Members of the Elite Exempt Themselves from Rules They Impose on the Hoi Polloi

(p. 12) SAN FRANCISCO — It was an intimate meal in a wood-paneled, private dining room in one of California’s most exclusive restaurants. No one around the table wore masks, not the lobbyists, not even the governor.

Photos that surfaced this week of a dinner at the French Laundry, a temple of haute cuisine in Napa Valley where some prix fixe meals go for $450 per person, have sparked outrage in a state where Democratic leaders have repeatedly admonished residents to be extra vigilant amid the biggest spike in infections since the pandemic began.

. . .

The photos of the gathering, taken by a diner at a nearby table and shared with a local television station, also showed the chief executive for the California Medical Association and the organization’s top lobbyist.

. . .

In a 2019 review of the French Laundry and two other Napa restaurants, the New York Times critic Tejal Rao described being “overwhelmed by the opulence” and feeling as if transported onto a “spaceship for the 1 percent, now orbiting a burning planet.” Mr. Newsom said in October that his children, who attend private school, returned to in-person classes even as most of the state struggles with remote learning.

“Newsom and the first partner eschewed state public health guidelines to dine with friends at a time when the governor has asked families to scale back Thanksgiving plans,” wrote the Sacramento Bee editorial board on Friday. It added, “If the governor can eat out with friends — and if his children can attend their expensive school — why must everyone else sacrifice?”

For the full story, see:

Thomas Fuller. “Officials’ Lavish Meal Out Spurs Outrage Among Californians.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, November 22, 2020): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 18, 2020, and has the title “For California Governor the Coronavirus Message Is Do as I Say, Not as I Dine.” The online version says that the title of the New York print version was “California Governor Calls” and appeared on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. The title of my National print version was “Officials’ Lavish Meal Out Spurs Outrage Among Californians” and appeared on Sunday, November 22, 2020.)

“When I Knew More Thank Hayek” AIER YouTube Video

The American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) premiered on Mon., Jan. 4, 2020, a neat YouTube video they created based on a shortened version of my article “When I Knew More Than Hayek.” [Hayek, Covid & The Use of Knowledge in Society | Kate Wand via @youtube] #Hayek #localknowledge

Epidemic Showed Limits of China’s “Government-Driven, Top-Down Solutions”

(p. B1) WULONGQIAO, China — A devastating disease spreading from China has wiped out roughly one-quarter of the world’s pigs, reshaping farming and hitting the diets and pocketbooks of consumers around the globe.

China’s unsuccessful efforts to stop the disease may have hastened the spread — creating problems that could bedevil Beijing and global agriculture for years to come.

. . .

The epidemic shows the limits of China’s emphasis on government-driven, top-down solutions to major problems, sometimes at the expense of the practical. It has also laid bare the struggle of a (p. B6) country of 1.4 billion people to feed itself.

. . .

When the swine fever began to spread 16 months ago, the Ministry of Agriculture told the country’s local governments to cull all pigs in herds if there was even one sick animal, and to compensate the farmers. The ministry authorized local governments to pay up to $115 for the largest pigs, a cap later raised to $170. Before the epidemic, however, many pigs sold for $250 or more apiece, particularly breeding sows, according to government data. With the epidemic, the price has soared to $600 or more.

To get that partial reimbursement, many farmers had to deal with tightfisted local officials. The ministry said it would reimburse local governments only for between 40 percent and 80 percent of their costs. Local governments also had to provide proof, often including laboratory tests, that pigs died of African swine fever and not some other ailment.

As a result, culling has been slow. Official data show only 1.2 million pigs, or less than 0.3 percent of the country’s herds, have been culled. It is not clear where the rest of the country’s vanished herds went, but food experts say many were likely butchered and turned into food. That would worsen the spread, because the disease can lurk in meat for months.

For the full story, see:

Keith Bradsher and Ailin Tang. “China Flubs Effort to Halt Lethal Turn Of Pig Illness.” The New York Times (Thursday, December 26, 2019): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 17, 2019, and has the title “China Responds Slowly, and a Pig Disease Becomes a Lethal Epidemic.”)

Chris Rock on Covid-19, Blackface, and Cancel Culture

(p. 7) [Rock:] Part of the reason we’re in the predicament we’re in is, the president’s a landlord. No one has less compassion for humans than a landlord. [Laughs.] And we’re shocked he’s not engaged.

Did you ever see that movie “The Last Emperor,” where like a 5-year-old is the emperor of China? There’s a kid and he’s the king. So I’m like, it’s all the Democrats’ fault. Because you knew that the emperor was 5 years old. And when the emperor’s 5 years old, they only lead in theory. There’s usually an adult who’s like, “OK, this is what we’re really going to do.” And it was totally up to Pelosi and the Democrats. Their thing was, “We’re going to get him impeached,” which was never going to happen. You let the pandemic come in. Yes, we can blame Trump, but he’s really the 5-year-old.

