Search the KHIT Blog

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Covid-19 Premonition

Michael Lewis
 

INTRODUCTION
The Missing Americans


This book began with an unholy mix of obligation and opportunism. During the first half of the Trump administration I’d written a book, The Fifth Risk, that framed the federal government as a manager of a portfolio of existential risks: natural disasters, nuclear weapons, financial panics, hostile foreigners, energy security, food security, and on and on and on. The federal government wasn’t just this faceless gray mass of two million people. Nor was it some well-coordinated deep state seeking to subvert the will of the people. It was a collection of experts, among them some real heroes, whom we neglected and abused at our peril. Yet we’d been neglecting and abusing them for more than a generation. That behavior climaxed with the Trump administration. My book asked: What happens when the people in charge of managing these risks, along with the experts who understand them, have no interest in them?

I had no clue what was going to happen next. I assumed something was bound to happen. But it didn’t—not really. For the better part of three years, the Trump administration got lucky. That luck ran out in late 2019, as a freshly mutated virus in China made its way toward the United States. This was just the sort of management test I’d imagined when writing The Fifth Risk. How could I not write about it? But as I got into it, and found these wonderful characters to tell the story through, it became clear that Trump’s approach to government management was only a part of the story, and maybe not even the bigger part. As one of my characters put it, “Trump was a comorbidity.”

Back in October 2019—nearly three years into the Trump administration, and before anyone involved was aware of the novel coronavirus—a collection of very smart people had gathered to rank all the countries in the world, in order of their readiness for a pandemic. A group called the Nuclear Threat Initiative partnered with Johns Hopkins and The Economist Intelligence Unit to create what amounted to a preseason college football ranking for one hundred ninety-five countries. The Global Health Security Index, it was called. It was a massive undertaking involving millions of dollars and hundreds of researchers. They created stats and polled the experts. They ranked the United States first. Number 1. (The United Kingdom was Number 2.)…

Critics quibbled with the rankings. The complaints weren’t all that different from the complaints you hear before every college football season. For years the University of Texas football team, with its vast resources and sway with voters, always seemed ranked more highly at the start of the season than at the end. The United States was the Longhorns of pandemic preparedness. It was rich. It had special access to talent. It enjoyed special relationships with the experts whose votes determined the rankings.

Then the game was played. The preseason rankings no longer mattered. Neither, really, did the excuses and blame-casting and rationalizations. As the legendary football coach Bill Parcells once said, “You are what your record says you are.” At last count the United States, with a bit more than 4 percent of the world’s population, had a bit more than 20 percent of its COVID-19 deaths. In February 2021, The Lancet published a long critique of the U.S. pandemic performance. By then 450,000 Americans had died. The Lancet pointed out that if the COVID death rate in the United States had simply tracked the average of the other six G7 nations, 180,000 of those people would still be alive. “Missing Americans,” they called them. But why stop there? Before the pandemic, a panel of public-health experts had judged the United States to be more prepared for a pandemic than other G7 nations. In a war with a virus, we were not expected merely to fare as well as other rich countries. We were expected to win…


Lewis, Michael. The Premonition: A Pandemic Story (pp. xii-xv). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

I have long eagerly devoured everything Michael Lewis has written and published, all the way back to his Wall Street time. Hie latest book has just been published. 
 

Thia was all that Donald Trump saw and heard. He thought he was gonna ride the Dow-S&P-NASDAQ limo to a second term as Acting President. Everything else was irrelevant.
 
Cited Michael's book The Fifth Risk here.

 
Stay tuned. Just downloaded The Premonition.

UPDATE
 
Finished the book in a day and a half. Great story, compellingly written. Michael Lewis rocks. NY Times book reviewer wrote "I would read an 800 page history of the stapler if he wrote it."

Me too.

The CDC does not come off well in this book (nor do a number of other entities), in part for reasons long pre-dating the derelictions of the absurd Donald Trump.
 
Bring on the screenplay. Erin Brockovich, make room for
 
PUBLIC HEALTH HEROINE CHARITY DEAN
 
Dr, Dean resigned her California public heath position to co-found The Public Health Company (PHC).
Even before she’d quit her job she’d had that odd thought, that the country didn’t have the institutions that it needed to survive. In particular, it did not have what it needed to battle a pathogen. The pandemic had given America’s enemies a clear view of the country’s weakness: its inability to respond to a COVID-like threat. On her calls with the Wolverines, she’d ask: “What does the country need?” She was really asking herself, as no one had the answer. Her conclusion had pained her some. Once she’d become a public-health officer, she’d imagined an entire career in public service. Now she did not believe that the American government, at this moment in its history, would ever do what needed doing. Disease prevention was a public good, but the public wasn’t going to provide anything like enough of it. From the point of view of American culture, the trouble with disease prevention was that there was no money in it. She needed to find a way to make it pay.

The problem was a crazy problem. It wasn’t going to have a non-crazy solution. Still, she’d sort of shocked herself. She’d never had the slightest interest in business. But if she wanted to save the country, she’d need to become an entrepreneur, and create a company—though in business, she quickly learned, she couldn’t talk like that. When she said she wanted to build a tool “to save the country,” people just smiled and thought she was goofy in the head. But when she said things like “I’m going to create a data-based tool for disease prevention that companies can use to secure their supply chains,” serious business types nodded. “Five smart people have replied with confusion when I said the company was to save the world and protect our country,” said Charity, after her first attempts to explain her vague idea. “Then when I said, ‘We’re going to do private government operations, like Blackwater,’ their eyes lit up and they said, ‘Oh wow, you could take over the world.’ ”
[Lewis, pp. 298-299]
THE UPSHOT
 
 
They've come out of the blocks hot. to wit,
The Future of U.S. Public Health

Abstract

COVID-19 demonstrated a single pathogen’s ability to wreak havoc at global scale. Though organisms with this capacity strike sparingly, their impact nevertheless remains palpable for years to follow. Anticipating such biological threats has been historically difficult. As evidenced by the recent pandemic, our responses are often reactive, rather than proactive, and the consequences unforgiving…

This white paper outlines our framework for the future of U.S. public health as it relates to communicable diseases and public-private partnerships...

