Tuesday, April 06, 2021


From the text at Lyman Stone's tweet about a new study about lockdowns. 

 Q: How important are lockdowns for reducing COVID transmission? 

A: Most prior literature has overestimated their importance by failing to sufficiently model *voluntary* social distancing.

And, the study behind it.

YESS! I have been saying for a year that people are attributing both positive and negative effects to "lockdowns" that are actually voluntary measures, citing Sweden as an example.  To digress on that topic, with a Tevye "One the one hand...on the other hand..." set of arguments:  Sweden has done much, much worse than the other Scandinavian countries, which are their only natural comps.  People who said a year ago how great Sweden's policies were have that against them.  On the other hand, Sweden had an enormous amount of voluntary masking, closing, distancing, etc - much more than you could get out of even the most liberal, socialist state in the US. (That is a quiz, yes.  answer below.) Also, Sweden does have some differences from Norway, Finland, etc. It also has great nursing homes, and sends people to them more readily, and this blew up in their faces WRT Covid. Furthermore, it has many immigrant populations.  Nothing like America and Canada, but still way up there by the standards of all those other countries in the world who call us xenophobic and racist. Most of the New Swedes, including the Arab populations I feared might be difficult to get on board with precautions, did quite well in becoming very Swedish and falling into neat rows and obeying "suggestions" nicely, even though Sweden was officially open, because restrictive measures were not required. You have to understand that the meanings of voluntary and required are different in Europe, and doubly so in Scandinavia.

But not the Somalis.  You have to dig hard to find this in the Swedish news, but that group of immigrants wore few masks and those poorly, met daily in cafes and each other's houses, believed that only white people could get covid and were a disproportionate spreading influence. The Swedes are the wokest country on earth, but they aren't stupid, and they developed strategies and workarounds to contain the Somali contagion, all quietly restrictive but not announced by the human service agencies who had to go in and work with that group. It worked, and while they had a huge initial spike of deaths, settled everything down, given time.  It is not from herd immunity, as they actually haven't got that much. So Sweden is not a comp for Denmark, the US, Vietnam, nothing. It's an outlier from everything.

So generalise that for a moment before proceeding.  Think of Michigan or California or South Dakota. What are the unusual factors of each? The disease came from China and that dwarfs everything else. The ornaments on that particular Christmas tree vary greatly from there.  Compare with caution.

I have no studies, BTW, proving that my theory that  internal and external interaction are important, but the states with the lowest death rates are Hawaii (gee, islands and an ocean around them), Alaska (hmm, one moderate-sized city and two small ones, plus wide expanses that can only be reached by plane and snow machine), Vermont (has a capital city of 7,000 people, no contact with anyone), and Maine (largely-empty outpost in the farthest NE corner).  Now look at the states with most death per million. Funny, ain't it?

So, if you are on Twitter (I am not) you should probably stop coming to see what I am writing and go read Lyman Stone instead. He hits a lot of the same topics I do, but he actually does his research rather than just shoots from the hip like I do.  I will miss you, but I think it's a net good for society. You will get much less about linguistics and ancestral humans and genetics, but he covers a lot of cool stuff. A free-market data nerd who used to be a Lutheran missionary somewhere in the Far East, who is quite cheerful even when telling you stuff you hate. AEI, NBER, going for PhD in statistics at McGill. I have linked to him only about Covid, but you should visit and see what else he has got going over there. Amazing, really.

Next, look at some implications.  Covid-positive rates increased 3% among parents when schools reopened. As that group has a low death rate anyway, no big deal, right?  Except among those grandmothers who live with them, or the many grandmas in poorer communities who are actually the primary caregivers for school children.  Is a 3% increase for Nana's risk important, or something we just sigh over and wish it were not so? That is truly an opinion question, but it is different from the opinion questions we have become focused on. Mask-haters pretend there's no difference.  Mask-lovers assure us we will all be throwing ourselves off cliffs if we relax our grip now. Please look at Nana and tell me what you think.

We are just now entering an age where there will be enormous natural-experiment data on Covid, as the states took different approaches, had different exposures to the disease at different times, had different methods of reporting - some of them less honest than others - had stark differences between voluntary and mandated masking, closing, and distancing, different levels of interaction both internally and externally. What am I overlooking here?  Everyone, everyone is cherry-picking data to show that masks really work or they don't, light lockdown states have similar disease rates to strict ones or they don't, that children are being deeply damaged or that this is not that different than the widely various pressures that kids got exposed to over the last...200,000 years, and is good for the pampered bastards. Hesitate over any evidence you think is solid until you run it through a couple of filters, especially including "Wait a minute, who benefits from my believing this?"

