Ways of Knowing

I would like to start by thanking Mike Kennedy for his observations over the last months. We all bring some knowledge to the pandemic, but he brings a good deal more. I think he has been properly cautious in interpreting information as it has emerged and even more cautious in offering advice, even though he might be tempted. It has been a reminder to me throughout not to pretend I know more than I do and not leap to conclusions. If he can refrain from pronouncements, how much more should I refrain, eh? Saying this, I admit my memory might be inaccurate. Mike may have made all sorts of knuckleheaded predictions and offered cockamamie theories over the last ten months and I just forgot them. Yet I think my overall impression has been correct, and I am grateful.

When my oldest was a small boy, he took it into his head that not fastening our seat belts would cause us to get into an accident. He had clearly picked up associations we had made between the concepts of accident and seat-belt.  The distinction between “in case we get into an accident” and “because we’ll get into an accident” is not easy when you’re three or four. No real harm done at the time.  He fastened his seat belt willingly and we didn’t think he’d graduate from highschool with that misapprehension.

There are a lot of theories and descriptions of the various ways people come to think they know things and what they trust.  They are not mutually exclusive.  We all trust our own experience while attaching some importance to what we hear happens to others.  We all have authorities we trust, but also trust our own ideas and reasoning. We also have opinions about what other people trust in ways of knowing. We particularly dislike it when those benighted other folks trust the wrong authorities or exhibit poor reasoning.  We also mix categories. In the long sorry state of CoVid commentary, we have had lots of complaints about people trusting “experts,” always in sneer quotes, yet our solution is nearly always that they instead believe…different experts.  Ones that we like better.

The other suggestions are usually worse. Too many people trust only what their personal experience is, believing this is somehow representative of the real world, and ignoring what people smarter than they are are saying. There are half dozen over at Maggie’s – which has a wide readership and thus provides a forum where knuckleheads can have their say, which is very American – and even one at Grim’s who have claimed “Y’know how I know this virus is all a hoax?  Because I don’t know a single person who’s had it.” My first temptation is to say “Dude, don’t help any kids with their science homework, okay?” Yet it is true that we all are affected by what drifts by our dock on the river.  Glenn Reynolds made the interesting observation that this may operate like AIDS in reverse.  No one took that disease seriously until they knew someone who died from it, and then it suddenly went to the top of the list of problems the country needed to solve. He mentioned that he had C19, it wasn’t a bad case, and most people he knew about didn’t have bad cases, and thought that many people were going to conclude that the disease wasn’t that big a deal.  I think his prediction is likely true. I disliked his tone that this was a generally accurate, good conclusion to come to, though he refrained from going that far. 

This gave me an immediate new example to draw from, however.  I had many patients (and two coworkers) who eventually died of AIDS in the 1980s, and heard of more from my theater days in the 70s, even though I think I knew of none from any of my social circles by then. Most of my friends knew no one who had the illness. I knew that both their personal experience and their personal experience were not the whole story. The same is happening now.  College professors are not likely to have a representative sample of the danger of the disease, they will have an underestimate, unless there is some other factor in their lives, such as a family member in assisted living.  Health care workers are likely to have the opposite bias in their sample. They will know a disproportionate number of people who have the illness, and a disproportionate number who die from it. Their prism is slanted such that it skews to the other end of the spectrum. I will note additionally that when you know people who died, it just naturally has a large impact. In strictly logical terms, perhaps an excessive impact, but…death is an important consequence, y’know? Not one that human beings are supposed to be dismissing too easily.

There are other groups which are going to have more exposure to Covid deaths than others.  Pastors and people who are on prayer chains do not only hear about their friends and immediate circle, but the relatives of their friends and their frightening circumstances. That is a biased sample, to be sure, but it is not pretend.  I’m not sure what further groups would have too many representatives of the dead and which too few. Relatedly, those whose circles of exposure are those who are not in much danger even if they get the illness seem to focus on their own personal risk and their insistence that they should have the freedom to make that assessment, while those who know many who are at the mercy of the safety habits of others are more likely to favor controls to limit the damage of the poor decisions of those others. Neither is an unnatural bias, but you should know which tendency your life circumstances tilt toward.

I write all this not to tell you which experts you should choose.  Others can advise you better than I on that. I am overconfident that I can sort through which experts to trust, but that needn’t affect you.  However, I am qualified to ask you to look carefully at what your sample and your experience is.  What is the age group of the people you interact with most? What would you predict their level of danger would be in a general situation if they lived somewhere else? If they have relatives or friends who get injured or sick, is your situation such that they would tell you, or are you sheltered from that knowledge? 

