Older Men Produce Fewer T-Cells Than Older Women

(p. A7) The coronavirus may infect anyone, young or old, but older men are up to twice as likely to become severely sick and to die as women of the same age.

Why? The first study to look at immune response to the coronavirus by sex has turned up a clue: Men produce a weaker immune response to the virus than do women, the researchers concluded.

The findings, published on Wednesday [Aug. 26, 2020] in Nature, suggest that men, particularly those over age 60, may need to depend more on vaccines to protect against the infection.

“Natural infection is clearly failing” to spark adequate immune responses in men, said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University who led the work.

. . .

Over all, the scientists found, the women’s bodies produced more so-called T cells, which can kill virus-infected cells and stop the infection from spreading.

Men showed much weaker activation of T cells, and that lag was linked to how sick the men became. The older the men, the weaker their T cell responses.

“When they age, they lose their ability to stimulate T cells,” Dr. Iwasaki said. “If you look at the ones that really failed to make T cells, they were the ones who did worse with disease.”

For the full story, see:

Apoorva Mandavilli. “New Clue on Why Men Are Hit Harder.” The New York Times (Thursday, August 27, 2020): A7.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Aug. 27 [sic], 2020, and has the title “Why Does the Coronavirus Hit Men Harder? A New Clue.”)

The paper in Nature discussed above is:

Takahashi, Takehiro, Mallory K. Ellingson, Patrick Wong, Benjamin Israelow, Carolina Lucas, Jon Klein, Julio Silva, Tianyang Mao, Ji Eun Oh, Maria Tokuyama, Peiwen Lu, Arvind Venkataraman, Annsea Park, Feimei Liu, Amit Meir, Jonathan Sun, Eric Y. Wang, Arnau Casanovas-Massana, Anne L. Wyllie, Chantal B. F. Vogels, Rebecca Earnest, Sarah Lapidus, Isabel M. Ott, Adam J. Moore, Kelly Anastasio, Michael H. Askenase, Maria Batsu, Hannah Beatty, Santos Bermejo, Sean Bickerton, Kristina Brower, Molly L. Bucklin, Staci Cahill, Melissa Campbell, Yiyun Cao, Edward Courchaine, Rupak Datta, Giuseppe DeIuliis, Bertie Geng, Laura Glick, Ryan Handoko, Chaney Kalinich, William Khoury-Hanold, Daniel Kim, Lynda Knaggs, Maxine Kuang, Eriko Kudo, Joseph Lim, Melissa Linehan, Alice Lu-Culligan, Amyn A. Malik, Anjelica Martin, Irene Matos, David McDonald, Maksym Minasyan, Subhasis Mohanty, M. Catherine Muenker, Nida Naushad, Allison Nelson, Jessica Nouws, Marcella Nunez-Smith, Abeer Obaid, Isabel Ott, Hong-Jai Park, Xiaohua Peng, Mary Petrone, Sarah Prophet, Harold Rahming, Tyler Rice, Kadi-Ann Rose, Lorenzo Sewanan, Lokesh Sharma, Denise Shepard, Erin Silva, Michael Simonov, Mikhail Smolgovsky, Eric Song, Nicole Sonnert, Yvette Strong, Codruta Todeasa, Jordan Valdez, Sofia Velazquez, Pavithra Vijayakumar, Haowei Wang, Annie Watkins, Elizabeth B. White, Yexin Yang, Albert Shaw, John B. Fournier, Camila D. Odio, Shelli Farhadian, Charles Dela Cruz, Nathan D. Grubaugh, Wade L. Schulz, Aaron M. Ring, Albert I. Ko, Saad B. Omer, Akiko Iwasaki, and Impact research team Yale. “Sex Differences in Immune Responses That Underlie Covid-19 Disease Outcomes.” Nature (published online in advance of print Aug. 26, 2020). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2700-3

Home Viewing Allows Movies to Bloom Late

(p. C9) It’s no overstatement to say that “Rudy’s” reputation was revived thanks to Blockbuster Video. Audiences saw the film on home video, a technology also responsible for the late success of another notable box-office underperformer, “The Shawshank Redemption,” which came out a year later. “Maybe this was the opening wedge of what’s become a very modern phenomenon, which was films that do not work well in theaters working well at home,” Mr. Turan said.