...and something for everyone about vaccines. New vaccines for HIV and cancer are being developed based on the Covid-19 vaccines.  This is of interest to libertarians, because it demonstrates the possible loss in other fields of medicine due to overregulation of vaccine research (imagine a vaccine for cancer...), making a powerful argument for Opportunity Costs; for conspiracy theorists, it is soft evidence (always good enough for that crew, but in this case it bears examination) that Covid was a human-created infection rather that bat-soup created, based off some of the HIV profile that went awry in one of their labs, which wasn't specifically working on biological weapons, but, you know, if we should happen to find something useful..; And - is the opinion of experts better than guesses? Nate Silver's got that for you! No! But only for a limited time frame! 

You can spin that whatever way you like - and you will, you will - whether you are a mask advocate, school opening advocate, anti-lockdown advocate. But mostly, it's vindication for ME, albeit at a moderate level. 

So that brings me to the other thing I have been saying since the beginning but maybe no one is listening for more than a moment or two. You have lost your focus on China as the source. Liberals have for the obvious socialism reasons that have been true throughout my lifetime, plus any short-term gains for electoral advantage and reinforcement of their desperate world-view; but also conservatives, who cannot stop talking about how unfair the upper-class media is to Trump and DeSantis, or their own anger at governors who aren't doing what they are just sure is right, or the waffling of the (always overcautious - how did you miss that the last fifty years?) CDC, or how much they just don't like wearing masks and being told what to do. But if you can't do it on your own, do you need to be told what to do, Junior?. It's CHINA. Whether intentionally or because their culture or food practices create  disease is interesting but can wait for the data.  For now, you have lost focus. Restaurants often hover at the edge with low margin changes in market.  Many already fail.  Even without a single governor issuing an order about how many can be at a gathering, some would have voluntarily said "I won't endanger my beloved employees. My life's work is in the toilet and they now don't have jobs, but I can't risk killing them." Other restaurants or other service-heavy businesses would have seen enough decrease in commerce that they would have had to close. Much has not been mandated.

I seemingly can't go to a conservative site that doesn't attribute all this economic damage to the lockdowns, the government-mandated closures and restrictions.  They will acknowledge in theory, "Oh yeah, sure, yeah it's the disease that has been the main driver.  And the disease comes from China.  And I am brave and not afraid to say that to ANYBODY, dammit, because I am not PC, and don't think that any comment against the PRC means I am anti-Asian!" Except they never do actually say it unless someone grabs them by the shirt collar and forces them up against the wall - as I am doing here - and says "What is the real cause of this?" Conservatives have been shamefully negligent in this area since March 2020, behaving like the liberals I left in the 1980s because everything was played only for partisan advantage, not reality.

Have you had enough yet?  No, you haven't.

The disease created all our problems. What everyone did to cope with that sometimes worked and sometimes didn't, and once things were in motion, agencies and governors and media outlets doubled-down on what they had previously decided, not because they wanted to control you or make you bend the knee, or alternatively not because they were succumbing to political pressure and were cowardly, but because this is human nature, which is doubly true for politicians and bureaucrats trying to protect their jobs, and even more often, because they still believe their original decision was correct and have a hard time getting off that, even with data.  Everyone has priors.

You know that.  We've been covering confirmation bias and prior beliefs and the difficulty in seeing another POV when your children's dinner depends on yours being right for fifteen years here.  Not to mention the fact that you might be wrong about all of this, Jasper. You might continue to insist you were right for fifty years into the future - also human nature and confirmation bias - but you might just be wrong. Imagine that.

So. Government lockdowns were a minor part, some effective, some not, all accompanied by many stupid people mouthing off.  Vindication for me.  Next up. China has always been the problem. Focusing on the local effects is like the children who blame the custodial parent for the divorce and the fact that they live in a worse place, when it was the other parent who had the affair and abandoned the family and doesn't show up when they promised.

*Vermont. Please.  If you didn't get that, switch to reading about dog breeds or something.  I suppose if you said Washington DC, which is technically not a state but included in statistical lists, I give you a pass, but with a squint.



james said...

Other variable could include genetic background, air pollution--with enough variables _something_ will show a good p.

"Everyone has priors" But adjusting requires data, and reporting was poisoned--and still is. How many times have you found people frightened by the "new variants" that the vaccines may not treat, or that asymptomatic children will actually have invisible damage done that won't surface for years, or that getting it once doesn't meant you can't get it again?

A large part of politicians' work is manipulating media for fun and profit, but maybe they suffer from Gell-Mann Amnesia too.

james said...

WRT information, have you heard much about this project? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0v5RiMdSqwk&t=230s
The video was recommended to us. The project description is in the last half hour or so.

