount of uncertainty.

          • Well... says:

            If someone flat out doesn’t want to be convinced then it doesn’t matter. But if they have at least a somewhat open mind, then the best response is probably something like

            “Yes, this is what being honest sounds like. You’re used to people puffing up their feathers and claiming 100% certainty about vaccines, and I don’t blame you for being skeptical as a result. But I’m not going to posture like that. The way we know things well enough to act on them in a sane manner isn’t by being 100% certain, because 100% certainty is impossible. Instead it’s by being 99% certain while acknowledging there’s a chance we might be wrong so that our minds are reasonably open and we can dispassionately review new evidence if it comes along. Right now, most of the best evidence seems to say we should all get vaccinated. We do, and it seems to work. I don’t reject you or think less of you if you disagree. We can still be friends.”

    • Deiseach says:

      (1) History of immunisation, variolation, and vaccination. Start with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, a concerned mother:

      Variolation used live smallpox virus in the pus taken from a smallpox blister in a mild case of the disease and introduced it into scratched skin of a previously uninfected person to promote immunity to the disease. Lady Mary’s brother had died of smallpox in 1713, and her own famous beauty had been marred by a bout with the disease in 1715.

      Lady Mary was eager to spare her children, thus, in March 1718 she had her nearly five-year-old son, Edward, inoculated with the help of Embassy surgeon Charles Maitland. On her return to London, she enthusiastically promoted the procedure, but encountered a great deal of resistance from the medical establishment, because it was an Oriental folk treatment process.

      (2) Go into the whole “mercury is present in vaccines” and explain how no, we’re not injecting babies with heavy metals

      (3) Go into the history of pre-vaccination diseases. The polio epidemic is a good one, it’s recent enough to have plenty of easily available documentation online. Show her pictures of iron lungs and ask how she’d like to spend the rest of her life in one.

      (4) Science, but not too much – try to avoid swamping her with “and experts say so because!!!!” Louis Pasteur was not a fool (and seemingly not such a plaster saint as later hagiography made him – cf Wikipedia “Although Pasteur made groundbreaking experiments, his reputation became associated with various controversies. Historical reassessment of his notebook revealed that he practiced deception to overcome his rivals”). He was a hard-headed, practical Frenchman who applied his theories and discoveries to agricultural production and made demonstrable, evidential, progress. We pasteurise our foods because of him. Animals and plants are not humans and if they can provably flourish by using his techniques, by a comparison of ‘before and after’, then the same principles hold true for humans.

      (5) Admit the bad stuff. Yes, some people will have bad reactions to vaccination. Yes, for some people, they would have been better off not getting vaccinated. But the majority of people are benefited by it, and the outcomes of the pre-vaccination world show how much worse life for humanity would be without widespread vaccination.

    • Oldio says:

      Can I ask what kind of anti-vaxxer?
      Social conservatives who are concerned about fetal tissue use in vaccines or HPV vaccines are a different crowd from new agers.

      • Filareta says:

        But isn’t only in some specific vaccines?

        • Oldio says:

          Depends on how you define fetal tissue, but IIRC if you have a broad enough definition most of them can be connected to abortion in some way, shape, or form.

    • matkoniecz says: looks pretty good. For example (when I heard about vaccine causing narcolepsy I was ready to classify it as a hoax, turns out to be true).

      But it would not help with people smoking cigarettes while complaining about government poisoning them with chemtrails.

    • AG says:

      Ask her directly what sort of evidence it would take for her to change her mind. And then provide a mechanism for her to save face if she does so.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        This is good advice.

        It’s really easy to dunk on someone with wrong ideas.

        It’s super hard to actually persuade them to change their views. You need to think carefully about how to give them an off-ramp.

        You are working on de-radicalizing someone. It’s hard work but it can be worth it.

    • noyann says:

      The thing is, you probably have to get a minimum of statistic thinking into a directly-linked-cause thinker.

      Take a graphical approach to explain the principle.
      Draw two areas filled with smileys (say, 50 x 50) to represent people, side by side, label them not vaccinated and vaccinated.
      In field not vaccinated, a fraction of the people are ‘ill from that disease’ (unhappy smileys), and a fraction of that, are ‘dead from that disease’ (crossed-out eyes). In field vaccinated go also some ‘ill from that disease’ and ‘dead from that disease’, but their numbers are much smaller.[*]
      Then explain that homo sapiens so far has not found a way to predict on an individual level which smiley you are. But with certainty you can shift someone, by vaccination, from group not vaccinated to group vaccinated. Which group do you want your child in?

      [*] ETA: Of course there will be also ‘ill from vaccination’ and even ‘dead from vaccination’, but more in terms of a tiny fraction of a smiley.

      After that, you can show numbers what happened when large numbers of people shifted into group vaccinated. Some graphics:

      I’d completely leave out debunking frauds, myths, etc, unless it is brought up by your student. Confusing details will detract from the main message. In my experience, most anti-vaxxers were people following the loudest expressed opinion in search for safety from uncertainty and unable to do deeper scientific reasoning for themselves — a social conformity heuristic.

    • Purplehermann says:

      Is it possible? Only if she is really interested in understanding the world, respects you as a person and your ability to understand the subject, is willing to discuss, and all the above applies to you as well imo.
      If she squirms away from having a rational discussion, if she isn’t willing to follow thoughts to their conclusion, it’s a lost cause.

      How? Same as changing someone’s mind on anything else, take things they agree with, get them to see how those things don’t work so well with what you want to convince them of.

      Here are some that might help.

      Direct attention to effects on deaths (of children especially) over the years. Read up on smallpox, polio with her.
      Point out all the testing of vaccines going on now, despite being able to rush one and open the economy back up (and that this how governments all over the world are acting), just to make sure the vaccine is safe.

      There have been RCTs to check for damage caused by materials in vaccines designed with anti-vaxxers, look for those and read them together.

      Talk to her about how many people she knows who have been vaccinated, and how the vast majority are just fine, so vaccines probably don’t automatically cause autism or whatever issue.

      Listen to the things she says, and actually consider them, understand and try to steel man them – if you devalue her opinion a priori and you aren’t an authority on the subject, she would be right to ignore you. Truly strive for truth based on the information available to you, with her.

      (Note that vaccines can and do cause serious damage – allergic reactions etc.. can kill, but it’s not an issue that most have and is well worth it for society and usually the individual from what i remember. If this comes up look at relative risks)

  21. Kaitian says:

    In Germany, the positions on corona and the lockdown seem to split a bit differently. Of the six big parties:

    – AfD: the far right party has not said anything specific about corona, and has promised to cooperate with the other parties in this crisis.
    – Linke: the far left party has been conspicuously wearing masks in parliament. The only far left governor in the country has instituted mandatory masks in public despite not having many cases in his sparsely polulated Land. Commentators say these guys love conforming with public health measures and austerity due to habits formed under east German socialism.
    – CDU: the centrist right ruling party has gone all in on being the loving parental state that will gently guide you towards health and well being. Science and maths are used to explain policies, and smiling, healthy strong men deliver messages of solidarity and reasonable restrictions. People seem to love it.
    – SPD: the centrist left party, I haven’t heard much from them. They’re asking for more money for people losing their jobs, which is about what I’d expect.
    – Greens: they are somewhat eager to distance themselves from the idea that corona is good for the climate. They also protest that we should be accepting more refugees in the crisis (because Greek refugee camps are a very bad place to be in a pandemic). To be clear, that’s “more” compared to the restrictions under lockdown, not “more” compared to business as usual.
    – FDP: the libertarian-ish party is complaining about lockdowns and constantly asking for reassessment of what measures are really needed. Their statements focus on loss of civil liberties, though opponents suspect they just want to keep the stock market from tanking. Most people on this board would probably agree with these libertarians, but the public seems to be displeased for the most part.

    Overall, political partisanship has not received much attention in this crisis, most people seem to agree with the quarantine. Being close to Italy and seeing the images from there may have a lot to do with that. Of course there’s a lizardman’s constant of people protesting, but they seem to be evenly split between “help more refugees” and “protect civil liberties”, and do comply with police restrictions on the form of protest (no more than 50 people, keeping distance from each other and from bystanders).

    I’m mildly curious what will happen to the traditional leftist protests on May 1st, but I expect they’ll just be cancelled without complaining.

    • Reasoner says:

      Do you recommend moving to Germany? Seems like a well run country.

      (I’m an American. I hear you guys are telling derisive jokes about us nowadays.)

      • Kaitian says:

        I’d recommend it. It’s a nice place overall. Though places like New Zealand or Denmark might be even nicer in the same way.

        The same people who have always disliked the US now have some new reasons to do it. But many still like the US and copy things from there. Electing Trump did hurt your reputation a lot…

        • Robin says:

          US government approval rates in Germany are among the lowest in the world. And Germans can be blunt, and some don’t have a politics-discussion taboo like the US. So there would be some jokes or comments. (That’s just one part of the culture shock.) But I believe the negative view of US politics does not hurt the image of Americans who come to visit. It was similar back in the George W. Bush era.

          For moving, yes Denmark, but also the other Scandinavian countries, or Switzerland, might have a slightly better life.

          • Lambert says:

            I wonder how much of that is opposition to US military bases like Ramstein.

            There were plenty of stickers on lampposts (a good barometer of leftwing thought) calling them unconstitutional and demanding that they be shut down.

          • Loriot says:

            I recall when I visited Germany in 2014 (during the campaign season for the upcoming elections), I was shocked at how pro-Russia the leftist posters seemed to be.

          • Robin says:

            About Ramstein: I don’t really think this is so much of an issue. People who are against western integration and are unhappy with the general situation (a very German feeling, which makes this sentence a very German joke), will also complain about Ramstein, and international-law-breaching drone attacks conducted from there. Not sure how Ramstein’s neighbours are feeling, weighing the economic boost from the base against the environmental impact and military convoy traffic jams. Other than that, I’d say this is not the reason for anti-american sentiments in Germany.

            Pro-Russian leftist posters in 2014: I’m surprised, considering that was the year of the Crimea annexation, discussions about the Olympic winter games, Pussy Riot was still fresh, and things like that. I’d like to see examples of those posters, but I kind of doubt you took photos back then…

            PS: Back to the original issue of political parties: The governing parties are the big winners of corona.

        • Reasoner says:

          Yes. There are many nice countries… Switzerland, Singapore, the Netherlands, etc. However I feel there’s something to be said for a global military power.

          I suppose my US citizenship covers that base though?

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          Electing Trump did hurt your reputation a lot…

          The sneers have changed very little, I’ve found.

  22. blumenko says:

    Re: survive v thrive. People don’t even have remote consistency. All that matters is ingroup v outgroup. For example I have seen leftist gays arguing that protesters should not be given medical attention if they get ill and it would “thin the herd.” I don’t think they have thought through what such an attitude towards those with preventable infectious diseases would mean for them.

  23. Yair says:

    I did not know this was even possible.

    “US crude fell to negative value for first time in history as stockpiles overwhelmed storage facilities, before rebounding to just over $1 on Tuesday”

    • Kaitian says:

      Apparently it is the case that in some specific locations, pre paid deliveries of oil are arriving, but storage tanks are already full. So the people who ordered the oil are paying others to take it off their hands. Everywhere else, the oil price is really low (but still above 0), so the average price is negative.
      Sadly, we’re not going to get negative gas prices at the petrol station.

      • Yair says:

        That makes sense.

        Surely it couldn’t e all that hard to build more storage though? How hard can it be?

        • viVI_IViv says:

          How hard can it be?

          Go and build one.

          • Well... says:

            Go and build one.

            If you asked an innocent question in good faith, I’ll bet you wouldn’t find it helpful if someone responded to you like that.

        • Chalid says:

          It’s not hard to build storage, but it is hard to build storage with one day’s notice in the one particular town in Oklahoma that happens to be where people’s contracts are making them deliver the oil.

          Other oil contracts with other delivery terms are not blowing up. And they won’t, because from now on people will be prepared.

          • Garrett says:

            How much of this is a challenge in the sense of “need sheet metal and welders” and how much in the sense of “EPA environmental impact studies and other compliance paperwork”?

          • Matt M says:

            And even if it wasn’t that “hard”, it still might not be economical to do so.

            Whether or not you should build oil storage tanks is mainly a factor of your long-term economic outlook for oil storage, not a short term panic decision based on taking an immediate financial hit on a bad wallstreetbet you made…

          • baconbits9 says:

            Other oil contracts with other delivery terms are not blowing up. And they won’t, because from now on people will be prepared.

            Don’t speak to soon. June contracts for WTI dropped close to 50% overnight at one point and were down 25%, Brent was down 23% a few mins ago.

            The WTI delivery was just the first major area to run out of storage space, world wide production is in the 20-30 million bpd range above current consumption and the Opec cuts scheduled for next month are only ~ 1/3-1/2 that surplus, so eventually without an increase in demand the other storage options will fill and the same issue will crop up in other areas.

            It remains to be seen how much of the overnight price action is liquidation of assets, I bet that is a significant amount but I doubt it is all. This even will effect all oil markets for several years.

    • Chalid says:

      This is a case where terms matter. “US Crude” is not a single thing – it has different values at different locations, different conditions, and different times.

      We benchmark “US crude oil” as the price for delivery at a particular town in Oklahoma, at particular times, and say that what we see happening there is going to be reasonably representative of what’s happening in the overall US market. Normally that’s good enough, but that just broke down yesterday – the town couldn’t accept any more oil on short notice.

      You can note that the rest of the financial system’s oil-linked stuff was mostly fine – oil producer’s stocks didn’t collapse, European oil contacts didn’t collapse, etc. There are undoubtably some people with derivatives bets that are getting really badly burned, though (and conversely some that got very rich).

      I’d guess that the futures contract might get reworked in the future to make delivery terms more flexible and avoid this sort of thing happening. But I’m no expert.

      • meh says:

        why is the producer on the hook if they cant take delivery?

        • John Schilling says:

          Because even in West Texas, they’re not allowed to just dump oil on the ground. It’s coming up out of their wells, they don’t have anyplace to store it either, and if they just shut down the wells the oil in their pipes will congeal into an ungodly mess that would cost them real money to clear out when they’re ready to start production again.

    • meh says:

      what are the ripple effects here? why is this bad for anyone other than oil producers?

      • matkoniecz says:

        It is also bad for anyone producing something competing with oil (electric cars etc).

        It is also an indicator of economy dying, what is bad for everybody.

        • meh says:

          Makes sense that it could be an indicator, but is it causal to any significant degree?

          • matkoniecz says:

            With cheaper petrol anyone making electric cars will have more trouble to sell them. At least in cases where buyers were concerned about upkeep costs. It is caused by internal combustion cars becoming cheaper to run with cheaper petrol.

            Also anything produced for and consumed by oil producers will go down.

            Not sure how important is price of oil in production of plastics, other products and in energy production.

            It is kind of ridiculous claim (and likely unverifiable), but extreme indicators may cause decisions making situation even worse.

          • Matt M says:

            Not sure how important is price of oil in production of plastics, other products and in energy production.

            Most plastics are produced not directly from crude oil itself, but from “associated gases” that come along with most crude production.

            The price for these gases mostly correlates with crude, but not perfectly. Plastic producers should see their input costs mostly fall, but it’s reasonably likely their end customers will demand reductions in the price of plastic itself to compensate.

            I don’t suspect any of these developments will have a large effect on the margins/profits enjoyed by plastic companies (many of which are subsidiaries of large oil companies already anyway).

          • Jake R says:

            I work for a plastics company. Our primary feedstock is ethane, which I believe is usually separated out from natural gas rather than crude oil. I admit I’m not familiar with that part of the process. The ethane is steam cracked to form ethylene, which is then polymerized to make polyethylene. Ethylene is also reacted with chlorine gas to form dichloroethane which is cracked and polymerized to make PVC.

            Currently we have reduced rates and temporarily shut down one unit due to reduced demand projections.

        • albatross11 says:

          It’s an indicator of a dormant economy. How much stays dead when we open back up is not clear–I’m pretty sure it will be many years before cruise lines recover, but even with added social distancing and more people working from home, I’m pretty sure everyone will want to gas up their car again regularly when the lockdowns end.

  24. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Continued from the last OT:

    Nobody ever used teleport [in D&D] for ground level targets, that would be insane risk taking, the standard approach was to only use teleport in conjunction with feather-fall or flight, and target the sky above where you wanted to go. Which also meant teleport was actually a spell for “Travel to the general vicinity of anything”, not for breaching fortifications – porting inside a fortress would always be insanely dangerous, but travel to a city you have only heard just enough rumors about to be sure it a: exists, and b: to tell apart from other random cities is as safe as travel to your childhood home, because in either case, you are aiming at empty skies.

    Makes sense.
    This reinforces the idea that underground fortifications would replace castles for controlling territory. Wizard towers could be above-ground protrusions of subterranean fortifications that act as combination watchtowers, places to take in the sun, observatories for astronomy, etc. for a class of landowning elites.
    On that note, the original Dungeons & Dragons wilderness map had 18 surface forts on a map 180 miles on a side (so about the square miles of Czechia), divided equally between towers, fortified temples and Fighter castles. Those castles don’t seem so secure, though at least they were cited as having trebuchets with birdshot to aim at flyers, and a 25% chance of tame flyers in the form of 1-6 griffons or 1-4 rocs, ridden by Heroes (4th level Fighters). If only it was 100%, perhaps we could justify these as pre-industrial airfields requiring a non-flammable wall and moat against lesser hostiles?

    Heck, having brought that up, I should cite the whole thing, since it gets weirder:

    d6 – Occupant & Types of Guards/Retainers in Castle
    1. Lord (9+ level fighter) with: 1. 1-8 Champions (7th level fighters), 2. 1-6 Griffons (with 4th-level fighter riders), 3. 1-10 Myrmidons (6th level fighters), 4. 1-4 Giants

    2. Superhero (8th level fighter) with: 1. 1-8 Myrmidons (6th level fighters), 2. 1-4 Rocs (6 HD lawful giant eagles, with 4th level fighter riders), 3. 1-4 Ogres, 4. 1-10 Swashbucklers (5th level fighters)

    3. Wizard (11+ level magic-user) with: 1. 1-4 Dragons (any alignment), 2. 1-4 Balrogs (chaotic), 3. 1-4 Wyverns (neutral), 4. 1-4 Basilisks (chaotic)

    4. Necromancer (10th level magic-user) with: 1. 1-4 Chimeras (neutral or chaotic), 2. 1-6 Manticores (chaotic), 3. 1-12 Lycanthropes (any alignment), 4. 1-12 Gargoyles (chaotic)

    5. Patriarch (lawful 8+ level cleric) with (d4): 1. 1-20 Heroes (4th level fighters), 2. 1-6 Superheroes (8th level fighters), 3. 1-10 Ents, 4. 1-8 Hippogriffs (with Hero riders)

    6. Evil High Priest (chaotic 8+ level cleric) with (d4): 1. 1-10 Trolls, 2. 1-6 Vampires, 3. 1-20 White Apes, 4. 1-10 Spectres

    So that’s a 25% or higher chance of an air wing for the other stronghold types too, among other weirdness (a 10th level Mage loses all their monster retainers and new ones appear when they level up?).

    • littskad says:

      For warfare purposes, would the amount of losses inherent in teleporting a reasonable quantity of troops directly into such underground fortresses be considered acceptable for the expected gains? What about teleporting ravening beasts, or fragile vials of poisonous gas, or even just a few tons of gravel? If teleporting a living being into solid rock is bad, wouldn’t teleporting solid rock into a living being be bad, too? How expensive is teleporting?

      • Phigment says:

        Depending on the version of D&D in use, you’re looking at casualties of 40% to 75% on the teleportation subjects.

        That’s pretty harsh. And each attempt takes a 5th level spell slot per person, which means you need a pretty hoss magic user to do any teleporting in the first place, and more than a handful of teleports per day is right out. Each teleport spell takes 50 minutes to memorize.

        The logistics of teleporting large amounts of combatants just don’t work out well. And small numbers of elite combatants are exactly the people you don’t want to risk instantly killing.

        If you found a ravenous beast that was really dangerous but you didn’t mind it dying randomly, you could probably try the Galaxy Quest gambit, but it’s pretty low odds of paying off.

        Teleporting non-people objects wasn’t supported by the base spell, so no barrels of poison or binary explosive components.

        • matkoniecz says:

          Is it viable to teleport cows adorned with barrels of a cheap poison?

