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Friday, September 18, 2020

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died

My condolences to her family and friends.
(CNN) - President Donald Trump on Saturday said that Republicans have an "obligation" to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's vacant seat on the Supreme Court "without delay," as Democrats argue the Senate should refrain from confirming a replacement until after the next president is sworn in...

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Disinformation Technology


An important Netflix documentary. I watched it last night, and will study it closely again. Highly recommended. Well worth an hour and a half of your time. See the film's website.

Stay tuned, just getting started here. Hope there's a script transcript. BTW, apropos, see my prior

UPDATE: A critic is not impressed. (h/t to one of my neighbors)

Also, a review from the Neurologica Blog.


The field of computational social science (CSS) has exploded in prominence over the past decade, with thousands of papers published using observational data, experimental designs, and large-scale simulations that were once unfeasible or unavailable to researchers. These studies have greatly improved our understanding of important phenomena, ranging from social inequality to the spread of infectious diseases. The institutions supporting CSS in the academy have also grown substantially, as evidenced by the proliferation of conferences, workshops, and summer schools across the globe, across disciplines, and across sources of data. But the field has also fallen short in important ways. Many institutional structures around the field—including research ethics, pedagogy, and data infrastructure—are still nascent. We suggest opportunities to address these issues, especially in improving the alignment between the organization of the 20th-century university and the intellectual requirements of the field.

We define CSS as the development and application of computational methods to complex, typically large-scale, human (sometimes simulated) behavioral data (1). Its intellectual antecedents include research on spatial data, social networks, and human coding of text and images. Whereas traditional quantitative social science has focused on rows of cases and columns of variables, typically with assumptions of independence among observations, CSS encompasses language, location and movement, networks, images, and video, with the application of statistical models that capture multifarious dependencies within data. A loosely connected intellectual community of social scientists, computer scientists, statistical physicists, and others has coalesced under this umbrella phrase.

Misalignment of Universities

Generally, incentives and structures at most universities are poorly aligned for this kind of multidisciplinary endeavor. Training tends to be siloed. Integrating computational training directly into social science (e.g., teaching social scientists how to code) and social science into computational disciplines (e.g., teaching computer scientists research design) has been slow. Collaboration is often not encouraged, and too often is discouraged. Computational researchers and social scientists tend to be in different units in distinct corners of the university, and there are few mechanisms to bring them together. Decentralized budgeting models discourage collaboration across units, often producing inefficient duplication…

"Computational social scientists must make the case that the result will be more than the publication of journal articles of interest primarily to other researchers. They must articulate how the combination of academic, industrial, and governmental collaboration and dedicated scientific infrastructure will solve important problems for society—saving lives; improving national security; enhancing economic prosperity; nurturing inclusion, diversity, equity, and access ; bolstering democracy; etc..."
We can hope. But, "hope is dope."

Tangentially, I'm reminded of this book I'd cited:

How many experiments do you think you’ve participated in over the past year? We’re talking about randomized controlled trials—experiments designed to test the impact of different treatments by randomly assigning you and other participants (often called subjects) to various treatment conditions, like those you might have participated in if you took Psych 101 or if you’ve tried out an experimental drug. 

So, what’s your number? At first blush, you might think the answer is zero. But unless you live in a bunker with no Internet access, you’ve likely participated in many experiments over the past year. If you logged onto Facebook right now, there’s a good chance you’d be an unwitting subject in a variety of the company’s ongoing experiments as you scroll through your News Feed and peruse the ads being shown to you. You are also likely to be a test subject if you search for an item on Google, watch a movie on Netflix, respond to email surveys, or call companies for customer support. 

In a dramatic departure from its historic role as an esoteric tool for academic research, the randomized controlled trial has gone mainstream. Historically, experimental methods may have been alien to the managerial toolkit. These days, companies like Google wouldn’t dare make a major change in their platforms without first looking at experiments to understand how it would influence user behavior...

Luca, Michael (2020-02-06T22:58:59). The Power of Experiments (The MIT Press) . The MIT Press. Kindle Edition. 
So, Big Tech is using you in psych "randomized controlled trials" (computational social science) without your knowledge and consent? Nice. (BTW, it should be noted that minors are legally incapable of giving "consent." To the extent they are included as data elements in social media "experiments," each of those is properly a violation of law.)


More on "The Social Dilemma."

More to come...

Sunday, September 13, 2020

"The most shameful moment in the history of U.S. science policy"

'Monuments in Washington, D.C., have chiseled into them words spoken by real leaders during crises. “Confidence,” said Franklin Roosevelt, “thrives on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection and on unselfish performance.”

We can be thankful that science has embraced these words...'
From the Editor in Chief of the AAAS Science Magazine.