And next, how much does this personal bias, which is a natural but unscientific influence your assessments. There’s no quiz on this.  No one is grading your answers except yourself.

40 thoughts on “Ways of Knowing”

  1. I started to wear seatbelts when I started the trauma center in 1979. I thought how embarrassing it would be to be brought into my own trauma center without a seat belt.

    I saw lots of AIDS patients and made the diagnosis a number of time early when it had to be made by a biopsy. Two physician friends died of it early on. They had been very social and careless, even had Patient Zero as a friend.

    The saddest case was a nuclear engineer who worked at San Onofre power plant in San Clemente. He came in with bloody diarrhea and I thought of ulcerative colitis. I had a GI friend colonoscope him and the biopsy report was AIDS. I had to tell him. He said to me it was “impossible” as he had been in a “committed relationship” for ten years. What could I say ?

  2. “In the long sorry state of CoVid commentary, we have had lots of complaints about people trusting “experts,” always in sneer quotes, yet our solution is nearly always that they instead believe…different experts. Ones that we like better.”
    I guess I’m not quite sure what this is supposed to refer to at the current time. For the last six months or more the main debate really has been what sort of activity restrictions should be imposed, and who exactly is the “expert” who we should listen to for that? Is Fauci somehow more of an expert on that topic than someone who owns a restaurant, or even someone who works at a restaurant? It’s similar to the “climate change” “debates” we’ve had for decades–policy decisions aren’t some purely abstract theoretical subject, there isn’t some objective answer on what should be done.

  3. What I remember about the AIDS response in the period before the anti retro-viral drugs became available is about 180° from the response to covid. I’m talking about the categorical refusal to address the factors that spread it and actual laws enacted to prohibit tracing and testing. This doesn’t change the value of your point but I might suggest using smoking as an example instead.

    What about situations where personal experience should make any sane person run the other way, yet they continue. A lot has been written about the horrendous losses suffered by the bomber crews over Germany during WWII. Some of it here. These men watched as men they knew were killed on virtually every mission and had many near misses themselves. yet they went back for the same, time after time until some broke but many didn’t. The truth was that their chances were almost purely a matter of chance, Many adopted coping strategies that denied that in one way or another which let them keep functioning where, rationally, they had no control at all.

    I am leery of assigning evolutionary rationales to random observations, but this sort of behavior seems too widespread to be some sort of fluke. It’s probably not totally random luck that it seems very common in the medical professions. Why does it seem almost totally absent in education?

  4. Oh yes. I lived through the period we were not allowed to test in California. My partner cut himself on a trauma case and was not allowed to test for AIDS. As I recall, we managed to get around the law and test the case.

    At one time a test was allowed but the doctor ordering it was not allowed to know the result.

  5. Not to argue the merits of either the AIDS situation or the current COVID one, but I think it is extremely important to highlight how each disease was and has been politicized. The manner in which that was done, and the side-effect ramifications of it all are probably what is more important than the actual disease effects.

    With AIDS, the population that was most affected by it was the male homosexual one, a highly vocal and very political sub-set of the population. As a result, several entirely political things about the way we handled that disease and its attendant epidemic effects were quite clear. On the one hand, you had the initial reaction to it all, which was that it was a “gay disease” of the bathhouses and sexual milieu of male gay culture, which led to an overall “Not my problem…” effect with the general population. Nobody cared, really–There was an awful lot of the “Well, they’re just getting what they deserve…” coming from all quarters, even other gays that found the bathhouse scene too disgusting for words.

    Then, there was the political sensitivity of it all–They short-circuited the tried-and-true epidemic public health policies that had worked so well in the past for other epidemics, all because of the “You’re persecuting us for our sexuality…” schtick that the gay activists pulled. It was impossible to do common-sense things, like shut down the bath houses and other epicenters of the disease, and way too many in the gay community poo-pooed the entire issue as being those moralizing straights going after them for having fun.

    So, that happened. And, as a friend of mine who did time at USAMRIID commented, the side-effects in public health policy did more damage to the “commons” in that area than we really appreciated at the time. AIDS was a very destructive disease, in terms of weakening the public’s will to act with regards to reacting to it, and taking measures against it.

    Now, look at COVID: Like it or not, it is a much less lethal disease. Most people who get it survive; incontrovertible fact, that. Yet, what are we doing? We’re literally shutting down the country, throwing the economic baby out with the bathwater, and the politicians are loving the opportunity to exercise the power they now have.