          Or bred/buy extremely large but cheap creatures and teleport them to target?

          Teleporting living being into a living being should be bad for both, right?

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            Any sensibly designed underground fasthold in dnd is has air-tight partitions due to the other night-mare warfare spell that is cloudkill. (and alchemy). Building a door that seals if you can build actually hidden doors not being very difficult. Also, such a fasthold can be quite easily be made very, very large since there are any number of creatures and spells with very silly excavation abilities. The odds of hitting something important at random are.. not great.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Any sensibly designed underground fasthold in dnd is has air-tight partitions due to the other night-mare warfare spell that is cloudkill. (and alchemy).

            “Water barriers were often used to protect the tunnels from gas.”

            Also, such a fasthold can be quite easily be made very, very large since there are any number of creatures and spells with very silly excavation abilities.

            Wait, could you unpack that?

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            “Summon Dire Badger” + commune with animals is utterly and completely broken for tunneling purposes.
            So is Awaken (still dire badger). Planar Binding a Thoqqua to a construction contract will let you turn a granite mountain into swiss cheese, and if you can bribe, motivate or compel a Delver, well, it can cast Stoneshape every ten goddamn minutes.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            “Summon Dire Badger” + commune with animals is utterly and completely broken for tunneling purposes.
            So is Awaken (still dire badger). Planar Binding a Thoqqua to a construction contract will let you turn a granite mountain into swiss cheese, and if you can bribe, motivate or compel a Delver, well, it can cast Stoneshape every ten goddamn minutes.

            I can’t find Awaken, Planar Binding or Delver in AD&D, so I’m guessing they’re 3rd Edition creations. There you basically become a god if you write “Wizard”, “Cleric” or “Druid” on your character sheet and the Dungeon Master doesn’t kill your PC fast enough.
            Before that, a Mage would be limited to Stoneshaping 12-13 square feet once or twice a day, when the spell even exists. Druids can get giant badgers when they’re Level 7, so there’s that.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          The logistics of teleporting large amounts of combatants just don’t work out well. And small numbers of elite combatants are exactly the people you don’t want to risk instantly killing.

          And not just elite at combat; these are also social elites (only PCs can be murderhobos; Mages who can teleport are found in their tower that taxes the surrounding land or deep in the dungeon, what I’d infer is a stronghold of their government). Feudal armies wouldn’t have been able to get in the habit of sending 50/50 strike teams of peers of the realm and court mages on suicide missions.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      From the sociology of Standard Fantasy bandits, I was able to determine they had 1 Mage with them for every 244.4 bandits, with a linear distribution of power level and the least of them being able to cast 2 Fireballs a day. More powerful Mages are landed aristocrats.
      Where to the more magical elves fit in?

      1977 Monster Manual:

      Number appearing: 20-200
      For every 40 elves encountered there will be one with [2nd level] fighting ability plus 1st or 2nd level mage ability. If 100 or more elves are encountered there will be the following: a 4th level fighter/8th level mage, two 4th level fighter/5th level mage elves, and a 4th level fighter/4th level mage/4th level cleric. If over 160 elves are encountered their leaders will be a 6th level fighter/9th level mage, and a 6th level fighter/6th level mage/6th level cleric; and these leaders will have two special retainers each – 4th level fighter/5th level mage, 3rd level fighter/3rd level mage/3rd level cleric. These are also in addition to the group indicated. If encountered in their lair there will also be: a 4th level fighter/7th level mage, a 4th level fighter for every 40 elves in the group, a 2nd level fighter/2nd level mage/2nd level cleric for every 40 elves in the group…

      So every Hidden Elf Village has a 7th level Mage, 64% of the time an 8th level leader, and 15% of the time a 9th level leader (Teleport!). 64% of the time the village has 2 elves who can throw 1 Fireball a day, and 15% of the time another 3 who can. A few of these are healers as well. For every 40 elves, 2 can cast Sleep or Charm Person 1-2 times a day while another is just a 4th level Fighter.
      Besides Teleport, the uncommon 9th level leader has possibilities like Cloudkill, conjuring an Elemental, or reducing an enemy spellcaster’s intelligence and wisdom to a lower animal’s. They and an average additional 1.64 elves per village have daily tricks like charming a monster or enchanting other people into monsters or harmless animals.

  25. drethelin says:

    The thrive/survive theory predicts it perfectly if you assume democrats think we have plenty of resources and everyone can just afford to take a few months off work and it’ll be fine and the republicans think society is already inches away from collapsing and we need to accept some disease deaths to get the economy to work.

    • pacificverse says:

      Hear, hear!

    • Ursus Arctos says:

      This is a reasonable attempt to preserve the theory, but there’s a worry that the theory is almost completely robust against refutation by simply reinterpreting what the “thrive” option is and what the “survive” option is.

    • No one was saying that in 2019. Post-hoc reasoning.

      And no one’s explained why this pattern is not being seen internationally. What is different about America’s “Right?” Anyone want to take a stab at rationalizing why a whole bunch of people on the American “Right” suddenly changed their minds about whether the government should try and drive up the price of oil?

      I’ve expressed my views as to the source of the problem in the fractional threads.

      • Ursus Arctos says:

        I’m not entirely against the Trump theory, but I think you underestimate the extent to which this arguably matches left/right lines globally.

        I believe that in Canada, the UK and Australia the pro-reopening factions, small though they are, are all part of the political right. Thus even where the political class as a whole strongly supports keeping things shut down, the minority dissenting factions seem to be on the right. I know several reopeners, only one of whom is on the left, and he’s a very weird case that is probably more reflective of personal circumstances than anything else.

        Sweden is of course the great difficulty with this theory.

        • The anglosphere right has a large soft-libertarian sphere, and still retains that after the growth of nationalist populism. Ultimately their claimed values of economic liberty and small government have more explanatory value than the thrive/survive theory. That theory better explains the religious and nationalist right wing impulses more than the freedom and economics oriented ones.

          I wouldn’t be surprised if the right wing of the continent is less involved in shutdown opposition, as it is more nationalist and less libertarian, relatively speaking. In France, there has already been a riot by minorities due to perceived racism and inequality of enforcement of the coronavirus curfew, and that is more associated with left wing concerns.

          Honestly, even in the anglosphere it was initially left wing journalists who were downplaying the virus, and then it switched to being conservatives who carried the mantle of “just a flu, bro”. What explains that? It sounds complex and chaotic. Certain things shift about before they opportunistically crystallize.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Yep. The thrive/survive theory has always been an example of outgroup homogeneity bias in action.

            I picture the large soft libertarian sphere as resembling the beryllium sphere from Galaxy Quest.

  26. Squirrel of Doom says:

    Where, if anywhere, do the cool sleepy kids order Modafinil online these days?

    • Vosmyorka says:

      Assuming that sourcing discussion is cool here (our host has recommended sources in the past, I think), I’ll say that I have had good experiences with modafinilXL (which at least several months ago honored a ludicrous reshipment guarantee promising to reship if your modafinil is held up in customs for 2 weeks, allowing me to get way more than I actually paid for once the earlier shipment cleared):

      It’s where I’ve been going since Duckdose shut down and service is quite comparable apart from the janky website design.

  27. Betty Cook says:

    A few quarantine notes (Bay area):

    One of us being 75 and male, we are trying to quarantine pretty strictly, so it is now about three weeks since our second massive grocery shopping. Fresh milk ran out after about 2 weeks and we are almost out of fresh vegetables and fruit; apples keep well, carefully selected tomatoes on the vine keep well (three weeks is about the limit), but we still have meat and vegetables in the freezer and a fair amount of cheese. We are lucky enough to have a large yard with fruit trees, some citrus still producing and the earliest peach coming online soon. The most successful of various experiments with random stuff growing in the yard was using lots of wood sorrel together with dried beans to make a meatless ghormeh sabzi. Still have lots of various kinds of legumes; my daughter bought what she thought was a 9 pound bag of pinto beans which turned out to be a 9 kilo bag. Anyone have a good recipe using pinto beans? Oh, and 2-liter Diet Coke bottles, washed and dried, make reasonable long-term storage for pinto beans. Delivery for resupply is possible but of dubious reliability; what you get has only so much relation to what you ordered, and you have to worry about the squirrels getting at things left on the porch.

    I am treating my car as an extension of my house, as long as I don’t get out of the car, so when I get too fed up with the inside of the house I drive around for a bit. Observations on masks: people out walking, jogging, biking, walking the dog mostly don’t wear masks (about 1 in 10 two or three weeks ago, closer to 1 in 7 or 8 now, n = 50 to 100 each occasion.) People in line by the grocery store: about 50% three weeks ago, 80% now, n = 10 to 15 on each occasion. People at the large Chinese grocery: 100% (two occasions, n = 8 or 10). Couples together where only one is wearing a mask: she is wearing the mask and he isn’t, 5/6 times.

    My church has been meeting on Zoom for 6 weeks now. The weekly choir practices and dance group have been meeting on Zoom to chat (can’t sing together, too much lag to stay in sync). My scattered family (four different time zones) got together on Zoom a couple days ago; we hope that for next week my mother (age 91) can get some tech help setting up Zoom from her retirement complex so she can join us.

    Both of my choirs have experimented successfully with virtual choir. The choir director makes a master video of himself conducting with someone playing or singing and posts it; the choir individually records themselves singing their part while watching and listening to the video with headphones; the director combines the individual parts sent to him, if necessary fading out the bits where the dog was barking. The choir can be bigger this way, too–I sent in soprano, alto, and tenor parts for one piece we did. It still isn’t as much fun as singing live with other people, but it sounds surprisingly professional. One of the directors used to work for Apple and helped create the Apple software he is using to combine the tracks; the other has no special expertise in this as far as I know.

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      How many part-recordings are you getting merged, and how much tempo variation is there in the pieces you’re doing this way? I’ve heard that the process of combining the tracks is extremely labor-intensive to do well, but have no firsthand experience with trying it. If there’s an instructional guide out there to how to do it easily/quickly, I’d be interested to know.

      • Dog says:

        Assuming the person doing the editing has audio production experience and the choir members were pretty good at keeping time with the conductor video, this could take anywhere from ~10 min per piece for an acceptable result to potentially many hours for something really polished. I could give you a brief description of what my workflow would be like for this if you’re interested, but if you’d be starting from zero knowledge I think 95% of the effort would be getting familiar with the software. Step 1 would be download something like Reaper and go through the basic tutorials.

        • danridge says:

          I thought about this a little, here’s what I think my workflow would be:

          1. Import one member’s recording into the software.
          2. Run that signal from an output from the interface through a chorus pedal and then back into an input.
          3. Hit record.
          4. I think we’re done here.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I’ve never done this, but with digital recordings, a 38.2 second piece lasts the exact same amount of time for everyone, right?

          • Dog says:

            Yea, you’re not going to have any variation in how quickly a digital recording plays back, the length is going to be the same everywhere. The issue is not so much whether the total lengths / recording speeds match, it’s whether each individual recording is in time with the master track. If everyone was in time, it might be enough just to align each track. If a track is badly out of time, you could shift or stretch portions to fix it, or just drop that track if it’s a large enough choir.

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        As Dog says, it mostly depends on how well the tracks submitted by the choir members follow the master recording.

        The good thing about choirs, in general, is that there’s typically some leeway with regards to time-keeping. People usually don’t have to be spot-on, because they wouldn’t have been in a full choir session either; the large number of voices tends to smoosh out the imperfections.

        Assuming the individual tracks don’t have any major timing issues, there’s a bunch of automated tools that can make the whole process of aligning stuff a lot quicker. Cakewalk (previously Sonar; now available for free) has VocalSync – a tool for aligning one track to another via time-stretching – built in. VocAlign is a separate plug-in that does the same thing (check the link to see it in action). I don’t know how the individual tracks are recorded in practice, but assuming that the choir members just play the entire track and dub over that (which is the simplest option), you don’t even have to muck about with aligning start times. This could mean the entire operation takes a couple of minutes per track.

        Of course, the other key question is: how good is good enough?

        • Lambert says:

          Also there’s some big cathedrals where you might be waiting 0.3 seconds for an echo to come back. That’ll ensure that the music isn’t too particular about exact timing.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            Back when I was starting out with studio recordings in the mid/late 90s, the common term for putting reverb on tracks (vocals especially) was “adding talent”.

        • Dog says:

          Interesting, I didn’t know that Cakewalk had an automatic alignment feature. I’ll admit to not being a big Cakewalk fan, but that could definitely be useful.

          If it’s the same choir, people are probably not changing their recording setups, so you could probably set up a template with eq and levels set for each part and cut down on the mixing work going forward.

      • Betty Cook says:

        The number of people in the choir is 10 or 20, some sending in multiple recordings; given that we are all recording in sync with the same conducting video, I doubt there is much tempo variation. I think the director doing it for the first time (and who has the smaller choir) said it took him four hours or more to put it together; the one with a lot of experience indicated that the largest time cost was just listening through all the separate recordings.

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          the one with a lot of experience indicated that the largest time cost was just listening through all the separate recordings

          Aye, that sounds just about right.

    • FLWAB says:

      Mmm, wood sorrel! Minuture Rhubarb, Poor Man’s Salad, Deer Clover, the Forester’s Friend! Many a summer day I spent with a sprig of sorrel between my teeth. The only time I ever cooked with it was to bake it into a huckleberry pie. Based on my memories of the flavor I can see how it would work for a middle eastern dish (tastes a very little bit like fenugreek).

  28. salvorhardin says:

    So there’s a new study out of LA estimating a 40x disparity between actual infections and positive tests there:

    The Reason article I found this through:

    recognizes, to its credit, the false positive and sample bias issues that plagued the earlier Santa Clara County study, and gets quotes about how and why the LA folks think they have addressed these issues. Anyone know of any informed analyses of whether they actually have done so effectively?

    Note also that in a lot of the reporting of these studies they lead with “the fatality rate may be no higher than seasonal flu!” and forget the bit about “…but R0 is higher and there’s no vaccine, so it probably would still kill at least 5x more than a typical flu season if allowed to run to herd immunity.” On the other other hand, the level of restrictions justified to avoid 5x typical flu season deaths may be significantly less than the level justified to avoid 50x, so which it would actually be is still important to know.

    • Do it in Lombardy. By that low rate of death, you should find that most to all have been infected:

      • salvorhardin says:

        Well, it’s (a) not entirely implausible that you’d find that to be true, and (b) also not implausible that the true fatality rate varies a lot from region to region based on several factors and Lombardy is bad on all those factors (unusually old population, unusually low social distancing of elderly people, high pollution, high smoking rate, unusually sharp spike in hospitalizations that overwhelmed the system and caused a higher death rate among those needing hospitalization, etc).

    • John Schilling says:

      I haven’t found more than a summary of the USC study, but its lead author (Neraj Sood) is the #3 author on the Santa Clara Study, and the lead and #2 authors of the Santa Clara study (Eran Bendavid and Bianca Mulaney) are listed as contributors to the USC study. So these can’t really be considered independent works, and there hasn’t been enough time for Bendavid/Mulaney/Sood to have designed the USC study in light of the criticism of the Santa Clara study.

    • MisterA says:

      The problem with this is that unless the strain in LA is a lot less dangerous than the one in NY, there’s no way to reconcile this with the number of deaths in NY.

      LA County has had 600 confirmed coronavirus deaths. Based on this study, that would indicate a death rate between .1% and 0.3%.

      New York City has 10,344 confirmed coronavirus deaths as of yesterday. If that same death rate holds, that means that between 3.4 and 10.3 million people would need to be infected to explain what we’re seeing in NY. New York City has 8.4 million people total, so for the low end fatality estimate to hold, more people would need to be infected than are actually there.

      • nkurz says:

        > unless the strain in LA is a lot less dangerous than the one in NY

        Do we have any good information on whether this might actually be true? If there are in fact different strains with different lethalities in different communities, it would reconcile a lot of seemingly irreconcilable studies.

        From what I can tell, it does seem confirmed that there are different strains in circulation ( but it’s not (yet) confirmed that these strains affect people differently.

      • salvorhardin says:

        Yeah, fair point. There are other plausible-guess ways of reconciling this besides strain differences, e.g. greater severity of NY cases (higher density => higher viral load of infections?) or a different distribution of those infected, but they don’t really give much comfort to other large dense urban areas.

        ETA: or the ratio of “true” COVID deaths to deaths counted as such in LA could be higher than that in NY, also not reassuring.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Scott Gottlieb said there was no difference in viral load among severity of symptoms. So viral load probably isn’t important.

          • Gerry Quinn says:

            If viral load isn’t important, why are there so many deaths among front line medical personnel?

          • acymetric says:

            @Gerry Quinn

            Are there? I haven’t seen that, although I haven’t looked for it either.

            If that is the case, is it just that there are more deaths relative to the general public (this is expected, as they are more likely to be infected than the general public) or more deaths relative to the fatality rate for infected people who aren’t medical workers?

          • Gerry Quinn says:

            I’m going only on anecdata, from news reports etc. Of course the measured case incidence among people in the medical profession will be higher, because they are more likely to be infected, and they are more likely to be tested. Maybe more likely to be reported, too.

            All the same, it looks to me that too many young hospital workers are dropping. Starting with that Chinese doctor who blew the whistle over there.

            There’s no real contradiction anyway, viral content of weak versus asymptomatic cases need have nothing to do with whether the initial viral assault level correlates with deadly infections.

            I suppose asymptomatic cases with a high viral load do support the notion that the damage comes from an excessive immune reaction rather than the normal death of infected cells.

        • Majuscule says:

          I can’t seem to find out if any of these comparisons of density account for differences in the general *lifestyle*. I grew up in NYC and the obvious point to me is not that NYC and LA have millions of people or X residents per square mile- it’s that New Yorkers are way, WAY closer to one another on a daily basis than any other place I’ve visited in the US and even most places I’ve been overseas. They pack into trains and buses and crowd the sidewalks. You visit your tiny local bodega and have to stand nose to nose with the clerk. New Yorkers flee their tiny apartments for restaurants, bars and teeming parks. Our typical proximity to one another is really unusual for the United States. And as much as I love my hometown, the city is *filthy*. It’s much cleaner than it used to be, but New York is still probably the dirtiest city in America and it always has been. Almost every New Yorker will admit this. Every surface in our transit system is inexplicably gross. I can’t say how clean LA is by comparison, but Los Angelenos have more space and most people *drive everywhere*. I spent 3 days in LA and felt like we never left the car. Surely someone takes public transit, but it is a car-centric place.

          I have lots of friends from Cali who spent years in NYC and something they noticed is that there’s a greater cultural tendency for Californians to meet and entertain in their homes rather than in a public space like a bar or restaurant. Maybe not a huge impact, but if your social life skews towards having six friends over for wine and pizza and avoids a bar with 60 people for half the weekends in March, that might have an effect on transmission rates. It’s damn near impossible to quantify this in a meaningful way, but I feel like there’s no great mystery why two similarly dense cities are having different outcomes.

      • LesHapablap says:

        Are the NYC deaths all NYC residents, counted in that 8.4 million population?

        • The Nybbler says:

          No, NYC counts deaths which happen in NYC including non-residents. That bumps the appropriate denominator somewhat, but I think not all that much since there are many other hospitals in the metro area; it’s not like everyone in the area is going to go to NYC for treatment.

      • The Nybbler says:

        New York City has 10,344 confirmed coronavirus deaths as of yesterday

        9101 as of today; the 10,344 was confirmed + probable, which wouldn’t be apples-to-apples. Anyway, 3.4 million infected in NYC is possible.

        • Clutzy says:

          Dont those numbers include some 3000+ that were just arbitrarily added but never tested?

          • The Nybbler says:

            They weren’t arbitrarily added; they were people who died of symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Probably a large percentage did die of COVID-19, but not all, since there are other respiratory diseases. But if you consider them in New York, you have to consider them in LA too; this would give you a higher IFR in LA.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, you can get a guaranteed undercount by only counting people with positive tests who died, but it’s apparently very hard to get tested even if you’re sick, so that must be missing cases.

            It’s reasonable to guess that other people who couldn’t be tested because there weren’t enough tests, but who died of pneumonia at the same time as a bunch of people dying of SARS2 and showed the same symptoms, were probably killed by the same virus. This is how all our mortality statistics from diseases used to be constructed–it’s not like anyone was looking for viral RNA in nasal swabs to confirm the cause of death in the 1918 flu pandemic.

