Month: January 2021

Ireland fact of the day, coming soon to a state near you

Some experts estimate this could mean, if we do not accelerate the pace of vaccination, one million deaths for the United States.

Tuesday assorted links

Can open access scientific publishing work?

That is the top of my latest Bloomberg column, another link here, here is one excerpt:

The Indian government has a proposal, called the “One Nation, One Subscription” plan, to buy bulk subscriptions of the world’s most important scientific journals and provide them free to everyone in India. Given the porousness of the internet, and the widespread availability of VPN services, general worldwide access is likely to result. Sci-Hub, based in Russia, already offers open access to many scientific publications.

But why stop there? Rather than just reproducing published articles, the publication process could be opened up altogether.

And the key part:

The biggest problem for an open-access regime is how to ensure good refereeing, which if done correctly raises the quality of academic papers. Under the current system, editors decide which papers get refereed, and they choose the identities of the referees. Those same referees are underpaid and underincentivized, and often do a poor or indifferent job.

Many of the original papers on mRNA vaccines, for example, were rejected numerous times by academic journals, hardly a ringing endorsement of the status quo. More generally, since publication is currently a yes/no decision, the refereeing system creates incentives to avoid criticism and play it safe, rather than to strike out with bold new ideas and risk rejection.

Under my alternative vision, research scientists would be told to publish one-third less and devote the extra time to volunteer refereeing of what they consider to be the most important online postings. That refereeing, which would not be anonymous, would be considered as a significant part of their research contribution for tenure and promotion. Professional associations, foundations and universities could set up prizes for the top referees, who might be able to get tenure just by being great at adding value to other people’s work. If the lack of anonymity bothers you, keep in mind that book reviews are already a key determinant for tenure in many fields, such as the humanities, and they are not typically anonymous.

Freer entry yes, open access yes, but also more refereeing.

N95 and KN95 Masks

Mask use is near 100% here in Northern Virginia. I am surprised, however, how many people continue to use simple cloth masks when much better N95s and KN95s (Chinese equivalent to N95s) are widely available. Gold standard appears to be the Respokare N95s which are NIOSH approved (under Innonix) but are quite expensive. I also like these cheaper KN95s from Kingfa which are not NIOSH approved. Some of the Chinese masks are garbage but limited testing by the CDC suggests the Kingfa are pretty good. No guarantees. Use your own judgment.

Should Twitter have banned Trump?

As many of you will expect, I am fine with their decision.  Furthermore I think they made it at exactly the right moment.

Questions for those who think that Twitter made the wrong decision:

1. Can you state your margin? That is, what would Trump have to do for you to think that Twitter should suspend his account?

2. Robert Nozick called for an archipelago of polities, each autonomously setting their own rules. Isn’t Twitter’s action quite consistent with this vision? Is the optimal libertarian equilibrium really one that adds centralized government regulation of tech platform speech codes?  If so, does that induce you to reject libertarian doctrines more generally?

3. If you favor regulation to avoid this deplatforming, which many are calling for, is the optimal libertarian equilibrium really one that adds centralized government regulation of tech platform speech codes?  Where else do you think technology companies should be more regulated when it comes to speech issues?

4. Do you think that the US is the only government that should regulate the speech codes of technology companies or are you in favor of the evolution that would actually occur, i.e. dozens of different countries regulating platform speech in heterogeneous fashion?  If you don’t favor the latter, shouldn’t you be stridently on the side of tech platform independence here?  Do you think that the modal government has more or less Millian liberal tendencies than say Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg?

Questions for those who think that Twitter made the right decision:

5. Why not ban the CCP or Ayatollah Khomenei or many of the other odious and even genocidal characters who populate Twitter today? This tweet still stands: https://twitter.com/khamenei_ir/status/1263551872872386562.  (My view would be to ban the violence-promoting Ayatollahs and leave the CCP, albeit with labeling that it is state propaganda.)

6. This summer, Slate and many other media organizations condoned violence in explicit terms.  Murders are in fact up a great deal this year.  Given that incitement to violence is manifestly acceptable to Twitter in many cases, can you articulate the relevant standard in more detail?

Who Runs the AEA?

That is a new paper by Kevin D. Hoover and Andrej Svorenčík:

The leadership structure of the American Economics Association is documented using a biographical database covering every officer and losing candidate for AEA offices from 1950 to 2019. The analysis focuses on institutional affiliations by education and employment. The structure is strongly hierarchical. A few institutions dominate the leadership, and their dominance has become markedly stronger over time. Broadly two types of explanations are explored: that institutional dominance is based on academic merit or that it based on self-perpetuating privilege. Network effects that might explain the dynamic of increasing concentration are also investigated.

