Open Letter to Washington State Rep Jenny Graham

This is a first ever guest post by my good friend Martin Hughes addressing the heavy Covid related governmental restrictions ongoing in his state of Washington.

23-Oct-2020

The Honorable Jenny Graham
404 John L. O’Brien Building
Olympia, WA 98504

Dear Representative Graham,

I am writing to you with regard to the restrictions implemented by Governor Jay Inslee related to Covid-19. This is a follow-up to my letter of 24 April 2020, in which I stated, “I am writing to enlist your support in calling for an immediate cessation of all government restrictions related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus outbreak;” and it is a follow-up to the two subsequent online submissions on this topic that I have provided to your office through the leg.wa.gov web site.

My opposition to Governor Inslee’s continuing lockdown restrictions stems from my background as a scientist. As I mentioned in my previous letter, we have known the impact of lockdowns from the very beginning: Increases in poverty-related adverse physical health outcomes including obesity, diabetes, malnutrition, substance abuse, domestic violence; and increases in poverty-related and isolation-related adverse mental health outcomes including depression, anxiety disorders, stress, suicides, to name a few. And of course, we know of the mounting societal costs we are paying and will have to pay for years to come due to world-wide starvation as predicted by the World Food Program, and the excess mortality we will experience due to lockdown-related limitations in primary care, including cancer screenings. Also, as I noted in my previous letter, we don’t need to rely on an infamously fraudulent model from Neil Ferguson of Imperial College, London to ascertain the scale of the impact of these ill-advised lockdowns. The connection between poverty and the above listed adverse physical and mental health outcomes is extensively documented in the literature.

Note well, these are not due to the virus. They are due to the draconian lockdown orders issued in response to the virus. I have said this from the very beginning, as have many of my fellow scientists and other academics. In my letter from six months ago, I provided quotes from Nobel laureate Michael Levitt, Stanford professors Eran Bendavid and Jay Bhattacharya, and professor Richard Epstein from New York University, all urging proportionality in our response to the virus, and decrying the “draconian measures that are now being implemented” (in the words of Dr. Epstein). Thankfully, more and more scientists are recognizing what some of us have been saying from day one: Lockdowns are anti-scientific, useless as a response to a viral outbreak – and more than useless, they are outright harmful. Earlier this month, Dr. Bhattacharya, joined by Dr. Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University and Dr. Martin Kulldorff of Harvard Medical School, issued the “Great Barrington Declaration” urging the replacement of blanket lockdown orders with strategic interventions designed to protect those most vulnerable to Covid-19. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) has reversed course just this month. Dr. David Nabarro, the WHO special envoy on Covid-19 stated on 08 October, “We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,” noting, “Lockdowns just have one consequence that you must never, ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer.” 

The evidence continues to accumulate. Sweden defied the prevailing orthodoxy and made the science-based decision to not undertake a lockdown. The results are in: Sweden, with no lockdown, experienced more than 10 times fewer Covid deaths than Ferguson’s farce of a model predicted they would. Sweden has fewer Covid deaths per million than many countries that did enforce a lockdown, including Spain, Italy, the United States and the United Kingdom. And what is most significant, life has returned to normal in Sweden. Not a “new normal” – the old normal, just as it was when I was an exchange student at Uppsala University 24 years ago. And yet, like so much else, Governor Inslee and his enablers continue to ignore Sweden’s success. Despite the accumulating evidence of the ineffectiveness and outright counterproductive nature of lockdowns, Governor Inslee is still enforcing his widespread irrational, overbearing, indiscriminate lockdown policies, including restrictions on businesses and a statewide mask mandate.

About those masks. Recently, Dr. Robert Redfield, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, absurdly stated in testimony before Congress, that a flimsy cloth mask would be more effective in protecting him from the virus than a vaccine. This was a bizarre statement, given that the public health community previously proclaimed that the purpose of the masks was to protect others, not one’s self. But beyond that, it was a preposterous statement given what we know about the ineffectiveness of masks to prevent the transmission of respiratory viruses. Prior to the coming of Covid, we had data going back 100 years to the Spanish flu, in particular data from controlled trials conducted over the last 40-50 years on masks, all of which came to the same conclusion: Cloth masks do not prevent the transmission of respiratory viruses. This makes perfect sense: These flimsy masks were not designed to block virus particles. Of course, Dr. Redfield knew this at the time of his testimony. His very own taxpayer-funded CDC published a paper just a few months ago which concluded, based on a review of 10 randomized controlled trials, that face masks have no substantial effect on the transmission of influenza.[1] This is consistent with the well-publicized conclusions of health authorities in Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, who have all concluded that masks are not useful in limiting the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

In addition to the data from scientific studies, we also now have extensive real-world empirical data showing increases in cases of Covid-19 subsequent to implementation of mask mandates in many locales throughout the world. On 10 October, Dr. Simone Gold tweeted a chart illustrating that 19 of the 20 areas in the United States with the highest number of new Covid-19 cases over the previous 2 weeks have mask mandates. And just last week, the CDC itself published the results of a July 2020 study of Covid-19 in 11 outpatient care facilities in the United States, which showed that out of the 154 Covid-19 patients interviewed, 70.6% reported wearing masks “always”, and another 14.4% reported wearing a mask “often”. Between them, the mask-wearing groups accounted for 85% of the confirmed infections.[2]

The data continues to accumulate, and the science is clear: masks do not prevent the transmission of respiratory influenza-like viruses. And yet our governor continues to mandate their use, a clear violation of personal freedom and individual rights. 

Another point about the masks: As I informed the governor in a voice mail message when he first mandated masks, and as I told you as well in my e-mail at the time, masks are in fact harmful to our individual and collective ability to fight off SARS-CoV-2. Our best defense against viruses is our innate immune system. Our immune systems need exposure to the countless innocuous microorganisms in our environment, our “microbiome”, to function properly. This is how our immune system gets its exercise. This is what keeps our immune system vigilant. You can think of this exposure as daily programmatic updates to the software of our immune system. Putting a mask over one’s mouth and nose erects a barrier between the immune system and that microbiome, that daily update. It won’t stop viruses, because they are too small. But it will reduce exposure to the larger, mostly innocuous particles that update and train our immune systems. This is madness.