          • zoozoc says:

            As others have said, it isn’t arbitrary. The only reason that I have heard (and I don’t know if it is true) that COVID19 deaths might be overcounted is that there is supposedly a finanical reason to list a death as COVID19 vs. something else (the government picks up the tab maybe). However, the all-cause mortality is up significantly in NYC such that the actual COVID19 deaths are undercounted for the data we have. It could have swung the other way now, but we won’t know until more all-cause mortality data comes in.

        • albatross11 says:

          From this paper, we know that between March 22-April 4, about 15% of the women who came to the hospital to give birth were positive for the virus, with about 88% of those who were positive not showing symptoms. If we assume that’s a baseline for the prevalence of COVID-19 in NYC among healthy people, then as of 3-4 weeks ago, something like one in eight New Yorkers were infected but asymptomatic, and something like one in seven were infected overall. (Also, 3 of the 29 women who tested positive but were asymptomatic when they arrived developed symptoms by the end of their hospital stay, and one person who tested negative when they arrived at the hospital tested positive a couple days later.)

          There are some confounders here–on one side, pregnant women are often already moms and had kids in school/daycare, some hard-hit groups like orthodox Jews and hispanics have a higher birth rate than the rest of New Yorkers, maybe pregnant moms are extra-careful about staying away from sick people, etc. But it’s probably a reasonably good snapshot.

          That suggests that around 3-4 weeks ago, about 15% of New Yorkers were infected, with most showing no serious symptoms. It seems unlikely that’s increased to 40%+ in 3 weeks under lockdown, but I don’t really know.

          Let IFR = P(death|infected). If we assume 15% of New Yorkers were infected 3-4 weeks ago, and that it takes something like 3 weeks to get from infection to death, then a crude but not totally crazy estimate would be something like:

          IFR = (total deaths in NYC) / (total infected three weeks ago)

          That would give us something like an IFR of 0.01, so a 1% chance of dying given an infection overall. But of course, that’s different for different people–the pregnant women who had positive COVID-19 tests don’t sound like most of them were particularly ill.

          • David Speyer says:

            Another confounder — pregnancy heightens immune response.

          • Kaitian says:

            I think pregnant women are not representative. For one thing, they’re all relatively young and healthy. The immune system works differently during pregnancy, which might make them more likely to catch covid or might affect the severity of symptoms. They also tend to have a lot of contact with the health system and groups of people (prenatal groups, childcare groups, etc), situations where you might get infected easily.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Pregnancy does the opposite of heighten immune response.

    • skybrian says:

      It doesn’t look like there is any new information about false positives in the Reason article:

      As for the accuracy of the antibody tests, Sood said validation by the manufacturer of the test kits, Premier Biotech, found a false positive rate of 0.5 percent in 371 samples. In subsequent tests by a Stanford laboratory, there were no false positives. “We think that the false positive rate of the tests is really low,” Sood said.

      The same data already appeared in the Santa Clara preprint, and this analysis is what critics was saying is wrong. For example, here is Gelman:

      This gives two estimates of specificity: 30/30 = 100% and 369/371 = 99.46%. Or you can combine them together to get 399/401 = 99.50%. If you really trust these numbers, you’re cool: with y=399 and n=401, we can do the standard Agresti-Coull 95% interval based on y+2 and n+4, which comes to [98.0%, 100%]. If you go to the lower bound of that interval, you start to get in trouble: remember that if the specificity is less than 98.5%, you’ll expect to see more than 1.5% positive tests in the data no matter what!

      Unfortunately the preprint doesn’t seem to be available for LA, so we don’t have any more raw data.

  29. toastengineer says:

    Maybe this is a bit late, but:

    In the interest of facilitating human socialization despite contemporaneous quarantine conditions, I have decided to start up the official Unofficial Slate Star Codex Extremely Heavily Modded Minecraft Server.

    As this is a modded server, a normal Minecraft client won’t be able to connect. It’s loaded up with mods that add the ability to build factories, advanced technology, explore space, etc…

    To play on the server:

    Short version: We’re running the Technic 1.12.2 pack; the address is

    You will need to have purchased Minecraft, and have a Mojang account to log in with.
    1. Go to and hit “get the launcher.” Download and run the launcher.
    2. Type “The 1.12.2 Pack” in to the search bar. Hit “install” in the bottom right corner of the window.
    3. Wait.
    4. Hit “play,” it’ll be where the download button was.
    5. Wait.
    6. Go to “multiplayer,” then “Add Server.”
    7. Paste in to the Server Address box. Put whatever you want in Server Name. Hit done.
    8. Double click the new entry at the bottom of the server list.
    9. It should just work from that point on. If you have a problem, tell me about it in this thread, I guess?

    Currently it’s just running on my home machine, so it probably won’t be able to handle more than a few players. If there’s actual interest I’ll pay for an actual hosted server.

    Decisions on how to run the server have yet to be made; I’m thinking I want to run it as a sort of build-your-own-civilization anarchy server, but we’ll see what people actually want. For now, uh, consider not messing with other people’s stuff. If anyone wants to be a moderator, ask me in this thread.

    • loaferaido says:

      Just started hosting my own remote FTB server on OVH, it’s performed pretty well. Is the 1.12.2 the same as Direwolf 1.12? That’s what I’m using currently

      • toastengineer says:

        Nope, two completely different things. 1.12.2 refers to the base Minecraft version. The Minecraft mod community had its own little culture war between people who use the Technic modpacks and the Feed the Beast packs back in the day…

    • loaferaido says:

      Trying to join but getting an “$annotatedconnectexception: Connection timed out: no further information” error

      • toastengineer says:

        Looks like you ran in to Comcast’s “advanced security.” Yanno, because the fact that I asked them to forward a port doesn’t mean I actually want people to connect to that port. Should be sorted now.

    • mustacheion says:

      Server works for me. Is the spawn in one area, or is it spread out? I don’t see any evidence of other people so far.

  30. Briefling says:

    Does it bother anyone else that Nassim Taleb is arguing for measures that are going to crash the economy, while also positioning himself to seriously profit from a crashing economy?

    Even if we should be crashing the economy, isn’t that, like, a violation of every principle he’s ever stood for?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Doesn’t change my priors for Taleb in the slightest.

    • Not very familiar with Taleb, is the objection based on his thinking? Or is it just standard Copenhagen interpretation of ethics that would apply to anyone?

      • Briefling says:

        Yeah, I think he’s being a hypocrite. Taleb is a proponent of “skin in the game,” the idea that when your decisions affect others, you need to share in any resulting downside.

        As one of the most prominent intellectuals in America, he’s acting as a de facto decision maker on coronavirus policy. In that capacity he has reverse skin in the game: the more economic damage his preferred policies cause, the more he rakes in $$$. And they are liable to cause a lot of damage.

        • MisterA says:

          This seems to have a pretty obvious hole, which is that most economists (and probably Taleb) think reopening the economy without a way to deal with the virus will crash the economy even harder.

          You may not agree, but he’s almost arguing for the position which he thinks does less economic damage.

          • Briefling says:

            That’s irrelevant. If you’re incentivized to cause damage, it doesn’t matter if you “think” you’re doing good — you should just abstain from decision making. Again, going by Taleb’s own ethics here.

          • MisterA says:

            That doesn’t follow at all. The idea of having skin in the game is to motivate you to want to achieve the better outcome. If he thinks the better outcome is achieved by lockdowns then, it’s fulfilling that exact purpose.

          • Briefling says:

            The point is that when it comes to economic damage specifically, worse outcomes for society are better outcomes for him.

            That means pretty obviously he’s motivated to achieve a worse outcome, not better like you claim.

          • silver_swift says:

            @MisterA: I have no idea who this Nassim Taleb fellow is, but if he does stand to gain significantly from the economy crashing and he is partly responsible (de jure or de facto) for coming up with a strategy that might well crash the economy, then him having skin in the game motivates him to do the exact opposite of achieving a better outcome.

            Even if he ignores this incentive and honestly advises the best course of action for the situation (which is entirely possible, there is a lot at stake here that might well overwhelm considerations of personal financial gain), the fact that someone stands to gain from doing a bad job is always a reason to be suspicious.

          • matkoniecz says:

            The idea of having skin in the game is to motivate you to want to achieve the better outcome.

            And he is setup to benefit from the worse one.

          • albatross11 says:

            Taleb has little more power to get his ideas implemented than we do, and basically everyone expressing an opinion has a position in the world that’s affected by different choices. Should I stop expressing opinions on the lockdown because I’m an overweight 50 year old asthmatic man? Clearly some policies are likely to work out better for me than for others. And the same is true for a 30 year old healthy man who’s looking at layoffs in the future if the lockdown continues. We’re all talking our book to some extent, but since none of us have much power to implement these decisions, it doesn’t really seem like that’s a problem.

          • baconbits9 says:

            And he is setup to benefit from the worse one.

            Taleb has been warning about a possible pandemic and the need to set up institutional responses ahead of time since 2007 at least. He is also likely already fairly wealthy, has already probably made a lot off the market drops in feb/march, and would likely prefer a stable world to spend his money in over an unstable world where he has somewhat more money.

      • Enkidum says:

        interpretation of ethnics

        I always knew this place was a hive of *redacted*

  31. viVI_IViv says:

    So, in the non-Covid-19 news, Stephen Wolfram is working on a Theory of Everything. Here is the non-technical explanation (which I more or less skimmed), or if you prefer the 448-page green ink technical version.

    TL;DR The world is implemented in Wolfram Mathematica.
    Ok, I jest, sorta. He’s looking into hypergraph automata, an extension of his beloved cellular automata: you start with a simple hypergraph whose nodes contain strings (of symbols, not the string theory stuff) and interatively apply local update rules that typically generate larger hypergraphs. After a gazillion steps, you get big hypergraph whose topology you can analyze statistically. If I understand correctly, he claims he can sort of define rules that results in stuff similar to Euclidean or Lorentzian geometry, quantum many-worlds, relativistic causality and so on. He makes clear than this is still a work-in-progress and he hasn’t yet derived realistic laws of physics, but he’s hopeful that this might work as a general framework to enable such research.

    What to make of it? It seems quite ambitious, if not crackpottish, and Wolfram has a bad reputation with physicists, but then he has been working on this for a year or so while thousands academic physicists have been working on these problems for the last 50 years and they came up with 11-dimensional strings’n’sheet that didn’t go anywhere, so who are they to criticize? Also I think I’ve recently attended a couple of talks by physicists talking about deriving the laws of physics from causal graphs or something (I didn’t really understand it well), and it seems that Wolfram is moving more or less on the same direction, but he’s putting his digital physics spin over it. And personally I’ve always found Mathematica to be the most beautifully designed programming language, so kudos to him.

    So, is there any potential scientific value in any of this or is just the ramblings of a bored rich man with too much time on his hands?

    • knzhou says:

      Physicist here. I don’t see anything of substance in Wolfram’s proposal, just a lot of pretty graphs. Just like Wolfram’s “A New Kind of Science”, we have the problem that there is a vast gulf between what you need to make flashy popsci and what you need to make a real physical theory. In increasing order of difficulty, you need to:

      1. make a set of dynamical rules that matches general relativity in the low energy limit, such as recovering Lorentz invariance and the Einstein field equation (this is supposed to be the easiest part — without at least doing this, a theory of everything is worth less than the graph doodles in my middle school notebooks)

      2. demonstrate that you can add something that looks like matter

      3. reproduce effects that we know have to appear in quantum gravity in the semiclassical limit, such as Hawking radiation and black hole entropy

      4. demonstrate that you can add matter that behaves, quantitatively, like the Standard Model

      5. make specific predictions that we didn’t already know from purely semiclassical considerations

      6. find a way to verify those predictions

      7. have the predictions actually be correct upon verification

      These 7 steps are hard, which is why nobody has managed to do them. But it looks like Wolfram hasn’t even bothered to start on step 1. His technical material is just hundreds and hundreds of pages of pretty graphs and big words, with no specifics. It’s more akin to a reformulation of the foundations of mathematics than a theory of physics — and it’s not a particularly good one, at that.

      It’s the same complaint I have about category theorists trying to do applied physics. (And category theory is a much more powerful language than Wolfram’s!) Yes, you might have an incredibly general language, with which you can talk about vast swaths of possible physical theories. But we already had way too many possibilities using ordinary mathematics! We need to narrow down on specifics, not muddy the waters by making things even more general. I mean, it’s like trying to rescue a startup by translating the documentation into Esperanto. I’m sure you can do it, but I don’t care unless you can show me something new it provides.

      In other words, if Wolfram and co. come up with a sharp success, where they derive something important without directly putting what they want to get into their starting assumptions, physicists would pay attention. I know they would, because it’s precisely how, e.g. special and general relativity, quantum mechanics, and quantum field theory became core parts of physics. Wolfram is not there, and not even moving anywhere near that direction, but declaring victory anyway. You have heard about it solely because he is rich.

      • Gurkenglas says:

        Afaic the point of category theory isn’t that the space of ideas you can express in its language is larger – it’s that it’s smaller. The “interesting” ideas just happen to fall into it anyway.

        • knzhou says:

          You’re correct that this is how it works in math, and that’s why people want to try applying it to physics. But when they do, it just doesn’t work out: you don’t get those moments where category theory actually simplifies something physicists had labored to prove. It just functions as an inert complication of language.

          As far as I’m aware, there does not exist a single nontrivial statement anywhere in physics that is easier to see from the categorical perspective than from the usual, non-formal language used by physicists.

      • Gerry Quinn says:

        I found it pretty light, but isn’t there a movement among the likes of Julian Barbour and others to rephrase the universe as a set of logically-connected mathematical objects?

    • matkoniecz says:

      Is it suffering from the same things as NKS?

      not making directly verifiable predictions

      NKS does not establish rigorous mathematical definitions,[26] nor does it attempt to prove theorems

      information conveyed by pictures that do not have formal meaning

      Wolfram’s speculations of a direction towards a fundamental theory of physics have been criticized as vague and obsolete. Scott Aaronson, Professor of Computer Science at University of Texas Austin, also claims that Wolfram’s methods cannot be compatible with both special relativity and Bell’s theorem violations, and hence cannot explain the observed results of Bell test experiments.

      Wolfram’s claim that natural selection is not the fundamental cause of complexity in biology

      With extreme hubris, Wolfram has titled his new book on cellular automata “A New Kind of Science”.

      But it’s not new.

      And it’s not science.

      • zardoz says:

        Thanks, that’s a great summary of A New Kind of Science. That really takes me back two decades, to when Wolfram first released the book.

        The writeup is a lot more generous and fair-minded towards the book than most I’ve read. And frankly, much more than I would have had the patience to be.

        The simple fact is that Wolfram was not good about giving credit where it was due. And he hadn’t really discovered that much, besides a particular cellular automaton that was Turing-complete. Even that was actually done by his grad student, as I understand it.

        To be honest, proving that something is Turing-complete isn’t a big deal in computer science any more– since at least the 1970s. This is really intro-level stuff in CS theory at this point. A computer can be implemented with electronics, mechanical valves, a bunch of rocks that you move around plus some rules, or an infinite number of other things.

        CS students trying to prove that a particular zany thing is Turing-complete is kind of like mechanical engineering students trying to find the most improbable way to light a fire. Well, we can drop this coin off a building, on to a concrete slab, hence generating a spark… It’s fun, but broad theoretical vistas do not open up.

        Now Wolfram is finally doing what he should have done in the first place– come up with some concrete way to re-imagine science on top of cellular automata. If he can really do that, it will actually be “a new kind of science” rather than an intro to cellular automata book with the bibliography (mostly) filed off.

        I’m not a physicist (or even really someone with the needed background) so I can’t really evaluate his claims directly. But the circumstantial evidence does not look good. And the decision to publish this stuff as blog posts rather than as actual peer-reviewed articles seems crankish.

        • matkoniecz says:

          To be honest, proving that something is Turing-complete isn’t a big deal in computer science any more– since at least the 1970s. This is really intro-level stuff in CS theory at this point. A computer can be implemented with electronics, mechanical valves, a bunch of rocks that you move around plus some rules, or an infinite number of other things.

          For example in-game Minecraft mechanisms or C++ templating system or Magic: The Gathering.

          CS students trying to prove that a particular zany thing is Turing-complete is kind of like mechanical engineering students trying to find the most improbable way to light a fire. Well, we can drop this coin off a building, on to a concrete slab, hence generating a spark… It’s fun, but broad theoretical vistas do not open up.

          Yeah, at this point “hey, I proved that this ridiculous thing is Turing-complete” is typically closer to level of SSC effortpost than to “give me Nobel prize”.

        • Garrett says:

          > CS students trying to prove that a particular zany thing is Turing-complete is kind of like mechanical engineering students trying to find the most improbable way to light a fire.

          This does have practical applications in the realm of computer security. If something involved or attached to your existing computer can be shown to be Turing-complete, you have to worry about it being used as a vector for malware.

          • John Schilling says:

            Anything attached to your computer has to be assumed Turing-complete, because if it matters a sophisticated attacker will just build a bit of Turing-completeness into what was supposed to be dumb metal. And six months later the unsophisticated attackers will be able to buy the attack version from a street vendor in Hong Kong.

    • bullseye says:

      but then he has been working on this for a year or so while thousands academic physicists have been working on these problems for the last 50 years and they came up with 11-dimensional strings’n’sheet that didn’t go anywhere

      I’ve never heard of this guy before, but “did in a year what everyone else couldn’t do in 50” screams crackpot to me.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        I’ve never heard of this guy before

        Never used Wolfram Alpha?

        but “did in a year what everyone else couldn’t do in 50” screams crackpot to me.

        It’s more like he did in a year no less than everyone else could do in 50. Which sounds kind of a low bar, but this is the state of the field.

        • silver_swift says:

          It’s more like he did in a year no less than everyone else could do in 50. Which sounds kind of a low bar, but this is the state of the field.

          “The entire field of physics managed to not get anywhere in 50 years, Wolfram managed to not get anywhere in 1” is not high praise. I bet I could not get anywhere in an afternoon.

    • Enkidum says:

      People have mentioned NKS, which shortly after it came out I read and thought about far more carefully than I probably should have. The man is utterly convinced he is a genius and seems to think everyone else should be convinced of the same, so much so that throughout the book he deliberately obfuscates and ignores the many, many contributions of others to his field of cellular automata, presenting their findings as his own, etc.

      The problem in his case is that he probably is a genius, at least in some respects.

      I think cellular automata may have more to tell us about the nature of reality than skeptics believe (i.e. more than nothing), but orders of magnitude less to tell us than he believes (i.e. you can’t construct a science of everything without occasionally looking out the window).

      I saw a few tweets on this new thing and decided to ignore it. But you should probably listen to someone who knows what they’re talking about.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        I haven’t read his book, but I’ve read various reviews. If I understand correctly, the main non-trivial take home message is that computation is ubiquitous.
        Not only Turing-computation is probably the only possible form of computation in our physical universe (Church–Turing thesis), but Wolfram observes that it is in fact everywhere, because it can arise form very systems interacting according to simple rules.
        I suppose that the idea is not original to him (and yes, trying to pass Cook’s proof of the universality of Rule 110 as his own was a d**k move), but he made a good job at popularizing it.

        I agree with Scott Aaronson and his other critics that CAs, at least naively applied over a regular lattice of spatial dimensions, are probably too naive to capture physics (because of anisotropy, lack of Lorentz transformations, and so on), but I think that whatever the fundamental nature of reality will turn out to be, computation will likely play a big part in it.

        • matkoniecz says:

          Not only Turing-computation is probably the only possible form of computation in our physical universe (Church–Turing thesis)

          Thanks for explaining Church–Turing thesis to me! I finally understood why it is interesting/important claim.

        • Viliam says:

          Not only Turing-computation is probably the only possible form of computation in our physical universe (Church–Turing thesis), but Wolfram observes that it is in fact everywhere, because it can arise form very systems interacting according to simple rules.

          Ironically, the fact that all kinds of systems can be Turing-complete is my main argument against Wolfram’s theories.

          If I understand it correctly, his big idea is, essentially: “This system could be used to simulate our universe… therefore its technical details are important for understanding the deep laws of our universe”. And then he goes desperately fishing for vague analogies with known physics… like, if any events can happen in arbitrary order, that’s obviously like the relativity of time; and if any things keep some relationship after being separated, that’s obviously like quantum entanglement; and I suppose that anything that grows is obviously like the expanding universe, and anything that shrinks is obviously like a black hole; and anything that is either linear or circular is obviously string theory.