    Question I have is why the hell the Cuomos and Newsoms of the 1970s and 1980s weren’t doing the equivalent acts during the AIDS epidemic… Where were the mandatory condoms, the lock-downs of the communities…?

    Oh, yeah… Right. The gays. Limiting their sexual jollies would be unconscionable, and an utter over-reaction.

    There’s something seriously screwy with a society that can do this within the memory of living man, and I’m not at all certain that this whole thing isn’t a sign of a deeply-rooted and fundamental irrationality to it all that I can’t quite believe I’m witnessing.

    I’ll guarantee you that some of these same people that are playing Karen in the supermarket over masks are some of the same ones who were saying that mandating condom use and shutting down bathhouses back in the day would have been an inhumane breach of human rights. Which I find really schizoid–You’re going to shut down restaurants and destroy people’s livelihoods over a disease that 99% of the victims survive, yet with AIDS, which had an almost 100% fatality rate until the anti-virals came in, did not require us to shut down the bath house culture, or even curtail the mass buggery habits of the male homosexual population…?

    Sane people are going to look at this from an outside viewpoint, eventually, and the reaction they’re going to have is the one I’ve been having since last spring: What. The. Actual. F**k?

  6. Kirk, those are good points. I had a gay anesthesiologist give me a copy of “And the Band Played on,” by Randy Shilts. The anesthesiologist was horrified by the gay bath house scene and was one of the gays I knew who survived the epidemic, which almost wiped out the Laguna Beach gay scene. Two brothers, who were patients of mine, owned the notorious gay bar in Laguna called “The Little Shrimp.” They sold the bar and moved to Hawaii early in the epidemic.

  7. What I had hoped to avoid was hijacking AVI’s thread, thus my suggested alternative.

    Since we’re there anyway, one striking similarity that’s apposite the original post is the period of uncertainty that we went through in both cases (smoking as well). In the case of AIDS, this period extended for a good many years where many uncertainties of covid have been disposed of after a few months. In both cases, there was never a shortage of people with various magic letters attached to their names willing to claim some sort of certainty in public only to supplanted by others claiming the same infallibility and often conflicting conclusions.

    How to know, indeed? Especially if you’re a governor or president and have to not only parse your own human reaction but arrive at a course of action that’s effective, feasible and capable of gaining wide support from people that will be materially harmed by it. How to know that an intervention will do more good than harm.

    It should not have been a surprise that people like Fauci had thier own axes to grind and adopted the air of certainty to cover their ignorance. All “expert” opinion is suspect, never more than when dealing with something largely unprecedented. I’m sure that every disastrous decision we’ve seen was highly recommended by experts.

    Those of us forced to be innocent victims of the decision making process have no choice but to be guided by our own experience. No one here thought that putting covid in the nursing homes was anything short of premeditated murder. It takes expertise of a very high order indeed to arrive at the opposite conclusion.

  8. Did you know the word “sanction” means both to prohibit to and to allow?

    we have had lots of complaints about people trusting “experts,” always in sneer quotes, yet our solution is nearly always that they instead believe…different experts

    Yup. “‘Experts’” are those whose suggestions have been falsified, who are shown to be liars, or who are shown to not possess the expertise they claim to profess, and despite repeated failures, are given official sanction to enforce their errors. “Our ‘experts’” are those who have not yet been discredited.

    In one or another of the Three Musketeers movies, Richelieu was asked of his assassin, “are you sure he’ll shoot the king.” Richelieu laughs, then replies, “he doesn’t think there should be kings.”

    I don’t either—once an expert is discredited, he should be removed, something that happens so infrequently it’s news when it happens.

    And yet these “experts” go on and on and on with failed policies which kill people—like WW1 general.

    Experts who haven’t been removed deserve a lot more than sneers—they deserve insurrection.

  9. Question I have is why the hell the Cuomos and Newsoms of the 1970s and 1980s weren’t doing the equivalent acts during the AIDS epidemic… Where were the mandatory condoms, the lock-downs of the communities…?

    And Fauci had a hand in both epidemics. He should have fired decades ago. Instead he was promoted and put in charge. What was that Vietnam-era saying, “F*** Up and Move Up”?

    They’re just getting what they deserve

    Like smokers. Or the grossly obese. Or alcoholics. Or addicts.
    I’d like to write “the wages of sin is death,” but death always wins.