I am amazed every time I venture out into the public and see a sea of mask-covered faces. I am astonished that my fellow Washingtonians tolerate such an incredibly intrusive violation of their very person. A person’s face is such a profoundly personal aspect of their very identity, made “in the image and likeness” of God (Genesis 1:26). The resemblance to one’s parents and grandparents is a constant reminder of one’s heritage. At the same time, the uniqueness of each person’s face is a testament to their individuality. It really is no wonder that the forces of collectivism and socialism want to see those individual faces covered up. Faces that give a constant reminder of their individuality, their humanity, their personhood. Socialists are not interested in people as individuals. They are only interested in people as cogs in their socialist machine. 

One last point. The WHO estimates that 10% of the world’s population has been infected by SARS-CoV-2. Many scientists believe it is actually much more than that, but for the sake of argument, let us take their estimate. With a world population of approximately 7.5 billion, this equates to 750 million people. Given that approximately 1 million people have died from Covid-19 – another number that can be disputed, but again, taking this number for the sake of argument – this equates to an infection fatality rate of 0.13% for SARS-CoV-2. Now let us compare that to the infection fatality rate of the influenza virus. The following table provides the CDC estimate of the infection fatality rate for the seasonal flu over the last ten years:

YearInfuenza IFR (%)
2010-20110.18
2011-20120.13
2012-20130.13
2013-20140.13
2014-20150.17
2015-20160.10
2016-20170.13
2017-20180.14
2018-20190.10
Range0.10%-0.18%
Average0.13%

The conclusion here is obvious: Using the WHO and CDC estimates, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is equivalent to the seasonal flu in terms of its overall lethality, at 0.13%. And that is even given that with the flu we have the advantage of a vaccine. But we don’t crash our economy for the flu each year. We take appropriate precautions and go on with our lives, just as we have done for millennia.

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic ended several months ago, but the pandemic of fear continues. This is the worst result of the virus. Leftist politicians like Governor Inslee, medical bureaucrats like Dr. Redfield and Dr. Fauci, and their collaborators in the media have destroyed our collective ability to assess and manage risk. Covid-19 is a risk just like any other that we encounter in our daily lives, yet for some reason THIS risk has been elevated to a status far beyond any other. People die from heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes, influenza, tuberculosis, car accidents, Alzheimer’s – all of these we recognize as inherent risks in life. Yet somehow, a single death from Covid-19 is intolerable – so much so that we have shut down our state, increasing death from many other tangential causes, in order to prevent a single death from Covid-19. This is madness.

On top of everything else, is the irony that we do have real means of reducing deaths from Covid-19, and it’s not by lockdowns and masks, but from numerous therapeutic options for managing the disease, all of which Governor Inslee denies or ignores. He always claims to be guided by the science, but he completely ignores it. Science is about forming a hypothesis, challenging the hypothesis experimentally, then affirming or rejecting the hypothesis based on the results. Based on the data and the science, there is no need for ongoing lockdown measures, no need for wearing masks. But Governor Inslee stubbornly clings to his hypothesis. This isn’t science, this is religion, the new faith of Covid Hysteria. This is policy-based “science”, not science-based policy.

I could go on, but I’ve taken up too much of your time. I just want to ask you, as my representative, to amplify my voice in Olympia. End this madness. End the lockdown. End the mask mandate. End the fear the Leftists are using to advance their agenda. Edmund Burke once stated: “No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” Leftists ignite and fan the flames of fear, then exploit that fear to create an excuse for their abuses of power. We can’t go on like this. We need to end this pandemic of fear and return to reason, and to life as normal.

Our governor has become a tyrant. He is using SARS-CoV-2 as an excuse to end our democratic form of government. He thinks his voice is the only voice that matters, and that he gets to unilaterally decide the law of the land. It is time to call him out on his despotic tyranny. C.S. Lewis recognized this behavior for what it is, noting, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

No. Governor Inslee does not get to rule over us like a tyrant. He does not get to decide our fate. We, the people decide. End the lockdown now. Repeal the mask mandate. Restore our freedoms.

Sincerely,

Martin Hughes, Ph.D.


[1]   “In pooled analysis, we found no significant reduction in influenza transmission with the use of face masks.” Nonpharmaceutical Measures for Pandemic Influenza in Nonhealthcare Settings – Personal Protective and Environmental Measures. Xiao, J.; Shiu, E.Y.; Gao, H.; Wong, J. Y.; Fong, M. W.; Ryu, S.; Cowling, J. Policy Review. 26(5), May 2020. 

[2]   Community and Close Contact Exposures Associated with Covid-19 Among Symptomatic Adults ≥ 18 Years in 11 Outpatient Health Care Facilities – United States, July 2020. Fisher, K.A., et al. MMWR, 2020, 69(36):1258-1264.

Constrained Choices

Commissioner Chuck Horton was quoted in the October 8 issue of the Oconee Enterprise as stating, “The private sector has chosen not to take this on” while discussing a public-private partnership in Oconee county aimed at enhancing broadband internet access. This is a prime example of a “factual, but not truthful” statement. There is a reason this “choice” was not made.  Silence concerning factors that influenced this “choice,” leaves the reader to assume the motivations are either aloof disinterest or the perennial greed charge. It does seem quite odd that businesses normally motivated toward potential monetary gain would simply ignore a wide open market. Why could that be? Maybe, just maybe, it has to do with the never-ending obstacle-course of state and local regulations that impose artificial barriers and costs on potential carriers (see OCGA §46-5-1(a) and 48-5-423).

