Don’t go quoting research to me…

unless you actually read it. And I don’t mean an article about it in the popular or the propaganda press. Those articles were clickbait even before the term came into existence. If it’s sensational and it’s new, it gets press. If it’s later debunked by half a dozen other researchers, it gets much less.

Remember cold fusion? (Fleischmann and Pons, 1989, Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry) A great scientific breakthrough, until it wasn’t.

We should all know the great autism/vaccine hoax. It was first proposed that autism was caused by the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine. (Wakefield, The Lancet, 1997 – later retracted). When that was debunked, it was proposed that it wasn’t the MMR vaccine but thimerosal in vaccines that caused autism.

While it is true that mercury (thimerosal is metabolized to ethylmercury and thiosalicylate) is toxic (mercury was used in the production of felt for hats -hence the term “mad as a hatter” and the character The Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), autism continued even after thimerosal was eliminated from many vaccines.

Then it was proposed that vaccines in general cause autism, and the rise in the autism diagnosis was posited to parallel the rise in mass vaccination in the 1950s and ’60s. Somehow that was proposed as proof. Conveniently left out of that argument is that the first treatment center for autism was established in 1953 and the first epidemiological study of autism was published in 1966 (The Foundations of Autism, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 2014). The reason the diagnosis increased in the 50s and 60s is that it was accepted as a diagnosis and studied beginning at that time. (Also see Publichealth.org “Vaccine Myths Debunked”)

I could argue with equal fervor that autism was caused by the Cold War. I could construct a compelling argument that the childhood fears brought on by “duck and cover” drills and the fear of nuclear annihilation caused mass psychosis that we came to know as autism, but it would be a waste of my time and yours because, no matter how compelling, I just made it up. Correlation does not equal causation, and two things happening in similar times don’t have to have anything to do with each other.

So no, reading an article about an article, and one intended to sell ads, is not reading or understanding science.

And I don’t mean that if you read the abstract you know what you’re talking about. The British Medical Journal published “Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge: systematic review of randomised controlled trials” (2003). The abstract indicates that no randomised [the article uses the British spelling] controlled trials were found. Their literature review found that “The perception that parachutes are a successful intervention is based largely on anecdotal evidence. Observational data have shown that their use is associated with morbidity and mortality, due to both failure of the intervention1,2 and iatrogenic complications.3 In addition, “natural history” studies of free fall indicate that failure to take or deploy a parachute does not inevitably result in an adverse outcome.4” [Look at all those citations! It must be credible!]

In plain English: we think parachutes work because we’ve heard they work, but in our literature review we found that some people who use parachutes die and some people who don’t use parachutes survive.

As a result, a randomized controlled trial was undertaken. In 2018, the same journal published “Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma when jumping from aircraft: randomized controlled trial” (Yeh, et al BMJ, 2018). [For some reason, these authors used the American spelling.] From the abstract:

Intervention: Jumping from an aircraft (airplane or helicopter) with a parachute versus an empty backpack (unblinded).

Main outcome measures: Composite of death or major traumatic injury (defined by an Injury Severity Score over 15) upon impact with the ground measured immediately after landing.

Results: Parachute use did not significantly reduce death or major injury (0% for parachute v 0% for control; P>0.9). This finding was consistent across multiple subgroups.

Conclusions: Parachute use did not reduce death or major traumatic injury when jumping from aircraft in the first randomized evaluation of this intervention.” [Yeh, et al, 2018]

I could write a sensational article based on that abstract. Or I could read farther: “However, the trial was only able to enroll participants on small stationary aircraft on the ground, suggesting cautious extrapolation to high altitude jumps.”

In case any doubt remains, here is a photo from the article (copyright 2018, BMJ)

The article isn’t merely a joke […though as a joke, it is great. I recommend the article to anyone who reads scientific literature on a regular basis. It uses all the lingo you’re accustomed to and includes statistical analysis of the findings. It analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the trial in apparent seriousness. If you like British humour, read it. Available at pubmed.org without a subscription. Search by title. I didn’t link to it, in order to make you do some work.]. It warns that: “When beliefs regarding the effectiveness of an intervention exist in the community, randomized trials might selectively enroll individuals with a lower perceived likelihood of benefit, thus diminishing the applicability of the results to clinical practice.”

The crux of the issue: “The PARACHUTE trial satirically highlights some of the limitations of randomized controlled trials. Nevertheless, we believe that such trials remain the gold standard for the evaluation of most new treatments. The PARACHUTE trial does suggest, however, that their accurate interpretation requires more than a cursory reading of the abstract. Rather, interpretation requires a complete and critical appraisal of the study.” (Yeh, et al, 2018) (Emphasis added)

Note: Any relationship between this posting and current COVID-19 hoax and conspiracy claims is purely intentional. Be careful out there!

Crackpot conspiracy theory

“Crackpot conspiracy theory” is not a redundancy. Granted, we have been exposed to a lot of crackpot conspiracy theories lately, but that does not mean that all conspiracy theories are crackpot.

It is clear that COINTELPRO was a conspiracy to undermine and discredit the left in general and African-American movements in particular. It is no mere theory that the FBI and the Chicago police, at the very least, conspired to murder Fred Hampton in December of 1968.