          How I see it, “this can simulate our universe”, in other words the fact that something is Turing-complete, means much less than it is used to suggest. Precisely because there are many possible Turing-complete systems, dramatically different from each other in their technical details. The only thing that makes all of them Turing-complete is… well, the fact that they are Turing-complete. (Ugh, I hope you understand what I meant here.) There is no reason to assume that if we randomly choose one of them, the laws of our universe will be analogical to its technical details, as opposed to the technical details of any other Turing-complete system we didn’t choose. Maybe the universe on its deepest level is truly the graph-replacement-thingy… or maybe it is truly a Turing machine editing an infinite linear tape… or maybe it is truly a short program written in Turbo Pascal. Why privilege the first option?

          (Also from the opposite side: a Turing-complete system is not only capable of simulating our universe with our physics, but also any universe with any physics. So finding analogies with our physics is kinda suspicious.)

          The important thing to notice is that the analogies to laws of physics are always vague; they are convincing verbally, not mathematically. Wolfram can write persuasively about how system having a maximum speed is totally like the speed of light in theory of relativity. But he never goes as far as to derive 1 / sqrt(1 – v^2 / c^2) , because the analogy simply doesn’t go that far.

          I assume that to a reader not familiar with the idea that Turing-completeness is actually quite cheap in nature, the combination of “this can be used to simulate our universe” and “here are vague analogies to some laws of physics” is quite convincing. From my perspective, it is just a juxtaposition of “this is Turing-complete” and “I am good at finding vague analogies”.

          • nadbor says:

            But he never goes as far as to derive 1 / sqrt(1 – v^2 / c^2)

            That’s exactly what he derives (and then some). It’s right there in the article.

      • Deiseach says:

        The man is utterly convinced he is a genius and seems to think everyone else should be convinced of the same, so much so that throughout the book he deliberately obfuscates and ignores the many, many contributions of others to his field of cellular automata, presenting their findings as his own, etc.

        The problem in his case is that he probably is a genius, at least in some respects.

        I don’t know anything about any of this, but I am enjoying this sub-thread no end 🙂

        So – sounds like the Galileo Problem: guy is genuinely talented and original in a particular field, but also has an ego the size of Jupiter, is a self-publicist, and is quick off the mark to do down any perceived rivals and deny that anybody knew anything before he came along and he did it all himself with no inspiration from others?

        (Me being bored and naughty this morning since I’ve nothing better to do): Careful, all you critics! In umpty-years time, you could be labouring under the label of ‘the Inquisition that did the dirty to Galileo’ because you’re querying this man’s staggering genius! 😀

        • matkoniecz says:

          Kind of, but it is rather classic case of a brilllant engineer declaring himself as a brilliant scientist.

    • nadbor says:

      I read it and was impressed. If true, this could be huge.

      First Wolfram lays down his framework and it looks like it’s probably Turing complete so without giving more specifics, it’s trivially true that it can simulate physics – therefore boring. But then he goes on to give the details. He commits to a specific definition of spacetime and energy and derives Special and then General relativity from it. Or rather hand-waves and alleges to have the derivation in a separate paper.

      The paper is long and I am lazy but at a glance his hand-waving looks perfectly plausible to me. If the maths check out, this derivation is a really neat result in its own right. The only problem I have with it is that it is perhaps too neat – it doesn’t look like it depends very much on this whole graph idea. Looks more like it’s showing that Einstein’s equations are a consequence of some very basic principles and Wolfram’s graphs are just a specific implementation of these principles. So I have a hunch that Wolfram is not the first do derive relativity in this way. It sounds like something that the Causal Dynamical Triangulation folks would have done already but I don’t know enough about CDT to be sure.

      But the main thing about this derivation is (contra many commenters) that Wolfram doesn’t “hardcode” Einstein’s equations into the model by a specific choice of the Turing machine. They fall out of the framework based on very general assumptions (allegedly).

      In the next section Wolfram tries to show that Quantum Mechanics falls out of the framework too. I say ‘tries’ because I didn’t understand this bit nearly as well as the previous one. But again, at a glance it doesn’t seem crazy (or rather not any more crazy than other models of quantum gravity) and none of it is hardcoded – rather everything he writes about is a consequence of just a handful of innocuous looking assumptions.

      He gives no account of quantum mechanical dynamics, no specific quantum fields etc.; he only describes the QM state space and explains what measurement consists of in this framework. But that is as it should be. This is enough to study the deepest questions of QM and quantum gravity none of which depend on the specifics of the Standard Model or whatnot.

      Then again, I can vouch for the QM section even less than the GR section of the article, so it may be all nonsense. But I firmly disagree with those that say this framework is contentless or ‘not even false’.

      My prediction based on priors for revolutionary new theories and Wolfram’s past performance is that:
      – the derivations of Einstein’s equations is legit but not original and not specific to this framework
      – BUT the implementation of quantum mechanics falls apart at closer inspection

      In the unlikely event that the maths behind the article all checks out, we would still not be close to a theory of everything but I think this approach would beat the current contenders for the theory of quantum gravity in elegance by a mile.

      I can’t wait for people like Scott Aaronson and John Baez to give this a serious review.

  32. Malte Skarupke says:

    Hi, heard a story today related to previous discussion of hydroxychloroquine: Last Monday a nursing home thought that one of their residents had covid-19. They couldn’t get a test, but they already had two other confirmed cases. They gave her hydroxychloroquine. It didn’t help, she died on Sunday.

    So it’s a story of a nursing home thinking that somebody might have covid-19 (but they’re not sure) and then giving her a drug that they think might help. (but they’re not sure)

    Heard it on the Brian Lehrer show today:
    It’s in the segment about nursing homes. The son called in to the show.

    The previous segment on the show has a doctor who says he would be very careful with the drug because it has known bad interactions with other drugs. Makes me wonder if the nursing home knew about those.

    • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

      Impossible to know what would have happened to this particular woman if she hadn’t been given the drug. Would she have survived? Or would she have died at about the same time? Sooner? Later? This is what we need actual trials with n>1 for.

      I’m not a doctor so I have no particular recommendations about whether hydroxychloroquine should or shouldn’t be administered in severe cases. If someone close to me comes down with COVID I’ll do the research necessary to form an at-least-partially informed opinion.

    • Garrett says:

      > Makes me wonder if the nursing home knew about those.

      A “nursing home” isn’t an entity with agency. There are people with individual qualifications who perform specific tasks. It’s usually (lots of caveats about how different jurisdictions do things differently, etc., etc.) a nurse who dispenses/administers the medication. But they rarely have the authority to do so independently.

      It would be a physician who would have to provide the medical order for it to be dispensed/administered. Any physician worth their salt would know about the main contraindications (or at least look them up) and perform rule-out testing for any relevant ones. A smart one would also consult with a pharmacist to see if there are any known drug interactions with the medications they are already taking.

      Depending upon the cause of death (post hoc, ergo propter hoc and all that), there might be a legal cause of action for malpractice here.

    • albatross11 says:

      The problem is, there’s not a clearly right treatment for someone with SARS2–a bunch of different hospitals and countries and medical authorities have tried to cobble something together that seems to help, but nobody’s really sure it helps. So everyone’s shooting in the dark.

  33. GearRatio says:

    Completely OT to anything:

    I needed a quarantine project and I also needed a chest freezer, so I picked up, for free, a largish chest freezer from someone on Nextdoor. The catch: their power went out once at some point and it sat for an extended time with rotten meat in it. Since “expert at deodorizing” seems like a useful title, I decided to give it a go. Things I’ve done:

    1. I decided early on that the main seal would probably have to go; similar experiences tell me those soft rubber seals are especially odor-retaining. I found out they don’t sell the seal, but sell the entire door assembly for like $40. I decided to cheat on that part.

    2. I scoured the inside of it with a scrubby pad, steel wool and straight bleach followed by a thorough rinse with the hose. This more-or-less cleaned it, but once the clouds of deadly chlorine gas cleared I found it still smelled.

    3. I took two additional cleaning rounds with an enzyme pet stain cleaner we had around and an all-purpose bathroom cleaner. This did nothing to the smell and left the whole thing sort of greasy with soap residue.

    4. I decided to move to the commercial end of things, and found the general recommendation for hard-surface deodorant to be a detergent called “Odoban”. This comes in a big jug and needs to be diluted down to 5oz per gallon for this application. You wet the surface, wipe it on, let it sit for ten minutes, then rinse it off. I just did this and it smells much better, but is still cool and wet; I’m waiting for the sun to dry it off and warm it up with fingers crossed.

    If this doesn’t work, I’ve still got A. high-concentration hydrogen peroxide and B. Ozone generators to try. The good news is I’m already much, much more prepared to do post-murder cleanup and somewhat less bored.

    Postscript: A normal person definitely shouldn’t try to do this; it’s very likely 100% worth the money to buy a new or un-rotted used freezer as opposed to the work and bad smells which go into and come out of this project, respectively.

    Post-postscript: If there exists in this forum some kind of smell removal expert who understands this better than I do from a science or professional point of view, I’d love to hear from you.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’ve still got A. high-concentration hydrogen peroxide

      What is your definition of “high concentration” in this context? Because, yes, with sufficiently high concentration, you can completely eradicate all organic matter in your refrigerator, and the smell is almost certainly coming from organic matter. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure you are made from organic matter…

      • GearRatio says:

        This falls into the “I’m aware there is an option between ‘for cuts and scrapes’ concentrations and ‘kills you and blows up things’ levels of peroxide purity” realm where I haven’t got there yet, but I promise I will look it up first before I accidentally kill myself with it.

        • Eltargrim says:

          The highest consumer grade of peroxide is likely to be around 6%, and that’s the highest concentration I’d handle without at least some proper PPE. 12% is also apparently available.

          Anything around 30% or above requires serious safety precautions, and you’re not likely to have been able to purchase it. If you did manage to get it, you’re probably on a list now.

          Regardless, be sure to work in a well-ventilated space.

          • The Nybbler says:

            35% is available. I think 40% is where ATF starts giving the stink-eye, and 60% is where it starts getting interesting.

          • Eltargrim says:

            Huh, will you look at that; 35% available in pool supply stores. I’m a little surprised, that’s about the lowest concentration required to get good TATP.

          • John Schilling says:

            Peroxide is shipped in bulk at 70% and blended down as needed for end-user applications; it’s not that hard to get at 70% if you’re willing to buy at least a drum and, yes, maybe get your name on a list. And of course don’t do this unless you know what you are doing and have the right PPE.

            35%, you should have PPE but if you’re a lazy homeowner who just wants to pour it straight into your pool you probably won’t get any worse than seriously bleached and irritated skin when you inevitably spill a bit on your hands. And ruin your clothes. Splashing it in your eyes would be Very Bad.

            Above 35%, assume that any organic you ever splashed it on or mixed it with has turned into a dangerously unstable explosive that needs to be wetted down and disposed of, unless it has already spontaneously burst into flame. Above 70%, unless you got it from a very short list of professional suppliers who probably won’t give you the time of day, just run away.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Well, I suppose I could try to get some from my buddy Ivan who swears he has connections with Russian space program. “Is 90%, is good stuff, yes!” But there’s a YouTube video on concentrating 3% to 90% using vacuum distillation, and I’m sure it would work even better starting with 35%.

            Wait, what am I using this stuff for?

          • SamChevre says:

            The highest easily-available hydrogen peroxide in small quantities that I know of is hair-dye developer–40-volume is 12%, and is available at most beauty product stores. I’d wear gloves and glasses, but it’s not super-dangerous.

          • Deiseach says:

            Above 35%, assume that any organic you ever splashed it on or mixed it with has turned into a dangerously unstable explosive that needs to be wetted down and disposed of, unless it has already spontaneously burst into flame.

            Why did we not consider this in our list of ways to kill a shoggoth? This seems a lot more likely to work, at least to me it does!

            Pros: Shoggoths are definitely made of organic material; a 15-foot sphere of deadly killer spontaneously bursting into flame would be awesome

            Cons: The bit about wetting down; given that shoggoths seem to hang out in damp/misty environments, they might have too much access to handy bodies of water before they can burst into flame 🙁

            Wait, what am I using this stuff for?

            Setting up a shoggoth (and other Mythos nasties what are organic in nature) extermination service! Be prepared like the Boy Scouts, for who knows what you might meet in the dark woods next Roodmas?

            At the very least, the next “Call of Chthulu” game night will be extra special 😀

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Should have watched that Mythbusters episode first, I’m guessing.

      Although, I guess a freezer isn’t quite as prone to retaining smells as all the piece parts in a car.

    • toastengineer says:

      Have you considered just letting it sit out in the sun, open, for a while? After all, plenty of things die outside, and outside smells fine. Sunlight isn’t the best disinfectant, but it is the cheapest.

      • GearRatio says:

        Technically that’s what it’s been doing since I took the lid off of it, but even if it worked (originally there was a lot of meat ooze that needed removing, not sure how the sun would have fared) it would have sort of defeated the purpose of the “project” part of it.

        • profgerm says:

          Seconding sunlight and time, if nothing else works (though probably to extent that defeats your purpose). I used to work with decomposing material on a regular basis (for college research) and found out two things.

          One, I acclimated to the smell rather quickly. However in this case “acclimated” meant lost probably 80% or more of my sense of smell entirely, and what I thought was a taste for spicy food was in fact just that incredibly hot peppers were all I could taste for a few years. My schnoz recovered slowly, and my tolerance for heat dropped.

          One seminar I didn’t have time to shower after digging, so I just changed clothes, and even though I couldn’t smell it everyone else informed me that I was radiating the scent of old warm death.

          Two, even though what usually entered my vehicle was only a bit of mud on my shovels and boots, the smell lingered intensely. It was at least a year after I stopped doing that work that passengers stopped being able to smell it.

          • Randy M says:

            Okay, what was your major that had you grave digging?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Forensic anthropologist would be my guess.

          • John Schilling says:

            At Miskatonic University, even the English-lit majors have to pass graverobbing 101.

          • Deiseach says:

            At Miskatonic University, even the English-lit majors have to pass graverobbing 101.

            It’s not graverobbing, it’s “sourcing cultural artefacts for study”.

            If people will insist on being buried with unnameable tomes and talismans of fearful potency instead of doing their duty to Learning and donating them to the museum or university, then this is what they have to expect in the afterlife.

            If they don’t like it, then they can either write the relevant institution into their wills or rise shrieking in a cloud of bats as undead monstrosities out of the splintered remains of their violated coffins to rend the students into gobbets of flesh (Miskatonic U’s highly rated academic reputation is bolstered by its rigorous, not to say severe, approach to failing students on the practical exams).

    • Tenacious D says:

      Looking over the list of things you’ve tried, I don’t see any high pH solutions (baking soda in water is pretty safe to handle; other options may require PPE and special disposal) or absorbents (activated carbon, for example). Those are commonly used in industrial applications (along with oxidizers like you’ve tried).

    • RRob says:

      On my freezer there was a catch plate underneath the drain hole in the bottom. It was close to the compressor. It didn’t drain to anywhere else, I imagine it’s normally meant to be kept warm to evaporate any drips. When my freezer failed the tray and the tube leading to it filled with… stuff. Just flooding and rinsing the drain hole from inside the freezer wasn’t enough to clean the tray.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I don’t see it recommended but baking soda is the go to odor remover, just coat as many surfaces with it (dry) as you can, let sit overnight and then wash the whole thing with a couple of gallons of white vinegar.

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      Or you could just get used to the smell!

    • Deiseach says:

      I stand in awe of your commitment to researching the perfect murder For Science!

      I’d have started off with baking soda as the traditional sort of odour removal for home purposes cure before the bleach etc.

      Depending on how well your commercial preparation works, and if there is any lingering whiffiness left, and if it’s not too late, you could try the baking soda and see how it goes.

      My intuition, though, is that if the entire thing has been permeated by leaving rotting meat percolate in it for a while, that the stink has sunk so far into the material of the freezer, you’ll never get it out and your only recourse will be to dump it.

  34. LadyJane says:

    It’s not just your Thrive vs. Survive theory at stake. The idea that conservatives tend to have a higher disgust response (including a heightened fear of disease) is one of the foundational premises of political psychology.

    Granted, the premise could simply be wrong, which is probably the simplest explanation for why it’s not holding up right now. Political psychology is a relatively new field, so errors are to be expected, and there’s been some pushback against the “conservatives are afraid of disease” theory. But there’s also a fair amount of evidence backing it, and support from both conservative and liberal thinkers. So I’ve been thinking a lot about alternative explanations.

    One possibility is that devout religious belief supersedes the disgust response. This explanation works in places like Israel, Iran, and Bangladesh, where people have disobeyed the rules of social distancing to attend large religious ceremonies. It also works for a small minority of Evangelical Christians in the United States, who are being told by their pastors that God will protect them if they prove their faith by coming to church. But most of the resistance to social distancing has been secular in nature, so this theory doesn’t hold much water. It also completely falls apart in places like Brazil, where conservatives are mostly Catholic and they’re still opposing lockdowns, against the direct recommendations of the Catholic Church.

    Another possibility is that modern conservatives are really more pro-capitalism than pro-traditionalism. If so, it makes sense that they’d be more motivated by concern for financial markets than fear of disease, leading them to oppose lockdowns. Additionally, they might further be inclined to downplay the pandemic because many of the solutions being proposed are leftist ones (e.g. increased spending on healthcare programs and unemployment insurance, the equivalent of a temporary Universal Basic Income in the form of monthly stimulus checks, government subsidization of businesses affected by the lockdown). This is the theory that’s most popular among socialists and other anti-capitalist far-leftists. But if this was the case, I’d expect it to be mostly the fiscally conservative Mitt Romney types who were opposing quarantine measures, while the more socially conservative, nationalistic, populist Tea Party conservatives were the ones who favored social distancing and refused to risk their health for the sake of the economy. Yet in reality, we have almost the exact opposite situation! It’s the moderate fiscal conservatives who tend to be more supportive of lockdowns, and the populists who tend to be most strongly opposed! So that’s another theory that doesn’t hold up.

    Yet another possibility is that the leadership of populist movements is responsible. Populists themselves might be expected to prioritize disease avoidance over the stock market, but they largely take their lead from politicians like Trump and Bolsonaro, who are serving the interests of the corporate elite despite their pretense of being populist reformers. This is the theory that seems to be most popular in liberal circles, along with some less refined variants (e.g. Trump is simply refusing to take the threat seriously because he’s too proud to admit that he was initially wrong, or because he’s compelled to always do the opposite of what liberals want, or out of sheer maliciousness, or just because he’s always completely wrong about everything). Needless to say, I don’t put much stock in any of these ideas.

    The final possibility, and the one that seems most convincing to me, is that populist conservatives really, really, really don’t trust the mainstream media or the scientific/academic establishment, to the point where they’re inclined to dismiss or disbelieve anything they hear from establishment sources. Some of them may even be less likely to believe something if it’s being endorsed by the so-called experts. If this is true, then it makes perfect sense that populist conservatives would view reports of the disease with skepticism, not because they’re unafraid of disease but because they simply have no reason to trust the reports in the first place. (Whether this hyper-skepticism is warranted is an entirely different topic, and no doubt a matter of extreme controversy, so I’ll leave that discussion for a debate thread.)

    • Matt M says:

      Some of them may even be less likely to believe something if it’s being endorsed by the so-called experts.

      This is basically where I’m at now.

      Any headline that starts with “Experts say” might as well say “Please enjoy the following political propaganda” IMO.

      Note that I was afraid of the disease, back in the early days when the expert consensus was “don’t be afraid of this disease.” Now I’m not afraid of it. Funny how that works.

      • crh says:

        I hear experts say this is an excellent truth-seeking strategy.

        • Statismagician says:

          What’s the phenomenon where we all notice how awful reporting about our fields of interest is, but don’t make the obvious leap to reporting about stuff we don’t know about called again?

          • The Nybbler says:

            The Michael CrichtonMurray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect. The law where no eponymous phenomenon is correctly named is called Stigler’s Law of Eponymy.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Statismagician, @The Nybbler: Personally, I don’t think Gell-Mann Amnesia is a good reason to simply ignore mainstream news sources or presume everything they say is wrong. Most people don’t have the background knowledge to understand new discoveries outside of their individual fields of expertise; as a result, news sources tend to explain new scientific findings in very simplified terms at the expense of detail and accuracy. To an expert in that field, it may seem as though the media is just getting everything wrong. But to a layperson, reading an oversimplified half-truth will still give them a more complete and accurate picture of the world. It’s basically a lie-for-children.