In dense population centers these barriers may have a smaller impact on the bottom line, however when the population thins out, those fixed costs remain the same while revenues decline. The point at which it does not make economic sense is rapidly approached. But in many cases the economic equation is not even a factor. Monopolization-enabling statutes that limit which carriers are even permitted to enter a particular market can play a much greater role. The carriers are not blameless though. In low population centers they will often petition local governments to exclude competition from their domain. The real problem though is not so much that such appeals are made, but rather that they are even possible to grant legally. Publix can not ask the Board of Commissioners to exclude all other grocery chains from Oconee (no such authority exists (I hope!)) and yet broadband carriers can petition to circumscribe or diminish their own competition. This is entirely due to anachronistic common carrier regulations that grant such authority. When we speak of eliminating regulations, this is what is meant – silent, invisible regulations you are not even aware exist but which impact your life in a meaningful away

But let’s just assume there are zero restrictions and it is simply a matter of profitability. The numbers in the Oct 8 article would seem to bear out why service right now is focused on population centers in the county and not everywhere. It is too rural a county to be profitable if people are not willing to pay the actual costs to obtain service. It is claimed Oconee County will front $4.5 million while Smart City Capital will manage the project. It is then stated that it’s “possible” Oconee will earn back its investment. Possible. Would you invest your retirement savings into a bond that might yield you a 0% return after 20 years? It’s not unsurprising then that any company or person would not want to risk their own funds in such a high-risk low-reward venture if these numbers are indicative of the profit potential. So how do we overcome the natural reticence to make such an investment? Well, we just take the money from people (through sales tax). If you have to fund something through taxation then that is a strong indicator you are engaging in economically destructive activity. Absent a taxation backstop, such projects lose money, that is, they take something of higher value and reduce it to something of lower value.            

If the citizens of this county wish to bring this project to fruition as outlined in the article then they should be willing to risk their own money by voluntarily buying into this venture. In other words, shareholders, not taxpayers. If this is truly a “good idea” then what is the risk? I know that using other people’s money (taxes) to fund something that disproportionately benefits you is the norm these days – but that doesn’t make it right. Principles over pragmatism

Postscript to Unmasked 10-19-2020

Shortly after the release of my article a paper appeared in Nature’s Scientific Reports that investigated the suitability of various types of masks (N95, surgical, cloth, etc) to compare their efficacy in decreasing particle expulsion (source control). This is one of the better of the “pro-mask” type articles in that they are completely open and honest about the limitations of their studies as well as raising a very interesting hypothesis that if true, could very well mean masks are making the spread worse.

The idea is this: you breath out and the masks captures the particles. Ok. Where do they go? They don’t simply vanish into another universe. If they are adhered to droplets and aerosols (water) then once that material builds up on the mask interior further breathing will actually re-aersolize it through the mask spraying it out like a spray can. This would have the effect of creating a much broader and more disperse ejection of material given that it is now concentrated in one spot. Likewise, even if the water particles evaporate leaving the viral particles behind – they still exist – on the mask. They are now attached to the fibers etc of the mask. These are no irreversible chemical bonds, they are loose electrostatic interactions. This is important because this study showed that cloth masks actually produced more particles than no mask at all. The reason for this being that breathing through it cause mask material itself to become dislodged and break free. So if a virus can attach to these then the virus will be hitching a ride on them.

This casts serious doubt on the mitigation effects of masks insofar as it demonstrates the very real possibility that at best they are doing nothing whatsoever and at worst they could be amplifying the spread. The only way to avoid this scenario would be to use N95 or surgical masks and change them out for new ones over the course of a few minutes. We know this is not happening nor is it practical in an real sense to expect that. Therefore the best approach is to only mask the vulnerable with suitable masks and use such masking as a signal to others to maintain a wide berth and take other protective measures. If every tree is marked then which tree has the pot of gold?

Unmasked

“We know that wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection. Public health authorities define a significant exposure to Covid-19 as face-to-face contact within 6 feet with a patient with symptomatic Covid-19 that is sustained for at least a few minutes (and some say more than 10 minutes or even 30 minutes). The chance of catching Covid-19 from a passing interaction in a public space is therefore minimal. In many cases, the desire for widespread masking is a reflexive reaction to anxiety over the pandemic.”

New England Journal of Medicine, 2020; 382:363

These days everyone imagines himself or herself to be a scientist. Scolds, who labor under the delusion that reading the New York Times is equivalent to holding a doctorate, unceasingly inflict on us finger-wagging lectures about how we need to “listen to the science” when it comes to masks. Apparently “masks work” because “The Science™” says so. Newsflash: these media figures and self-styled authorities aren’t (largely) scientists and know not of what they speak. As a scientist myself I feel compelled to set the record straight on what is, and is not, science. For those degreed scientists out there parroting the mask propaganda: for shame, you should know better. Cherry picking, selection bias, anecdotal data, and dubious models have no place in the arsenal of scientific inquiry. 

What is the claim built on?

Here’s the problem with “the science” about masks: the media cited studies are built on a foundation of sand. They are based on computer models1, anecdotal stories2, theoretical mechanistic (non-biological) analysis, or hypothetical contra factual scenarios.1 In short, if the conclusion of a study rests on “this would have happened” then that is not science. Science does not compare contra factual or hypothetical scenarios. It analyzes concrete, reproducible, controlled conditions (that are broad enough to be statistically valid).  In every single story where there has been a reference made to evidence that “masks work” and I have drilled down through the 42 layers of links to get at the actual research document, it turns out the study is, surprise, based on a contra factual model, anecdote, or purely mechanistic study. Every. Single. Time. How do models support the claims? They make a “post-diction” for an alternate universe where masks were not deployed. Then they compare those values to the real world and wouldn’t you know, the numbers are lower when masks are used. The non-scientist with little time to drill down to the source will credulously accept what is read. Why shouldn’t they? An “authority” was cited and we’ve been trained from childhood to be predisposed toward trusting those perceived to be “in charge”. This is why whenever one questions the mask narrative the response is invariably “so and so said they work.” This is nothing more than the common logical fallacy known as an appeal to authority. Such a response deflects the inquiry, it does not answer it. When you encounter an appeal to authority your BS meter should max out. We should take every news story with a grain of salt and seek answers to the artfully omitted questions. Everyone has an agenda, even me. My agenda is to set the record straight and not allow the noble scientific profession to be prostituted in service of state propaganda. I encourage the reader to question and consider my assertions and to verify my claims by the references provided.