Closing remarks

Failing to address the fragmented and antiquated structure of our underlying U.S. public health system will continue to come at the unnecessary expense of lost human lives, shuttered businesses, and worsened divisions in our economic and health outcome chasm.
 
Much of this devastation is preventable but requires early detection, rapid response, and frictionless coordination. The public health system of the future gives private entities and local public health jurisdictions access to real-time information at their fingertips. A robust bio-surveillance and total infection control support system powered by science and technology results in rapid, tactical guidance and avoidance of deadly outbreaks. As pandemics increase in frequency and severity, the U.S. must stand ready with an infrastructure capable of protecting humanity against impending biological threats. We must break through existing structural forces and build a modernized system that has greater reliance on technology (including both genomics and dissemination of expertise via networked hub-and-spoke models) and empowered private sector leaders. As pandemics will certainly increase in frequency and severity, the U.S. stands at the precipice of a critical inflection point: continue with business as usual or use the COVID-19 pandemic as a turning point to reimagine our public health infrastructure.
They are Loaded for Bear, flush with significant VC funding.
When I was covering the healthcare startup space, I saw a lot of "Silicon Valley HBO" SMH stuff. PHC is immeasurably different. Totally substantive. As serious as a heart attack (read the white papers). I wish them well.
"Bears" watching.
 
The only thing I'd recommend goes to my recent study of Davarian Baldwin's "In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower." PHC lists its prospective business lines as encompassing "Business, Government, and Healthcare" sectors. What about "Academia?" See Dr.Baldwin's riffs on "Meds and Eds"—
Indeed, urban universities and their medical centers—the “meds and eds”—stand as one of the most central yet least examined social forces shaping today’s cities. In today’s knowledge economy, universities have become the new companies, and our major cities serve as their company towns. But unlike Amazon, Microsoft, and other info-tech industries, higher education claims responsibility for our public good. It’s time we investigated that promise, asking whether a school’s increased for-profit ambitions can undermine the interests of the public. In fact, the presumption that higher education is a public good has for too long distracted critics and urban residents from getting to the heart of the matter: what makes universities good for our cities? We need fewer assumptions and more analysis...

Baldwin, Davarian L. In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower (p. 6). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.
If your cardinal goals iinclude communicable disease prevention and mitigation, the urban environs comprise the fish in the barrels. Leverage academia.

MORE PHC WHITE PAPER STUFF

Summary
Although it is difficult to predict when the next ‘big one’ will happen, it will likely be similar to something we have seen before. The pandemics of the last century have all been caused by influenza. The COVID-19 pandemic was caused by a pathogen related to a seasonal coronavirus that causes colds and the SARS epidemic in 2003. Thus, the next pandemic will likely be caused by another airborne pathogen, probably in the influenza and coronavirus families, with a period of pre-symptomatic transmission able to disseminate quickly and widely due to global air travel and crowding.

However, a global pandemic is not the only biothreat the U.S. should prepare for. Epidemics that spread across parts of the country or across a single continent can still have grave repercussions for healthcare systems and economies. Dengue, Zika, and Ebola epidemics have increased in frequency in recent years despite being caused by pathogens that have been known for many decades, and they will likely return to U.S. shores once global travel resumes. Furthermore, pathogens (whether released intentionally or accidentally) present a less likely but far more catastrophic biosecurity risk that could cause large outbreaks in the U.S. due to extremely high case fatality or transmission rates.

While fortifying healthcare and technology infrastructure is needed for pandemic preparedness,
we also need to safeguard the parts of the system that have protected us over the last year: public health officers, epidemiologists, public health nurses, doctors, nurses, scientists, janitorial staff, and delivery services.

There are hundreds of pathogens that could cause outbreaks in the U.S. spread through any of the transmission routes described in this white paper. Improving infrastructure to better prevent, detect, and contain these smaller but more frequent threats will help us prepare for the next ‘big one.’ These improvements are further detailed in another white paper, ‘The Future of U.S. Public Health.’

UPDATE: COVID COMPLACENCY ADMONITION
 
 
Click the screengrab.

MAY 8TH NEWS

It's not over.
 
IRASCIBLE COMMENTARY

Grr.r.r.r...
 
ONE LAST UPDATE FOR THIS POST
 
PHC issued a new White Paper

Abstract
In the COVID era, public health jurisdictions around the world have used SARS-CoV-2 genomic data in their pandemic response at unprecedented scale. As of April 23, 2021, over 1.2 million viral genomes have been sequenced for public health purposes. These data have enabled policy decisions (e.g., Denmark increasing interventions despite falling cases in response to detecting the UK variant), cluster investigations (e.g., uncovering transmission clusters across healthcare facilities that share staff), diagnostic test and vaccine development (e.g., establish diagnostic assays to detect the UK variant), and more.
A good read. As is Michael Lewis's new book The Premonition, which got me down this path.

MAY 9TH AFTERWORD

_________

    

Saturday, May 1, 2021

MayDay

 
Musical diversion. My friend Bill Champlin.
 
BONUS TRACK
 
As my Vegas peeps would say, this cat is just WRONG!

_________

Friday, April 30, 2021

"Tax-exempt hedge funds that conduct classes"

What?
 
 
Yeah. Basically, an eloquent expose of the cumulative consequences of neoliberal kleptocracy—uhhh..."public/private partnerships"—run amok in the academic space.
 