  10. The other factor in the SARS-2 epidemic is that it occurred in an election year when a president hated by Democrats looked like he was a shoo in for re-election.

    Reagan was widely and viciously attacked for ignoring AIDS but only by a small group of gay activists and far left political opponents. Reagan was the most polarizing figure after Nixon and before Trump but he was more focused on foreign policy and the Cold War. Domestic affairs were run by the Democrat Congress. The tax cut was hugely popular although attacked as “trickle down economics” and by Bush as “voodoo economics.” The donors that have funded the war on Trump were happy then because they benefitted from the tax cut.

    This time, Trump’s attempts to reverse the trade deficit with China has enraged the rich who see him as an opponent.

    I strongly encourage everyone to watch this Steve Bannon interview on PBS. It is 2.5 hours but hugely educational. One part I had not thought of is his point that the rich who got us into 2008 were bailed out by Obama and the feds $4 trillion worth or tax payer money. That is where the deficit came from. None of the people who created the crisis in 2008 ever went to prison or lost money.

  11. AVI: “We all have authorities we trust …”

    Not true. Certainly, there are individuals whose assessments & advice each of us may choose to listen to carefully, and other individuals whose opinions (perhaps unfairly) we tend to ignore. But anyone who subscribes to the scientific method knows that there are no human “Authorities” — only measurable data and testable hypotheses.

    Thus, we understand the difficulties of assigning Cause of Death, especially in the case of mortal human beings who are old and have multiple pre-existing medical conditions. We look at the data, and when we see from the reported data that total All Causes deaths for 2020 are close to total All Causes deaths in prior years, it causes those of us who accept the scientific method to reject scare-mongering from politicized individuals.

    When we can read accounts of the 1666 Great Plague in London with rapidly-filling mass graves and entire streets left empty by the deaths of their inhabitants, we can understand what a “pandemic” truly is. And we can appropriately question the political motives of those who call Covid-19 a “pandemic” when those same individuals never previously applied that label to the recurring annual flu with its broadly similar mortality.

    Covid-19 is real — no doubt about that. It should be taken seriously, especially for the clearly-identified high risk group. But exaggerating its effects is a political act — which seems principally to have benefitted the Chinese Communist Party and those who are on its payroll.

  12. “There are a lot of theories and descriptions of the various ways people come to think they know things and what they trust”
    In our society there is zero consequence for being wrong. Who in the establishment paid any price for ridiculing Ross Perot for his criticisms of NAFTA? Who paid a price for saying that Obamacare would lower premiums? Who paid a price for saying that welcoming China into international agencies would make them liberalize their systems? Who paid a price for arguing against travel restrictions a year ago? Who’s paid a price for the explosion in murders in every big city this past year? The fact is if you are in the liberal establishment, you are in for life. We’re all supposed to say that John Kerry, and Joe Biden, and Susan Rice, and Janet Yellen are sooper smart experts, without being shown any reason to think that. It’s just a postulate. They are in the club, therefore they are experts, as their propagandists tell us it’s the opposite.

  13. Trust? No!

    It was once the case that lying was fairly rare, as its wrong. Now the truth is just a tactic, and anything that gets your message across to enough people, is just fine, as your message is right, even if you have to embroider the truth. So I just assume everyone is lying. This works very well, in scrying the truth from the avalanche of opinion, so widely posted these days.

  14. People need to revise their perception of the word “expert”. It sure doesn’t mean that the expert knows everything there is to know about a subject or that he is always right. Hopefully an expert will be right more often than a layman, but these days I’m not so sure about that. And if an expert is right more often than a layman, how much more often? Furthermore, experts might know a lot about one subject, but it doesn’t mean they know a lot about any other subject. They have their blind spots and don’t seem to understand tradeoffs.

  15. Furthermore, experts might know a lot about one subject, but it doesn’t mean they know a lot about any other subject.

    This is key. I could fix your atrial septal defect or take out your gallbladder but you would not be wise to ask me to invest your savings.

  16. No, the key is demonstrating expertise, with skin in the game, and consequences. I would let you perform surgery on me if you can demonstrate you’ve done so successfully enough times in the past, not just because someone gave you a piece of paper.

  17. Yeah Mike, when I used to have something to do with cattle feeding, the saying was you knew the price of cattle was going to hell when the doctors from Wichita started buying pens of cattle.

  18. I find it a little challenging to trust the assertion that most of the people critiquing experts only had their own experts to recommend as a substitute.