            Now, this has its drawbacks. A layperson who thinks they’re an expert in the field might start trying to build new theories on those simplified half-truths, resulting in wildly inaccurate conclusions. And when there’s a long chain of news articles reporting on other news articles reporting on the scientific findings, it can become like a game of telephone, with each new account becoming more distorted than the last, until you’re left with something that barely resembles the actual discovery. Some news outlets also have a bias toward sensationalism, leading them to deliberately misreport or exaggerate findings for the sake of catchier headlines. But overall, I think hearing a watered-down low-resolution version of the truth is better than not hearing about the new discovery at all, and better for a layperson than a more thorough and precise account which they’ll be likely to misinterpret or simply ignore as a result of its complexity.

          • FLWAB says:

            C. S. Lewis’s opinion on reading the newspaper:

            Even in peacetime I think those are very wrong who say that schoolboys should be encouraged to read the newspapers. Nearly all that a boy reads there in his teens will be seen before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance. Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn; and he will probably have acquired an incurable taste for vulgarity and sensationalism and the fatal habit of fluttering from paragraph to paragraph to learn how an actress has been divorced in California, a train derailed in France, and quadruplets born in New Zealand.

            Better not to read at all then read watered down half-truths, some might say. If you really need the information then you need accurate information: if you don’t need it then you don’t need half-truths.

          • Deiseach says:

            Or indeed Chesterton’s view of it, being a working journalist himself:

            Nothing looks more neat and regular than a newspaper, with its parallel columns, its mechanical printing, its detailed facts and figures, its responsible, polysyllabic leading articles. Nothing, as a matter of fact, goes every night through more agonies of adventure, more hairbreadth escapes, desperate expedients, crucial councils, random compromises, or barely averted catastrophes. Seen from the outside, it seems to come round as automatically as the clock and as silently as the dawn. Seen from the inside, it gives all its organisers a gasp of relief every morning to see that it has come out at all; that it has come out without the leading article upside down or the Pope congratulated on discovering the North Pole.

    • matkoniecz says:

      The idea that conservatives tend to have a higher disgust response (including a heightened fear of disease) is one of the foundational premises of political psychology.

      It is part of a replication crisis. AFAIK the study turned out to be worthless.

      Taken together, our findings suggest that the differences between conservatives and liberals in disgust sensitivity are context-dependent rather than a stable personality difference,

      • LadyJane says:

        In my original post, I mentioned that there’s been pushback to the idea, and linked to that very same article as an example.

    • Ursus Arctos says:

      My hybrid theory:

      Hyper-capitalism means that most conservatives have an inclination towards reopening things. However this inclination is overridden in the case of moderate “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” conservatives by scientific evidence suggesting that reopening everything will cause massive political and economic damage. However the deeper cultural conservatives don’t have this sort of override button, because they don’t believe in experts.

      In summary: There’s a pathway from “conservatism” to “hypercapitalism” to “reopen everything” but in the case of “moderates” that pathway is defeasiable through expert advice, whereas in the case of cultural conservatives that pathway isn’t defeasible by experts (though it may be defeasible by other things). This is true even though the culturally liberal, fiscally conservative “moderates” are somewhat more insistent about free markets under normal circumstances.

      I’m aware that this is a clumsy theory, but that’s my best guess right now.

      • Randy M says:

        I don’t think it’s fair to call “believes we need people working to be productive, also values face to face interaction” “hypercapitalism”.

      • LadyJane says:

        The problem with this theory is that I don’t really get why traditional conservatism suddenly transforms into support for “hyper-capitalism.” Traditional conservatism and capitalism are very different ideologies, and there’s little reason to presume that the former would automatically lead one to support the latter, or vice-versa. The alliance between social conservatives and fiscal conservatives is largely an artefact of the Cold War that’s lingered around due to political partisanship.

    • mtl1882 says:

      Excellent post. I think you’re on to a few things there. I always considered myself left-wing, but will admit I’ve recently drifted to a certain type of right-wing thought on some issues. I wouldn’t classify myself as either, as I don’t think I’m a good fit on either side, so I can’t speak to it directly. However, one of the ways I drifted to be somewhat right-wing was an increasing aversion to shoddy or bad faith narrative-driven news, which became the entire mainstream corporate news in the last decade. (No, I don’t watch Fox News, either). And this led to an aversion to people who cling to the (at least left-wing) news as a beacon of truth in a world that doesn’t appreciate facts.

      I personally feel like doing the opposite of whatever they moralize about and half-cover, but of course I’m not that childish. But that impulse is definitely there and drives some people. At this point, I simply can’t take this stuff seriously. I agree with Matt M., below, that “Any headline that starts with “Experts say” might as well say “Please enjoy the following political propaganda” IMO.” The narratives and agendas could not be more heavy-handed, especially during this COVID-19 thing. I don’t think they are lying about COVID-19 being a serious thing, but I do think they’re propagandizing to a ridiculous extent and perpetuating a fantasy world in which we’ll soon have a vaccine and the economy can be shut down indefinitely until test and trace saves us and that they were on top of the outbreak in the January. But this should not be a realization confined to right-wing people, and I doubt it is. Plenty of right wing people support the lockdown and vice versa. The ones out protesting seem to be more confused and angry and interpreting things through a partisan lens, which I guess is reasonable enough in all of this craziness.

      I think many American republicans are definitely more about capitalism than tradition at this point, and I do think the fact that the solutions seem like they might be progressive policies is affecting this, as well as the desire to signal against progressives. Our partisanship is not helping anyone. I also think left-wing people in general are more willing to follow rules on most things. They like to be seen as responsibly knowledgeable and behaved. And so once that happened, the battle lines were drawn, although there are many exceptions on both sides. I think the seeming inconsistencies and erratic course are reflective of the fact that this is partly driven by political feelings that interacted in weird ways, and that for a while people were thinking more of politics than the virus when they spoke of the virus. They were initially using it to score points, and have probably gone back to doing so. I also don’t think people quite know how to react to this whole thing, because it is kind of sudden and out of sight for many people, and the consequences are so huge and uncertain. Everyone’s just acting a little nuts, but I don’t think this partisan breakdown diverges from my expectations as much as it might appear to at first.

      I think your political orientation has to do a lot with personality/temperament, and a lot of people just don’t like being told what to do. Conservatives like order and rules to some extent, but those are often rules they kind of already like to follow, just ground rules. They have a harder time, I think, with people actively interfering in the details of their daily lives, as opposed to just expressing opposition to something they do. Left-wing people like to have more room for expression, but that’s a different sort of freedom. So the entire nature of this rather extreme government interference with basic aspects of daily living is probably going to aggravate people on the right, and I’d expect that pattern to hold true across the world.

      I’d add that I would not expect this virus to trigger the disgust response as some other historical examples might. The whole social distancing thing gives you the idea that it just floats over to you in the air from your kids and neighbors, no dirtiness involved. It’s not like ebola, smallpox, or some similarly visible contagion. The people dying of it are mostly out of sight. It’s not super associated with poverty or any lifestyle that might disturb people. It affects everyone so broadly that you can’t scapegoat a group and lock them up elsewhere. For most people, this illness will be similar to something they’ve experienced before, so it doesn’t shock the senses. Sometimes I have a strong disgust response but this incident hasn’t really triggered it.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I also think left-wing people in general are more willing to follow rules on most things. They like to be seen as responsibly knowledgeable and behaved.

        The 60s just called. They’d like to surround you in a drum circle and chant “Down with the man” at you.

        Also, those anti-BLM and anti-immigration folks in the other corner think that following the law is very important.

        I don’t think your ideas do much other than describing current behavior in a “just so” manner.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Yeah, there is no hard and fast rule for what authorities are obeyed by the left versus the right, but they both have authorities that they obey and authorities that they protest against.

          Most of those decisions are culture war, not based on some first principles that either the left or right always hold to.

          • LadyJane says:

            I don’t think most people base their decisions on any kind of rationally-derived “first principles.” But psychological studies have shown that conservatives and liberals have different inclinations (possibly on a subconscious level), which makes it somewhat predictable which stance they’ll take on a particular issue.

            If it turns out that the political psychologists are wrong, then I’m not sure where that leaves us. One possibility is that conservatives and liberals have different inclinations than the ones we’ve singled out, in which case a lot more research needs to be done. The other possibility is that the whole idea of political affiliation being tied to different psychological inclinations is bunk, in which case it’s basically entirely random whether conservatives or liberals will take a given stance on any particular issue; there’s no pattern to be observed beyond “politician from Group X took a hard stance on this issue, so Group Y took the opposite stance and now they’re in a feedback loop forever.” If that’s the case, then one could expect that in a world where events had played out slightly differently, conservatives would be the ones promoting gun control and liberals would be the ones opposing it. That doesn’t seem too likely to me, but maybe that’s just because it’s hard to take the ‘outside view’ on things like this.

          • in which case it’s basically entirely random whether conservatives or liberals will take a given stance on any particular issue

            You are assuming away the explanation that most conservatives and liberals would offer — that their stance on an issue is based on some set of factual and normative beliefs that they hold in common with others of their political affiliation.

            Consider the case of libertarians, the one I am most familiar with. Most libertarians believe that governments are bad at doing things, that if a government is in charge of producing some good or service, the cost will usually be higher and the quality lower than if it is done on the free market. That has implications for lots of issues.

            Similarly, most libertarians are in favor of liberty and have a shared definition of liberty in which the fact that someone will not sell things to you because he doesn’t like your race or religion, while it may be a bad thing, is not a reduction of your liberty, whereas compelling you to sell something to someone if the reason you don’t want to is that you don’t like his race or religion is a reduction of your liberty. That example points to a particular political issue, but the approach to what freedom means generalizes to lots of others.

            “Conservative” describes a coalition, including people with a range of political beliefs, so the relationship between beliefs and policy positions is more complicated, but it’s still there.

            I agree that some of political issue choice is just tribalism, that on some issues which way conservatives go will be determined by which way Trump goes, which way liberals by which way the NYT goes, but that isn’t the only thing determining it.

            I’m not arguing that first principles are rationally derived, only that there are underlying beliefs more fundamental than the belief on any particular policy issue. And the reason need not be differences in underlying psychology.

          • Gerry Quinn says:

            We’re fighting SARS-COVID-19, which probably has no particular ideology. We’ve adopted a strategy of lockdown. In some places such as Sweden they’ve done otherwise.

            Wherever we are, we need to pull together on a common strategy, I’m not taking this as political right now. In the future it may become political but at the moment I’d hope that folks of all political and religious persuasions are going to work together.

  35. Ouroborobot says:

    I’m mostly a lurker so perhaps my objection doesn’t particularly matter, but for a non-culture war thread there are an awful lot of decidedly hot button very-much-CW threads popping up. Maybe it’s all in my head, but it seems like the overall prevalence of repetitive, vaguely hostile and standoffish political comments has been going up in general around here, and rich non-CW discussion declining in turn. There are a few frequent commenters who seem to adopt that sort of tone in general, but the trend is not just restricted to that handful.

    • Lambert says:

      Scott’s post mentioned some CW/CW-adjacent things.
      When he does this, the commentariat tends to pick up these topics.

      • Nick says:

        Yep. Every time Scott brings up a CW topic at the top of the thread this happens. He even mentioned M*ldb*g this time, God help us, though fortunately most folks didn’t bite.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      You’re probably right, and I’m probably not blameless.

      Thanks for bringing it up.

    • Ouroborobot says:

      I was just struck by the number of threads which essentially amount to opinion-based tribal/cultural analysis. I suspect a lot of it is just there being a baked-in political writing prompt for this one, as Lambert and Nick pointed out. Thrive v survive, the politics of pro/con China and that whole can of worms, discussion of the nature of the blog and commenters in rather loaded terms like “anti-feminist”, etc. Most of it is well meaning and interesting, and I like political discussions. I just really dig the non-CW open threads as a nice change of pace and was seeing a lot of red/blue this/that. I get it though; the one big subject that’s on everyone’s mind and we all want to discuss with smart people is one which has been irrevocably politicized from multiple angles.

      • Lambert says:

        I think making some threads non-corona would also help.

        It was a nice change of pace the other day when everyone suddenly started talking about food on the OT.

  36. bean says:

    Biweekly Naval Gazing links:

    First, I’ve started a new series on coastal defenses, the first part looking at defenses in England through about 1750. I’d love to take a more international perspective, but sourcing limitations make this impossible.

    Last week was Easter, and as such, I’ve highlighted the work of the US Chaplain Corps, in this case Father Joe O’Callahan of the USS Franklin.

    I’ve previously covered the actions of various nation’s battleships in WWII, and have finally completed the work with the last major naval power, France. French battleships played a key role in some of the war’s most unusual diplomatic dramas, which ultimately saw the British attacking their erstwhile allies mere weeks after the Fall of France.

    Lastly, Sunday was the 31st anniversary of the explosion in Turret II of Iowa that took the lives of 47 sailors.

  37. Well... says:

    In case anyone watched Tiger King and can’t get enough of that kind of thing…

    Nine years ago two friends of a friend of mine made a documentary about exotic pet owners in Ohio. It’s called “The Elephant in the Living Room”. It’s on Amazon Prime, maybe some other places. This seems like as good a time to signal-boost it as any.

  38. knzhou says:

    I agree that thrive vs. survive doesn’t make the right call here. The correct distinction (which includes thrive vs. survive as a special case) is that the left has a bias for detecting internal problems, while the right has a bias for detecting external threats.

    That’s why basically every right-wing source was pro-travel restrictions when the threat actually was external (to stop a scary foreign thing from coming in), but now paradoxically thinks we shouldn’t bother with restrictions now that the threat has actually arrived and is doing huge damage.

    What is depressing is that you can read off somebody’s opinions almost perfectly given their political ideology, even though the virus itself doesn’t give a damn about ideology.

    • I can immediately think of a dozen counterexamples to the internal vs. external threat thing.

      How would you explain the world outside the United States? If this is a consistent Left-Right pattern, you should see it internationally. The explanation is one man.

  39. AG says:

    Through some unknown magic, Mozart in his prime ends up in your care in the modern day (and you can somehow prevent him from immediately ODing from partying too hard). What music do you choose to expose him to?
    Do you ease him through the evolution of orchestral music?
    Do you dunk in him the deep end of synthesizers and modern genres?
    Do you spend more time exposing him to the traditional rhythms and instrumentation of non-European cultures?
    Do you think he would find certain lauded genres today dull? Perhaps he wouldn’t appreciate the less melodic subsets of, say, jazz, prog rock, or contemporary classical. On the opposite side, would he also be less than thrilled by more minimalist genres like contemplative singer/songwriter stuff, trap music, or mumblecore?
    Would you dare to just hand him your music player on shuffle?

    As I ruminated on this, I began thinking about applying these questions to other composers, and I realized that it would only be for Mozart and Haydn that I could want to play them all sorts of genres, as opposed to just showing them how classical music had developed.
    I’m not sure if Vivaldi would be game for modern genres. Bach is so much a genius of structure, I think that most everything would be beneath him, or at least not offer much of interest or to take home. And most of the great composers from Beethoven onwards also seem like they would be disappointed by how the other genres lag so far behind classical music in development, given how harshly they judged themselves.
    At best, they’d be impressed by how far instrumentation has come through synths, and and enjoy the music as purely a common consumer, guilty pleasure, “turning your brain off” stuff. At worst, they’d be mortified at how every genre has progressed, including that of classical. After all, every great composer has been strongly criticized by other composers of some standing and name, not to mention the inevitable critics crying that every transition period is the death knell for the medium.
    But when I seriously imagine trying to play any non-Classical piece for Beethoven, I just cannot visualize a positive reaction to the strength of the compositions. Perhaps some of the Russian composers would be amiable, especially The Five, considering how they liked to incorporate folk music melodies, but they too still had their pride in developing them into full Romantic masterpieces.

    In contrast, I have the impression that Mozart would find joy in music they way most poptimists do. His music was more melody-focused than the structure-focused Baroque Era he transitioned from, there was his notorious hedonism, and his love of dance. People have made comparisons of Mozart and Michael Jacksons’ upbringing, and it’s not hard to claim that Mozart might indeed have been a King of Pop in his day. His genius means that he likely wouldn’t deem certain music masterpieces the way we do, but that doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t enjoy them nonetheless.
    Haydn’s history speaks for itself. He grew up in the late Baroque era, studied with one of the Bachs, befriended and somewhat mentored Mozart, and took Beethoven under his wing. He adapted his style through nearly three periods of classical music: Baroque, Classical, and the Late Classical as it transitioned towards Romantic, and was known for his “popular style,” incorporating lots of folk or folk-like music into the more rigorous classical music development and structures. (Much like Bernstein and Gershwin doing the same with jazz, or Copland’s Appalachian Spring.)

    Anyways, a preliminary list of music for the out-of-time Mozart:
    -Rhapsody in Blue (covers orchestral and jazz, good piano part)
    -Star Wars Main Theme (the pinnacle of maximalist orchestral)
    -The overture to Promises Promises. (Unconventional rhythms and maximalist orchestration in a pop setting)
    -West Side Story Symphonic Dances (introduction to latin rhythms, more unconventional phrasing, and melodic dissonance)
    -Jesus Christ Superstar (introduction to modern vocal styles, rock instrumentation)
    -Selections from Aretha Franklin and EW&F (soul, R&B, funk, amazing showboating non-opera vocals)
    -Pop and EDM: Something super maximalist electro, something tropical-house, something city pop. At least one Max Martin song. Gangnam Style, lol, considering Mozart’s sense of humor. Juice by Lizzo. Thriller by Michael Jackson. Don’t Hurt Yourself by Beyonce.
    -Selection of rap music. (I don’t listen to enough of it to pick. Missy Elliot, Jay Z, Kanye, Childish Gambino, Beastie Boys, something with Reggaeton, something New Jack Swing)
    -A psychadelic piece from either the Middle East or South Asia. But also, a Jimi Hendrix performance, plus a Jimi take on classic blues.
    -Something with strong Afro-cuban influence and instrumentation. Tradición by Gloria Estefan?
    -A Bulgarian dance piece in a ludicrous time signature. A Middle Eastern traditional dance piece.
    -A few percussion-only pieces. A taiko showcase, and then a marching battery drum break. Maybe a batucada bateria showcase piece.
    -One of the more modern jazz ensembles pieces that has a strong melody, like Whiplash, or perhaps a modern jazz ensemble cover of a video game song.
    -Libertango, Fuga and Misterioso by Astor Piazzolla
    -Tale of the Destinies + The One, Shanti Shanti Shanti by Babymetal
    -A barbershop quartet piece, a larger modern acapella piece.
    -Maybe something from Queen? suck it Beatles
    -Finish with La Valse by Maurice Ravel

    • Bobobob says:

      Given the Grosse Fugue and the later piano sonatas, I think Beethoven would be more receptive to modern non-classical genres than you think, and much more so than the other composers you mention.

      • AG says:

        Beethoven, like Bach, has more meticulous structure and structure-based melody development than Mozart, so it seems that much of pop or rock would be laughably simple in comparison.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Something that can move him through time sounds valuable to those aliens that keep showing up. I offer to trade Mozart to them for 10 tons of antimatter.

    • noyann says:

      Mozart should hear the Beach Boys (with many explanations of the texts).

      Bach, I would ask of his opinion of Moondog.

    • Enkidum says:

      I think Beethoven would have a good appreciation for Kind of Blue era Miles. But I can’t really explain why well.

    • b_jonas says:

      Interesting premise, thank you for expanding on your thoughts.

    • EchoChaos says:

      Bach is so much a genius of structure, I think that most everything would be beneath him, or at least not offer much of interest or to take home.

      I actually would love to see Bach introduced to new instruments and some of the later styles that he could apply his genius to.

      I think you should also give him something modern rock and a variety of metal pieces to show some of the classical/blues/rock fusion that came out of that.

      • AG says:

        Yeah, Bach performed on synthesizers is one of my favorite things. It strips out musician interpretation and instrumental timbre quirks, leaving behind pure composition and structure. Bach then adding precise synthesizer control and timbre into his optimizations would take them to the next level.

        Do you have any examples or strongly structured rock that you would show Bach? I’m of torn mind about Yes. Metal is an interesting case, since some of it is openly about living up to Baroque structure, and others are almost just synthesizer pieces. Yet, percussion wasn’t a common part of the Baroque chamber ensemble, so most bands are only trios, not even quartets (bass, two guitars).