Question the models

One of the problems with models is their perception by the public as infallible fonts of knowledge. The media reinforces this narrative by credulously reporting model-based claims without any scrutiny. They never consider questioning the underlying assumptions built into the models. Models are easily manipulated. They are malleable and versatile instruments. In the hands of a virtuoso they can play any tune. They are tools of science, but they are not science themselves. Science is not SimCity. Science is doing real work in the real world to gather real data. Once one has collected data, then one may develop a model – based on that data – to make predictions about the future. Those predictions are then tested (i.e. the prediction is falsifiable). It is impossible to check a post-diction for a contra factual universe. The impossibility of such verification precludes falsifiability of the claim and in doing so removes it from the realm of science toward “what-if” fantasy. 

Evidence against the claim?

The reader might now be wondering, “well where is the evidence against masks?” Sorry, that’s not how science works. Those making the novel claim carry the onus to support it. You have to prove your claim; I do not have to disprove it. A claim cannot be said to be true because there does not yet exist evidence disproving it. This is the same as the foundation of our legal system; innocent until proven guilty. Guilt is a novel positive claim and must be proven. Were this also not the standard in science, then one could claim ghosts exist because no one has definitively proven they do not exist. With that said, because the “masks work” claim is a scientific one it is therefore subject to falsifiability. If it is true, then we should see fewer real world infections when use vs. non-use scenarios are compared.. Is that what we see? Unfortunately, no. There are a number of studies in the literature from the pre-Covid era regarding real world mask effectiveness at limiting contagions. In short none of them demonstrated any statistically significant diminishment in real world viral spread. 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11

Correlation not Causation

The lack of substantive empirical data in real world environments has shifted the focus toward teasing out a positive correlation between mask use and case loads by reviewing case counts across cities, states, and countries over time. One may certainly cherry pick a country, state or time frame where mask use is high and case rates are low. But for every one of those you can find several more that counter it.12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19 The scientific method demands one looks at all the data, not just the data that confirms the preconceived conclusion (selection bias). When all localities are analyzed, the aggregate results demonstrate zero correlation between masks and case counts. Zero. However, even this is a bad metric for both sides. There are simply way too many variables at play to claim this one thing (masks) had an effect or did not relative to other competing influences. However it certainly doesn’t help the “masks work” camp that the vast majority of such comparisons show no correlation or a negative correlation (i.e. better outcomes in low mask use localities). Correlation does not prove causation; but, it is impossible to have causation without correlation.

At what cost?

Compelled mask wearing (along with all the other various restrictions on normal life) is morally equivalent to the banning of alcohol, drugs, and firearms: a handful might be irresponsible so all must suffer the remedy in order to protect a vanishingly small minority. This mode of thinking, sacrificing the many in favor of a few, does not come without costs. The reflexive objection here is that the benefits could be substantial while the costs should be minimal. Perhaps in March that approach might have been sound given the ignorance surrounding what we were dealing with. But here we are months later and it has become clear who is at risk and who is not. It has become clear that widespread mask use does not correlate well with reduced cases. 12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19   It has become clear that asymptomatic spread is a negligible risk vector.20 Countries such as Canada, Australia, and even Sweden have much lower mask compliance but with equal or lower case loads and deaths per capita than the US.21 If the effect was substantially beneficial we would not expect this outcome. A benefit too small to be measured must be weighed against a cost that is measurable. The longer people suffer under these mandates the costs come into greater focus. Interacting with a sea of faceless zombies is disrupting normal social cues, interactions, and at some level social cohesion itself. A smile can brighten ones day. Sadly, those are cancelled for now. This is stressful to the human psyche in a way that is not easily accountable. Theoretically solitary confinement shouldn’t be mentally taxing – and yet perplexingly it is among the harshest of punishments. Social interaction matters. Likewise on the individual level there are increasing reports of inflamed skin conditions and fungal infections from prolonged mask use.22 Further, fatigue and “brain fog” are elevated by long-term excess CO2 inhalation.23 No, masks do not decrease oxygen intake, but they do increase COintake  – even the pro-mask camp admits that – although they try to hand wave it away by disclaiming that such high levels of COare “tolerable” or pose no “serious” health risk. But, just because something is tolerable or not serious does not mean it is ideal either. No air conditioning on a 95 °F day is “tolerable” too but I doubt many would enjoy it long term. Would you forgo air conditioning forever if you were told it would save 10 lives? I suspect few would willingly partake in that offer. We are allowing the scolds to rhetorically guilt us into a corner where non-compliance with their arbitrary dictates is equated with sociopathic behavior merely because it is claimed a life could be saved. That is a dangerous precedent. It opens the door to justifying any demand upon one’s behavior if one meekly submits. 

What should be done

A more effective strategy would be to shift from indiscriminate universal mandates and toward targeted and individualized interventions. Resources are limited and should be focused and not scattered about. For example, N95 masks do largely protect the wearer. Unless regulations are impeding production, there is no reason supplies should be constrained anymore. If there are regulations, then remove them.  If you are concerned about exposure to yourself, wear a properly fitted N95 mask. This would be self-regulating in direct proportion to its effectiveness. If cases went up, then more people would opt to don masks, which would then drive the cases back down. Because the proportion of society at elevated risk (mostly those above age 70 with health conditions) is a minority there should be no issue in supply of such masks. Additionally, there is some limited mechanistic evidence that surgical (not cloth) masks may be useful in limiting droplets and aerosols in ill patients (although the viral load found was barely measurable even without the mask).24,25 This may be useful in a health care or home setting. Restricting such mask use to those at risk (N95) or actively sick (surgical) has the added benefit of signaling to everyone around them that they are to be avoided. Targeted social distancing would be vastly superior to a universal mandate. Fatigue over this standard among the clearly healthy leads to lapses in maintaining it. Let those at low to no risk foster herd immunity while staying distanced from those who are sick or at risk. We all have a role to play. It is counterproductive to force all to play the exact same role. Allow the healthy to be exposed (natural vaccination) to build herd immunity while focusing protective resources on those actually at serious risk.

Individualized measures based on a person’s risk profile are how this country and the rest of the world handled such decennial pandemics up until now. The strategy this year: lockdowns, social distancing, universal mask mandates – these are the unprecedented policies that should be scrutinized with a skeptical, critical, science based, analysis. 