    I recall trying to make an argument that the provided expert/original argument was in fact comparably trustworthy to an internet rando (me) asserting something crazy. Which seems like a different category. Was I the only one outside of the category you describe?

    There is a lot more complexity to the problem of experts than just selecting experts from a larger group.

    Raffensperger may prove a favorite case study of an expert. Presumably, he was a PE, and there are documents with his seal on them. If the state board of licensure says you are a PE, that is a credential of expertise. But any examination of a State board’s disciplinary records shows that they are not perfect at handing the things out. What is the number of people who retire as PEs with a perfect disciplinary record, who an audit of their work would show should have been disciplined? Raffensperger is interesting, because apparently a low profile private career, followed by a high profile public career, where both had a relevance to his ability to oversee a process and detect fraud within it.

    Tic-Tac-Toe is a category of problem for which we may be able to say that no experts can exist. Basically, there is a decision making process that will always give you a victory if you move first. Potentially, everyone can know that, and it purely is a matter of who moves first, with no benefit from deep expertise. Opposite category is things so crazily unpredictable that no amount of experience can provide any benefit.

    Another complexity with expertise is that you have a group of many non-experts seeking out an expert to solve whatever problem. Because of economics, you need a bunch of non-experts, for each expert of whatever sort. Whenever a large group goes from a great deal of mutual trust, to a significantly lower level of mutual trust, we would expect a decrease in the number of supported experts. Because it makes no sense to hire a lawyer or accountant or engineer that you think is a scumbag who will rob you.

    Additionally, there are problems we should not be trying to solve. If the problem is one that we should not be trying to solve, it is still pointless to show up with an expert, who is also the person whose background seems most appropriate to solving the problem. If the problem is punching through an SSBN submarine, lengthwise, Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee may be punching experts, but even you can see that Chuck Norris, memes aside, is not going to be making his fist travel through all those layers of steel at one. Liking Jackie Chan or Jet Li better is a pointless distinction in this case.

  19. When dealing with the problem of “experts,” always remember Michael Crichton’s “Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect.”

    “Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.
    In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”

    — Michael Crichton

  20. @ Gavin Longmuir – I don’t know how often we have to go over this. Excess death for the year is at least 430,000. Cause of death underestimates Covid, not overestimates it.

    Scientific method includes “look at the data, and revise your theories when they don’t fit, even if you very, very much want them to be true.”

  21. }}} – and even one at Grim’s who have claimed “Y’know how I know this virus is all a hoax? Because I don’t know a single person who’s had it.” My first temptation is to say “Dude, don’t help any kids with their science homework, okay?” Yet it is true that we all are affected by what drifts by our dock on the river.

    AVI, I cannot answer, specifically, but there are several things at (possible) play here.

    1) Did you remember the quote exactly? Is it possible the person said, “I don’t know a single person who’s died from it.”
    2) They may have misspoke, and intended to say what I said above.
    3) Perhaps they were being somewhat more “absolute” than they really meant to be, for casual speaking purposes.

    None of the above three are improbable.

    And because THAT — personal experience — is far from trivial data on something like this.

    IF one assumes one is a “typical” individual, then, for any disease with the purported commonality of this, along with a true generality of dispersal (i.e., it doesn’t actually trend to strike mostly people in, say, nursing homes) as is implied by the merdia, then one WOULD expect to know someone who has died.

    No, you shouldn’t be over-assumptive about your own experience being “typical” and not a random odd one-off exception, but that’s where “3” comes in… the individual might well have been overstating their certainty leve, and, if confronted on it, might readily backdown and ack they were being too assertive.

    The simple fact is, if a disease IS randomly dispersed, and one percent of people die from it, then the chances really ARE that you will know someone who has died from it. Maybe not well, but your circle of “close” friends — call it “people you would know within a day if they died” — represents perhaps 25-50 people, typically, and your “acquaintances” — people you see/speak daily to, or communicate reliably with (an aunt or uncle in a distant state, whom you aren’t really close to, say) — represent probably 150-500 people. Which is a statistical universe for most purposes.

    Then there’s secondary acquaintances — people who are acquaintances of people you know well enough to talk to about someone who died. Figure this is the acquaintances of your “close” circle plus about 10% of your acquaintances… probably around double your close circle, then times 500.

    The first set of acquaintances is probably a statistical universe by most standards, and the secondary acquaintances is almost certainly a statistical universe.

    Yeah, again, you may be atypical, an outlier, who either has no one in that secondary set who has died or gotten seriously ill, or has never talked to the relevant person about the topic, but that’s not the way to bet.