  40. pacificverse says:

    Dear god… if SlateStarCodex readers believe the bullcrap media narrative that the WHO and China downplayed the outbreak in any way, Sino-American relations are doomed.

    There was no cover-up beyond a four-day delay at around Christmas, well within margins of error of skittish officials thinking that doctors were seeing things in the middle of flu season. The COVID outbreak was front page news in East Asia by Jan 1st, and experts from all over the world were in Wuhan by the first week of January. Everything was done with the maximum of speed, transparency, and professionalism humanly possible. That is indisputable to anyone who has been watching the outbreak since day one.

    The WHO followed standard outbreak control protocol, and advocated for maximum effort containment achieved by contact tracing and quarantine (prior to COVID, the WHO never ever used travel bans as a means of disease control. Not during the height of the SARS outbreak, not during Ebola, never). Following the Wuhan lockdown, caseloads in China outside Wuhan were in the mid-thousands. An export rate of several cases per foreign country per day was expected to be controllable by standard contact tracing and quarantine. Milan and Seattle lost containment by very narrow margins of one or two leakers.

    Some nations (herd immunity) decided to go for mitigation, and the WHO and China shouted at them loudly and angrily. Nations that failed to implement contact tracing properly, or whose contact tracing programs failed (Italy), created huge caseloads which swamped contact tracing elsewhere, including the United States.

    China bears not one iota of responsibility. It made a maximum effort, and held up its end of the bargain.

    The Yellow Press played a major role in inciting the Spanish-American War (Remember the Maine?). Chinese public opinion (relevant to its leaders or not) will not tolerate talk of reparations, not without extreme resentment. Too many bad memories from the Opium Wars. If the American body politic is so foolish to go through with this lunacy, there is a substantial risk of China taking a hard right turn into xenophobic fascist territory. Of course, all of these unpleasant outcomes are acceptable to the American body politic, what with American strategic supremacy and everything…. right of might, right?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      FYI, SSC readers != SSC commenters. The commenters skew substantially compared to the readership.

      And the commenters are doing the standard “this information confirms my pre-existing biases so I will believe it” and/or “this is something I can pick up as a club and beat my outgroup over the head with” thing that us descended from ape sentient beings are prone to.

      • Anteros says:

        Well, I’ll agree with that as I see it both in other commenters as well as myself.

        Is there an obvious way in which commenters skew compared to readers?

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          The commentariat skews to the right of the readership.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Not just right.

            Skew is anti-feminist, libertarian and right. Any/all of those.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Of the readership? Proportionally? There’s so few libertarians, anywhere with a libertarian skews proportionally libertarian.

          • Anteros says:

            I guess I’ve noticed the right skew, and the presence of actual libertarians, but not really any anti-feminism.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I don’t know what the latest survey said, but the readership survey has typically, IIRC, showed that people who read the blog are much more “urbane Democrats” than anything else. I would say that they are self describing as sorta “standard blue-tribe”.

            Indeed, when I first pointed out that the commentariat skewed the way I am describing, Scott said “No. No. Look at these survey results!” I think more recently someone analyzed the survey results as impacted by self-reported comment frequency and found substantial skew. But I can’t remember the particulars.

          • Randy M says:

            but not really any anti-feminism.

            Has feminism made waves recently? I guess metoo is basically feminism, and the Kavanough accusations were tangled up with that too.

            But I think feminism in the wild has become slightly less mainstream (basically there’s understanding that we’ve long since moved past the “women are people too” part of the agenda) and slightly less relevant (probably in part due to a split brought about by trans rights), thus not talked about as much here.

            But if you look back at older posts, SSC, due to posts that pushed back against over broad feminist claims, and that argued in favor of less socially adroit nerds not being deserving of scorn, got a decent amount of discussion about feminism, with much less than mainstream levels of preference for the ideology.

            TLDR, I am agreeing with HBC.

          • Greg says:

            US Democrats are much more right-wing than normal people most everywhere in the world.

          • EchoChaos says:


            True on fiscal issues, very false on social issues.

            Nowhere else in the world is due date abortion considered a mainstream opinion, for example.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            How long have you been frequenting this blog? There is a long and illustrious history of anti “SJW” rhetoric, from Scott himself even.

          • Nick says:

            Anteros appears to have started commenting on Christmas last year.

          • Matt M says:

            Even on fiscal issues I’m not convinced it’s true.

            There are plenty of developed countries with lower and/or more regressive taxation policies than the US who aren’t considered radical right-wing and/or libertarian states.

          • Matt M says:

            The SSC comments section is “anti-feminism” to the extent that it has a non-zero amount of people on it willing to question some of the core premises of feminism, yes.

            Because most places don’t have that.

          • salvorhardin says:

            Greg, I think your contention was true twenty years ago but is much less true now. The Democratic Party of Clinton’s era included no really important left-wing faction by e.g. European meanings of left-wing; but Bernie Sanders, AOC, etc would be recognized as leftists anywhere.

            The US and European right wings have also moved closer to each other, with nationalism in the ascendancy and fiscal conservatism on the decline in both.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            He said he was “unlurking”, so I’m curious how long he had been reading the comments.

          • eh says:

            I think it’s remarkably culturally blue, considering that it’s skewed politically red. I also think that the skew towards generalised ideological weirdness (libertarian, rationalist, communist, utopian, Singapore-is-pretty-great-ist, or otherwise) is much more striking than the skew to the right. Although I don’t have stats for it, subjectively it feels like you’re more likely to find someone on the nominal right who approves of late-term abortion or a UBI/NIT here than in the general population.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            Given the set A of all beliefs, and the set C of generally common beliefs, SSC ~ A – C.

          • meh says:

            Given the set A of all beliefs, and the set C of generally common beliefs, SSC ~ A – C.

            And this is actively cultivated much of the time.

          • Deiseach says:

            Skew is anti-feminist, libertarian and right. Any/all of those.

            Okay, I’ll cop to the “anti-feminist” despite being female myself, given that “not rah-rah for abortion = anti-feminist horrible misogynist sexist” in the current political climate – including in my own country, before anyone thinks I’m fighting culture wars abroad.

            That definition of “anti-feminist” does not bother me one whit, nor any of the “if you’re not on board with this laundry list of social liberalisation, you are A Bad Person”. Yes I am a bad person, but it’s not my opinions on divorce that made me such. Ditto with being on the right.

            As an aside, I am seeing “centrist” being used as A Dirty Word (ironically, in fandom discussions of a fictional character from a magical fantasy history novel/TV show), and my impressions are that this is coming from the left-ish side (anything from ‘vaguely on the left of the mainstream Democratic party’ to ‘full-blown progressive in every manner’). Centrism is bad because – well, I’m not entirely sure why it’s bad, apart from “not alone does it not sufficiently demonise the Right – who as we all know, are all Alt-Rite Nazi Fascists – but it is insufficiently enthusiastic for the Left – who as we all know think, do, say and believe the Only Feasible Moral Ethical Correct Things”. Being a centrist means you refuse to Stand Up and Do The Right Thing and other such wickedness.

            Libertarian, though? How very dare you! 😀

      • EchoChaos says:

        this information confirms my pre-existing biases so I will believe it

        I believe this, but only because I already was biased to.

        (Have we done that joke before?)

      • Ouroborobot says:

        Irony level: over 9000

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Sick burn, bruh.

          • Ouroborobot says:

            You are correct, and I should not have posted this. I do, however, think there is a bit of a stench attached to a comment that seems to malign the other commenters and imply one is above their mortal failings, while arguably demonstrating that to be untrue. I should have simply said this instead rather than be snarky about it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I meant literally all humans, me included.

            In the Douglas Adams, some of us thought coming down from the trees was a big mistake, sense.

          • Ouroborobot says:

            If I misread your tone, then I apologize.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            No worries, no real apology needed, but apology readily accepted.

      • Erusian says:

        For those of you who do lean more left wing… is supporting China a left wing stance? My impression is that both the left and right have issues with China, they just disagree on what issues to prioritize and how to best handle the situation.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Obligatory I am very much not a lefty.

          My impression of the commentariat is that “conventional lefties” are fairly anti-China, but not as harshly as righties, but that the very hard left are pro-China, either because they still espouse a version of Communism or because they aren’t aligned with the USA.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          “Supporting” China isn’t left-wing stance. Caring about Chinese people might be more left-wing.

          It’s really something that cuts across the political divide in a not very partisan manner. It’s used in a partisan manner, but not in an ideologically consistent way. (e.g. Think about Obama saying China was the big current threat in 2012, and how that was treated in 2017)

          • Erusian says:

            Sure, but that’s not what this comment is. It’s not concerned about Asian-American racism, it’s about how the Chinese government did nothing wrong.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            Where are you getting “racism” from?

            The caring about Chinese people? That’s not about racism, it’s about one world, kumbaya, love and happiness. I mean I guess you could stretch it there, but that wasn’t my meaning at all. I was talking about literal people in China, as opposed to US citizens of any ethnic derivation.

            Think about Obama saying China was the big current threat in 2012, and how that was treated in 2017

            Obama identified China as a threat for a number of reasons, but none of them had anything to do with anti-Asian bias, or lack thereof. Some of them had to do specifically with the authoritarian nature of China.

          • Erusian says:

            I suppose I presumed you meant American Chinese people, partly because I know several left wingers very concerned with atmospheres of xenophobia and the like.

        • Statismagician says:

          I don’t know what I count as, but I think the left dislikes China on human rights grounds and the right dislikes China on security/economic grounds. Whether or not you ‘support China’ depends on specific topic and context, not party.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            the right dislikes China on security/economic grounds

            I don’t think this is correct.

            There are anti-interventionist, anti-globalist, isolationists on both sides of the political spectrum.

            The “pro-business” types in the Republican party have no issues with China providing cheap labor for American capital’s profit.

            The globalist/international engagement types in the Democratic party see economic growth in China as a net positive, with some negative externalities imposed on parts of the US economy.


          • Statismagician says:

            Modify to ‘among those on the left/right who dislike China,’ then?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Even that doesn’t seem right.

          • Statismagician says:

            Huh. All right, disregard.

          • FLWAB says:

            I hear a lot of human rights criticism of China from the right. However it is specifically from Christians and Christian organizations and the main concern is the lack of true freedom of religion in China. Churches across the country hear stories from Chinese pastors and missionaries detailing crackdowns on house churches, the difficulty of getting Bibles (last I checked you needed an “official” Bible printed by a state organization or else it is illegal to own, and the state entity that prints it deliberately prints far less than demand and gives priority for distribution to State registered churches, which are required to submit to various de-fanging restrictions. That may have changed in recent years, I’m not sure). So if your average Christian evangelical has heard anything about modern China they’ve probably heard about human rights abuses that specifically target Chinese Christians.

          • Matt M says:


            The tribal-flipped version of that is the recent journalist-class concern for the plight of Uighur Muslims.

            And the 90s version of that was “Free Tibet” and following the Dalai Llama around on speaking tours and such.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Matt M: So you’re saying Islam is trendy now the same way Buddhism was in the ’90s?

          • FLWAB says:

            So you’re saying Islam is trendy now the same way Buddhism was in the ’90s?

            I think it’s trendy in that Muslim persecution sells more papers (gets more clicks?) than Christian persecution in blue tribe enclaves. But the fact is that in the last couple of years Xi has brought about a strong crackdown against religious believers of all types in China. Some people are saying its the worst persecution since the Cultural Revolution. Even registered churches who have complied with government requrests (such as putting up Chinese flags instead of crosses, singing patriotic songs, and having government security cameras installed so all services can be monitered) have been raided, and house churches are being taken out one by one. The Uighur persecution is a part of that larger push. Here’s an interesting article laying out the situation from The Guardian, a source which shouldn’t be too biased towards Christians. Here’s an interesting exceprt:

            As of 2018, the government has implemented sweeping rules on religious practices, adding more requirements for religious groups and barring unapproved organisations from engaging in any religious activity. But the campaign is not just about managing behaviour. One of the goals of a government work plan for “promoting Chinese Christianity” between 2018 and 2022 is “thought reform”. The plan calls for “retranslating and annotating” the Bible, to find commonalities with socialism and establish a “correct understanding” of the text.

            “Ten years ago, we used to be able to say the party was not really interested in what people believed internally,” said Pils (professor of law at King’s College London, focusing on human rights). “Xi Jinping’s response is much more invasive and it is in some ways returning to Mao-era attempts to control hearts and minds.”

          • Matt M says:

            So you’re saying Islam is trendy now the same way Buddhism was in the ’90s?

            Not practicing it necessary, but “publicly and visibly caring about the plight of the Uighur Muslims in China” is trendy now in the same way that “publicly caring about the plight of Tibetan Buddhists” was in the 90s, absolutely…

          • Aapje says:

            I think that caring about religious freedom is very non-trendy in blue tribe, atheist or nigh-atheist circles, with concern about Muslims being based primarily on the impression that they are targeted for their ethnicity, rather than religion.

        • Randy M says:

          I think “neoliberalism” is pro-China in as much as you can’t be pro-Globalism without getting entangled with the Chinese economy, and you can’t do that without being somewhat deferential to the Chinese government.
          To the right of that is “what about poor Americans?” and to the left of that is “What about minorities/poor in China?”

          As a religious conservative, I used to hear a lot of denunciation of China’s “One Child” policy. I think this has become less salient as their birthrates have fallen with modernization and the enforcement has become less strict.

        • Guy in TN says:

          For those of you who do lean more left wing… is supporting China a left wing stance?

          I can’t speak for a political movement as a whole, but the general left-position is that the US government cannot be trusted, is a bad actor on the global stage, and is currently ran by racists, nationalists, imperialists, and war profiteers of various stripes.

          So the question isn’t really “are you pro-China?”, but rather “do you support the current the rhetorical ramp-up that has the US going to war with China as its implied conclusion?”

          Just like people who opposed the war with Iraq must necessarily have been “pro-Saddam”, people who oppose escalating tensions with China must now be “pro-China”.

          This upcoming war, like almost all the US wars before it, is one of choice, that must necessarily be draped in the cloak of inevitability and “self defense” for popular consumption.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            general left-position

            Not sure, but I don’t think left-wing and leftist can be treated interchangeably as you seem to be doing here.

            I think you mean “leftist” or “Socialist left” and the prompt just means everyone left of center.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I didn’t realize there was a distinction to be made between “left-wing” and “leftist”? I’ve always used the terms to apply to the same group. As in: “a leftist is someone who occupies the left-wing position”.

            But yeah, my comment does not apply to the more liberal-centrists like Biden or Clinton types. I saw just yesterday that Biden cut an ad arguing that Trump is being soft on China, arguing that Biden would be the real hawk.

          • herbert herberson says:

            I agree with HeelBearClub. Left-wing includes left-liberals, but I read “leftist” as a catchall term for everything to the left of them–assorted and sundry anarchists, socialists, and communists.

          • Skeptic says:

            That’s..not really an accurate take on ‘the consensus’ as it pertains to foreign policy.

            Foreign policy in the US has recently been a completely bipartisan Wilsonian Doctrine affair, with the differences between Dems and Reps essentially boiling down to intra-party debates about the best method of achieving the shared Wilsonian Idealist outcome. Most of them are trivial to the point of absurd (R2P vs pre-emptive overthrow, anyone?)

            In that sense it’s certainly not racist or nationalist, although one could interpret the Wilsonian Doctrine ‘make the world safe for democracy’ as a form of cultural imperialism.

            I think a better descriptor for Wilsonian foreign policy (and one that lies outside the culture war) is Insane.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Guy in TN:
            Admittedly, usage is always fluid.

            But the most typical use, at least in my estimation, is something like the canonical one.

            The terms “left” and “right” appeared during the French Revolution of 1789 when members of the National Assembly divided into supporters of the king to the president’s right and supporters of the revolution to his left. One deputy, the Baron de Gauville, explained: “We began to recognize each other: those who were loyal to religion and the king took up positions to the right of the chair so as to avoid the shouts, oaths, and indecencies that enjoyed free rein in the opposing camp”.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            Hey guys! I’m popular!

          • Guy in TN says:

            Can you provide links to anyone who is supporting going to war with China? Where on earth have you been watching, hearing, reading anything that even implies war let alone calls for it overtly?

            If China is “responsible” for the Coronavirus outbreak, that means that they are “responsible” for >50,000 American deaths. “Responsible for killing Americans” is the phrasing we might use had they fired a rocket at Los Angeles.

            When people talk about “holding China accountable” for these deaths, what do you think that implies? What would we do, in a typical generic circumstance, where a foreign power kills >50,000 US civilians? The rhetorical groundwork being laid is so plain, I don’t see how one could miss it.

            But if you want “an example”: Just a few weeks ago I was debating with someone who described his position as “supports peace, but does not find it plausible a the time being“, as if war was just something that manifest from invisible outside forces, beyond our will.

            This could all blow over of course, if the US decides to direct its attention to some other bugaboo. As recently as January it looked like we were on the brink of war with Iran, and before that it was Venezuela. So no I offer no predictions on what the future holds, only that the current rhetorical trajectory is “bad”.

          • matkoniecz says:

            @Guy in TN

            “directly murders N people in act of warfare”


            “due to less than ideal competence + coverup + censorship natural disaster goes out of control and kills N people”

            are generally considered as significantly different.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I just have a hard time buying the “no one actually wants war” line from a country that’s currently dropping bombs in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and others too numerous to mention. With every last one being a war of choice.

            Clearly someone wants war. And it’s not unreasonable to think that an administration that’s been picking fights with (in just the past three years) Russia, Venezuela, North Korea, and Iran, might not be interested in doing a sudden 180 towards international peace for the country it claims is “responsible for killing Americans”.

          • Lambert says:

            Those places aren’t neer peers.

            China’s able to do orders of magnitude more damage to the US than Ba’ath or Iran or any of the lesser powers in the region.

        • Milo Minderbinder says:

          What do you mean, “support China?”

          My impression was that pre-Trump the view breakdown was:

          Cultural Right: The Chinese are godless communists whose human rights abuses make the offshoring of American jobs and theft of American IP deeply troubling.

          Neoliberal/”Business Right”: Chinese human rights abuses are troubling but exposure to Western values via trade and cultural exchange will ultimately smooth out these rough edges. Our superior culture will of course win out in the end. Plus, a lot of the Cultural Right stuff sounds “Yellow peril-y”

          Traditional Leftist: Complaints against China are overblown, yet another example of Western Imperialists singling out a communist country. Plus, more emphasis on the racism of the right-wing criticisms.

          Nowadays, the neoliberal position has definitely moved towards what was previously the cultural right, as fears of technological superiority and doubts of the persuasiveness of Western culture have begun to sink in. On the left there’s more recognition of Chinese human rights abuses that I’ve seen. The nuance I see today is the level of concern for the welfare of the average Chinese person in all of this, condemnation of the CCP is pretty widespread these days.

        • Loriot says:

          Trump’s hostility to China has made things pretty awkward because now we have to say “China is a problem but Trump is going about it in the worst possible way”, and nuanced arguments are heavily selected against in the sphere of politics.

      • Gerry Quinn says:

        How can you tell? I would think that SSC would generally be read by opinionated types who would have their own piece to say.

        Is this the new version of “The Lurkers support me”?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          The SSC survey results, and Scott’s reference thereof, is what is being used to categorize the readership. Most people don’t comment. I imagine many, even lots, even most, of the readers don’t even read the comments (did Scott ask this on the survey?), let alone make comments.

          In any case, the data exists in the survey to be able to look at how self-selected political lean changes as self-identified comment frequency increases. I believe Scott actually analyzed that in 2019, or maybe some other commenter.

          • acymetric says:

            I could be completely wrong, but I believe it was “Dan L” who did that analysis. I can’t remember if I’ve seen him comment recently.

            Edit: On second thought, maybe there was no space and it was “DanL”. Can’t remember.

    • EchoChaos says:

      We know, uncontroversially know because it is the official line of the CCP, that they denied a bunch of cases in January and February that they later added to the total in order to make themselves look better.

      How is that done with a maximum of transparency?

      • Statismagician says:

        What that link says, as far as I can tell, is that they revised their counts because they’d gotten incomplete figures from data source institutions and because they’d corrected some mistakes. How true or complete that is I don’t know, but it’s entirely plausible and we’re doing exactly the same thing here in the U.S. Malice not necessary where garden-variety overwork/lack of hypercompetence will suffice.