Gregory Morin  @gregtmorin

B.S., Chemistry, Emory University

M.S., Chemistry, Emory University

Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, University of Notre Dame

List of Citations

Postscript 10/19/2020

Shortly after the release of my article a paper appeared in Nature’s Scientific Reports that investigated the suitability of various types of masks (N95, surgical, cloth, etc) to compare their efficacy in decreasing particle expulsion (source control). This is one of the better of the “pro-mask” type articles in that they are completely open and honest about the limitations of their studies as well as raising a very interesting hypothesis that if true, could very well mean masks are making the spread worse.

The idea is this: you breath out and the masks captures the particles. Ok. Where do they go? They don’t simply vanish into another universe. If they are adhered to droplets and aerosols (water) then once that material builds up on the mask interior further breathing will actually re-aersolize it through the mask spraying it out like a spray can. This would have the effect of creating a much broader and more disperse ejection of material given that it is now concentrated in one spot. Likewise, even if the water particles evaporate leaving the viral particles behind – they still exist – on the mask. They are now attached to the fibers etc of the mask. These are no irreversible chemical bonds, they are loose electrostatic interactions. This is important because this study showed that cloth masks actually produced more particles than no mask at all. The reason for this being that breathing through it cause mask material itself to become dislodged and break free. So if a virus can attach to these then the virus will be hitching a ride on them.

This casts serious doubt on the mitigation effects of masks insofar as it demonstrates the very real possibility that at best they are doing nothing whatsoever and at worst they could be amplifying the spread. The only way to avoid this scenario would be to use N95 or surgical masks and change them out for new ones over the course of a few minutes. We know this is not happening nor is it practical in an real sense to expect that. Therefore the best approach is to only mask the vulnerable with suitable masks and use such masking as a signal to others to maintain a wide berth and take other protective measures. If every tree is marked then which tree has the pot of gold?

Open Letter to the USG Board of Regents & Chancellor

Dr. Steve Wrigley,

I wanted to thank you for your dedication, work, and perseverance in developing and implementing a course of action that has made it possible for our state Universities to be open this fall. Returning to some semblance of normalcy is absolutely critical to the mental health and well being of the returning students. 

Although the social environment on campus has been more isolating than under normal circumstances, this is a vast improvement over the alternative of not having students on campus. As adults we are usually able to weather unexpected challenges in life, however this past spring and summer I gained new insights into how the young struggle with these novel obstacles. I witnessed both of my sons (18 and 22) grapple with the isolation of being “stuck” at home. Although parents and children share a close bond we all know as parents we can’t compete with the social fulfillment from their own peer group. They endured both social and mental isolation while simultaneously being educationally disadvantaged through involuntary online teaching. If we could all just read a book or watch TV and become proficient then schools would not exist. But they do exist – for the very critical reason that most people learn best in a direct, tangible, hands on environment. Teaching is often a dialogue, and that does not happen in the virtual world in any meaningful sense. But perhaps more critically (as this can lead to thoughts of suicide for many) is the despair that accumulates over time from the realization that there is no clear end point to these major life disruptions. Even prisoners know the length of their sentence.

As a father who does not want to be forced to stand by and witness his sons’ mental states spiral backward into darkness I plead with you to maintain your resolve and support our schools in remaining open. I know challenges lie ahead but your past wisdom in opening the schools for on campus instruction gives me great confidence that you will remain dedicated to putting our children first and doing what is in their best interest.

Sincerely,

Gregory Morin, Ph.D.

Some Context

Information without context is not merely useless, it can be dangerous. Context is the landscape that grants the perspective by which we can make an informed judgment. For example, if your cholesterol is 150 but you don’t know what values are bad or good, the test’s accuracy, or what your prior values were, then it is impossible to know whether this news is of concern or not. Without context we are predisposed evolutionarily to assume the worst; if you assume everything is a threat you’re more likely to live long enough to pass on your genes. However, in the modern era this instinct can be counterproductive. Making a decision without relevant information is as bad as making a decision with completely wrong information. Amputating your leg “just to be safe” upon learning you have a tumor in your foot might seem prudent absent other information. But as soon as you learn such tumors are easily removed and rarely fatal then amputation should obviously be seen as overkill. As a country (and planet to a large extent) we have similarly overreacted amidst an ocean of context-free information: we have burned our proverbial house down to rid it of termites. The response has been disproportionate to the risk precisely because the media has failed to provide the proper context. Don’t ask  “how many” without also asking, “how does this compare.” Long-term side effects from Covid-19 sounds ominous, that is until you learn such long term side effects exist for the flu and many other ailments as well. Completely typical phenomena are being presented in isolation as though entirely unprecedented. Operating without context is like looking at a map with no scale: is the destination 10 ft or 100 miles? Without that informed framework to judge risk, people’s imaginations have run rampant to the point where healthy people literally believe death is all but certain if they step outside maskless. The only question left to ask: is this context-free milieu a result of intent, incompetence, or perverse incentives? A bit of all three as it turns out.

The rise of the Internet has fostered an environment where news media competition has become cutthroat. The Internet has dramatically diminished the legacy barriers to producing and distributing news content: the citizen journalist with nothing but his cell phone and a Twitter account is a force to be reckoned with now. This reality has opened the floodgates of competition. Reporting incentives now prioritize engagement and sensationalism over dispassionate objective reporting. Clicks lead to traffic and traffic justifies ad placement (incentives). To build a loyal audience many news organizations have opted to narrow rather than broaden their appeal (few but deep roots outperform the many but shallow during a drought). Focusing on ideological content maintains a stronger audience connection. In short the news has become biased, polarized, and sensationalized. This shift has created a fertile soil in which those with a personal political agenda (intent) may flourish. This shift in the news landscape has amplified an attention grabbing style of reporting known as “factual… but not truthful” otherwise known as “fake news.” It’s not fake because it’s a flat out lie, rather it is “fake” because while some parts are factually true there are omissions of crucial facts – facts that give the story the proper context needed to get the whole picture. Not volunteering information is not “lying” so when caught in their subterfuge they can plausibly hand wave it away as a simple “mistake” or “oversight.” This factual omission is a mix of laziness/incompetence or a deliberate agenda to craft a specific narrative. When this occurs in other countries we call it propaganda. When it happens here we whistle past the graveyard. 