    Personally, I have no one in my close circle who has even gotten ill that I know of. I know of one secondary — a “relative” (in-law of) a friend who got sick with it. I have not asked if they recovered… I know of one other secondary who died from it, but as I understand it that person was 70.

    So, all-in-all, I think I’d have pegged the real odds, ca. June 2020, as they have turned out to be, with a moderate amount of accuracy.

    You’re being pretty unscientific yourself when you blow off personal observation completely in this context. It’s fraught with possible biases, but it’s also capable of quite a bit of effective analysis in the hands of a decent mind working to allow for those biases.

  22. }}} No one here thought that putting covid in the nursing homes was anything short of premeditated murder. It takes expertise of a very high order indeed to arrive at the opposite conclusion.

    Or a level of abject mendacity sufficient to make Goebbels chortle in his grave: “They’re claiming WHAT???”

  23. }}} Furthermore, experts might know a lot about one subject, but it doesn’t mean they know a lot about any other subject.

    This is key. I could fix your atrial septal defect or take out your gallbladder but you would not be wise to ask me to invest your savings

    The phrase you seek here is “Dunning-Kruger Poster Child”.

    Along with the Paving Material on the Proverbial Road To Hell, they are two of the life-lessons most important and least appreciated and least attended to in consideration.

  24. Perhaps the best example of D-K is one involving Einstein, clearly, one of the most brilliant men in human history:

    “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.”
    Albert Einstein

    This is not just wrong, it’s insanely wrong. Probably the most guaranteed means of getting yourself into — and losing, badly — a war, is to be totally unprepared for it. The BEST preventer of war is for those who would engage in it to be certain in their minds that it is going to cost them more than they will gain (This excludes religious war, for, say, 72 virgins).

    Hence, being as prepared for war as you can be, is the best preventer of it. And the other side of that is being a blissfully clueless sheep surrounded by starving wolves.

  25. Has there ever been a twenty year span that can beat the last one of “experts” (scare quotes again) that were both perfectly certain and certainly wrong? Starting with WMD, including, but not limited to, class AAA derivatives and ending with the present cluster F-.

    How about the twenty between WWI and WWII? The one before that? The one after that?

    I don’t claim to know the path to wisdom but I’m pretty sure you won’t find it on a morning news show.

  26. MCS: I think we’re well past the point of being able to tell ourselves that the “experts” are just “wrong”, regarding global finance, governance, etc. It’s far more tenable at this point to propose that they are accomplishing exactly what they want to, it’s just very different from what they say they have been trying to do.

  27. It’s far more tenable at this point to propose that they are accomplishing exactly what they want to, it’s just very different from what they say they have been trying to do.

    I’m with Brian on this. My personal opinion vacillates between the Great Depression and WWII as the cause. Vast bureaucracies learned to manipulate public opinion. How many people have read Amity Schlaes’ two great books ?

    “The Forgotten Man” and “The Great Society. Both explain how the Great Depression was prolonged from a stock market panic and how LBJ’s attempt at Socialism went wrong.

    The Gramscian march through education is intended to prevent kids from learning these stories.

    Woodrow Wilson used WWI to make a try at Fascism. His stroke might have incapacitated him enough to prevent success but Harding and Coolidge came along in time to end the party. I still have not seen a good biography of Harding. Schlaes has one of Coolidge, but I have still not seen a good explanation of how they were able to stop Wilson’s plans.

    World War II lasted longer and gave Roosevelt’s bureaucracy longer to entrench itself. Then, of course, the Cold War came along and made the the thing permanent. I think Eisenhower, a bureaucrat himself, saw the danger toward the end of his second term and his warning about “Military-Industrial Complex” was at the end of his presidency.

    Maybe if Nixon had won in 1960 but Nixon cared little about domestic issues and economics(The “Expert” problem again). Kennedy was all about “New ideas” and military expansion after his “Missile Gap”lies in the 1960 campaign.

  28. AVI: “Excess death for the year is at least 430,000.”

    Please provide the source data for that assertion. And, for the avoidance of doubt, not the New York Times.

  29. Also, the cry often goes up that everything is being called Covid when it is actually something else, and Covid is only a contributing factor. First, some of those “other things” that people are supposedly dying of that are being falsely attributed to C19 are symptoms of C19. Respiratory failure, pneumonia, and heart symptoms are the largest examples of this. To then turn and say “well, those weren’t really covid deaths, then, were they?” doesn’t follow logically.