Perhaps the naked sentimentality of “Rudy” was better experienced at home rather than among rowdy multiplex-goers. “When it’s something you bring home…you don’t have to answer to anything,” Mr. Thomson said. “You’re just in direct conversation with your own heart as to what you want.”

For the full review, see:

Peter Tonguette. “For a Football-Deprived Fall, the Inspiration of ‘Rudy’.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, September 5, 2020): C9.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the same date and title as the print version.)

Plastic Bag Bans Are Reversed Because Covid-19 Clings to Reusable Bags

(p. 8A) PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Just weeks ago, cities and even states across the U.S. were busy banning straws, limiting takeout containers and mandating that shoppers bring reusable bags or pay a small fee as the movement to eliminate single-use plastics took hold in mainstream America.

What a difference a pandemic makes.

In a matter of weeks, hard-won bans to reduce the use of plastics — and particularly plastic shopping sacks — across the U.S. have come under fire amid worries about the virus clinging to reusable bags, cups and straws.

Governors in Massachusetts and Illinois have banned or strongly discouraged the use of reusable grocery bags. Oregon suspended its brand-new ban on plastic bags this week, and cities from Bellingham, Washington, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, have announced a hiatus on plastic bag bans as the coronavirus rages.

For the full story, see:

AP. “Virus Deals a Blow to Bans on Plastic Bags.” Omaha World-Herald (Monday, April 20, 2020): 8A.

“The Credentialist Prejudice” of the “College-Educated Elites”

Sandel in the passages quoted below is on to an important problem: that success depends too much on credentials. But in later passages than those quoted below, he misinterprets the deeper cause of the problem. He thinks the problem is that we value a person’s “merit.” I think valuing merit is fine, but we too much identify merit with credentials. Merit depends on character and skills. Credentials, at best, are one noisy signal of merit.

(p. 5) It is important to remember that most Americans — nearly two-thirds — do not have a four-year college degree. By telling workers that their inadequate education is the reason for their troubles, meritocrats moralize success and failure and unwittingly promote credentialism — an insidious prejudice against those who do not have college degrees.

The credentialist prejudice is a symptom of meritocratic hubris. By 2016, many working people chafed at the sense that looked down on them with condescension. This complaint was not without warrant. Survey research bears out what many working-class voters intuit: At a time when racism and sexism are out of favor (discredited though not eliminated), credentialism is the last acceptable prejudice.

In the United States and Europe, disdain for the less educated is more pronounced, or at least more readily acknowledged, than prejudice against other disfavored groups. In a series of surveys conducted in the United States, Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium, a team of social psychologists led by Toon Kuppens found that college-educated respondents had more bias against less-educated people than they did against other disfavored groups. The researchers surveyed attitudes toward a range of people who are typically victims of discrimination. In Europe, this list included Muslims and people who are poor, obese, blind and less educated; in the United States, the list also included African-Americans and the working class. Of all these groups, the poorly educated were disliked most of all.

Beyond revealing the disparaging views that college-educated elites have of less-educated people, the study also found that elites are unembarrassed by this prejudice. They may denounce racism and sexism, but they are unapologetic about their negative attitudes toward the less educated.

For the full commentary, see:

Michael J. Sandel. “The Consequences Of the Diploma Divide.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, September 6, 2020): 5.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 2, 2020, and has the title “Disdain for the Less Educated Is the Last Acceptable Prejudice.”)

Sandel’s commentary is related to his book:

Sandel, Michael J. The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020.

The paper co-authored by Kuppens and mentioned above is:

Kuppens, Toon, Russell Spears, Antony S. R. Manstead, Bram Spruyt, and Matthew J. Easterbrook. “Educationism and the Irony of Meritocracy: Negative Attitudes of Higher Educated People Towards the Less Educated.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 76 (May 2018): 429-47.

More Work-Life Balance for Some Workers Means Less Work-Life Balance for Other Workers

(p. 3) I work for a successful, fast-growing technology company. There are times when some corporate “crisis” requires that a number of us lean in more in terms of office hours. My married, straight co-workers with children can easily bow out — while as a gay, single and child-free person, I get left with extra work because I am seen as not having responsibilities at home. I’m not unsympathetic to the difficulties my co-workers have in balancing work and life, but why does it have to be balanced on my back?

— Anonymous

. . .