A fanciful example of factual but not truthful would be “Local shop owner refuses to sell steak to illegal aliens!” – this would be factually true, however the story is omitting the additional detail that the store had run out of steak the prior day. The reader is left with the implicit message that the storeowner is a racist jerk. Whenever the narrative reinforces a reader’s preconceptions no further scrutiny is warranted in his mind. This is a common tactic to impugn political adversaries; report words out of context, often omitting a follow up sentence that contradicts the implication of the headline (Google “fine people hoax + Scott Adams”). 

This same level of “factual but not truthful” reporting has infected nearly all of the corporate media’s reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result Americans are dramatically overestimating their risk of death. A recent survey revealed that people believe those aged 44 and younger account for 30% of deaths; the actual figure is 2.6%. Further, Americans overestimated the risk of death for those under 24 by 50-fold. As of October 21 a scant 437 people aged 24 and below have died from Covid-19 in the US. The cumulative risk for that group is 1 death per 236,000. This is on par with the one-year odds of dying by falling down stairs. “Oh but they could spread it to the teachers!” Ok. Some more context. Those aged 25-64 have a 1 in 2,500 chance of dying from Covid – this is in fact the same risk prior to Covid of dying from any respiratory disease. In other words their risk profile has not changed.  But even these numbers don’t tell the whole picture. These numbers are averages. The risk is heterogeneous, not homogenous. Unless you have multiple comorbidities your risk is far lower than whatever average is shown for your age demographic. 

For those still worried even at 2,500 to 1 imagine the following: there are 2,500 doors lined up and you have one chance to open the correct door to reveal the grand prize. When considered in terms of something desired (the prize) this seems almost hopeless, right? But curiously if we merely flip from prize to punishment (death) we suddenly feel like it’s almost certain we will pick the wrong door on the first try. This inability to rationally assess risk leads to these foolish egocentric displays of “die ins” by teachers at various schools and universities. Odd. We’re told masks “work” so I can’t imagine what they are concerned about. 

 Even though the young face almost no risk from Covid (indeed, 2017-2018 flu deaths are 5x the current Covid deaths for those under 17) there is a much deadlier threat wending its way toward our youth if we do not return to normal as quickly as possible. One would think if there were a looming threat that might kill hundreds of thousands of young people this would be headline-making news. Instead we get crickets. To what do I refer? The CDC reported in June that in the prior month an astounding 25% of respondents aged 18-24 reported seriously considered suicide. To put that in context, the normal range is 7-11% — over the prior 12 months! For those aged 45-64 the number was only 3.8%. Clearly those making policy are immune to its impacts. Astoundingly many embrace these disruptive measures as they blithely ignore their own children who are powerless to reverse this insane course. Even if 1% followed through on their inclinations it would be over one hundred thousand dead. When compared to fewer than 400 deaths to date for that same age cohort the choice becomes clear: resume normal lives for our youth without delay. No more threats of shutting down schools. No more social distancing. No more masks. No more online classes. Childhood years are a precious resource that adults are looting from their children and squandering in a futile attempt to hold back this tide with a sponge. 

The Business of Policing

We live in curious times when it is the left getting broad traction on what up until a few weeks ago had been the domain of only the most radical of the anarchist-libertarians. They are demanding that the state (what some people call “government”) vis-à-vis its enforcement arm (the police) should play a diminished role in our lives. Unchecked abuses of authority (or rather “privilege”, literally Latin for “private law”) accumulated over space and time have finally reached a boiling point. To be clear, we libertarians have expounded for decades upon the obviously predictable and empirically proven flaws inherent to any state socialized monopoly system such as the police. But I suppose it isn’t until our predictions bear enough fruit that anyone wants to listen. So be it. The police are single payer security: monopoly service coupled with an extortionist payment scheme and zero liability has finally overflowed onto the bathroom floor of modern American society. It is heartening to see that people are finally awakening to the results of flawed incentives while equally depressing that so many have had to suffer death and injustice in order for people to finally take notice en masse. For those that are only capable of binary thinking, I’m not saying, “all cops are bad”. I’m saying that bad incentives produce poor outcomes because of a systemic lack of error correction.

For those communities looking to make a change to their policing system the obvious question is “What will you replace it with?” The simple answer is, “I don’t know.” And that is actually the point. This is why we have (free) markets, to give individuals a space in which to experiment to see which ideas work and which ones do not. Markets produce better outcomes not because of magical capitalist pixie dust but because given a problem to be solved, more minds are better than fewer. State monopoly systems fixate on only one way of doing something and then enforce that method upon all. Any variance from The One way is either outlawed or so heavily regulated as to make any attempt pointless. The state, lacking a profit motive, is incapable of rapid negative feedback (the loss part of profit/loss) if it implements a poor solution; it takes decades of public suffering for anyone to notice the accumulating damage of the failure. 

This movement to “defund the police” is the best thing for that industry –  in the same way that Obama’s ‘defunding’ of NASA with respect to the Shuttle program has spawned a whole new market for orbital lift companies (Space X, etc.). So how could this private policing/security model work in the real world? The beauty of any market is that it is inherently self-regulating due to the profit motive. For example, one vertical market possibility is this: client—>insurance company—>security company—>training academy. The entity to the right has to work to satisfy the demands of their customer to the left; if they don’t then the customer seeks out a different supplier and that former supplier suffers a loss. Without the state imposing the privilege of qualified immunity the individual police/security officers would carry their own indemnity insurance for their actions or their firm could cover them on their policy, but in either case, officers with a poor claim record would quickly become unemployable in the same way people that have multiple car accidents quickly find their premiums skyrocket. This is the market telling them perhaps they should seek a different career. The desire to prevent this would induce the self-regulation of more stringent training and screenings imposed upon the security firms by the insurance carriers seeking to minimize their claims resulting from rogue officers. Security firms that produce the best outcomes (solve or prevent crimes) would excel and gain more paying customers, those that do a poor job would go out of business – profit guides firms to delivering what the consumer demands: safe, effective, and efficient security. 