    I don’t fully understand why people want the novel coronavirus to be a small problem, nothing to see here, move on…it’s just the flu…okay a BAD flu season…okay a REALLY BAD flu season, but nothing to be alarmed at because it’s only 100K (and estimates if it going to 200 are crazy)…200K (and estimates of it going to 300K are crazy and probably lies)…300K (and those crazy people who told us it would be over a million if we didn’t take strict measures are crazy). What is the personality quirk or cultural value that leads us to say “You can’t tell us what to do?” It keeps getting wrapped in the ideas of core Americanism and personal courage, as if those who don’t follow the directions are the true and brave Americans and those others are cowardly sheep – and only THEN the move to show that the science is bad shows up. It looks like motivated reasoning to me.

  30. First, some of those “other things” that people are supposedly dying of that are being falsely attributed to C19 are symptoms of C19. Respiratory failure, pneumonia, and heart symptoms are the largest examples of this. To then turn and say “well, those weren’t really covid deaths, then, were they?” doesn’t follow logically.

    Oh yes it does. This is flu season and an annual toll of 60,000 to 100K is “normal.” Especially considering that 80% to 90% of these deaths are in “elderly.” Everybody dies. My wife and I had a bad year this year. I wondered for a while if I might lose her. In June she had what was probably Covid with loss of smell and patches of mysterious inflammation, one of which was biopsied with no diagnosis. She ended up in the hospital for a few days but got home in 3 days and took a month to recover. She had Covid tests 5 times, all negative. No ICU or ventilator but she takes HCQ for rheumatoid arthritis.

    I had a coin lesion on a new chest x-ray in July. To make a long story short, it was Coccidiomycosis, endemic in Arizona and CA. I ended up with a right middle lung lobectomy. I have finally been off oxygen for three weeks but my O2 sat goes to 86% with any exertion.

    I will be 83 next month and she is 76 next week.

    Oh, and our dog died a month ago from the Cocci, which she got no doubt from digging in the yard. I probably got mine from filling her holes.

  31. AVI: ““Excess death for the year is at least 430,000.”

    AVI — I get that you are sincere, not one of the politicized fear-mongering alarmists. Please consider the possibility that those who reach different assessments from you are equally sincere. There is no reason for those who are very concerned about the damage to specific individuals from this particular Influenza-Like Illness to feel morally superior to their fellow citizens who are very concerned about the huge social, economic, medical, & human damage being done to individuals & society by the Lock Downs imposed in the name of “doing something” about this particular disease.

    AVI, have you ever dug into the huge ugly spreadsheets produced by the CDC? About 2,800,000 people die “normally” in the US ever year — over 7,600 every day. What the CDC data shows is that deaths in 2020 have been about 340,000 more than in the average of the last 5 years — significantly below your asserted 430,000. That should make us all feel a little relieved.

    But wait! The population of the US is increasing & aging. “Excess deaths” in 2020 versus last year (2019) were only 276,000 — with 75% of those being people over the age of 65. That is still a lot of premature deaths, of course — about 10% above trend. Yes, a bad flu year. But is it a reason for Locking Down societies, killing businesses, killing jobs, killing tax revenue? We know at the anecdotal level that the Lock Downs themselves cause premature deaths due to delayed diagnosis & treatment of non-Covid ailments, in addition to deaths stemming from Lock Down induced depression, substance abuse, and suicide. But determining how many of this year’s 10% additional deaths were caused by the Lock Downs rather than by the virus is a challenge.

    It would be good if those who are genuinely concerned about human health (rather than politicized alarmists) would always emphasize that we are dealing with a balance — the virus carries a cost to individuals & society; the efforts to address the virus also carry a heavy cost to individuals & society. Finding the right balance in an uncertain world is always a challenge, and even more so when the Usual Suspects politicize an issue. But the starting point for any reasonable person is to recognize that over-reacting can cause problems as bad or worse than under-reacting.

  32. “I don’t fully understand why people want the novel coronavirus to be a small problem”

    I’d just as soon it wasn’t a problem at all. The question is whether any of the extraordinary measures to supposedly combat it have been effective at all? What proof was there ever that any of the lock downs, etc. were likely to be effective. Without that, there’s no way to justify the enormous costs and impositions on liberty.

    We’re told by “experts” (again the scare quotes) that it would be worse without any actual proof beyond their say so. The evidence of huge numbers of confirmed cases without comparable morbidity/mortality argues that it was widely circulating before any alarm was raised. It is, in any case, completely unproven that the lock downs that probably only affected about a third of the population by even slightly limiting exposure prevented even a single case. As time goes by, the probability that anyone hasn’t been exposed approaches zero.