When President Donald Trump began talking to the public about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in February and March, scientists were stunned at his seeming lack of understanding of the threat. We assumed that he either refused to listen to the White House briefings that must have been occurring or that he was being deliberately sheltered from information to create plausible deniability for federal inaction. Now, because famed Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward recorded him, we can hear Trump’s own voice saying that he understood precisely that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was deadly and spread through the air. As he was playing down the virus to the public, Trump was not confused or inadequately briefed: He flat-out lied, repeatedly, about science to the American people. These lies demoralized the scientific community and cost countless lives in the United States..., a U.S. president has deliberately lied about science in a way that was imminently dangerous to human health and directly led to widespread deaths of Americans.

This may be the most shameful moment in the history of U.S. science policy. 

In an interview with Woodward on 7 February 2020, Trump said he knew that COVID-19 was more lethal than the flu and that it spread through the air. “This is deadly stuff,” he said. But on 9 March, he tweeted that the “common flu” was worse than COVID-19, while economic advisor Larry Kudlow and presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway assured the public that the virus was contained. On 19 March, Trump told Woodward that he did not want to level with the American people about the danger of the virus. “I wanted to always play it down,” he said, “I still like playing it down.” Playing it down meant lying about the fact that he knew the country was in grave danger...

...Trump was not clueless, and he was not ignoring the briefings. Listen to his own words. Trump lied, plain and simple. [H. H. Thorp, Science 10.1126/science.abe7391 (2020).]

Read the entire Editorial. It appears to not be firewalled (yet).

(CNN)—A defining trait of Donald Trump's presidency is his incessant destruction of reason, evidence and science in the service of his personal whims, conspiratorial mindset and political requirements.

I am an enthusiastic AAAS member and avid reader of its flagship journal. We have an existential problem, one that may well get materially worse in the wake of November 3rd, 2020, just 51 days from my posting this.

We may have 230,000 or more U.S. Covid19 deaths by election day. How Not to Lead.



I’ve said it many times before, but now seems as good a time as any to say it again. This blog is not, nor has it ever been, apolitical. It is, however, true that we do try to be as nonpartisan as we can be given that we are human beings, but we cannot be completely apolitical because medicine inherently has a political dimension. That is why it has been the editorial position of this blog since Steve Novella first announced it nearly 13 years ago that science-based medicine, for all its flaws, is still currently the most reliable method for determining which treatments and interventions work for various diseases and health conditions and which ones do not. Moreover, when it comes to issues like FDA regulation of supplements and homeopathy, the failure of states and the federal government to protect, for example, cancer patients from quacks like Stanislaw Burzynski, tightening of school vaccine mandates, state licensure of pseudoscientific “disciplines” like naturopathy, and, more recently, regulation impacting dubious and false medical claims about COVID-19, we certainly haven’t been shy in advocating for using SBM to guide policy.

Now that we’re around the six month anniversary of the first lockdowns to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, I saw a story over the weekend that led me, at the risk of being too “political,” to ask a very disturbing (to me) question: Can we still trust the CDC and FDA (and other federal agencies, like the NIH, ostensibly dedicated to upholding policy based on good science)? Although the answer is still yes for most topics, for COVID-19 increasingly the answer is no. I fear that the list of topics on which the CDC and FDA can no longer be trusted will only grow if Donald Trump is reelected and that, even if he isn’t, some of the changes weakening the firewall between political appointees and the career scientific personnel of these agencies might be permanent and difficult for a President Biden to reverse...




My latest Science Magazine hardcopy arrived.

Around the world, democracy is losing ground. Polarization and disinformation have rendered liberals and conservatives unable to agree on basic facts. State violence and suppression of citizens' rights are resurgent. Free and fair elections are being threatened.

In this special issue, we critically examine the state of democracy and how it must adapt to achieve its ideals in the 21st century. We need to meet the challenges and opportunities of living in increasingly multiethnic societies, of fostering democracy in a weakened international environment, of reducing inequality and elevating the political representation of the poor, and of organizing social movements and combating disinformation tactics in the digital age. Advances in technology are making it easier to distort true voter representation through gerrymandering, and political campaigns continue to struggle with reaching voters and persuading them to participate. Worryingly, state violence, which has always been a core feature of the democratic experience for some, is spreading in democratic societies.

Twenty years ago, it seemed inevitable that democracy would reach every corner of the globe. In this moment, we are reminded that we must fight for democracy and work to improve it. A scientific understanding of the social and behavioral phenomena that underlie its operation will help us enhance democracy and, by doing so, improve human lives and societies globally.

Stay tuned. Meanwhile, see


Scientific American Endorses Joe Biden

We’ve never backed a presidential candidate in our 175-year history—until now

Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history. This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly.

The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges. That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment. These and other proposals he has put forth can set the country back on course for a safer, more prosperous and more equitable future.