I got onto this book via an interview with the author the other day on PBS Amanpour & Co. Topically relevant in what I've come to regard as priority overlapping exigencies brought to the fore by the Covid-19 pandemic: ECON disruption, Academic turmoil, racial/social justice upheavals, climate change mitigation, pollution, and threats to Democracy.


 Grateful for having run into this heads-up. An excellent read. I'm now in the Epilogue. Stay tuned.

UPDATE
 
Finished. Nice. Very nice. Written in the consistently engaging style of a fine piece of "investigative journalism." I hope it gets wide airing—all the way up to the Biden White House. 
 
Core takeaway: Blatant abuse of 501(c)(3) non-profit status by elite postsecondary schools (mostly private) is a foundational tactic for their engaging in lucrative (often eminent domain-assisted) commercial gentrification real estate businesses and intellectual property / patent endeavors, all to the detriment of students, lower-echelon staffs, and local residents—replete with armed, largely unaccountable private "campus" police forces exceeding their legitimate briefs, beyond campus borders into adjacent, usually at-risk sociodemographic neighborhoods. Not to mention property tax payers in general.
 
A few Kindle edition snips **:
 
** These come from a new Kindle reader platform feature contained in the version downloaded to my new iPad. Pretty cool. You can easily share stuff straight to Twitter, Facebook, email, etc, or save to file.
Quite the revealing tour of colleges and universities, including Yale, Columbia, NYU, Johns Hopkins, UChicago, ASU, and Trinity College. A salient excerpt:
Yale University often gets credit for “saving” the once beat-down city of New Haven, making it safer while attracting new industry and development. But the truth is much more complicated. In March 2016, New Haven was struggling to balance its shrinking budget. And then-mayor Toni Harp joined local politicians and labor unions to set their sights on Yale. They called for a state senate bill to help fine-tune the university’s property tax-exempt status, an area where the school’s prosperity was directly tied to the city’s despair. Universities and their medical centers are registered with the Internal Revenue Service as 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofits.

Because of the public services that higher education institutions ostensibly provide to surrounding communities, their property holdings are exempt from taxation in all fifty states. But New Haven officials said Yale’s multimillion-dollar tax exemption actually contributed to the budget deficit of the city. The Connecticut bill, SB 414, would have allowed the state to tax university properties that generate $6,000 or more in annual income.

At a city hall press conference, Harp immediately acknowledged the need to uphold the tax protections for nonprofit organizations, including Yale. She celebrated the university’s undeniable role “in the city’s transformation.” Over the past forty years, Yale had become the single largest commercial power in New Haven. But Harp also warned that although cities rely “more and more on eds and meds,” New Haven leaders must “be clear… about the fiscal impact of this transition.” The mayor reminded listeners that “we still have to run a city.” Yale offered, as a compromise, an annual $8 million “payment in lieu of taxes,” or PILOT. By 2019, that payment jumped to more than $12 million. These contributions are voluntary, however, and are a fraction of the taxes Yale would pay based on the assessed value of its properties. But Yale didn’t have to worry; SB 414 did not pass, and the city of New Haven still struggles while its largest local economic entity remains exempt from property taxes.

Yale’s financial dominance in New Haven is tied to the meteoric ascendancy of the knowledge economy. Here, academic research is used to create profitable, commercial goods or patents in a range of fields, from the pharmaceutical industries and software products to military defense weaponry. Yale, in particular, has cultivated relationships with a number of biotech firms to produce new jobs and draw commercial revenue to the university and its host city. But this partnership between private industry and academic research has also created a property-tax “gray area” where profitable research produced for private companies is conducted in educational buildings that are not on the tax rolls.

Yale’s revenues from patent licenses grew from just more than $5 million in 1996 to more than $45 million in 2000.4 And it has also been difficult for New Haven to attract investors to this unlevel playing field. New businesses must pay taxes, and they struggle to coexist with competitors in the same market that are affiliated with the tax-exempt behemoth of Yale. Local politicians such as Harp simply wanted the university to contribute its fair share to the broader community.

But Yale’s financial position in New Haven is the result of more than just biotech. The school also oversees a lucrative portfolio of commercial and residential assets managed by its University Properties. Both students and alumni marvel at the transformation of the area from what was once dingy and even a bit dangerous. Now, when walking through the blocks surrounding the campus, they enjoy a new range of restaurants, shops, and housing options. By 2014, Yale’s more than four hundred downtown properties totaled roughly $2.44 billion in value…


Baldwin, Davarian L. In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower (pp. 17-19). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.
Similar stories are recounted from a number of cities around the nation. Several were of particular personal interest to me: My late younger daughter Danielle did her Master's in Religion at UChicago's Meadeville Seminary. I'm hip to the South Side. Second, I now live "in the shadow" of the Baltimore quasi-autonomous "Vatican City" of Johns Hopkins. And, I lived in Las Vegas for 21 years (where I got my Master's at UNLV in 1998). I'm no stranger to Phoenix, which is a quite similar socioeconomic, cultural, and desert environment.

Dr. Balwin's accounts of the NYU and Columbia U machinations were also acutely illuminating.
Erratum: Among the phrases that cause my hand to slide reflexively over my wallet are [1] "Gaussian Distribution" (where it goes to non-physical phenomena), and [2] "Public-Private Partnerships." The latter too often comprise havens for economically rapacious scoundrels.
For now, just let me observe that we are lucky to have the likes of Dr. Davarian L. Baldwin. Heartily recommend his new book.