You have every right to push back when you are imposed upon like this. Either everyone is responsible for extra work, or no one is. Your co-workers do not get to categorically decide that you have the time to handle the company’s crises because your life is arranged differently than theirs.

For the full story, see:

Roxane Gay. “A Great Work-Life Balance, Thanks to Me.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, August 23, 2020): 3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 21, 2020, and has the title “My Colleagues Have Great Work-Life Balance (Thanks to Childless Me).”)

2,000-Year-Old Seeds Sprout “Long-Lost Judean Dates”

(p. A8) KETURA, Israel — The plump, golden-brown dates hanging in a bunch just above the sandy soil were finally ready to pick.

They had been slowly ripening in the desert heat for months. But the young tree on which they grew had a much more ancient history — sprouting from a 2,000-year-old seed retrieved from an archaeological site in the Judean wilderness.

. . .

These were the much-extolled but long-lost Judean dates, and the harvest this month was hailed as a modern miracle of science.

. . .

. . ., to bring something back to life from dormancy is so symbolic,” Dr. Sallon said. “To pollinate and produce these incredible dates is like a beam of light in a dark time.”

. . .

The research was peer reviewed and detailed in a paper published in February this year in Science Advances, a leading scientific journal.

For the full story, see:

Isabel Kershner. “Israel Dispatch: After 2,000 Years in the Wilderness, It’s a Date. And It’s Delicious.” The New York Times (Monday, September 7, 2020): A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “Israel Dispatch: Aided by Modern Ingenuity, a Taste of Ancient Judean Dates.”)

The paper in Science Advances mentioned above is:

Sallon, Sarah, Emira Cherif, Nathalie Chabrillange, Elaine Solowey, Muriel Gros-Balthazard, Sarah Ivorra, Jean-Frédéric Terral, Markus Egli, and Frédérique Aberlenc. “Origins and Insights into the Historic Judean Date Palm Based on Genetic Analysis of Germinated Ancient Seeds and Morphometric Studies.” Science Advances 6, no. 6 (Feb. 5, 2020), DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax0384.

Universities Are No Longer Bastions of Free Speech

(p. C2) The problem of free speech takes different forms in different settings. Speech controversies on college campuses affect relatively few Americans, but they receive a great deal of attention, since colleges have traditionally been centers of open debate. Students once jealously guarded their speech rights. The Free Speech Movement, the first great student protest of the 1960s, erupted at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1964, when a former student was arrested by a campus police officer for leafleting on behalf of the civil rights organization CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality. At the height of the protest, up to 4,000 students demonstrated in favor of free speech on campus, and 800 went to jail.

To see how much things have changed, look at the case of Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, which the Supreme Court recently agreed to take up. The case deals with a 2016 incident in which a student at Georgia Gwinnett College, a public college in Lawrenceville, Ga., was disciplined for making a public speech testifying to his Christian faith. Ironically, Chike Uzuegbunam was standing in one of the school’s designated “free speech zones” when a campus police officer told him that the school had received complaints and he had to stop speaking.

In a 2017 brief arguing for dismissal of the case, Georgia’s attorney general argued that the officer was justified because Mr. Uzuegbunam “used contentious religious language that, when directed to a crowd, has a tendency to incite hostility.”

. . .

. . ., when people are told that they can’t say what they think, rather than being presented with an argument for why it’s wrong, they may comply, but they won’t change their minds. As the philosopher Benedict Spinoza wrote in the 17th century, when religious opinions were the ones being censored, people “are most prone to resent the branding as criminal of opinions which they believe to be true…In a democracy, everyone submits to the control of authority over his actions, but not over his judgment and reason.”

For the full commentary, see:

Adam Kirsch. “Land of Free (and Fettered) Speech.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, September 5, 2020): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses between, and at the start of, paragraphs added; ellipsis internal to the last paragraph in original added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sep. 4, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

Deliberate Practice Is Key to Peak Performance

(p. D7) Anders Ericsson, a cognitive psychologist who demystified how expertise is acquired, suggesting that anyone can become a grand chess master, a concert violinist or an Olympic athlete with the proper training and the will, died on June 17 at his home in Tallahassee, Fla.

. . .

Professor Ericsson discovered that what separated the violinists’ skill levels was not natural-born talent but the hours of practice they had logged since childhood. The future teachers registered around 4,000 hours, the very good violinists 8,000 and the elite performers more than 10,000. The same study was conducted with pianists, with similar results.

