Articles to 2020-05-31

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I’m always amazed whenever confronted with one of the bizarre notions and conspiracy ideas circulating in the social media. But then I near exclusively read the scientific literature and primary sources and eschew the yellow press, which for me includes not only The Sun but also the New York Times because, frankly, I can't tell the difference – when it comes to science they're equally ill informed and equally fail at even primary school maths.

Nature’s editorial as well as Ball & Maxmen focus on vaccines and both completely fail to mention – against their better knowledge – whom it is they're talking about. It is not the gullible and uneducated (in the normal sense) who espouse silly ideas about diseases and vaccination but rather the supposedly educated – and for them “education” conspicuously excludes the STEM subjects –, the well-off and overwhelmingly those earning their whole income from taxes.

Where do such ideas come from? When looking at the utter nonsense, the contradictions, and even blatant untruths promulgated on public television and in the so-called and self-styled quality press, then the notion of deliberately being lied to and purposely being misled is anything but irrational for any critical thinker getting his scientific background information from these sources alone. When just those utterly untrustworthy sources begin to take over censorship of the social media, as they do, then resistance becomes not only rational but necessary.

Of course that doesn't make silly, misinformed nonsense any better, but unless and until you acknowledge the real sources and reasons behind it, your fight will be against windmills. To their credit Ball & Maxmen do for once at least mention the role of mainstream media e.g. the New York Post but immediately go on to muddy the waters by pointing at social media commentators. They claim the confusion started with scientific ambiguity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let's look at just one pertinent example. Virologists and epidemiologists stated If we do nothing, then up to five hundred thousand people might die (in a country like Britain).” This obviously was too complicated for journalists and TV presenters, whose grasp of the language does not exceed the three-word-soundbite. “Scientists expect half a million Covid deaths” is what the viewer got. And “Look at the numbers, scientists and politicians have lied to us – again” is what critics, who never got to see the primary source, concluded. Now which of these three statements is wrong and who is to blame for the misinformation going around? And that example is only one of hundreds of similar ones.

Unless and until we begin to tackle the real culprits in all this there is no chance whatever of any improvement. Let's take two more looks at Ball & Maxmen: “The study says that a “hate multiverse” is exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic [...] As a result, Johnson says, racist views are starting to appear in the anti-vaccine communities, too.” That's classic cause-effect-inversion. Obviously the anti-vaccine sentiment was preexisting and comes from totally different, mostly left-leaning “sophisticated”, artsy, communities – the same ones writers of editorials stem from. Secondly, of course what Trump and Bolsonaro say about chloroquine is utter nonsense. (By the way, are leftist leaders like Chavez beacons of scientific brilliance or is it that authors like Ball & Maxmen consistently look the other way?) But where did they get it from? Do they really read the primary scientific literature where there was, indeed, a preliminary report hinting in that direction? Or did they get their ideas from just those mainstream media, who supply, employ and pay those very “fact-checkers” that now take it upon themselves to censor what can and what can't be said on public platforms? “The problem isn't a lack of facts, it's about what sources people trust.” Absolutely true. The single important point here is, that this mistrust is all too justified.


Reading the many studies about superspreading and overdispersion, the current misuse of Reff – a time-dependent and fluctuating population average with an unstated and variable assumption for generation time and with next to no meaning for descriptive statistics – instead of the straightforward and easy to understand doubling time becomes even more meaningless and confusing than it was from the start.


The strange hiatus between the Greek Bronze and Iron Ages has always been a conundrum. Where did all the people go and where did the repopulation come from? Gimatzidis & Weninger have gone a long way towards solving that puzzle. Their result, if confirmed, will have wide-reaching consequences all over the Mediterranean and Middle East. Of course I'd like to see hundreds and not just 21 radiocarbon dates from at least half a dozen and not just one tell, but already what we have is very convincing.


In principle Pouw et al. is neither new nor surprising. We all know that we can discern gesticulation like the shrugging of shoulders across the telephone and have experienced the information sensed that way. But it's nice to have the effect quantified and objectively tested.

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