 
Cool photo.
SOME RELATED READING

IVY-COVERED CASTE SYSTEM
We like to position education as the great leveler. But in fact it has become a caste system, a means of passing privilege on to the next generation. Sure, we let in a few freakishly remarkable kids from the masses so we can pretend to be a meritocracy, but between legacy admissions, high school inequality, and straight up pay-to-play arrangements, the wealthy are wildly overrepresented in our colleges. Wealthy kids today are over twice as likely to go to college as poor kids, and over five times as likely to attend an elite school.8 At 38 of the top 100 colleges in America, including 5 of the Ivies, there are more students from the top 1% of income than there are from the bottom 60%.9 You could argue that at this point, the Ivy League undergraduate programs are not colleges, but hedge funds that educate the children of their investors…


Galloway, Scott. Post Corona (pp. 130-131). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

DESPERATE
Why would college presidents put their students, employees, and neighbors at risk like this? The ugly truth is that many believe they have no choice. College is an expensive operation with a relatively inflexible cost structure. Tenure and union contracts render the largest cost (faculty and administrator salaries) near-immovable objects. The bulk of the teaching is done by adjuncts and assistants, who receive anemic compensation (and grad students, who work for nearly nothing), while the aristocracy of higher ed, the full professors, have their high salaries protected by tenure. In addition, universities have let their non-teaching staff costs bloat obscenely—growing head count is always easier than shrinking it. After working in higher ed for two decades, I believe nearly every decision is made with one goal in mind: how to increase the compensation and decrease the accountability of tenured faculty and administrators.

Government support for education has also been on the decline for generations. The result is that while some universities enjoy revenue streams from technology transfer, hospitals, returns on multibillion-dollar endowments, and public funding, the bulk of colleges have become tuition dependent. If students don’t return in any given semester, many colleges will have to take drastic action that could have serious long-term impacts on their ability to fulfill their missions…
(ibid, pp. 138-139).

See also
 
These books add some useful broader context to Dr. Baldwin's eye-opening work.
_________

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Three years ago today

 
Sux to only be able to refer to your daughters in the past tense.
 

In November of 2017 we did a family 8-day "bucket list" trip to Manzanillo, Mexico for Danielle. She bought us this little local handcrafted ceramic (above), which has since been our sugar bowl. Every morning it is my kitchen counter shrine as I fix my coffee and wistfully think of her.
_________
 

Monday, April 26, 2021

New: The Journal of Controverslal Ideas

"Judging the strength and significance of arguments is not easy."

But, a lot of our fellow citizens didn't get The Memo.


EDITORIAL

"One year after the official launch of the Journal of Controversial Ideas, we are pleased to present the first issue to our readers...

We—the editors, as well as some members of our editorial board—had previously dealt with angry reactions from the non-academic public, but the situation changed after the internet became the unregulated global agora it is today. As the world became increasingly interconnected and digitalized, academic conversation altered quite profoundly.

Twenty years ago, most academic journals were available only in university libraries, or to paid subscribers, and hence almost exclusively to academics. Nowadays, many journals have an online version that is accessible to everyone in the world and even if the journal is behind a paywall, it only takes one person to cut and paste a passage and distribute it via Twitter or Facebook for everyone to be able to read it.

The benefits of the digitalization of information are undeniable. The internet has allowed academics to make their research available to a vast audience, widening its potential impact and increasing the quantity and quality of information now accessible to everyone. This is one of the great achievements of our era. Yet what is widely shared over the internet is often neither genuine academic work, nor popularized but accurate accounts of academic work, but instead the conclusions of academic articles taken out of context and stripped of the reasons for holding them. These distorted conclusions are then circulated to people who are liable to respond with outrage, and this outraged response then proliferates in the manner typical of social media. Some academics get death threats, while others may justifiably fear that their career prospects have been irreversibly damaged. Understandably, they and others who see what has happened to them may decide that the cost of continuing to work in a controversial area is too high.

Angry reactions from the public are an unpleasant experience that can have an inhibiting effect on academic research; but there are more serious threats that come from within the universities.

Some students have demanded that speakers holding views they consider offensive be prevented from speaking at their university, and that professors holding views the students consider objectionable should be sanctioned or even dismissed. Some topics, and even entire areas of research are now considered off limits, and teachers are required to adapt to the new curriculum and choose their syllabi accordingly.

Ronald Dworkin regarded “the paradigmatic duty” of professors and others who teach and study in universities to be “to discover and teach what they find important and true.” He added that this duty can override what is in the best interests of the audience.1 Clearly this conception of the university is now under threat.

Surprisingly, these attempts to stifle academic debate often receive support from academics themselves. In recent years there has been a surge in open letters and petitions denouncing researchers and their work, signed by academics who seem to be unwilling to rely on the traditional academic practice of finding flaws in the arguments with which they disagree. They instead demand that administrators sanction colleagues who have expressed ideas they oppose. Some of these petitions, signed by hundreds of academics, even demand that editors retract published articles that have passed standard peer review processes. In an alarming number instances, editors have been cowed by these demands and have succumbed to them. A few who have defended academic freedom have been compelled to resign.

All this indicates that freedom of thought and discussion in the universities is no longer a universally held value, even among academics. So we must ask: why should academics be free to write and teach whatever they want, including what most people find tasteless, unnecessarily provocative, or even dangerous? One reason is that when the open discussion of certain ideas is suppressed, the ideas don’t disappear. Instead they are discussed in forums read only by people who are attracted to them, and are never exposed to counter-arguments. The ideas become more virulent and irrational, and more influential than they would have been had their purveyors been openly refuted rather than being transformed into martyrs by being silenced or persecuted.

A second reason why freedom of expression matters is that it is only by discussing all ideas—even those that many regard as offensive or immoral—that we get closer to the truth. Moral, intellectual, and material progress in human history are the results of a constant exchange of ideas, many of which were initially considered abhorrent, and there is no reason to believe that this pattern has changed. When some answers to questions are considered taboo, how can we be confident that we are not in error? It is not difficult to find past examples of ideas that when first advanced were suppressed, but are now recognized as having contributed greatly to our knowledge, or our moral progress.