        • EchoChaos says:

          I am aware that is the party line. So either they are so incompetent that they missed a full third of the deaths in Wuhan (which belies that they responded competently) or they were hiding things. Given that they actively silenced whistleblowers, I know which way my bet is, but admit a bias against the CCP.

          • knzhou says:

            Last week, NYC revised their death counts upward by 3700, i.e. they stated that they had missed a full third of the deaths. When things get bad, keeping an accurate count is hard.

          • Statismagician says:

            I think the small absolute scale and compressed timeline of this are distorting perceptions of what counts as competent response. We’re talking about an error of 1,290 people corrected over, what, 2-3 months? Note ‘over,’ not ‘after,’ because they probably had to do a substantially shoe-leather investigation of an 11-million-person city and those take time. If our own numbers don’t have to be revised similarly I’ll be shocked, it’s just the nature of the beast.

            EDIT: Yeah, that.

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            The difference in NYC is we already knew it was an undercount, thanks to open records and a free press.

          • Statismagician says:

            Everybody with any kind of expertise knew that about Wuhan, too. I don’t read Chinese so I can’t tell you what their press was saying, but ‘probably an undercount’ appearing in the paper is not what makes it true.

          • A1987dM says:

            FWIW, even the Italian official death count is most likely underestimated by at least a factor of two, given the difference between the total mortality rate in 2020 Q1 vs 2019 (or 2018, etc.) Q1.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      There was no cover-up beyond a four-day delay at around Christmas, well within margins of error of skittish officials thinking that doctors were seeing things in the middle of flu season. The COVID outbreak was front page news in East Asia by Jan 1st, and experts from all over the world were in Wuhan by the first week of January. Everything was done with the maximum of speed, transparency, and professionalism humanly possible. That is indisputable to anyone who has been watching the outbreak since day one.

      Li Wenliang was summoned by the police and made to sign his “apology” on January 3. Among the peace-disturbing allegations he was made to recant was the advice that his readers take precautions against contagion, which was at odds with China insisting up until January 20 that they had no evidence of human-to-human transmission (and then within two days of admitting it, putting one of their largest cities under an unprecedented lockdown, an awfully fast jump in knowledge from “no transmission” to “shut it down”).

      Saying “experts from all over the world were in Wuhan” sounds like a flat lie, although this shilling sounds practiced enough that I’m sure there’s some tendentious interpretation of it. Perhaps in the sense that doctors working for the Wuhan hospitals came from various places, but certainly I didn’t see any independent experts being let into Wuhan until well into the lockdown.

      And these are just inferable from the public record. There are numerous other accounts from anonymous whistleblowers that in early January they were instructed to destroy samples and keep quiet.

      I think the evidence is clear that China was either directing a cover-up or half-assing their supervision of local officials directing a cover-up, then switched gears once that became unsustainable.

    • matkoniecz says:

      China bears not one iota of responsibility

      They bear 100% of responsibility for coverup, censorship and lies that were clearly happening at begininng. And their political system encouraged this.

      Not sure how much of coverup, censorship and lies happened later, but at early crucial stage it is clearly confirmed that it happened.

      Everything was done with the maximum of speed, transparency, and professionalism humanly possible.

      This is untrue. Initial coverup and censorship was an opposite of transparency.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      If you think there’s a popular misconception that’s wrong, you should put in the work to show why things people believe, like China jailing people who spoke about the virus, or kicking out foreign journalists, or WHO saying on January 14 that there was no person-to-person transmission despite, or China kept on demurring on offers for outside assistance, are incorrect.

      • knzhou says:

        > WHO saying on January 14 that there was no person-to-person transmission

        This is one of those completely false things that people only believe is true by repetition. Go back and actually read the full set of WHO statements in mid-January. They have a bunch of statements saying there probably is person-to-person transmission, and a bunch saying that specific studies haven’t yet found *hard evidence* for person-to-person transmission (because at that point most of the cases they’d managed to find were tied to the market). The WHO never, ever said that it can’t be transmitted, and they absolutely never said that people should do nothing about COVID-19. They were urging nations to act for months before they actually did.

        > China kept on demurring on offers for outside assistance

        When the first cluster in Washington sprung up, how do you think Americans would have responded if the CCP generously offered to put boots on the ground in Washington to coordinate our response for us? Do you think a single politician in the country would have reacted to that positively? Obviously not; now you know why the reverse is true.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Go back and actually read the full set of WHO statements in mid-January.

          What follows is not a full list, but things that are generally in the category of information or advice:

          Jan 9
          Some coronaviruses cause less-severe disease, some more severe. Some transmit easily from person to person, while others don’t.

          Jan 9
          Novel coronaviruses emerge periodically, as we have seen. SARS emerged in 2002 and MERS emerged in 2012.
          Several known coronaviruses are currently circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.

          Jan 9
          Protect yourself & reduce risk from #coronavirus infection:
          👏🏽Hand hygiene
          Sneezing faceCover mouth & nose when coughing & sneezing
          Cut of meatThoroughly cook meat & eggs
          🌡Avoid close contact with anyone with respiratory illness
          Cross mark Avoid close contact with wild or live farm animals

          Jan 10
          WHO does not recommend any specific health measures for travellers to and from Wuhan,#ChinaFlag of China

          It is generally considered that entry screening offers little benefit, while requiring considerable resources LINK #coronavirus

          Jan 10
          WHO advises against the application of any travel or trade restrictions on #China based on the information currently available LINK

          Jan 11
          WHO is providing information to countries on how to prepare for the new #coronavirus, incl. how to:
          🌡 monitor for sick people
          Microscope test samples
          Stethoscope treat patients
          Hospital control infection in health centres
          Adhesive bandage maintain the right supplies
          🗣 communicate with the public about the virus

          Jan 11
          BREAKING: WHO has received the genetic sequences for the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) from the Chinese authorities. We expect them to be made publicly available as soon as possible.

          Jan 11
          WHO thanks the Chinese authorities for their commitment to sharing information on the novel #coronavirus (2019-nC0V) as they continue intensive surveillance and follow-up measures, including environmental investigations in #ChinaFlag of China

          Jan 11
          WHO encourages all countries to continue preparedness activities, and has issued interim guidance on how to do this.

          #coronavirus (2019-nCoV)

          Jan 11
          Whole genome sequences for the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) from the ChineseFlag of China authorities were shared with WHO and have also been submitted by Chinese authorities to the GISAID platform so that they can be accessed by public health authorities, laboratories and researchers.

          Jan 12
          On 11 and 12 January 2020, WHO received further detailed information from the #ChinaFlag of China National Health Commission about the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak LINK

          That links says:

          The evidence is highly suggestive that the outbreak is associated with exposures in one seafood market in Wuhan. The market was closed on 1 January 2020. At this stage, there is no infection among healthcare workers, and no clear evidence of human to human transmission

          Jan 12
          The evidence is highly suggestive that the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak is associated with exposures in a seafood market in #Wuhan, #ChinaFlag of China.
          The market was closed on 1 January 2020 LINK

          Jan 13
          WHO is working with officials in #ThailandFlag of Thailand and #ChinaFlag of China following reports of confirmation of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in a traveler from #Wuhan, China, who traveled to Thailand

          Jan 13
          The possibility of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) cases being identified in countries other than #ChinaFlag of China was not unexpected, and reinforces why WHO calls for on-going active monitoring and preparedness in other countries. LINK

          From link:

          The possibility of cases being identified in other countries was not unexpected and reinforces why WHO calls for on-going active monitoring and preparedness in other countries. WHO has issued guidance on how to detect and treat persons ill with the new virus.

          Oh, it not unexpected? Thanks!

          Jan 14
          Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #ChinaFlag of China.

          Jan 14
          Replying to
          Hi Matt, there has been no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
          However, such transmission is always a concern when patients have respiratory symptoms – this requires further investigation.

          [above tweet repeated to about 10 other people]

          Jan 14
          On 13 January 2020, the Flag of Thailand#Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health
          reported the first imported case of lab-confirmed novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) from #Wuhan, #ChinaFlag of China LINK

          From LINK

          As the traveler did not report having visited the market linked to most of the other cases, it is vital that investigations continue to identify the source of infection. To date, China has not reported any cases of infection among healthcare workers or contacts of the cases. Based on the available information there is no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission. No additional cases have been detected since 3 January 2020 in China.

          Additional investigation is needed to ascertain the presence of human-to-human transmission, modes of transmission, common source of exposure and the presence of asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic cases that are undetected. It is critical to review all available information to fully understand the potential transmissibility among humans.

          When cases started showing up in other countries, WHO said “of course we were always worried about this,” but I’m not sure of the other times they were worried about it. Maybe it’s like Trump saying he knew it was always a pandemic.

          By the way, I haven’t excused the Western countries, at all, for sitting on their hands. Even with the great wall of bullshit that China put out, there was still the entire month of February to act, and few did anything.

          • knzhou says:

            Okay, so this is one week of messages from an extremely early stage — at the point where Chinese scientists have only just shown that a new virus exists. And as I said, even at this early stage, there isn’t a single tweet that’s wrong. It was completely true that all coronaviruses are different, completely true that they didn’t have hard evidence of human-to-human transmission, completely true that all nations should be prepared, and completely true that more information was needed.

            What exactly are you complaining about? Should the WHO have demanded all international flights stop on January 9? If you think this is a reasonable step, note that new diseases and mysterious outbreaks occur all the time, to the tune of several per month globally. (You can try to keep up with the firehose here.) If their response was on that much of a hair-trigger, international travel would literally never be allowed.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            What exactly are you complaining about?

            You wanted me to look at that week of messages. I did.

            They have a bunch of statements saying there probably is person-to-person transmission, and a bunch saying that specific studies haven’t yet found *hard evidence* for person-to-person transmission

            emphasis added

            When I see this, I’m expecting to see something along the lines of “human-to-human transmission is possible, but we haven’t proven it yet.” Instead, I see them saying that all evidence is that there is no such thing as human-to-human transmission, although one tweet a week earlier said it’s possible for coronaviruses to either be one or the other.

            It all feels like talking with Trump supporters who think that Trump saying “maybe it’s inevitable, maybe it isn’t” as identical to him saying it’s inevitable.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          (reply to edit)

          how do you think Americans would have responded if the CCP generously offered to put boots on the ground in Washington to coordinate our response for us? Do you think a single politician in the country would have reacted to that positively? Obviously not; now you know why the reverse is true.

          Normally, teams from the agency’s Epidemic Intelligence Service can be in the air within 24 hours.

          But no invitation has come — and no one can publicly explain why.

          The World Health Organization, which made a similar offer about two weeks ago, appears to be facing the same cold shoulder, though a spokeswoman said it is just “sorting out arrangements.”

          Current and former public health officials and diplomats, speaking anonymously for fear of upsetting diplomatic relations, said they believe the reluctance comes from China’s top leaders, who do not want the world to think they need outside help.

          China had “agreed to a mission of international experts” to better understand disease transmission and clinical severity, Dr. Michael Ryan, the W.H.O’s emergency response chief, said at the time.

          Asked if that team would include American experts, Dr. Tedros replied that “best would be a bilateral arrangement.”

          On Thursday, a W.H.O. spokeswoman said that there was no delay in the organization’s own mission to China.

          “Our understanding is that the mission is on,” Marcia Poole, the spokeswoman, said. But she could not say when the team would leave or who would be on it.

    • knzhou says:

      Completely agreed. I’ve been following this since it was front-page news in English-language Asian newspapers back in early January. The speed with which China and the WHO reacted was not perfect, but it was pretty damn good. They were able to (1) discover that a new respiratory illness had appeared, in the middle of a bad flu season, (2) identify the virus, (3) develop tests for it, (4) set up mass contact tracing and testing from scratch, (5) test enough to conclude that there was a big problem, and (6) implement the most visible and draconian containment measures ever taken in any nation. All of this took place in a few weeks in January, and all of these steps were completely public, in the sense that I, an ordinary person, could read about them in the newspaper as they happened. For contrast, here in the US we got stuck for a few weeks solely on step (3), despite having far more information!

      I would have thought this would have been warning enough, but then I had to sit through two months of the Western world doing nothing, and then coming around to overwhelming consensus that this all happened because China covered it up. If declaring a global health emergency, finding and sharing the genetic sequence of the virus, publishing absolutely enormous case and fatality numbers, and performing a gigantic lockdown in January is a coverup, then what exactly is supposed to be transparency?!

      • matkoniecz says:

        and all of these steps were completely public

        after they finished coverup, censorship and threatening doctor who was first to notice it

        • knzhou says:

          I mean, if you actually dig a bit deeper into the story there, Li Wenliang had no expertise in the field, was going off very little information, and was sending out mass messages saying that SARS had returned (which was absolutely not true; SARS is far worse, with 25x the mortality rate of COVID-19), which would have incited completely panic.

          Yes, in hindsight they should have listened to him, and back in January I was pissed off about this because it set China’s response back by about a week, but these days a week of wasted time sounds like an excellent performance compared to almost every other country.

          It’s not about the political system. Imagine an American eye doctor posting on Facebook that Ebola was going around in NYC. They would definitely face immediate professional consequences — probably more than Li Wenliang did. My impression is that the full extent of the consequences he experienced was a stern talking to by the police, which is what you get here when pulled over for speeding.

          • matkoniecz says:

            “and all of these steps were completely public”, “China bears not one iota of responsibility”, “bullcrap media narrative that the WHO and China downplayed the outbreak in any way” are clearly untrue.

            There is sadly plenty of space to praise China and make fun of USA/Europe. But starting from absolutely ridiculous and easy to demonstrate as false claims seems weird.

            I mean, if you actually dig a bit deeper into the story there

            Maybe, but I will ignore it for now until it gets confirmed by someone credible or by good quality sources. Your “all of these steps were completely public” was misleading at best (by conveniently ignoring earlier censorship, coverup and lies and by later defining “completely public” in a weird way).

            messages saying that SARS had returned (which was absolutely not true; SARS is far worse, with 25x the mortality rate of COVID-19)

            For your info SARS is caused by SARS-Cov-1, COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2. Both are variants of SARS-CoV strain.

            Not sure whatever he managed it by accident, but “which was absolutely not true” seems way too strong. (I am less sure here)

            Imagine an American eye doctor posting on Facebook that Ebola was going around in NYC. They would definitely face immediate professional consequences — probably more than Li Wenliang did.

            Also if it would be based on observing actually happening cases and discovering later that it was not standard Ebola but an also deadly and dangerous Ebola variant?

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            I mean, if you actually dig a bit deeper into the story there, Li Wenliang had no expertise in the field, was going off very little information, and was sending out mass messages saying that SARS had returned (which was absolutely not true; SARS is far worse, with 25x the mortality rate of COVID-19), which would have incited completely panic.

            I’m not sure what in this paragraph is supposed to make me go “ah yes, clearly they did the right thing.”

            Imagine an American eye doctor posting on Facebook that Ebola was going around in NYC

            In a situation where it isn’t actually Ebola going around NYC but a novel filovirus that causes similar hemorrhagic fevers in a less-virulent, more-contagious form? While the authorities claim it’s just a bunch of bad seafood for three weeks? Okay well, we can give him a gold-plated metal instead of a solid gold one.

          • Ouroborobot says:

            I can imagine an American doctor facing professional or even legal consequences for it. I can’t imagine an american doctor being hauled in and threatened by the secret police of the ruling communist dictatorship for it. That seems very much about the political system, since I think it’s fair to observe that those sort of tactics are seen far more frequently under some systems than under others.

    • Statismagician says:

      I think that nobody can possibly know, at this stage, who bears how much responsibility for which parts of whatever the result of all this turns out to have been. Assignment of blame, in either direction, is entirely premature and deeply irresponsible and I wish we’d all stop trying to do it until something at least vaguely resembling the full facts are in.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I strongly agree with this. I would much prefer to save the postmortem for the post part of the mortem.

      • Andrew says:

        I don’t think anything resembling full facts will ever come in. At least, not in a way that ever allows anybody of import to usefully assign blame.

        Propaganda machines are already spinning to deflect blame from their hosts and they aren’t going to stop so that we can do a dispassionate analysis in a year. If anything, time and distance will only make the propaganda more effective.

        The reality is that most countries failed in ways ranging from the inadequate to the horrifying, but give it 5 years and everybody will think that their country/party/tribe heroically did what they could, and blame lies primarily on some outgroup.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        We cannot make precise statements now, but pacificverse asserts an upper bound and we can reject that with a much higher lower bound. We can say that today, so we should say that today.

        As more information comes in, we will learn that people had information earlier and they will look worse for not acting on it. It is unlikely that people will look better in the future.

        • pacificverse says:

          My assertation is a middle/lower bound.
          The upperbound is that the Chinese response was frickkin perfect, that the Chinese system worked perfectly, and that no other government would have the guts to quarantine a city of eleven million and a province the size of Britain for the first time in a century in response to a few thousand pneumonias in the middle of a major holiday. If the outbreak had occured anywhere except China, the first outbreak would have been exactly like Italy’s – i.e. splashing across the rest of the world with hundreds of exported cases/country per day within two weeks and overwhelming contact tracing within fifteen days, causing loss of containment immediately.

          China bought the world a month of prep time (fact). Should the world not be paying China instead? (Opinion)

          This is an upper bound.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            When I say an “upper bound,” I mean an upper bound on error.

            You claim an upper bound of at most 4 days of error. The lower bound is that we know China lied for at least 3 weeks. By a “lower bound” I mean “at least”; maybe the true period of time was longer or maybe the lies were worse than I currently estimate, let alone know.

            If you just want to say that China did better than western countries, you could say that, but you didn’t. Instead you made absolute claims. Britain’s errors and Trump’s lies have no bearing on assessing your claims. We know that they are false and we should say that today.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Except that nCOV2 started quietly spreading in Washington State as early as January 15th, eight days before the Wuhan quarantine. Exactly what month did China buy the world?

          • pacificverse says:

            China did not lie for three weeks. Local officials, at most, waited a week to sound the alarm.
            First detected imported case in Seattle was Jan 21, well after the WHO told people to watch out. Jan 14 was the day interpersonal spread was confirmed
            Seattle missed one guy, and did not test or trace as aggressively as it should’ve.
            Scroll to the bottom to see reporting from January. It’s all there.
            These are very narrow margins for defeat. If health authorities in Seattle had been more vigilant (since test kits were available by the 21st), and tested a few weird pneumonias just to be sure, Seattle could have contained its outbreak. Medium case, Seattle turns into another Wuhan, and gets locked down and quarantined, and everyone goes back to contact tracing.

            And silent spread in Seattle with a few dozen cases =/= major outbreak of current magnitude. Remember NY in mid-March, after the Italians spread the virus to the East Coast? Imagine the outbreak blowing up to fill hospitals in early February instead, with no prep time to mass-produce test kits, stock up on face masks, toilet paper etc, etc… oh wait! Everyone wasted the prep time.

            Hence one month of time bought.

          • matkoniecz says:

            Local officials, at most, waited a week to sound the alarm.

            The lied and hold coverup for at least one week. Maybe other doctor was successfully threatened/disappeared and we don’t know about it?

            We know about this coverup only because it failed.

            And this initial period was the most important, maybe it was still possible to extinguish it completely. Maybe system more concerned about people than presenting regime in a good light would detect human-to-human transmission much earlier.

            China government is not incompetent here, it is possible that coverup was far longer and is still not revealed.

            You are still trying, for some reason, to manipulate facts. “there is a confirmed one-week long coverup” is a lower boundary for how long China lied. Not an upper limit.

    • Randy M says:

      Well, this is as good a place as any to ask this: Is it true that there is a virology lab in Wuhan? Is this in any way unusual? Would you place odds that this had anything to do with the pandemic beginning in in Wuhan, or is the wet market theory much more plausible?

      I know this comes of as “just asking questions” and I could probably do the research myself. I’m not entirely confident in my ability to wade through various levels of disinformation likely spread around the subject and honestly have no strong opinion yet, though I’d say if true, I’d be skeptical of the coincidence.

      • Statismagician says:

        Wuhan is ~half again as large as NYC, with 35 universities on top of significant biotech and government activity. It would be shocking if there weren’t.

        • Randy M says:

          That’s a good example of relevant information I could have found googling, thanks.

          • Randy M says:

            Of course, if a new epidemic came out of New York, I’d put a non-zero chance at is being accidentally released from a lab, too.

        • Nick says:

          …The perhaps more relevant metric is that it’s a Biosafety Level 4 lab, the only one of its kind in China, and the only level allowed to work on the really dangerous stuff like SARS. You might have thought to mention that!