One common rejoinder to this model is “but what of the poor that can’t afford such security?”: well, please tell me about how “the poor” are receiving such great policing service in our current system? I’ll wait. But in all seriousness, there are many options in a market system, no doors are closed: community policing, á la carte subscription models, insurance pass through protection, charitable organizations, and many more I can’t envision. The next objection is typically “but what about law enforcement?” An indirect benefit of privatizing security/police is that it instantly nullifies all victimless crimes; no victim, no crime to solve and certainly no one to pay for it. Perhaps the laws stay on the books, but without an enforcement arm they are effectively null and void. Good. Nearly half the current prison population is for drug “crimes.” Ending the drug war in this way would create a huge public dividend of the billions not spent on pursuing such cases as well as dramatically reversing the current racial disparity in the prison system. 

While it does seem no one is currently calling for anything as radical as what I’ve outlined, the mere fact that the general populace is actively looking for some alternative is encouraging. Even if one community experiments and succeeds it would be the perfect empirical template to show that separation of police and state is no more radical than the separation of church and state.

Rescue our Seniors

Where there is death, we grieve. Death comes in many forms. It manifests not merely as the cessation of biological life also as the irreversible termination of relationships and experiences. We grieve that which is meaningful that we can’t get back. The truth of this is borne out by considering the grief many experience during the aftermath of a romantic break up. A rarely acknowledged collateral damage of this pandemic “shut down” is that of 3.2 million high school seniors. They are indeed experiencing that grief – and – just like the economic fall out for “non-essential” workers and businesses – no one seems to care.  Each passing day is a milestone that they should have experienced – Prom, honors night, senior night and apparently now graduation itself – but which has now been snatched away, never to return. You can delay a vacation, a wedding, a birthday party – you cannot delay that which cannot be rescheduled. And it is not merely events that some might dismiss as superficial trivialities. For student athletes counting on their athletic performance to qualify them for scholarships or team placement these set backs will have real world financial consequences.  If you find these statements overly dramatic, then I can only conclude you are not currently the parent of a high school senior. If you believe your own deferring of your life events is a sacrifice then you are deluding yourself. A real sacrifice is giving up something one can NEVER get back. In this regard high school (and college) seniors qualify. Sitting on the couch watching Netflix does not. Some are being asked to sacrifice much more than others. I take that back, they are not being “asked”, they are being “told.” Sacrifice leaves a much more bitter taste in your mouth when forced upon you rather than voluntarily given.

For 18 years they have anticipated that which every generation before them has enjoyed. But instead they get Lucy snatching the football away at the last second. Specious platitudes about how “we are all thinking of you” ring hollow; stop thinking and start doing. The Governor and the school boards CAN do something. If they actually cared about our seniors’ interests they would be steadfastly crafting a concrete plan to restore as much of what has been lost of the senior year rather than hiding behind non-committal weasel words of “hoping”  to try this or that. If anyone truly cared they could still squeeze several senior year milestones into a resurrected last two weeks of school. Not ideal, but better than nothing at all. And to all you parents trying to help, please stop. Well intentioned but poorly considered ideas of parents posting their own graduation photos online to honor their senior is pouring salt on an open wound. Honestly, this is like sending selfies from your ski trip to your buddy who broke his legs.

The constant false hope has been a destructive psychological rollercoaster. First it was just two weeks of closure, then two more, then finally, sorry, school year is over and oh by the way we’ve made this decision over 6 weeks in advance of the end of the school year. Why make decisions so far out? What purpose does it serve other than to virtue signal one’s adherence to the groupthink of the mob? If you can close schools on 3 days notice you can open them on 3 days notice. This is school, not the moon landing.

So what to do? At least in Georgia the outbreak and deaths have never gotten anywhere near what they claimed and we are clearly “over the hump” at this point (see here and here) . The Governor should permit the public school systems to resume normal operations if they so desire. Each school district can tailor their response to their own environment and to the desires of their parents and seniors. If schools are opened but some are still concerned for their health they are free to stay at home and continue as they have. But, we should not let the fears of some override the desires of everyone else. Hold high school sports, hold the Prom, hold Senior night – if people want to attend these events they can, but nobody is forcing anyone to attend them, it is quite easy to opt out: just don’t go. 

We have nothing to fear…

Amidst the current global pandemic of COVID-19 there is another more sinister and stealthy infection moving through society: BBD-20, Binary Brain Disease. It renders the victim incapable of analyzing any topic, in particular the COVID response, in anything other than a good/bad false choice mode. For years this disease festered amongst the political class but for the most part was confined to that realm. It has now broken through those ranks and spread to the general populace. It sickens the soul of this country, as its victims willingly disown the Constitution while all but begging for martial law. And people wonder how the fascist regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan so easily subdued their populace into compliance.  They did so through fear; fear of the “other”. Today that other is not some corporeal enemy but instead the invisible specter of a potential harm. 

Currently the most common symptom of BBD-20 is the belief that any discussion regarding the immense social, economic, and mental devastation resulting from bankrupting tens of millions of people equates to an obvious desire to kill grandma and millions like her. Furthermore the infected commonly engage in very public virtue signaling via sanctimonious pronouncements about how obviously basic morality compels us to lock ourselves in our basement for an indeterminate period in order to protect the “vulnerable”. Newsflash: those that are immune compromised face that risk from all diseases, not just COVID. Anyone else at risk with COVID should protect himself or herself and not expect the rest of the planet to bankrupt themselves trying to protect them. There are reasonable precautions and there are unreasonable. Right now we are in the unreasonable zone, but even the mere thought of a conversation about dialing it back to the reasonable zone sends BBD-20 victims into apoplexy.

I suppose this is to be expected. Our society is largely the product of a public school system that propagandizes its citizenry into the false narrative that the state is our savior. A savior is of course omniscient (after all a less wise being cannot save us). It is imprudent to question our betters, so unsurprisingly those of us that do so are chastised to no end: “How dare you question such and such, don’t you know he’s an EXPERT!?” This mistaken belief in state level omniscience compels many to suspend their critical faculties and blindly follow the state anointed “experts.” Never mind that these very same “experts” told us in January that,

“this is not something that the citizens…should be worried about right now.” (Fauci, Jan 2020)

First we are told we don’t need masks, now we are told we do. Ok, well which is it? Were they wrong then and right now, or right then and wrong now? Were there weapons of mass destruction or were there not? When exactly is the state lying to us or when are they merely incompetent? I suspect it is a bit of both, after all, the political class (elected and appointed) are largely made up of the C-students that couldn’t cut it in the real world and so have carved out a cushy sinecure in the hierarchy of state mediocrity.

