Nico Metten describes the “casedemic”

Facebook friend and actual friend Nico Metten, on Facebook, puts the case against “cases”:

One very simple thing for everyone to understand. Cases mean nothing. Deaths is what counts. There is no uptick in deaths. There isn’t even an uptick in cases. They are simply testing more. If I sample 1000 random people and count how many are female I might get something like 502. Now I sample 2000 people and I get something like 998. Headline reading “NUMBER OF WOMEN IN SOCIETY DOUBLED ON MONDAY”. No it did not. And that is what is going on with COVID cases. They have increased the number of tests. It is not rocket science, so why are so many people missing this? NUMBER OF CASES ARE MEANINGLESS.

Nico wrote that only for his Facebook friends. Hope he doesn’t mind me copying and pasting it here.

I am not hearing the British government answering this sort of objection, and the longer they seem to be ignoring it, the more I will suspect that they can’t answer it. If they have responded, good, and please tell me about it.

A couple of recommendations for understanding The Plague

I am no doubt biased, by my libertarian politics to start with, and by the guesses I have already expressed in (what passes for me as) public. Nevertheless, for whatever it may be worth, I found this article, and, unusually, also its quite numerous comments, about why the world became so bent out of shape by this Plague, to be very intelligent. It’s more a panic than a conspiracy, he says. Which fits what I’ve been thinking.

And now I am listening to a man whose nickname is the Vaccine Pope, speaking with Ivor Cummins, whom I have been following on Twitter.

Five pendulums getting into step

Or should it be “pendula”? Probably not, because that sound vaguely sexual in a rather creepy way.

I am now assuming that this video is showing the same phenomenon as the wobbling of the Millennium Bridge when it first opened.

Tweet-commenter Alma Cook also mentions how periods in groups of women get synchronised.

And yes, I found what I was looking for. Tweet-commenter Morris Jasper says:

This is essentially what happened with the ‘wobbly’ Millennial Bridge.

But as several tweet-commenters say, it’s not right to call any of this “spontaneous”, if by that you mean happening for no reason. The pendulums are all resting on the same oscillating platform. Just as all those people on the Millennium Bridge were walking on the same wobbling bridge.

Talking of pendulums, I am fond of György Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique For 100 Metronomes. They don’t synchronise themselves, because the structure they rest on is not wobbling. They just stop. One by one. It takes just over eight minutes for this to happen. (I also like Ligeti’s piano music. (But now I really digress.))

“I love it when Dawkins admitted that!”

I recently watched this duet rant by David Wood and, when he can get a word in, Robert Spencer. David Wood, a new name to me, is a Christian, but not the sort of Christian who believes in turning the other cheek when his enemy threatens to slap him hard enough to cause serious harm. That doesn’t work. (That this doesn’t work is one of the many reasons I’m not a Christian at all.) But Wood makes many excellent tactical points about what you are up against when you interact with seriously Islamic Islamicists.

From that, I then found my way to this snatch of video. In the latter, a bunch of scornful Christians introduce a clip of Richard Dawkins talking about whether there is any evidence he can imagine that would convince him that God exists. Dawkins says he used to say: Yes. If evidence appeared, he’d change his mind and believe in God. But then, he was persuaded that he actually cannot imagine any evidence that would persuade him of God’s existence.

As I say, the Christians are scornful. This guy freely admits that there is no evidence that would change his mind about God!

Dawkins’s position is precisely my own position. I was once challenged along the same lines. If evidence appeared for God’s existence, would I start believing in God? I said: Yes. But then, I realised that I could imagine no such “evidence” that it would not make more sense to interpret in a non-God way. An hallucination, or a trick. Or maybe an alien who seemed to me like God, but who was merely clever at creating misleading effects, perhaps based on knowing more than humans do about how the human body and mind function, by getting inside the workings of my brain.

The reason I think this way is that the idea of God, as presented to me by Christians and Muslims, makes no sense. So to interpret a clutch of “evidence” as evidence in favour this senseless idea is itself senseless. These facts must have some other non-God explanation. If the only reason to believe in God is this one little clutch of evidence, then the chances are that this evidence isn’t actual evidence either.

A theory doesn’t only have to “fit the facts”, as in a small clutch of facts that seem to contradict it. It also has to make sense. What does “make sense” mean? Something like: Consistent with everything else I know about the world. A theory must must not merely “fit the facts”. It must fit all the facts.

The history of science is full of episodes of this sort. A theory is proposed with fits a lot of facts and which makes a lot of sense, despite being radically different from what scientists used to believe. Then, some facts materialise which seem to contradict the theory. Dump the theory! You are refusing to face the facts! You are a dogmatist! But then, these “facts” turn out not to be facts, and the new theory, because of the sheer weight of the evidence in its favour, sails on in triumph. Or, if lots of other evidence piles up against it, not.