The recent spate of right-wing conspiracy theories is egregiously crackpot on its face. By definition the ruling class is conservative. Conserving its power and preserving the status quo are what it does. As Mayor Richard Dailey famously told us in 1968: “The police aren’t here to create disorder; the police are here to preserve disorder.” To think there is a Deep State conspiracy to foment radical change is nonsensical. (I also find it humorous that the “Deep State” players seem to be the dedicated public servants who work long-term in government jobs for worse wages than in the private sector. Those opposed to the “Deep State” are the opportunist political appointees who take short-term jobs in order to consolidate their power and return or advance to lucrative private-sector positions.)

So sit back, relax, and enjoy this crackpot conspiracy theory. Since the appearance of COVID-19, among the first drastic actions was to close down a lot of small, locally owned businesses – those with the least accumulated capital and the least ability to weather an economic storm. Business moved from Main Street to the internet even more than it already had. Now, even some internet businesses are shutting down (Sierra Trading Post among them), citing the need for deep cleaning of their warehouses and fear of spreading the disease among their workers. Who is still open for business? Amazon.

Where is one of the largest accumulations of capital in the world? Amazon. Who has been in the forefront of automating warehouse operations? Amazon. What if COVID-19 were a covert plan to consolidate business even further and to move toward full warehouse automation? Amazon can afford the capital expenditure for full automation. It could eliminate jobs under the guise of protecting warehouse workers and saving the economy from collapse. What about delivery? What if we were to fast-track approval of autonomous delivery vehicles? Amazon could bypass the normal shipping chain, with its unionized workforce, and deliver via self-driving vehicles and drones -again to save the economy from collapse. We would be left with a company owned by a multi-billionaire, the largest retailer (and one of the largest companies, period) in the world, employing almost no one after driving out of business countless other companies employing many.

I just made this all up on a bike ride. The trouble with crackpot conspiracy theories is when they sound believable.

Heigh Ho

Ironically, I have been called back to work on the same day that the Governor issued a stay-at-home (“safer at home”) order. I shocked everyone at work by showing up in scrubs. I had to field more questions about that than about the fact that I was out sick for >2 weeks for the first time ever. I have never before worn scrubs to work. After wearing a uniform as a plumber, I wanted to wear my own clothes for this career. That just changed. I will have a “clean” and a “dirty” zip close plastic bag to carry clothes to and from work. I’ll change there every day and have a separate laundry load for work clothes – just like the old days! We all look like space creatures with face shields over masks. To preserve masks (which can’t be cleaned) we cover them with a plastic face shield (which can).

Our pharmacy is now making and packaging hand sanitizer due to the shortage of the commercial product. A local distillery is selling a special 140 proof vodka as a hand sanitizer. More businesses closed today. The good news is that, among essential allowed activities, is outdoor exercise. (Photo by Jason Rice/WMTV)

Words to live by

From Dane County (WI) Executive Joe Parisi: “(A)s long as we’re looking out for one another, we will all have someone looking out for us.”

From Miami Herald writer Leonard Pitts: “the GOP is a hate group – and Trump its Grand Wizard.”

And, of course, this exchange (in case the previous statement needed clarifying):
Peter Alexander, White House correspondent at NBC News: “What do you say to Americans, who are watching you right now, who are scared?”
Donald Trump: “I say that you’re a terrible reporter. That’s what I say. I think it’s a very nasty question and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people.”
He could have appeared as the calm father figure, here to reassure us. He could have said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He could have lied and told us he had the situation well in hand. (There are many video compilations of his various statements over the past two months to make that falsehood obvious.) But no, true to form, he lashed out and attacked the questioner. He attacked the question itself, and he chose not to answer.

McDonald’s spoke out in favor of new proposed federal legislation mandating paid sick leave during the pandemic. Interestingly, the bill applies only to those who employ between 50 and 500 people. Yes, your neighborhood restaurant might be required to provide paid sick leave, but McDonald’s will not. WordPress is acting up tonight and the embedded YouTube video above may or may not work. (It was working yesterday). If it is flashing and making you dizzy (as it is as I do this final edit), try this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oPbpE5EIgc&t=13s

“After food and shelter, there is no greater need or necessity than the ability to protect oneself and one’s loved ones,” the Keystone Shooting Center wrote. Gun stores are being allowed to remain open in several states that have ordered all “non-essential” businesses to close. It seems that being able to guard one’s stash of toilet paper is essential. My source is not the Onion, but the Washington Examiner and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Adopt-a-Highway

It was a slow start for the first few hundred meters, with nothing much but cigarette butts. Business started to pick up and Bud Light made a strong initial showing before being overtaken by Busch Light to hold on to its overall championship. To be fair, both are Anheuser-Busch products, so they retain the title of the most popular brand among litterbugs. Hard seltzer products made a strong showing. Tobacco products showed gains, with snuff tins, empty cigarette packs, and a vaping device in addition to the numerous butts.

Folks made a strong effort to sully a roadside stream, with an unprecedented number of beer cans clearing the guardrails on both sides and reaching the stream banks. The day set records for weight and volume, with a lot of cardboard in the mix. We picked up 25 pounds of trash, filling two large bags to overflowing. Radical social distancing, walking alone on a rural highway with almost no traffic. We saw one family out for a walk and one person shooting hoops in his driveway.