The pandemic would strain any nation and system, but Trump's rejection of evidence and public health measures have been catastrophic in the U.S…

Thank you.

More to come...

Friday, September 11, 2020

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

On "Leadership"

An interesting read thus far.


190,000+ U.S. Covid19 deaths to date and counting. Watch the entire CNN clip and draw your own conclusions.

One of my 2015 riffs on "Leadership." And, prior to that in 2013 while covering that year's IHI Conference.

More to come...

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

My beloved California

We moved to Baltimore from the SF Bay Area 17 months ago. We have many dear friends there. These fires continue to be just terrible. And, yesterday, the ambient temperature in Los Angeles hit a record 121F.

This stuff was going on when we lived there. Now it's materially worse.


Friday, September 4, 2020

A Covid19 vax by November 1st?

Election day is November 3rd. Is elaboration really necessary?
During a MAGA rally yesterday in Latrobe PA, the President bragged about how vax R&D normally takes years, but HE managed to cut through the science bureaucracy and get this "done" in mere months.


My latest hardcopy issue just arrived.

The world needs to trust science if vaccines are to prove useful, particularly those being developed to combat coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). That is what makes the recent appearance of highly visible “do-it-yourself” (DIY) vaccine research so morally troubling. It's an obstacle to securing this trust.

As reported in last month's MIT Technology Review, at least 20 people are following the lead of geneticist and entrepreneur Preston Estep to take and promote a homebrew potential vaccine for COVID-19. They have formed a group, Rapid Deployment Vaccine Collaborative (RaDVaC), with the avowed mission of rapidly developing and sharing a vaccine recipe simple enough to be produced and administered by the public...

The DIY effort has no animal or safety trials; no confirmation of safety by closely monitoring healthy volunteers; no dosage studies; no effort to review the proposed science or recruitment of volunteers by an outside, independent ethics review committee; no plan to record all users, to encourage diversity among users, or for systematic follow-up; and no plan to provide help or compensation to anyone harmed by their participation. Moreover, there have been no papers published or data released in peer-reviewed outlets about the vaccine. The research is rife with conflicts of interest in that those making the vaccine are recruiting friends to try it while promoting their actions in the media. They are not selling their vaccine but stand to benefit from attention in the media and any resulting philanthropic support.

There are by most estimates around 200 COVID-19 vaccines in development around the world. Some three dozen are in human trials. A handful have progressed to full-fledged clinical trials. News accounts report that large-scale vaccination efforts without full human safety testing or ethical review are underway in Russia. Given the horrors inflicted on people around the world by the pandemic, it would be reasonable to expect that concerted efforts to find a vaccine would have huge popular support, but that is not the case. Large percentages of people polled in many nations say they will not use or are worried about the safety of a COVID-19 vaccine. Nearly half of all those polled in the United States and United Kingdom in recent months said they would refuse vaccination.

COVID-19 vaccine skepticism has many sources, including doubts about the trustworthiness of safety claims made by government leaders whom many distrust; the perceived inability of government regulatory agencies to maintain independence from political pressure to quickly approve products; and impressions of financial conflicts of interest on the part of those making vaccines.

Trust is the key ingredient in any effort to facilitate a vaccine solution to the current pandemic. Peer-reviewed science transparently assessed in carefully controlled trials by independent experts is the only way to cement that trust. DIY vaccinology is dangerous at a time when nonevidence–based claims of COVID-19 “cures” have done little but sow mistrust of science and public health.

Tangentially apropos, see

Stage IV Metastatic Crazy


"Politicians have rightfully received much of the blame for the COVID carnage, but some scientists and doctors have been giving the rest of us a bad name. When confronted with a new disease, our understanding changes over time, and messages may change. That's good, that's how science should work. Don't let anyone convince you it means that science doesn't know what it's doing. None of these problems are new. Like with everything else, COVID-19 has just exposed issues that already existed, in this case deep problems with science and scientific research."


Read a review in Science. Stay tuned. The incredible Annie Duke (who has a new book coming out soon) recently called me a polymath during an email exchange after learning of my random walk life path. Majorly flattering, but I'm really just an old washed up guitar player still trying to figure out what I'm gonna be when I grow up, LOL.

Anticipated useful triangulation for this new read.


The reading agenda never abates. Coming up shortly.

Ran across the Berman book at SBM. Searching it on Amazon brought me to Dawes. Stay tuned,


Gave Calvin, my new Grandson (7.5 mo) his first Djembe drum lesson this week (we keep him 3 days a week).

His little Cuz, my Great Grandson Kai (2.5 mo, born 7 wks preemie), will be next, once we get to see him (they're in KC).

CCN: 81 Nobel laureates endorse Joe Biden for President

More to come...