    We see the experts are already converging around the the ever shifting narrative of “climate change” as a way to extend their control when the vaccines have put wuflu in the rear view mirror. If you liked “two weeks to flatten the curve” you’ll love “two decades to save the polar bears”.

  33. Time for more numbers. Today in America: Well over 3000 dead and almost a 1/4 mill new cases. Today in China: No new dead and 33 cases.

    So that there is no way any government action can stop this pandemic, is just wrong. Now, about half of your dead, per day, are Covid19.

  34. @ Mike K – Flu season is 25K/year. Once in the last decade it went to 60K. If we take the (very possible) view that the official numbers are low and the true toll is higher, then we have to accept that possibility for C19 as well.

    @ Gavin – sincerity is not the issue, though I admit I am very suspicious at this point of those who want the numbers to be low. I gave you a source. You didn’t like it. I’ll give you the AEI statistician Lyman Stone https://twitter.com/lymanstoneky/ His graphs here: https://twitter.com/lymanstoneky/status/1307115294427688961?s=20 Or Johns Hopkins from September, with 200,000 excess deaths then. https://hub.jhu.edu/2020/09/01/comorbidities-and-coronavirus-deaths-cdc/

    But you won’t like them either.

    @ MCS – I accepted the “but we don’t really know anything” reasoning for a lot of this year. Not so much anymore. And I cannot entertain the supposedly straightforward discussion of what measures work and what don’t in a group the is trying to tell me those people aren’t really dead, just restin’. Not you personally (because I don’t remember your view specifically.)

    To the group: Taiwan has both freedom of movement and low covid rate. It might be worth asking how that is.

  35. “Taiwan has both freedom of movement and low covid rate”
    Internal freedom of movement, no? I don’t think you or I can just go to Taiwan at the moment.

  36. AVI,
    My point, succinctly, is that once in circulation, the wuflu was going to do what it was going to do until enough people developed resistance. Pretty much the consensus of opinion when it started. What we’re seeing in California sure isn’t evidence that all the lock downs and restrictions prevented infections or did anything but possibly move it a few months. You can, and I’m sure many will, claim that it would have been worse without, but that’s not evidence.

    There will be some unquantifiable but real number of people that die from the various effects of the restrictions.

  37. AVI — I don’t understand you. You seem like a reasonable person on most issues — but apparently demand that everyone treat Covid-19 as if it were one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

    There is no disagreement that some people (mostly old vulnerable people) are having their lives shortened by this infection — which is clearly something we should try to mitigate. It is also glaringly obvious that this is not a pandemic, despite all the clamor of the politicians. It is not comparable to a true pandemic like the Black Death of medieval Europe, or the Great Plague which afflicted England in the 1600s, or even the Spanish Flu of a hundred years ago. It is also obvious that this infection has been highly politicized — with manipulators taking advantage of well-meaning people.

    In an age of fraudulent elections, an organization like the CDC does not automatically have our respect. As a cross-check, I looked at the figures for England. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/datasets/weeklyprovisionalfiguresondeathsregisteredinenglandandwales
    Interestingly, the English numbers are comparable — total deaths in 2020 were about 10% higher than in prior years, and overwhelmingly showing up in the older (70+) age tranches. That gives some confidence in the CDC figures.

    Rationally, we all have to accept that some part of that 10% increase in total deaths has been caused by the Lock Downs and other disruptions imposed by politicians rather than by the virus. How much? I don’t know; nor, I suspect, do you, AVI.

    First, do no harm — as the old saying goes. Yet we know that Lock Downs do indisputably cause harm. The issue is one of balance. It is not helpful for anyone to take an absolutist position in which the damage caused by the supposed “cure” is completely ignored.

  38. It’s would be a much nicer world if experts acknowledged they are time-bound. When they begin to take facts known in the current world and try to project them into a future world they are leaving their area of expertise and moving swiftly into the area of horoscopy. This would be fine if there were some sort of negative consequences for them being wrong in their attempted predictions. Unfortunately, they are rather more likely to be rewarded for their incorrect predictions.

    Whether it is COVID, political polling, climate change, or the trajectory of the stock market – no one can tell the future. Once they apply their expertise beyond this present moment, and the further forward they project, the more they are guessing – not predicting, not foretelling. And no one, absolutely no one, is an expert on the future.

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