        • EchoChaos says:

          Note that this is true, relatively unsurprising (China has a billion people after all) and a little bit misleading. US cities tend to be smaller because we have suburbs that are officially different cities, which is why “metro area” exists as well.

          Wuhan would be the largest city in America, but the “Wuhan Metro area” would be the third largest, behind New York/Newark and LA/Long Beach, just ahead of Chicago.

          • keaswaran says:

            And just to follow up (partly for my own edification), here are Chinese urban areas and American urban areas interleaved (population in millions):

            Shanghai: 28.2
            Shenzhen: 21.7
            Guangzhou: 21.0
            Beijing: 19.2
            New York: 18.4
            Wuhan: 12.6
            Los Angeles: 12.2
            Tianjin: 11.6
            Chengdu: 11.3
            Chongqing: 11.1
            Hangzhou: 9.3
            Chicago: 8.6
            Nanjing: 8.3

          • EchoChaos says:


            Slightly different numbers than I found (which had LA just above Wuhan, not just below), but more thorough, so I’ll just say thanks a lot for the effort!

      • Anonymous Bosch says:

        Would you place odds that this had anything to do with the pandemic beginning in in Wuhan, or is the wet market theory much more plausible?

        The wet market theory is just vastly more plausible for several reasons.
        1. That’s where the first big cluster of cases was
        2. It’s how a bunch of other zoonotic viruses jumped in the past
        3. The genetic structure indicates natural selection (via optimization during low-grade transmission)

        I think its pretty much exactly like SARS-1 but with pangolins playing the role of civets. According to the Nature article, the bat coronavirus commonly cited by proponents of the lab theory diverges from SARS-2 in the spike proteins, which are important for breaking into cells, and those are more similar to pangolins. So while nothing is certain yet, there’s a pretty well-told tale involving a virus jumping from bats to adorable mammal, picking up some nice virulent proteins there, then jumping from adorable mammal to humans at some god-awful wildlife market.

        • Nick says:

          As someone who followed the argument over the lab theory for a little while, +1. IMO what clinches it is point 3, at least based on the many experts who weighed in to say so.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t think it’s a slam-dunk on that point. Outside of the paranoid fringe, the theory is that Wuhan was studying a novel coronavirus they found in the wild and accidentally released it into a densely-populated city, not that they genetically engineered it for nefarious purposes. This is plausible but probably cannot be proven or disproven at this point.

            And, more importantly, is irrelevant at this point. Sick bat brought into Wuhan by someone who wanted to sell it at a wet market, sick bat brought into Wuhan by someone who wanted to study it in the lab, doesn’t matter. If we really want, we can go all Bayesian and figure that the wet market gets lots more bats but the virology lab selects for the sickest ones and brings them in from all over China, then factor differences in lab vs market handling practices, but it won’t help deal with the problem we’ve got now.

          • Nick says:

            @John Schilling
            Huh, the theory I initially heard was that they were genetically engineering variants for benign purposes, not malign, the same way as other labs like this do, and it accidentally got out. Three facts had me interested: a) it’s the only lab of its kind in China, b) labs of this kind make viruses like that, and c) China has had accidents at other labs. And 3 refutes this theory because of b, i.e., the lab very likely didn’t make this, because it looks to have been natural. I hadn’t heard the theory that it was a naturally occurring one; that does sound more plausible, and I feel dumb it didn’t occur to me. I suppose you’re right that we’ll never know.

            I agree that it’s irrelevant for how to deal with the virus, but there are other situations where it matters.

          • zardoz says:

            There’s a standard technique for evolving viruses in the lab called passaging.

    • Erusian says:

      Everything was done with the maximum of speed, transparency, and professionalism humanly possible. That is indisputable to anyone who has been watching the outbreak since day one.

      Considering the Chinese government is one of the most opaque governments in the world, I doubt it’s reasonable to say anything is indisputable. Perhaps it is if you believe the Chinese government but that’s not a terribly smart thing to do. Something the Chinese people themselves will tell you, by the way. This is the wages of dictatorship and a lack of transparency: we can’t trust what they’re saying even if (and that’s a huge if) they’re telling the truth.

      China bears not one iota of responsibility. It made a maximum effort, and held up its end of the bargain.

      Why did China purge the front line party members responsible then? The Wuhan party underwent a major purge in the aftermath of its response. There were some news stories saying Xi Jing Ping wanted Wuhan to thank him for his handling of coronavirus. This is a misread of the situation: Xi wanted to be thanked for having fixed the problem, the problem being the incompetent local party. Of course, this being Communist China, this was also a way to separate out the loyal from the disloyal and to force the survivors of the purge to ritually reaffirm the firings and disappearances were justified. But more to the point: if the Chinese narrative is that mistakes were made at the local level, why are you arguing that not even that happened?

      Too many bad memories from the Opium Wars.

      No one alive today remembers the Opium Wars. In fact, no one’s grandparents knew anyone who remembered the Opium Wars. Why is it that the Opium Wars loom large in the national consciousness? It’s because the Chinese Communist Party controls the education system and has chosen to emphasize a sense of siege by the west and xenophobia. At one point the supposedly incorruptible Lin Zexu illegally arrested Chinese merchants and threatened to execute them unless they paid him. There were pro-western Chinese and pro-Chinese westerners. Indeed, the initial conflict of the first Opium War was the Chinese attempting to intervene militarily to protect some of these pro-Chinese western merchants. All these details are glossed over into an easy narrative about Chinese victimization.

      If the American body politic is so foolish to go through with this lunacy, there is a substantial risk of China taking a hard right turn into xenophobic fascist territory.

      Would you accept this argument in reverse? That China needs to treat the United States better or there’s a significant risk that Trump is just the beginning of the US renegotiating the East Asian order against China? I doubt it. This is a demand for appeasement: if we treat the Chinese government nicely enough and give them what they want they’ll leave us alone. Yet even that isn’t true: during the high water mark there was a lot of spying and mercantilism going on

      Trust me that defending the Chinese government is not where you want to be. The Chinese government will not appreciate it and, more importantly, it’s not worth defending.

      • demost says:

        This is the wages of dictatorship and a lack of transparency: we can’t trust what they’re saying even if (and that’s a huge if) they’re telling the truth.

        I agree that this is an important point, and I have heard a narrative that gives it an interesting twist. It’s not just that an outsider can’t trust the Chinese government, but that the central Chinese government cannot trust reports from local governments.

        For the current epidemics (so the narrative goes) this causes severe trouble to the central Chinese government. Whatever goals they pursue, fighting the virus or covering up (choose whatever your information and ideology suggest), they would like to have very precise real information about the status of the epidemics, and also of the economic situation. However, local government are not used to (and may not want) giving them truthful information, and the central government is having a much harder time finding the right opening strategy because of this lack of trustworthiness.

        The stories that went to the headlines was that central government tries to measure economic status by energy consumption, but some local government try to occlude the true status by just forcing companies to consume energy, letting machines run in idle mode.

        I am not sure whether I should believe the narrative for this particular situation, i.e. whether it is impairing the intelligence of the central government about the corona crisis. But from a more general perspective, I do tend to believe it. I have spoken with people from Eastern Europe, and they told me that this was a heck of a problem in communist countries. I do know that China has a ubitiquous intelligence and surveillance program, but so did the communist countries, and apparently that helped, but it was not enough to solve the problem.

        For me, I made a quite significant update about my model on how efficient and capable a Chinese-type government can be, since this sounds like a pretty severe and intrinsic limitation that comes from controlling the press and suppressing opposition. If you can’t trust the numbers you get from your own officials, you may still be able to get the general picture right, but it makes it really hard to fine-tune your politics (as you would like to do in a pandemic where every single case can cause huge trouble if not followed properly). And the problem is not limited to the level “central government vs. local government”, you have the same problem on all levels of your hierarchy.

        Perhaps all this is obvious to people who have thought more about politics and political systems, but it wasn’t obvious to me. And I would really like to hear the account of people who are more familiar with China.

        • Erusian says:

          The idea of Chinese efficiency is not believed at all within China itself. The government’s quasi-official line (what a non-political person who likes Xi would argue) is that this is the local Wuhan Party’s fault and Xi came and cleaned it up after their failure.

          • demost says:

            The idea of Chinese efficiency is not believed at all within China itself.

            Hm, I have a quite different impression. Perhaps that is because many discussions do not discriminate between speed and efficiency. But most people I read seem to agree that China is much more efficient because they need to care less about opinions of local protesters etc. I don’t know too many people from China, but they few that I know seem to agree in that point.

            I know this quasi-official line. But I don’t think that this is very informative. It is just what I expected to hear regardless of whether it is true or not.

          • fibio says:

            But most people I read seem to agree that China is much more efficient because they need to care less about opinions of local protesters etc.

            I’m not denying that people think this but this seems like a false equivalence. Lack of feedback from the ground means that the government is more active and can pour more resources into projects without interference. This does not mean they are more efficient, because that implies that performing the project was a good idea in the first place. Case in point, a large number of completely empty cities that have been built in China. America would never do that, they’d have far too many people screaming that it was a terrible idea to try (well, at least after the first city failed spectacularly to make any money).

          • Erusian says:

            Hm, I have a quite different impression. Perhaps that is because many discussions do not discriminate between speed and efficiency. But most people I read seem to agree that China is much more efficient because they need to care less about opinions of local protesters etc. I don’t know too many people from China, but they few that I know seem to agree in that point.

            This is what I’d expect a Chinese person who has some reason to tow the government line to say if they were in public and sober. In private, or drunk, they’ll admit there are deep flaws on the ground. Even the ones who are dedicated Communists will say as much. They just think it’s because of bad officials who need to be rooted out. They’ll articulate the ideal system as what China purports to have (as you say, no need to consult everyone) but point out on the ground, particularly among local cadres, the system is terribly marred by corruption and politicking. Which, you’ll note, is not an argument against the ideology but against its implementation.

          • Aapje says:

            I want to point out that the narrative that the higher government is wonderful and would make all the right decisions, but for the lower officials lying to them, is itself propaganda (not that it isn’t partially true, but only partially).

          • John Schilling says:

            Lower officials feeling it necessary or appropriate to lie to them, is proof enough that the higher government is far from perfect. That is in fact one of the most common failure modes for bad government.

          • demost says:

            This is what I’d expect a Chinese person who has some reason to tow the government line to say if they were in public and sober. In private, or drunk, they’ll admit there are deep flaws on the ground.

            This is true, but it seems like a red herring to me. When I speak to Chinese people at university, they are quite frank. For example, they have no problem saying that official numbers in China cannot be trusted, and that the government is lying all the time. But ask an average American how they perceive there own system, and of course they can list tons of things that are horribly broken. That’s true everywhere, so it’s not a strong indication for which system is most efficient. And I have not heard Chinese fellows telling me in private “Yeah, actually it’s not working well in China” on a general level.

            I think that a lot (probably most) Chinese believe that the Chinese political system is superior to Western systems, exactly because it’s more efficient. And so far I find it quite hard to find evidence for whether this is true or not. But perhaps it’s just too hard and unspecified a question to start with.

          • ana53294 says:

            I think that a lot (probably most) Chinese believe that the Chinese political system is superior to Western systems, exactly because it’s more efficient.

            Are you saying that, given an opportunity to legally emigrate to the US (say, a green card), most Chinese wouldn’t? Because that’s what would happen if they believed China is superior. There are plenty of jobs and opportunities to become rich in China. But rich Chinese people send their kids to the US, Canada, and Europe, not the other way around.

            I think that the Spanish political system is superior to China’s, which is one of the reasons why I would never go to China. Because I value my freedom and our political system, as deficient as it is.

          • demost says:

            Are you saying that, given an opportunity to legally emigrate to the US (say, a green card), most Chinese wouldn’t?

            This is exactly one of the things I would like to know. My intuition is that this is true (most Chinese wouldn’t), but I am not sure. For example, I don’t have the impression that a lot of successful Chinese entrepreneurs who can choose to live anywhere decide for other countries. (While this seems to be the case for other countries like Russia… a lot of Russian oligarchs live elsewhere.)

            It’s all availability heuristic, but that is the best I have got at the moment. And we all know that the opposite is also true: most Westerners would not leave their country to move to China if they had free option.

            I am not saying that I believe the Chinese system to be superior. After all, I started the thread saying that I find it MORE believable now that the opposite is true. My opinion before the update was that the best answer is both ways are true, depending on your objective function. Now I am more doubting and think that there might be more meaningful answers.

            But I do think that it is a quite hard question to decide. As I said before, I have the impression that most Westerner believe the Western system is superior, and most Chinese believe the Chinese system is superior.

      • knzhou says:

        Indeed, the initial conflict of the first Opium War was the Chinese attempting to intervene militarily to protect some of these pro-Chinese western merchants. All these details are glossed over into an easy narrative about Chinese victimization.

        To be honest, this sounds like the start of one of those specious arguments that the Civil War really had nothing to do with slavery, because blah blah complications blah blah both sides. Do actual historians agree with you?

        • Erusian says:

          Agree with me on what? I’m not arguing that China wasn’t exploited by European powers. (It was, though to a much lesser extent than many other nations.) Do actual historians agree with me about what? That China is using history to construct a revanchist narrative?

          Because the analogy here isn’t the Civil War having nothing to do with slavery. It’s that the Civil War wasn’t a race war, by pointing out that there was significant white support for abolitionism and this means it’s not accurate to see it as a conflict between blacks and whites.

      • ana53294 says:

        No one alive today remembers the Opium Wars.

        The Opium Wars happened within 30 years after the Napoleonic wars, which killed orders of magnitude more peole, AFAIU. Nobody hates the french because of Napoleon anymore; there are many more newer affronts. The emotional valence of the Opium Wars in China comes entirely from their school system; it happened so far back that equivalent conflicts in other places don’t generate the same level of acrimony.

        And China got Hong Kong back.

    • Two McMillion says:

      May the Communist Party of China burn, and may all other Communists burn with them.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Please try to avoid wishing painful deaths on millions of people due to their political affiliations, even in jest. Consider this a warning – future offenses will result in bans.

    • Wrong Species says:

      prior to COVID, the WHO never ever used travel bans as a means of disease control.

      This is enough to erase any credibility they might have had. If you aren’t recommending travel restrictions against an epidemic epicenter with a highly contagious disease, there is something fundamentally broken about your reasoning process. Any moron can see that. Why couldn’t the “experts”?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        What’s the name for the syndrome where you forget about the Dunning-Kruger effect?

    • zoozoc says:

      China already is a xenophobic fascist territory. Recently several cities have forced all public shops to ban blacks from using the stores and are forcing blacks to quarantine in hotels at their expense. This is done even if those people have never left the country. Many other foreigners are also denied accessing many shops, but black people are being specifically target.

      Also, as others have said, you are completely wrong about most of your facts. The Wuhan lockdown came way too late and was done in such a way that millions of residence of Wuhan were able to leave the area before it occurred. The WHO was trumpeting CCP propaganda and downplaying the severity and need to institute any kind of safeguards against travel from the Wuhan area or China. Multiple doctors in the area noticed by mid to late December that some kind of new virus was spreading. Li Wenliang is the most well known but he was not alone. The CCP has arrested and disappeared anyone in China who spoke up against their handling of the incident or even recorded the measures being taken in Wuhan.

      • Kaitian says:

        Recently several cities have forced all public shops to ban blacks from using the stores and are forcing blacks to quarantine in hotels at their expense. This is done even if those people have never left the country.

        Could you post sources that this is widespread, that it’s official (city) policy, and that it’s targeting black people rather than specific African expat communities?

        One store deciding to ban Nigerians would still be bad. But it wouldn’t be much of a reason to call all of China fascist.

        • ana53294 says:

          Well of course it’s not official city policy. Why would they expose themselves like that, by putting their names on official pieces of paper? A policy doesn’t have to be official for it to work.

          And it’s not some African communities; it’s all Africans, although being African-American does make your life easier. But having a US passport almost always helps.

        • zoozoc says:

          Here is the first article I found by googling “blacks denied china shops”.

          It appears to primarily be one city, Guangzhou, in which blacks are specifically being targeted. So perhaps it is limited to only one, tier-1 city (discrimination specifically for being black). But I do know that in many places foreigners are not allowed at all into many shops just because they are foreigners.

          When I think of fascism, I think of two things. 1) extreme nationalism, which I think China definitely qualifies for and 2) tight coupling between business and the government, which also qualifies. It is a type of socialism where the businesses are not technically owned by the government, but all of the owners are CCP members or state officials, the government gives money to these businesses, and the government hands down mandates to the businesses.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Reminds me that a Chinese diplomat in France recently complained: “How can the west say we didn’t warn them? We put a city of 10 million people under quarantine. What more explicit of a warning do you want?”

      • Garrett says:

        This from the same country who sent tanks in to crush and shoot protesters en-mass? China either seems to provide responses which are either inconsequential or which are over-reactions.

    • Dear god… if SlateStarCodex readers believe the bullcrap media narrative that the WHO and China downplayed the outbreak in any way, Sino-American relations are doomed.

      “In any way”?

      Are you denying that Li Wenliang was summoned by the police and made to sign his “apology” on January 3?

      If that didn’t happen, perhaps you could explain the evidence that it did. If it did happen, then either you are exaggerating your claim or producing deliberately dishonest propaganda.

      It would be useful to the rest of us to know which, so as to know how seriously to take other things you say.

  41. Bobobob says:

    So hey, oil just plunged to a little over $1 a barrel. Are we depressed yet?

    • baconbits9 says:


      Really good chance of going negative today.

      • Bobobob says:

        Does this number have an actual, real-life meaning, or is it some kind of artifact? Could someone pull up a tanker to an oil facility and literally take on a million barrels for less than a million dollars?

        • baconbits9 says:

          As far as I know it is a real life price that oil producers are getting for their products.

          • Bobobob says:

            If people have spare empty oil tankers lying around, wouldn’t it make sense to load up to the gills at 23 cents a barrel, spend a few leisurely months cruising up and down the Pacific Ocean, then sell at a huge profit when the price of oil rebounds?

            (This is coming from someone who has no idea how the international oil tanker industry works)

          • EchoChaos says:


            Yes, it would. But nobody has spare empty oil tankers, because all the existing oil tankers are actually doing that already, which is why the price is dropping negative.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Yes, it would. But nobody has spare empty oil tankers, because all the existing oil tankers are actually doing that already, which is why the price is dropping negative.

            Kind of right, kind of wrong. The idea is correct in theory but the price action today is very different from what you (or I) should expect from such a situation. I think this has a lot to do with the bankruptcy of Hin Leong Trading yesterday.

          • Greg says:

            The contracts are for delivery to Cushing, Oklahoma. Supertankers will not help.

            This is a Dis-uSA thing. World (Brent) prices are still positive, but world storage (including usable supertankers) may well be full by the end of May.

        • Joshua Hedlund says:

          It’s a temporary artifact of being the last day for this cycle’s monthly contract pricing + no one in the market wanting to take on any more of the oil being delivered today. (Or something like that… I just read economists on twitter.) The next month’s contract price (which will start being reported on tomorrow) is in the ~$20 range.

          • baconbits9 says:

            There is still oil being offered at this price, so its not an ‘artifact’, actual contracts are being signed at this price which is

            NEGATIVE $40 a barrel.

            These numbers are likely an artifact of some kind, but there are real world implications. Someone is going bankrupt.

        • baconbits9 says:


          Negative -1.66 a barrel. If you had that hypothetical empty tanker you could float away with a full hull of oil and $1,660,000.

          • Bobobob says:

            The world must have at least a few decommissioned and empty oil tankers. If 10,000 readers of SSC chipped in $1,000 apiece, would that be enough to buy one? $10,000 apiece? Would this be worthwhile from a profit perspective? (I don’t actually propose doing this, but it seems like a good armchair exercise.)

          • baconbits9 says:

            You couldn’t actually get them to the place and time you need to fulfill the contracts quickly enough.

          • Bobobob says:

            You couldn’t actually get them to the place and time you need to fulfill the contracts quickly enough.

            What if the same thing happens, with the same (artifactually or not) negative price, at the same time next month, assuming that the world lockdown continues until then? If you started getting your act together now, could you have an empty tanker in place to take advantage of the situation?

          • baconbits9 says:

            If the same thing happens next month I don’t think you will be able to count on the money you get paid being worth anything….

          • Bobobob says:

            Right, the money will probably be worthless, but not the oil after the world economy recovers.