I wonder how the AEA budget will hold up now that interviews can be done by Zoom and meeting attendance is not required.

Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Monday assorted links

1. Chip, block, Stoicism.

2. “It seems likely that figuring out the principles & protocols of governance for this mediation layer will be one of the great challenges of the 21st century, a challenge much like figuring out the principles underlying, say, the US constitution.”  Link here.

3. Substack review of Stubborn Attachments.

4. Kieran Healy on what happened.  Recommended, the best take so far and also a good application of spontaneous order theory.

5. How Israel did it.  By doing it.

6. Mengerian monkey evolution of money?

7. “Moderna is announcing three new vaccine programs. Seasonal flu, HIV, and Nipah.

No Learning Without Risk

Here’s something from a paper that I am working on. The context is why first doses first makes more sense the greater the uncertainty but the point made is larger. No indent.

An important feature of First Doses First (FDF) and other policies such as fractional dosing is that they are reversible. In other words, FDF contains an option to switch back to Second Doses First (SDF). Options increase in value with uncertainty (Dixit and Pindyck 1994). Thus, contrary to many people’s intuitions, the greater the uncertainty the greater the value of moving to First Doses First. Indeed, the value of the option can be so high that one might want to move to First Doses First even if it were worse in expectation. For example, if the expected efficacy of the first dose were just 45% then in expectation it would be worse than Second Doses First (95% efficacy) but if there were lots uncertainty around the 45% expected efficacy it might still be better to switch to First Doses First. If there was a 75% chance that the efficacy of the first dose was 30%, for example, and a 25% chance that it was 90% (.75*.3+.25*.90=45%) then under reversibility one would still want to switch to First Doses First to learn whether the true efficacy was 30% or 90%.*

Put differently shifting away from the default strategy to an alternative such as FDF or fractional dosing might be considered to be “risky”. But in this context, learning requires risk. When learning is desirable, it is also desirable to take on risk. Risk aversion can prevent learning and thus can be dangerous.

If FDF is worse in expectation than SDF then it would be optimal to switch to the most minimal form of FDF necessary to learn about the true efficacy rate. In other words, to run an experiment. If FDF is superior in expectation to SDF then it might also be better to run an experiment before switching but not necessarily. If FDF is superior in expectation to SDF then the cost of running the experiment is keeping the policy with lower expected value while the experiment is running. If these costs are high then switching immediately is better.

It would take at least 16 weeks, for example, to run an experiment on extending dosing from 3 weeks to 12 weeks (including, optimistically, just 1 week to setup the experiment). As of early January 2021, confirmed cases in the United States are increasing at the rate of 200,000 per day or 1,400,000 per week. Thus there could be 22,400,000 new confirmed cases in the time it takes to run the experiment. At a case fatality rate of 1.7% that means 380,800 new deaths. If First Doses First reduces the infection rate in expectation by 10% that would imply that running the experiment has an expected cost of 38,080 lives.

At these rates, more lives could be saved in expectation by switching to the policy with higher expected value and simultaneously running experiments. Randomized trials that explicitly test the impact of dosing timing, fractional dosing and different timings of additional doses on severe, symptomatic and asymptomatic infections, and also on transmission should be incorporated as part of roll-out plans (Kominers and Tabarrok 2020, Bach 2021). However, roll-out of modified plans should not wait until these trial results are known; instead, plans should be adjusted as new information emerges. Most notably the British moved to First Doses First and they approved the AstaZeneca vaccine on December 30, 2020 and the consequences of both of these decisions should be monitored very closely to help improve decisions in other countries.

*This assumes that one could learn the true efficacy rate quickly enough relative to the ongoing pandemic to benefit from the new information. One might respond that in principle SDF also contains an option to switch to FDF but this option is valueless since Second Doses First provides no opportunity to learn. Only under First Doses First do we learn valuable new information.

What I’ve been reading

1. David M. Friedman, The Immortalists: Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrell, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever.  This book doesn’t seem so well known, but it should be essential reading for those obsessed with life extension.  It helps explain why the idea has not been historically popular for some time, and why it might stand in tension with certain liberal values.

2. Jonathan Cohn, The Ten Year War: Obamacare and the Unfinished Crusade for Universal Coverage.  This is the book by the person who should have written this book.  Whether you will choose to read a book on this topic, at this point, is perhaps the question. But if you do…

3.Allan Chapman, England’s Leonardo: Robert Hooke and the Seventeenth-Century Scientific Revolution. Of all the books on Hooke, this one seems to be best (most of what I’m reading I never cover on MR), most of all for showing the unity of his contributions and situating them within the 17th century English milieu.  Microscopes and air pumps and chemistry and barometers and the motion of bodies and helping to rebuild London, and more!