I freely admit that what I think about evidence depends on what I already think. As does what you think. Worldviews differ. This is not scandalous. It is merely how things are. To get someone to change their worldview, you have to supply lots of evidence, not just a little bit.

Cardboard face

It’s a common experience. I’m making absolutely no claim to originality here. We humans regularly see faces where we know, even as we see these faces, that there are no real faces to be seen. Yet, we see them:

That is one of the bits of cardboard I photoed for that earlier cardboard-v-polystyrene packaging posting. It looks happy.

Closely related to seeing faces where there are none, is the way that humans see human-like expressions in the faces of animals, and react accordingly. An animal may be just standing there, looking cute. But what that animal may well be thinking is: Could I beat this creature in front of me if we had a fight? And if I could, what would his flesh taste like? We all know this. Yet, our brains overrule our minds.

I hesitated quite a while before showing my latest clutch of Oscar photos, this morning. My reason being that by showing such photos I am proclaiming myself to be rather soft in the head, in the sort of way I have just described. I don’t think that Oscar was contemplating attacking me and trying to eat me. If we had a straight up fight, I’d win, and both he and I know this. But Oscar may well have been thinking: When is this idiot going to feed me? Yet still, I find myself liking Oscar. All because he has evolved to behave in such a way as to make my brain think him a combination of a nice, warm-hearted, generous person and a comfort blanket. I can’t help myself.

Related: I regret the apparent fading out of Idiot Toys, where there was a whole section devoted to gadgets with faces.

Covid-19 is all over bar the “Casedemic”!

I got to this ten minute video lecture by Ivor Cummins via a Facebook posting by David Ramsay Steele. Steele had earlier written a piece which I half noticed a few days ago, as a result of someone mentioning it on my Twitter feed and me happening to be paying attention to Twitter at that moment. I have just now got back to that piece by Steele.

Steele argues that respiratory epidemics like Covid-19 cannot be stopped, and probably not even slowed much in their spread. The point is to get herd immunity (which Cummins calls, rather poetically, “community immunity”), and meanwhile to protect the vulnerable as best we can. (I seem to recall this being argued right at the beginning of all this, in Britain.)

Steele also links to and agrees with this blog posting by J.B.Handley.

Me going into further details is pointless. Follow the above links if you are interested.

I believe that the way to find out the truth about anything is to have a huge argument about it. Roughly speaking, the truth consists of a “model” which most closely describes reality. Eventually, the most accurate model wins. Not all “models” are wrong. But most models are wrong.

If I had to place a bet on which Covid-19 model will win, that is to say: be acknowledged more widely than any other model as the truth of things, then I would now bet on this Cummins/Handley/Steele model.

There is just one detail of this argument I will pick out. Trump and Trumpists have been saying that if the Chinese government had told everyone faster then the worldwide spread of Covid-19 could, perhaps or even definitely, have been confined to China. This is, says Steele, “hogwash”. I mention this merely because I have been a Trumpist about this, but will now have to find some other way to denounce the Chinese government for its handling of matters Covidic. Shouldn’t be hard.

LATER: Following.

Matt Ridley tells how vaccination became established in England

I have started reading Matt Ridley’s book about How Innovation Works. Here (pages 50-55) is his description of how vaccinating people against smallpox went from being fiercely criticised by the medical experts of the time, to becoming standard medical practice:

In the same year that Thomas Newcomen was building his first steam engine, 1712, and not far away, a more romantic episode was in train, and one that would indirectly save even more lives. It was much higher up the social scale. Lady Mary Pierrepoint, a well-read, headstrong young woman of twenty-three, was preparing to elope in order to escape the prospect of a dull marriage. Her wealthy suitor, Edward Wortley Montagu, with whom she had carried on a voluminous correspondence characterized by furious disagreement as well as outrageous flirtation, had failed to agree a marriage settlement with her even wealthier father, the Earl (later Duke) of Kingston. But the prospect of being forced by her father to marry instead a pecunious dullard, the Honourable Clotworthy Skeffington, persuaded Mary to rekindle the romance with Wortley (as she called him). She proposed elopement, and he, despite thus missing out on her dowry, and in a fit of uncharacteristic impetuosity, agreed. The episode turned to farce: he was late, she set off for the rendezvous alone, he overtook her at an inn but did not realize she was there, but after further mishaps they found each other and married on 15 October 1712 in Salisbury.