Socrates, Jesus of Nazareth, Giordano Bruno, and Galileo Galilei were considered so dangerous that authorities tried to silence them, and in the case of Socrates, Jesus, and Bruno, as well as many of Bruno’s lesser-known contemporaries, the persecution ended in execution. The Index of Prohibited Books, established by the Council of Trent in 1564 and discontinued only in 1966, included books by Hobbes, Pascal, Descartes, Spinoza, Voltaire, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Bentham, Mill, Sartre, De Beauvoir, and many more.

Many authors have published their more controversial work either anonymously or under pseudonyms in an effort to protect their lives, liberty, and careers. If the history of freedom of thought and expression teaches us anything, it is that scholars must not stop inquiring when their inquiries lead them to answers that displease them or that displease their government, religious authorities, colleagues, employers, potential employers, or other members of their society. They have a duty to go further, to pursue ideas as deeply as possible, and to follow arguments to their logical conclusions—especially when they lead to disturbing conclusions people don’t want to hear. The truth may be concealed among those unsettling thoughts.

In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill offered a third reason in support of freedom of thought and discussion that is especially significant in the context of a university or other educational institution. Even if we are correct in our belief that we already know the truth on some topic of great importance, and that the contrary ideas we suppress are erroneous, to suppress those opposing ideas is, Mill said, to turn that true belief into a dead dogma. If we want it to be a living truth, to appreciate the reasons for it, and to understand why we are justified in continuing to believe it, we must allow it to be challenged.2

We have launched this journal because we have become concerned that in the current social and cultural climate, some people will not feel free to explore ideas that may embroil them in unwelcome controversy. As a result, some of our false beliefs will not be shown to be false, while some of our true beliefs will become dead dogmas and more vulnerable to attack because they are not defended against apparently plausible objections. Researchers at an early stage of an academic career may be so worried about the repercussions of controversial publications that they end up focusing only on uncontroversial research, even when they think that there is something potentially more significant to explore. By permitting publication under a pseudonym, we hope to enable authors to fulfil their duty to pursue the truth without putting their careers or physical or mental security at risk. Intellectual and moral progress should not require heroes or martyrs.

While it is perfectly normal to feel annoyed, threatened, offended, or even insulted when our deep beliefs are challenged, we should respond with reason and argument, rather than outrage. No one should ever ask their colleagues to retract a paper that has been accepted after peer review, except on such grounds as demonstrable error, misrepresentation of data, or plagiarism. Disagreements should be settled by exposing the purported mistake, not by attempting to suppress the idea or punish the author. We need to teach students how to disagree, not how to silence people with whom they disagree. And we need to show the media and the public that presenting controversial ideas is not our privilege, but rather our duty—even when they hate us for what we have to say. As Fritz Machlup said, “Academic freedom is a right of the people, not a privilege of a few. … It is the people at large who have a right to the cultural and material benefits that may flow from the teaching and the inquiries of scholars who have nothing to fear when they make honest mistakes.”3

We hope that the Journal of Controversial Ideas will, by providing a forum for discussing controversial ideas in a reasonable and non-polemical way, promote freedom of thought and discussion. By introducing fellow academics and the lay public to a healthy and lively debate about ideas that are genuinely controversial, we seek to foster appreciation of reasoned discussion and pave the way for more fruitful public and academic debate.

Three out of the ten authors publishing an article in this first issue have chosen to use a pseudonym, a choice that some will find objectionable. Indeed, when we announced that we would allow authors to use a pseudonym, we were criticized by people who argued that authors need to be accountable for the content of their papers, and so should not have the option of concealing their identity. In an ideal world, we would accept this view, but we do not live in such a world. The history of philosophy is replete with instances of philosophers who concealed the authorship of at least some of their works: Descartes, Locke, Spinoza, Voltaire, and Hume, among others. Ideas ought to be judged on their own merits, not on the basis of any characteristic of the person who happened to formulate them.

Judging the strength and significance of arguments is not easy. Since we issued our Call for Papers one year ago, we have received 91 submissions, accepted 10, rejected 68 and we are still processing 13. We have put a lot of effort into finding the right reviewers and providing the authors with constructive, though often challenging, comments. The ten papers in this first issue cover a variety of topics and perspectives. Collectively, they support our conviction that some interesting and important public conversations will take place only if there is a forum in which controversial ideas can be published and, if the author wishes, published under a pseudonym. This does not mean that we, the editors, believe all or perhaps any of the ideas presented here are right or that they are more worthy of attention than ideas published in other journals. Possibly most readers will find at least one of these articles distasteful, misguided, infuriating, or offensive. Our claim is only that the ideas articulated and defended in these articles are worth discussing. Indeed, we welcome the submission of papers that critically discuss articles in this issue – albeit by criticizing the ideas rather than the authors.

In establishing the Journal of Controversial Ideas, we said that we would be neutral with respect to political, philosophical, religious, and social views. We believe that the papers published in this first issue, based on the recommendations of our reviewers, support this claim. We have done our best to be impartial between papers attacking ideas favoured by liberals or progressives and papers attacking ideas favoured by conservatives or libertarians...

Ideally, the need for this journal will be short-lived because our efforts will help to foster cultural conditions in which editors of academic journals will no longer have to worry about publishing controversial papers, and researchers will be able to publish controversial articles in any journal they find appropriate without fearing that doing so will endanger their well-being or career. But until then, we will do our best to make sure that the fear of a hostile response does not intimidate authors from publishing important, well-argued, but controversial ideas..."

McMahan, J.; Minerva, F.; Singer, P. Editorial. Journal of Controversial Ideas 2021, 1(1), 11; doi:10.35995/jci01010011. [Creative Commons license permission.]
 
See what you think.
_________

Friday, April 23, 2021

Histories of digitech and science: New readings.