Published in 1993 in Psychological Review, the paper later formed the basis for the so-called 10,000-hour rule described in Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling “Outliers” (2008), which holds that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a skill or field.

. . .

“Many people think what Anders discovered is that quantity of practice makes you a champion,” said Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Grit” (2016), a book about passion and perseverance. “That’s disastrously incomplete. It’s quantity and quality. One of his insights that I hope will have a lasting legacy is people need to work hard, but also smart.”

Professor Ericsson focused on what he called “deliberate practice,” which entails immediate feedback, clear goals and focus on technique. According to his research, the lack of deliberate practice explained why so many people reach only basic proficiency at something, whether it be a sport, pastime or profession, without ever attaining elite status. A Sunday golfer may whack balls around the course for years, but without incorporating such methods that player will never become the next Tiger Woods.

. . .

He had his critics. One of them, Zachary Hambrick, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University, co-wrote a paper in 2014 that concluded that deliberate practice was not the sole reason for peak performance in chess players and musicians. Innate characteristics like talent and intelligence, Mr. Hambrick argued, play a far more significant role than Professor Ericsson allowed for.

“There’s a side of me that resonates with his hopeful message,” said Scott Barry Kaufman, a humanistic psychologist who studies creativity and hosts “The Psychology Podcast.” “However, there’s another side of me that has seen the research, in a wide range of aspects in the field, that suggests that we can have some pretty severe limits on what we can achieve in life.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Kaufman added, “I don’t think any of this invalidates his contributions. He showed that humans have the capacity to go beyond, from one generation to the next, what had been thought of the limits of human potential.”

For the full obituary see:

Steven Kurutz. “Anders Ericsson, 72, Psychologist Who Became ‘Expert on Experts,’ Dies.” The New York Times (Monday, July 6, 2020): D7.

(Note: ellipses added, italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated July 4, 2018, and has the title “Anders Ericsson, Psychologist and ‘Expert on Experts,’ Dies at 72.”)

Anders Ericsson explained his views on peak performance in his co-authored book:

Ericsson, Anders, and Robert Pool. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

Harvard Administrators “Allow Themselves to Be Bullied”

(p. A23) In May [2019], Harvard College announced that it would not renew the appointment of me and my wife, Stephanie Robinson, as faculty deans of Winthrop House, one of Harvard’s undergraduate residential houses, because I am one of the lawyers who represented the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in advance of his coming sexual assault trial.

. . .

. . ., the administration capitulated to protesters. Given that universities are supposed to be places of considered and civil discourse, where people are forced to wrestle with difficult, controversial and unfamiliar ideas, this is disappointing.

Harvard has been silent in other disappointing ways. Not long ago, I was taking my 9-year-old son to school when we saw that “Down with Sullivan” had been spray-painted on the wall abutting our home. I had to explain to my son that representing unpopular clients serves an important constitutional role in our democracy and that I had done nothing wrong. As you might imagine, it was hard to see my son read that piece of graffiti.

. . .

. . . I am profoundly troubled by the reaction of university administrators who are in charge of student growth and development. The job of a teacher is to help students think through what constitutes a reasonable argument. It is a dereliction of duty for administrators to allow themselves to be bullied into unprincipled positions.

Unchecked emotion has replaced thoughtful reasoning on campus. Feelings are no longer subjected to evidence, analysis or empirical defense. Angry demands, rather than rigorous arguments, now appear to guide university policy.

This must change. Until then, universities are doing a profound disservice to those who place their trust in us to educate them.

For the full commentary, see:

Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. “Harvard Capitulates Instead of Debates.” The New York Times (Tuesday, June 25, 2019): A23.

(Note ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 24, 2019, and has the title “Why Harvard Was Wrong to Make Me Step Down.” The online version says that the New York print version appeared on p. A25. The article appeared on p. A23 of my National print version.)

How “Blind” Is a Double-Blind Trial When Volunteers Know the Side-Effects of the Vaccine?

(p. A8) George Washington University had vaccinated 129 people since its share of the trials started. I would be No. 130. Altogether, Moderna planned to enroll 30,000 people in its trial. Half would be given the actual vaccine and half would get the placebo. The protocol called for two shots spaced a month apart.