After this romantic start the marriage was a disappointment, Wortley proving a cold and unimaginative husband. His bride – learned, eloquent and witty – cut a swathe through literary London, writing eclogues with Alexander Pope in the style of Virgil, and befriending the literary lions and social tigers of the day. Joseph Spence would later write: ‘Lady Mary is one of the most extraordinary shining characters in the world; but she shines like a comet; she is all irregular and always wandering. She is the most wise, most imprudent; loveliest, disagreeablest; best natured, cruellest woman in the world.’

Then smallpox marked her skin and made her reputation. This vicious virus, humankind’s greatest killer, was constantly a threat in early-eighteenth-century London. It had recently killed Queen Mary and her nephew, the young Duke of Gloucester, the last Stuart heir to the throne who was not Catholic; it had almost killed the Electress of Hanover, Sophia, and her son George, destined to be the next king of England instead. It killed Lady Mary’s brother in 1714 and very nearly killed her the next year, leaving her badly scarred and lacking in eyelashes, her beauty cruelly ravaged.

But it was smallpox that would bring her lasting fame, for she became one of the first, and certainly one of the most passionate, champions in the Western world of the innovative practice of inoculation. In 1716 her husband was sent as ambassador to Constantinople and Lady Mary accompanied him with her young son. She did not invent inoculation, she did not even bring the news of it for the first time, but being a woman she was able to witness in detail the practice among women cloistered in Ottoman society, and then to champion it back home among mothers terrified for their children, to the point where it caught on. She was an innovator, not an inventor.

Two reports had reached the Royal Society in London from Constantinople of the practice of ‘engrafting’ as a cure for smallpox. According to the correspondents, Emmanuel Timonius and Giacomo Pylarini, both physicians working in the Ottoman Empire, the pus from a smallpox survivor would be mixed with the blood in a scratch on the arm of a healthy person. The reports were published by the Royal Society but dismissed as dangerous superstition by all the experts in London. More likely to spark an epidemic than prevent it; an unconscionable risk to be running with people’s health; an old wives’ tale; witchcraft. Given the barbaric and unhelpful practices of doctors at the time, such as bloodletting, this was both ironic and perhaps understandable.

It seems the Royal Society had been told of the practice even earlier, in 1700, by two correspondents in China, Martin Lister and Clopton Havers. So there was nothing new about this news. But where these doctors failed to persuade the British, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu had better luck. On 1 April 1718 she wrote to her friend Sarah Chiswell from Turkey with a detailed account of inoculation:

The smallpox, so fatal and so general amongst us, is here entirely harmless by the invention of engrafting, which is the term they give it. There is a set of women who make it their business to perform the operation … When they are met (commonly fifteen or sixteen together) the old woman comes with a nutshell full of the matter of the best sort of smallpox, and asks what veins you please to have opened. She immediately rips open that you offer to her with a large needle (which gives you no more pain than a common scratch) and puts into the vein as much venom as can lie upon the head of her needle … There is no example of anyone that has died in it, and you may believe I am well satisfied of the safety of the experiment, since I intend to try it on my dear little son. I am patriot enough to take pains to bring this useful invention into fashion in England.

Lady Mary did indeed engraft her son Edward, anxiously watching his skin erupt in self-inflicted pustules before subsiding into immunized health. It was a brave moment. On her return to London she inoculated her daughter as well, and became infamous for her championing of the somewhat reckless procedure – a sort of version of the trolley problem so beloved of moral philosophers: do you divert a runaway truck from a line where it will kill five people to another line where it will kill one? Do you deliberately take one risk to avoid a greater one? By then, some doctors had joined the cause, notably Charles Maitland. His inoculation of the children of the Prince of Wales in 1722 was a significant moment in the campaign. But even afterwards there was furious denunciation of the barbaric practice. Misogyny and prejudice lay behind some of it, as when Dr William Wagstaffe pronounced: ‘Posterity will scarcely be brought to believe that an experiment practised only by a few ignorant women amongst an illiterate and unthinking people should on a sudden – and upon a slender Experience – so far obtain in one of the politest nations in the world as to be received into the Royal Palace.’

In America, the practice of inoculation arrived around the same time, through the testimony of an African slave named Onesimus, who told the Boston preacher Cotton Mather about it, possibly as early as 1706, who in turn informed the physician Zabdiel Boylston. For trying inoculation on 300 people, Boylston was subject to fierce criticism and life-threatening violence, abetted by rival physicians to the point where he had to hide for fourteen days in a secret closet lest the mob kill him. Innovation often requires courage.