My suspicion is that the tribal differences are too varied to join with just good news sources. If the Blues and Greens had both converged on Chalcedonian theology, they would still have battled over other things.

Texan99 said...

A lot of the economic hit, especially early, was from natural and unforced caution about the disease. Still, I can't look at the state-by-state job numbers and conclude that lockdowns weren't a driving factor as well. Nor can I rule out a certain amount of randomness, or effects from average population ages, or willingness of hospitals to employ treatments like antibodies.

And as for Nana, by now surely she should have been vaccinated, and be no more vulnerable on average than a typical 40-something parent?

I don't see evidence that masks had much (any?) effect, certainly not like the effect of staying home when possible--or living somewhere with a natural social-distancing effect, like Vermont or Alaska.

stevo said...

I think of Covid had been totally ignored, life would have gone on as usual. No extra deaths, no actual danger to anyone.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ stevo - do you have any evidence to support this theory? America has had 650,000 extra deaths from somewhere, and the world in general has had over 3M, even with precautions.

stevo said...

Look at the death rates year to year. I may be wrong, but this whole thing stinks.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ James - I just started that video and am liking it. Thanks. I will post.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ stevo - no, we have 650,000 excess deaths this last 13 months. Check your sources, please. I will wager they have an agenda. Either way, the numbers are there. The people are dead.

ErisGuy said...

Wait. I’m confused. So it’s human nature to double-down on previous solutions, but not human nature originally to choose the previous solution which may be based on a desire to control, on a desire for public submission to authority, or on cowardice, or on political pressure?

The link to Stone’s tweet: “account owner has limited access.” Can’t read it.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I can get through to Stone's tweet, so I don't know how to fix that, but the link to the study should hold up. The basic point is that when people have been studying mask effectiveness, they have focused on what was required by the government. But that is only half the story. Some places have high voluntary levels of mask-wearing, some have lower levels even when it is required. Mechanism for observed mask-wearing or self-report of mask-wearing is a better measure. The other will give you errors in both directions.

"May be based on a desire to control or a desire for public submission to authority..." My first instinct from your word-choice is that you've already made up your mind these were their motives all along and everything else was justification for that. There's a lot of that belief going around, but motive-guessing like that goes in both directions. If you attribute bad motives to them, they might turn and say "well, you just don't like being told what to do." I'm not sure you want to invite that.

People who go into government and public health and such like probably are more prone to top-down solutions and making sure people color in the lines, true. There are some policemen who enjoy the part where they get to give orders - also schoolteachers, EMTs, nurses, planning boards, and a dozen other fields. But some of them hate it. They give directions because it's part of their job but would prefer people do it on their own after explanation. I worked in a psychiatric hospital for forty years, and knew some people who got on power trips telling locked-up people what to do. But most of us hated it. We contained people and gave severe restrictions because we had to. I don't know what evidence you would use to be assured we knew the people advocating restrictions have bad motives.

When the disease hit America a lot of people voluntarily reduced their contact, worried they were going to get the illness or give it to an older friend or relative. That was fine, but two pieces were missing: many did not appreciate how much reduction was going to be necessary to slow the spread of the disease and the lectures started. But even more than that, there were people who did nothing voluntarily. On this site last year, when deaths were around 50,000 I had people saying it's just the flu, it's just a bad flu season, the deaths aren't likely to go over 100,000, we can ignore this.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Places are opening up again, and number of cases are rising again, even with the vaccinations on board. Deaths are even creeping back up in a few places. Because of the vaxx, we will likely outrun most of the increase. But that's because we are running, not because the disease has stopped or isn't affected by restrictive measures. It clearly is. A 10% increase in a population wearing masks results in a 7% decrease in overall symptoms. So masks do something, even if they aren't magic. Yet you can go to plenty of conservative sites that tell you masks don't do any good. So people resist them even more and reduce their usage at the margins (even though the state requirements haven't changed). And some have openly flaunted mask requirements, often proudly. I know some. Jerks. Overgrown teenagers.

So what does the government do in that case, when people believe masks won't help and we won't go over 100,000 deaths, but people are still dying? I was one who was very suspicious about claims we would get a second surge late July and August, and felt that suspicion was at least partly justified when we got to about 9/1 and there had been only a slight increase. Then everything exploded again and I had to admit I was wrong to have been suspicious, and was glad that I had not been encouraging people to relax their restriction. I might have, had it delayed another month.

Throughout all this, the people who have been saying for a year "People won't put up with this. Good Americans aren't like this. It's wrong to tell them what to do, they make good decisions on their own" have been a partial cause of the anger and resentment, but then they blame the government for their own resentments. Egging people on to be angry, then turning and saying "See? They're angry. And it's all your fault." How is this not flat dishonest (Instapundit, especially Sarah Hoyt)?