Again this ignorance is to be expected. The state school systems do not teach economics. They barely teach history. Nobody learns about tradeoffs, marginal benefits, or the division of labor. If they did they would understand one does not simply “stop” the marketplace and restart it later with little to no harm. If these concepts were taught, then the political class would understand one can’t repair the damage that they are causing throughout society by merely printing money. Most people genuinely have no idea how the goods they order on Amazon end up on their front porch. Even the most mundane of products is the result of the truly invisible hand of the market that coordinates millions of individuals across hundreds of sectors. To truly grasp the depth of that statement I encourage the reader to take a look at “I, Pencil” by Leonard Read.

In any event, in a non-political society where “the people” lack the power to meddle with things they don’t understand their lack of understanding would be irrelevant, insofar as they could not derail that which they cannot grasp. The current state of affairs is comparable to people banning electricity but expecting their smart phones to continue working.

It is telling that the more vocal proponents of these “shut it down” measures are those that work either directly or indirectly for the state or a state (tax) supported sector of the economy. Those other people, who have been deemed “non-essential,” they should lose everything. It’s for the “greater good” after all. Those in the non-essential camp see it differently. How grotesque a society have we become when someone can turn to their neighbor and tell them that they are “not essential” to society while they collect their “essential services” paycheck from their state connected employer? Were the hospitality and other “non-essential” sectors of the economy allowed to operate again would they not see a steep decline in revenues? Yes, of course – but it wouldn’t be zero revenue as it is now. At this point anything is better than zero.

            Maybe, just maybe, the solution to this problem is not to go running to the very entity (the state) that is the proximate cause for the dilemma we see ourselves in. The state has only one solution for every problem it encounters: pass a law and then back that law up with the threat of violence – the state is literally a hammer that sees every problem as a nail. There are a million instances of state created distortions in society that have hampered our ability to cope with this pandemic, but let’s just look at the top three:

(a) Certificate of Need laws severely restrict the number of hospitals and hospital beds in Georgia (and in 34 other states in the US) – there would be far more beds right now had these laws never existed, this one is not even debatable,

(b) Regulatory bodies like the FDA have for years thrown up a wide assortment of regulatory barriers that have kept safe, cheap, and effective treatments and tests for a myriad of diseases and ailments from being available to the public or needlessly delayed them for years; to wit, the CDC delayed testing in this country for weeks as it bungled about trying to make its own kit while existing kits were already available

(c) the sclerotic monetary and financial system propped up by the inflationary monetary policies of the Federal Reserve ensured and promoted wide ranging financial moral hazards that rendered most companies unable to cope with unpredictable downturns such as this pandemic – a pandemic that would never have become a pandemic in the US had (a) and (b) not been an issue.

            To turn to the state now as our savior is like asking your dentist to remove all your teeth, both cavity infected and not, when it was that same dentist that advised you your whole life to eat sugary foods and brush your teeth with cake frosting. Yes, perhaps now you have few options, but at least get a second opinion and make a note to ignore or critically evaluate all future advice. 

A Blind Hen…

As the saying goes, even a blind hen finds corn. Georgia House Bill 523 is just that bit of legislative corn. Typically it is large, distant governing bodies (federal and/or state) that impose upon their subsidiaries egregious violations of individual liberty. These large bodies commonly compel all to march in lock step with their directives irrespective of the preferences of the smaller communities and individuals. But as Yoda says, “size matters not.” Small governing bodies may be just as injurious to individual rights as large bodies. House Bill 523 is trying to right the wrongs that numerous local, city, and county governments have inflicted on their citizens. In short, House Bill 523 would remove the legal authority for such communities to restrict the property rights of those who wish to engage in “short term” rentals (under 30 days) of their homes. HB 523 has been dubbed the “AirBnB” bill because it is attempting to restore the rights of homeowners to use their property as they see fit with respect to these rentals. Many local communities currently impose either outright bans on such short-term rentals or onerous restrictions (such as being forced to plead one’s case in front of a board of commissioners – basically begging to be permitted to use their own property). This bill would do away with these regulations and render the local governing bodies impotent in this domain.

The indignant outcries from the local communities’ governing leaders (e.g. Morgan County which encompasses a wide swath of lake homes and charming antebellum abodes – see this article (behind paywall)) concerning this bill is deafening in its hypocrisy. Why this is a blatant violation of THEIR right to violate the rights of those that live in their community! This ranks right up there with the indignation of slave owners who were forced to free their slaves after the Civil War – “I can’t believe what is being done to me!” These are the same people that will put their hand over their heart and recite the pledge of allegiance while fondly reflecting on the phrase “liberty and justice for all” and then with a straight face tell a homeowner, “no, sorry, we have the right to tell you how you may or may not use YOUR property.” Yep, nothing illustrates pursuit of happiness better than other people imposing their will on you.

The objections to HB 523 run the usual gamut of crony-capitalism, protectionism, and nods toward the protection of existing homeowners. Unsurprisingly existing bed and breakfasts and local hoteliers oppose this bill since AirBnB and similar real estate sharing activities threaten their business. But it is not the domain of government to protect the economic interests of businesses by restricting competition  – regardless of how rampant this behavior may otherwise be across this country (from taxi medallions, to Certificate of Need laws, to food truck regulations and similar “turf” zoning). The other concern raised is typical fear-mongering; paint a worst case scenario to the constituents and then step in and offer a solution to prevent said scenario, “well, this might happen, so let’s ban it.” But of course existing laws prohibiting public nuisance or excessive noise already cover the scenarios they outline; there is no need for additional restrictive controls.  

In fact, this bill is so astutely crafted that it carves out an exception for existing private protective covenants that govern short-term rentals. Why? Because protective covenants are voluntary contracts: one may opt in or out by buying or not buying property governed by them. But this is not so with ordinances and regulations, they come and go and change with the prevailing political winds so it is impossible to ever be sure what your property rights will be in one, five or ten years. Perhaps HB 523 will change just a bit of that.