In due course inoculation with smallpox itself – later known as variolation – was replaced by the safer but similar practice of vaccination, that is to say, using a related but less dangerous virus than smallpox, an innovation usually credited to Edward Jenner. In 1796 he deliberately infected an eight-year-old boy, James Phipps, with cowpox from blisters on the hands of a milkmaid called Sarah Nelmes, who had caught it from a cow called Blossom. He then tried to infect Phipps with smallpox itself and showed that he was immune to it. This demonstration proof, not the vaccination itself, was his real contribution and the reason he had such an impact. The idea of deliberately giving people cowpox to immunize them against smallpox was by then already thirty years old. It had been tried by a physician named John Fewster in 1768, and by several other doctors in Germany and England in the 1770s. It was already probably in use among farmers before that date.

So, yet again, innovation proves to be gradual and to begin with the unlettered and ordinary people, before the elite takes the credit. That is perhaps a little unfair on Jenner, who, like Lady Mary Wortley, deserves fame for persuading the world to adopt the practice. Napoleon, despite being at war with Britain, had his armies vaccinated, on the strength of Jenner’s advocacy, and awarded Jenner a medal, calling him ‘one of the greatest benefactors of mankind’.

Paul Graham on how and why universities are in decline

I like this, by Paul Graham, and I especially like, towards the end of this, this:

On the other hand, perhaps the decline in the spirit of free inquiry within universities is as much the symptom of the departure of the independent-minded as the cause. People who would have become professors 50 years ago have other options now. Now they can become quants or start startups. You have to be independent-minded to succeed at either of those. If these people had been professors, they’d have put up a stiffer resistance on behalf of academic freedom. So perhaps the picture of the independent-minded fleeing declining universities is too gloomy. Perhaps the universities are declining because so many have already left.

Got to this via this tweet. Would probably have found my way there anyway, soon enough, because I like Paul Graham’s stuff whenever I have read it. But, thank you to Claire Lehmann anyway.

In countries arriving at modernity, being a teacher is a very desirable job compared to the alternatives. In countries that have arrived at modernity, being a teacher is not so desirable. I believe this is not mentioned enough in modern arguments about education. The thing is, this change, from teaching being very high status, to teaching becoming not so high status, is nobody’s fault, which makes it an unappealing subject for political polemicists. Also, politicians are terrified of saying that teachers are rubbish.

So, as is so often the case, this is a problem that will be quietly solved, not by politicians changing anything, but by mere people, quietly making alternative arrangements.

Quite a lot of links to Steve Stewart-Willams creature tweets

Steve Stewart-Williams does great tweets, and his animal tweets are especially appealing. If you just want cute, there’s plenty of that. But if you want to tell yourself that you are also learning some science, he often lets you do that too.

So, here are links to a big clutch of recent SS-W creature tweets, starting with how ape brains compare to the human brain, what with humans being apes of the particular sort that understand the universe.

Apes a like humans in all sorts of ways. Young chimps laugh when being tickled. Gorillas trying to keep dry behave just like humans trying to keep dry. Another chimp fact: underneath all that fur they are ripped, in the manner of some humans.

The Portuguese man o’ war is not even in a single creature. Each one is a colony of creatures. Also weird is this gender fluid stag beetle.

Humans and other apes play, but so do other creatures. Here is a dog playing on a slide. But is this dog playing on the slide merely to oblige its human? Could be. So, how about this crow playing on a seesaw? Crows don’t care about obliging humans. Do they? Maybe some crows do.

More bird tweets. Here is a silly bird, pecking at the flowers on a lady’s dress. Here are peacocks. You often see pictures of peacocks showing off to peahens. Less common are photos of peacocks fighting each other. Follow that link for both. And click on this next link to see a bird’s nest woven into a leaf.

From birds to a gecko. Here’s a gecko trapped in amber, 54 millions years ago.

A feline tweets now. From this one, about cats negotiating obstacle courses, I actually learned something. When cats walk, their back legs go exactly where they front legs have just been. So, if they choose where to put their front legs carefully, then that obstacle course is successfully negotiated.

And here is another feline tweet, concerning how a a kitten turns into a cat. That kittens turn into cats I already knew. Hard to pass that off as science.

Tarantulas can swim. I didn’t know that, so that is science. Also, the laws of physics don’t apply to goats, which must be science because physics.

And finally, back to a human, in this case Sitting Bull. He makes the cut because Sitting Bull was human, but bulls are creatures. Someone has done a picture of Sitting Bull with dice.

I hope you have been having a nice Friday.

Friday creatures Twitter dump (2): Confirmation that Nature sucks

More evolved ghastliness news from Steve Stewart-Williams:

This unfortunate snail is infested with a parasitic worm, which is mimicking a caterpillar so a bird will eat it. The worm will then reproduce in the bird’s gut, and its eggs will be released in the bird’s feces – which will then be eaten by other snails. Yep, nature kinda sucks.