Got onto these this week via book reviews in a new Science Magazine issue. Powerful stuff, with some interesting topical overlap (which also goes to the work of MIT's Dr. Sherry Turkle).


 
My affinity for Dr. Oreskes' science cred is no secret on this blog. And, coming to know the work of Dr. Crawford has been delightful. She is a co-founder of the AI Now Institute at NYU, which I've cited before.
 
A common thematic thread across these two works is that of "who benefits, and who pays?" (What's new, 'eh?) The corporations driving AI (and digitech broadly) see us all as "consumer" objects to be classified and monetized. The largely DOD funders of oceanographic research see the marine ecosystem as little more than a battlespace to be optimized for strategic military purposes.

On AI and "military purposes," see my March 16th post.
 
KATE CRAWFORD ON HER NEW BOOK
 
 
Well worth your time.
 
ORESKES ON "AGNOTOLOGY"
The Production of Knowledge and Ignorance

In my prior work on the history of debates over continental drift, plate tectonics, and anthropogenic climate change, I have been primarily interested in the production of scientific knowledge. I have queried how scientists decide when they have enough evidence of sufficient quality to say that a scientific question has been answered, as well as how they judge what constitutes “evidence” and “quality.” 45 Here, I am interested in how military funding affected which questions scientists believed needed answering in the first place and how they went about answering them. I argue that, while Navy funding produced a great deal of scientific knowledge, it was also productive of considerable ignorance, not only by bringing some questions to the fore and pushing others aside, but also by structuring how scientists thought about the ocean and what they even thought the ocean was. The military context of motivation led oceanographers to view the ocean primarily as a medium through which sound was transmitted and men and machines would travel, and not as an abode of life. This, I argue, had significant, lasting consequences. Thus, I offer this work as a contribution both to the history of science—the study of the production of knowledge—and to agnotology, the study of the production of ignorance.


Oreskes, Naomi (2106-02-07T01:28:15). Science on a Mission (Kindle Locations 387-397). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.
DR. ORESKES
 
 
_________

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

#JusticeForGeorgeFloyd

 
True "justice," though, would comprise in part not dying at the hands (and knees) of police over an alleged fake $20 bill.
 
Gianna Floyd (now 7) will not experience justice.
_________

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

15 days in Minneapolis

And now we anxiously await the verdict...
 
 
Does that look like murder to you? Twelve Minneapolis citizens now have to try to decide whether it rises to the definitions contained in the charges.
 
I've watched all 15 days of the Derek Chauvin murder trial live. Didn't want to rely on news accounts. I cannot recall a complete felony trial heretofore aired on live network TV. (Maybe I have that wrong.)
 
I first posted about the George Floyd killing soon after it happened on May 25th, 2020.
 
Jury got the case late afternoon of April 19th. Public safety authorities around the nation are girding for the worst.

Some thoughts from Ibram X. Kendi.
 
4:35 PM EDT UPDATE
 
Jury has reportedly reached a verdict. Wow. Announcement pending shortly.
 
GUILTY ON ALL COUNTS!

_________

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Empathy Diaries

What a life! #TheEmpathyDiaries
 
72, 'eh? Ma'am, can I see some ID?
 
I forget now how this book came my way (IIRC it may have been an Amazon recommendation), but I am immeasurably grateful it did. I've been on a reading tear across the past two weeks (while watching every day of the ominously portentious Derek Chauvin murder trial live).

I related to Dr. Turkle's memoir on so many levels. Right outa the chute, I had an "Amen" moment.

    
Yeah. Fundamental to the SOAP process: Look, Listen, Palpate. "Information" has to effectively abet those, not replace them.
Recall that this blog commenced as an iconoclastic (often heretical) tech diary of my work in Health IT prior to my retirement. Early on, I took no prisoners. See my "Clinic Monkey" spoof site.
 

Beyond Sherry's astute academic and tech observations, I was quite moved at the outset by her candid, often painful personal "memoir" revelations regarding family difficulties. I am two years her senior, born in western Long Island not far from the NYC Queens borough. All of my family hails from that area (e.g., Floral Park, Elmont). Her descriptions of her young life resonated with me vividly—"empathic" reactions in spades.
I too experienced ongoing parental turmoil. My Dad came home from WWII minus the leg he left behind on Sicily (night landing glider crash). His teen dream of becoming a golf pro dashed, he would subsequently be the chronically angriest man I ever knew, a hair-trigger combative. I mostly just feared him and tried to avoid his wrath. My Ma was profoundly clinically bipolar, hobbled by recurrent "nervous breakdowns" landing my sister and I at Grandma's in Elmont and her in "sanitariums," where the go-to treatment of the era was electroshock (lithium, where art thou?). All it did was make her angry as well. I sometimes have joked (unfairly) that it was "a miracle I'm not a serial axe-murderer" given the enervating acrimony under our roof.

By the time I was 18, I'd had quite enough, thank you very much. In lieu of college, I went on the road in a bar band. Got my first college degree 21 years later at age 39 and hung up the axe. I now joke that I'm just "an ailing, old washed-up guitar player."

I also used to joke that I traded the guitar for the keyboard—the IBM 101 PC keyboard. It paid better.

Sherry is on a bunch of videos on YouTube. e.g.,


Wonderful. Buy and read her memoir. A great life story, and a person with compelling, timely analytic observations on technology and humanistic ethics.

My favorite quote from Sherry's book.

Goes to my concerns with respect to the overlapping exigencies we face: The Covid-19 pandemic, economic turmoil, academic disruption, healthcare system stresses, climate change, pollution, menacing threats to democracy, and social/racial justice challenges.