4. Chinmay Tumbe, The Age of Pandemics: 1817-1920, How They Shaped India and the World.  Across 1817-1920, India lost an estimated eight million lives to cholera.  In 1907 alone, India lost an estimated one million lives to the plague.  So there should be many more books on this topic. In the meantime,this is a good introduction to the basic outlines of what happened.

5. Philippe Aghion, Céline Antonin, and Simon Bunel, The Power of Creative Destruction: Economic Upheaval and the Wealth of Nations. A good and clearly written look at that approach to growth and macroeconomics.

6. Emmanuel Kreike, Scorched Earth: Environmental Warfare as a Crime Against Humanity and Nature.  Might this be the most important topic that most smart, very well educated people have never read a book on? And this treatment is excellent and engaging, covering the attacks on Dutch water systems in the 17th century, various Spanish attacks on indigenous American environments, the late 19th century conquest of Aceh, Indonesia, the colonial conquests of Angola and Namibia, and more.  Recommended.

You will note that I have been watching YouTube videos to accompany the science books I have been reading.

Sunday assorted links

1. Interview with me in Korean, on the Biden administration and also Chinese-American relations, among other matters.

2. The Navalny thread.

3. “Seeing this kind of censorship leak into the United States is why Zhou says he supports the Trump administration’s push to ban WeChat.”  Solve for the international equilibrium.

4. The 1861 storming of electoral certification (NYT).

5. “However, IMPORTANTLY, of those who received the AstraZeneca vaccine, beyond 10 days after receiving the vaccine, not a single person was hospitalized. By this measure, we would call the AZ vaccine 100 percent effective.” Link here.

6. Uh-oh.

Approve the AstraZeneca Vaccine Now!

Here’s Marty Makary, M.D., a professor of surgery and health policy at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine:

Finally, the FDA needs to stop playing games and authorize the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.  It’s safe, cheap ($2-$3 a dose), and is the easiest vaccine to distribute. It does not require freezing and is already approved and being administered in the United Kingdom.

Sadly, the FDA is months away from authorizing this vaccine because FDA career staff members insisted on another clinical trial to be completed and are punishing the company for inadvertently giving a half-dose of the vaccine to some people in the trial.

It’s like the FDA is holding out, pontificating existing excellent data and being vindictive against a company for making a mistake while thousands of Americans die each day.

Ironically, those in the Oxford-AstraZeneca trial who inadvertently received half the initial vaccine dose had lower infection rates. And this week Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed, acknowledged that using half a dose might be a good broader strategy for the U.S. to double our supply as long our supply is severely constrained. That’s a good strategy that makes sense.

See also my post The AstraZeneca Factory in Baltimore. Thousands of people are dying every day. We have a vaccine factory ready to go. The FDA should lifts its ban on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

*The Shield Penetrators” — some further Star Trek viewing

Not many people know this obscure episode, because it was shot during the third season as an “extra,” to be used in a fourth season that never materialized.  But here is the basic plot line.  Kirk and the Enterprise visit a planet that, by mistake, received errant TV transmissions of “The Beverly Hillbillies” centuries ago.  The inhabitants of that planet, being highly impressionable, have since organized their society along those principles and with Appalachian clothing, albeit with less couth manners.  These creatures are mostly backward, but they have two special powers.  First, neither Vulcan neck pinches nor phasers “set on stun” affect them, and second they have the ability to just walk through the otherwise protective shields of the Starship Enterprise.

In the episode, these “Penetrators,” upset at the backward state of affairs on their own planet, and encouraged by a nearby Klingon commander, attempt to take over the bridge of the Enterprise, using pipe bombs, chemical irritants, and Molotov cocktails, throwing one of the latter at Chekhov.  Their motives are varied, but their manner is undeniably hostile and they arrive in a great swarm.  Kirk issues orders to respond vigorously, and the intruders are stopped.  This is, after all, the bridge of the Enterprise.

It is protected by a single, sliding door.

One member of Starfleet Command, an enemy of Kirk’s since they were classmates together at the Academy, attempts to have Kirk tried on charges of authorizing excess force against the Penetrators.  But neither the Starfleet admirals nor the television audience side against Kirk.  It was, after all, the bridge of the Enterprise that was being stormed.  The Command also issues a statement recognizing the red-shirted Enterprise security guards for their (usual) valor in such extreme and perilous circumstances.

The Klingon commander escapes unscathed, though a well-aimed phaser shot cripples the communications ability of the Klingon ship.

Addendum: You won’t find this episode in the Star Trek DVD box, or on streaming, but recently they have put parts of it on TV.  And here are my previous Star Trek posts.