Finally, it was time for my injection, which is when things got a little weird.

“We have to leave you now, because this is a double-blind study and we are blinded,” Dr. Malkin said. “You’ve been randomized.”

Before I could ask her to translate what she had just said, she was gone, and two nurses arrived with my vaccine. The first nurse left, and the second nurse, Linda Witkin, asked whether I was right-handed or left-handed, then proceeded to inject my right arm.

“Which one are you giving me, the vaccine or the placebo?” I asked. She gave me a look, clearly not pleased with my questioning.

. . .

With the Moderna trial, the side effects reported so far have been typical: fever, chills, muscle and joint soreness.

. . .

The night after my shot, I took my temperature: 97.5. I felt under my arms for glandular swelling and felt only mild joint pain.

. . .

“You all gave me the placebo, didn’t you?” I demanded of Dr. Diemert on Wednesday, during my one-week checkup. “I cannot believe I went through all of this and got the placebo.”

He told me that the actual vaccine shot was more “viscous” than the placebo, which was why neither he nor Dr. Malkin could be in the room when I got it, because they would have been able to easily determine. And so he really couldn’t answer because the double-blind program is meant to protect doctors like him from patients like me. He said I wasn’t to badger Ms. Witkin, if I ever even saw her again. He also said that most people reacted more to the second shot than the first one.

I texted the peanut gallery, “I feel no different.”

For the full story, see:

Helene Cooper. “From Reporting on Ebola to Being a Volunteer in a Covid-19 Vaccine Trial.” The New York Times (Saturday, September 12, 2020): A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sep. 11, 2020, and has the title “Covering Ebola Didn’t Prepare Me for This: I Volunteered for the Covid-19 Vaccine Trial.”)

Disney’s Mulan Movie Credits Chinese Communists Who Force Uighur Muslims Into Prison Camps

(p. A10) Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan” has drawn a fresh wave of criticism for being filmed partly in Xinjiang, the region in China where Uighur Muslims have been detained in mass internment camps.

The outcry, which has spread to include U.S. lawmakers, was the latest example of how the new film, released on Disney+ over the weekend, has become a magnet for anger over the Chinese Communist Party’s policies promoting nationalism and ethnic Han chauvinism.

. . .

The film was already coming under fire months ago, facing calls for a boycott by supporters of the Hong Kong antigovernment protests after the movie’s star, Liu Yifei, said she backed the city’s police, who have been criticized for their use of force against pro-democracy demonstrators.

Last month, as Disney ramped up promotion for the new film, supporters of the Hong Kong protests anointed Agnes Chow, a prominent democracy activist who was recently arrested under the territory’s new national security law, as their own, “real” Mulan.

Rayhan Asat, an ethnic Uighur lawyer in Washington whose younger brother, Ekpar Asat, has been imprisoned in Xinjiang, said in an interview that Disney giving credit to Xinjiang government agencies “runs counter to the ideals of those in the artistic, business and entertainment communities.”

“Devastatingly, Disney’s support amounts to collaboration and enables repression,” she added. “Those who claim to champion freedom in the world cannot afford to ignore such complicity.”

. . .

Last year, Mr. Pence criticized American companies for trying to silence speech in order to maintain access to the Chinese market. He accused Nike of checking its “conscience at the door” and owners and players in the N.B.A. of “siding with the Chinese Communist Party” by suppressing support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

In July [2020], an ESPN investigation described reports of abuse of young players at the National Basketball Association’s player-development training camps in China, including in Xinjiang. After the investigation was published, the N.B.A. acknowledged for the first time that it had ended its relationship with the Xinjiang academy more than a year earlier, but declined to say whether human rights had been a factor.

On Monday, calls to boycott “Mulan” began growing on social media. Among the critics was Joshua Wong, a prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist, who accused Disney of bowing to pressure from Beijing. Supporters in Thailand and Taiwan had also urged a boycott of the movie, citing concerns about China’s growing influence in the region.

For the full story, see:

Amy Qin and Edward Wong. “Calls Grow to Boycott ‘Mulan’ Over China’s Treatment of Uighur Muslims.” The New York Times (Wednesday, September 9, 2020): A10.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 8, 2020, and has the title “Why Calls to Boycott ‘Mulan’ Over Concerns About China Are Growing.” Where the online and print versions differ, the passages above follow the print version.)