We're gonna have to materially Up Our Game, IMO. and, time is not on our side.
“I’ve explored the human effects of science and technology since I arrived at MIT from Harvard in 1976 with a doctorate in sociology and psychology. My subject is the “inner history” of technology, how it changes our relationships, including our relationship with ourselves. Over the years at MIT, I have been able to see how easy it is for a fascination with technology to take well-intentioned people away from empathy and its simple human truths. So technologists become invested in the promise of electronic medical records and forget how important it is for physicians to make eye contact with patients during their meetings. Engineers become fixed on the idea of efficiency, and soon it seems like a good thing to prefer texting to face-to-face talk, because on screens we can discuss personal matters with less emotional vulnerability. Talking to and through machines makes face-to-face exchanges with people seem oddly stressful. And less necessary. These days, our technology treats us as though we were objects and we get in the habit of objectifying one another as bits of data, profiles viewed. But only shared vulnerability and human empathy allow us to truly understand one another.”
NetFlix miniseries documentary, anyone?
_________

       

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Two years in Baltmore

Two years ago on April 15th, 2019 we pulled up to the curb at our new digs in the Baltimore Homeland District after an 8-day 2-car overland convoy shlep from California, dogs and cats in tow. Having lost both of our daughters to cancers, we wanted to be close to Matt, our surviving child, who has settled here and has now married.

My subsequent Twitter banner.

Today our new Grandson Calvin is 15 months old.

Three days a week now we run the in-home Calvin Archer Gladd Graycare Center. Heart Happy Family, indeed. What a total joy he is.

UPDATE

We now have a new resident nesting on our front porch, in one of Cheryl's hanging flower pots..

Right by our front door. Nice.
_________

Friday, April 9, 2021

Amanda Ripley hits one outa the park.

"High Conflict," meet "High Resolution."

 
Saw a CBS Sunday Morning segment featuring the author last Sunday.


Bought the book. Of course. 's how we roll here.

Riveting. It moved me on so many levels. Were I in charge, I'd likely decree it to be required reading. With an exam at the end.
When we are baffled by the insanity of the “other side”—in our politics, at work, or at home—it’s because we aren’t seeing how the conflict itself has taken over.

That’s what “high conflict” does. It’s the invisible hand of our time. And it’s different from the useful friction of healthy conflict. That’s good conflict, and it’s a necessary force that pushes us to be better people.

High conflict, by contrast, is what happens when discord distills into a good-versus-evil kind of feud, the kind with an us and a them. In this state, the normal rules of engagement no longer apply. The brain behaves differently. We feel increasingly certain of our own superiority and, at the same time, more and more mystified by the other side.

New York Times bestselling author and award-winning journalist Amanda Ripley investigates how good people get captured by high conflict—and how they break free…

People do escape high conflict. Individuals—even entire communities—can short-circuit the feedback loops of outrage and blame, if they want to. This is a mind-opening new way to think about conflict that will transform how we move through the world.
[Amazon blurb]
I joke these days of being "a life-longer unlearner." Well, the disabusement curriculum just ramped up materially. Gonna have to re-think (and mitigate) my frequently hair-trigger irascible suffer-no-fools-gladly snark reflex.

Stay tuned. 
 
apropos of the topic (in particular as it goes to my riffs on so-called "Deliberation Science"):
Abstract
Decisions always involve both facts and values, whereas most science communication focuses only on facts. If science communication is intended to inform decisions, it must be competent with regard to both facts and values. Public participation inevitably involves both facts and values. Research on public participation suggests that linking scientific analysis to public deliberation in an iterative process can help decision making deal effectively with both facts and values. Thus, linked analysis and deliberation can be an effective tool for science communication. However, challenges remain in conducting such process at the national and global scales, in enhancing trust, and in reconciling diverse values.


…In the 21st century, the scale of human activity will expand substantially (3⇓–5), as will the power of our technology. Social learning is the basis both for the unprecedented scale of human activity and for the power of our technologies. If we are to avoid serious adverse consequences from these changes, we must accelerate social learning for sustainability and for governing technology (6). Our growing capabilities in nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, cognitive technology, and robotics (NBIC) will be a special challenge. They add to the already daunting problems of sustainability and the long-standing issues of violent conflict and poverty. Without continuous and effective social learning, we are ill equipped as individuals, as a nation, and as a global society to make sound decisions about these complex matters. We need social learning about facts so that our beliefs about how the world works are well aligned with reality. We also need social learning around values to think through the emerging implications of major social transformations…
[ "Bringing values and deliberation to science communication" ]
"Learning?" ahhh..."Education?"

 
Recall the Greek root of "education"—"e-ducere," to draw out, to elicit, induce. Differs from instruction, training.

BACK TO "HIGH CONFLICT"

A cool way to begin.
glossary

Confirmation bias.
The human tendency to interpret new information as confirmation of one’s preexisting beliefs.

Conflict entrepreneurs.
People who exploit high conflict for their own ends.

Conflict trap.

A conflict that becomes magnetic, pulling people in despite their own best interests. Characteristic of high conflict.

Contact theory.
The idea that people from different groups will, under certain conditions, tend to become less prejudiced toward one another after spending time together.

Crock pot.

A shorthand term for the issue that a conflict appears to be about, on the surface, when it is really about something else.

Cyberball.
A simple online ball-tossing game created by researchers to study the effect of social exclusion.

Fire starters.
Accelerants that lead conflict to explode in violence, including group identities, conflict entrepreneurs, humiliation, and corruption.

Fourth way.

A way to go through conflict that’s more satisfying than running away, fighting, or staying silent, the three usual paths. Leaning into the conflict.

Good conflict.
Friction that can be serious and intense but leads somewhere useful. Does not collapse into dehumanization. Also known as healthy conflict.

High conflict. 
A conflict that becomes self-perpetuating and all-consuming, in which almost everyone ends up worse off. Typically an us-versus-them conflict.

Humiliation.
A forced and public degradation; an unjustified loss of dignity, pride, or status. Can lead to high conflict and violence.

Idiot-driver reflex.
The human tendency to blame other people’s behavior on their intrinsic character flaws—and attribute our own behavior to the circumstances we find ourselves in. Also known as the fundamental attribution error.

Illusion of communication.
The extremely common and mistaken belief that we have communicated something, when we have not.

La Brea Tar Pits.
A place in Los Angeles where natural asphalt has bubbled up from below the ground’s surface since the last Ice Age. A metaphor for high conflict.

Looping for understanding.

An iterative, active listening technique in which the person listening reflects back what the person talking seems to have said—and checks to see if the summary was right. Developed by Gary Friedman and Jack Himmelstein and detailed in their book Challenging Conflict.

Magic ratio.
When the number of everyday positive interactions between people significantly outweighs the number of negative, creating a buffer that helps keep conflict healthy. (In marriage, for example, the magic ratio is 5 to 1, according to research by psychologists Julie and John Gottman.)

Paradox No. 1 of High Conflict.

We are animated by high conflict, and also haunted by it. We want it to end, and we want it to continue.

Paradox No. 2 of High Conflict.

Groups bring obligations, including the duty to harm—or, at other times, the obligation to do no harm, to make peace.

Paradox No. 3 of High Conflict.
No one will change in the ways you want them to until they believe you understand and accept them for who they are right now. (And sometimes not even then.)

Power of the binary.
The dangerous reduction of realities or choices into just two. For example: Black and White, good and evil, Democrat and Republican.

Saturation point.

The point in a conflict where the losses seem heavier than the gains; an opportunity for a shift.

Telling.

The use of superficial shortcuts (like clothing or hair color) to quickly figure out who belongs to which group in a given conflict. A term used in Northern Ireland.

Understory.
The thing the conflict is really about, underneath the usual talking points (see Crock pot).


Ripley, Amanda. High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out (pp. XI-XII). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
I'm a big fan of outset definitions of key terms. See my 1994 grad school argument analysis & evaluation paper (PDF).

IN SHORT
high conflict

This is a book about the mysterious force that incites people to lose their minds in ideological disputes, political feuds, or gang vendettas. The force that causes us to lie awake at night, obsessed by a conflict with a coworker or a sibling or a politician we’ve never met.

High conflict is different from the useful friction of healthy conflict. That’s good conflict, and it’s a force that pushes us to be better people. Good conflict is not the same thing as forgiveness. It has nothing to do with surrender. It can be stressful and heated, but our dignity remains intact. Good conflict does not collapse into caricature. We remain open to the reality that none of us has all the answers to everything all the time, and that we are all connected. We need healthy conflict in order to defend ourselves, to understand each other and to improve. These days, we need much more of it, not less.

High conflict, by contrast, is what happens when conflict clarifies into a good-versus-evil kind of feud, the kind with an us and a them
[pp 3-4]
Yeah.

A Great read. Timely, in light of the adversities and controversies confronting us these days. Like, say, these...
 
Lots more to say about this compelling book. Stay tuned to this Bat Channel. In the interim, how about some David Eagleman?

 
Actually, that David Eagleman quote deserves broader contextual explication per the "conflict" topic here.
…If you’ve ever doubted the significance of brain plasticity, rest assured that its tendrils reach from the individual to the society.

Because of livewiring, we are each a vessel of space and time. We drop into a particular spot on the world and vacuum in the details of that spot. We become, in essence, a recording device for our moment in the world.

When you meet an older person and feel shocked by the opinions or worldview she holds, you can try to empathize with her as a recording device for her window of time and her set of experiences. Someday your brain will be that time-ossified snapshot that frustrates the next generation.

Here’s a nugget from my vessel: I remember a song produced in 1985 called “We Are the World.” Dozens of superstar musicians performed it to raise money for impoverished children in Africa. The theme was that each of us shares responsibility for the well-being of everyone.

Looking back on the song now, I can’t help but see another interpretation through my lens as a neuroscientist. We generally go through life thinking there’s me and there’s the world. But as we’ve seen in this book, who you are emerges from everything you’ve interacted with: your environment, all of your experiences, your friends, your enemies, your culture, your belief system, your era—all of it. Although we value statements such as “he’s his own man” or “she’s an independent thinker,” there is in fact no way to separate yourself from the rich context in which you’re embedded. There is no you without the external. Your beliefs and dogmas and aspirations are shaped by it, inside and out, like a sculpture from a block of marble. Thanks to livewiring, each of us is the world.


Eagleman, David. Livewired (pp. 244-245). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
'eh?
 
UPDATE
 
Ran across Dr. Sherry Turkle's new book. Also fits with the topic here.
“I’ve explored the human effects of science and technology since I arrived at MIT from Harvard in 1976 with a doctorate in sociology and psychology. My subject is the “inner history” of technology, how it changes our relationships, including our relationship with ourselves. Over the years at MIT, I have been able to see how easy it is for a fascination with technology to take well-intentioned people away from empathy and its simple human truths. So technologists become invested in the promise of electronic medical records and forget how important it is for physicians to make eye contact with patients during their meetings. Engineers become fixed on the idea of efficiency, and soon it seems like a good thing to prefer texting to face-to-face talk, because on screens we can discuss personal matters with less emotional vulnerability. Talking to and through machines makes face-to-face exchanges with people seem oddly stressful. And less necessary. These days, our technology treats us as though we were objects and we get in the habit of objectifying one another as bits of data, profiles viewed. But only shared vulnerability and human empathy allow us to truly understand one another.”

The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir by Sherry Turkle
What a book.

CONFLICT UPDATES
 I've watched every day of the televised trial thus far. Now (below) this happens.

 
MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE PANDEMIC
 
From my little Excel sheet. So much for the 3rd wave decline (trendline is a 7-day moving avg).

_________