Put it this way: Republicans tell outright lies. Democrats leave out key pieces of the truth that would lead to a more nuanced argument. In a sense, it’s all fake news.

. . .

[Itzkoff:] Jimmy Fallon drew significant criticism this past spring for a 20-year-old clip of himself playing you in blackface on “Saturday Night Live.” How did you feel about that segment?

[Rock:] Hey, man, I’m friends with Jimmy. Jimmy’s a great guy. And he didn’t mean anything. A lot of people want to say intention doesn’t matter, but it does. And I don’t think Jimmy Fallon intended to hurt me. And he didn’t.

. . .

[Itzkoff:] There’s been a wider push to expunge blackface from any movies or TV shows where it previously appeared. Have people taken it too far?

[Rock:] If I say they are, then I’m the worst guy in the world. There’s literally one answer that ends my whole career. Blackface ain’t cool, OK? That’s my quote. Blackface is bad.

For the full interview, see:

Dave Itzkoff, interviewer. “Chris Rock’s New Universe.” The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section (Sunday, September 20, 2020): 6-7.

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

(Note: the online version of the interview was updated Sept. 24, 2020, and has the title “Chris Rock Tried to Warn Us.”)

Opposed by China and WHO, Trump Administration Declared Covid-19 Public Health Emergency on January 31, 2020

(p. A1) The U.S. imposed entry restrictions on foreign nationals and quarantines on Americans returning from the Chinese province at the center of the coronavirus outbreak, as markets tumbled over fears about the impact on global growth.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency Friday [Jan. 31, 2020]. He said foreign citizens who have traveled anywhere in China within the past 14 days would be denied U.S. entry, while Americans who visited Hubei province would be quarantined for up to two weeks.

. . .

(p. A8) “Many countries have offered China support in various means. In sharp contrast, certain U.S. officials’ words and actions are neither factual nor appropriate,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. “Just as the WHO recommended against travel restrictions, the U.S. rushed to go in the opposite way.”

For the full story, see:

Alex Leary and Brianna Abbott. “U.S. Curbs Entry to Combat Virus.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, February 1, 2020): A1 & A8.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 31, 2020, and has the title “U.S. Imposes Entry Restrictions Over Coronavirus.”)

WHO “Expert” Committee Took Four Months to Endorse Widespread Mask-Wearing

(p. A1) GENEVA—Sylvie Briand landed in China looking for answers. Nearly a month had passed since word of a mysterious pneumonia had emerged. It was now late January and the World Health Organization was struggling to learn more about it.

Frustrated with mounting cases and limited information from China, the WHO’s top brass, including Dr. Briand, flew to Beijing to resolve a burning question: How easily did this new disease spread?

They met with President Xi Jinping. They had a phone call with local WHO staff just back from the Wuhan epicenter, quarantined after one developed a cough. Dr. Briand, the agency’s director of global infectious hazard preparedness, drew up a list of questions for Chinese health officials.

By the time the WHO received answers, the Covid-19 pandemic was stumbling into emergency rooms on three continents. Its spread around the world had already begun on Jan. 30 [2020] when the WHO declared a global public-health emergency, its one and only level of alert.

. . .

(p. A10) “Now is the moment for all countries to be preparing themselves,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared on Feb. 4, when the WHO reported more than 20,600 cases in 25 countries.

But that same day, the WHO also asked nations not to close borders—following its standard protocol, as such restrictions might discourage governments from reporting outbreaks. Within weeks, the virus landed on the agency’s doorstep, turning Geneva into a hot spot.

. . .

To write its recommendations, the WHO solicits outside experts, which can be a slow process. It took those experts more than four months to agree that widespread mask-wearing helps, and that people who are talking, shouting or singing can expel the virus through tiny particles that linger in the air. In that time, about half a million people died.

. . .

A review of the WHO’s initial response to the pandemic, based on interviews with current and former WHO staff, public-health experts advising it and officials who work with it, suggests that the agency’s bureaucratic structure, diplomatic protocol and funding were no match for a pandemic as widespread and fast-moving as Covid-19.

. . .

On Jan. 3 [2020], representatives of China’s National Health Commission arrived at the WHO office in Beijing. The NHC acknowledged a cluster of pneumonia cases, but didn’t confirm that the new pathogen was a coronavirus, a fact Chinese officials already knew. That same day, the NHC issued an internal notice ordering laboratories to hand over or destroy testing samples and forbade anyone from publishing unauthorized research on the virus.

China’s failure to notify the WHO of the cluster of illnesses is a violation of the International Health Regulations, said Lawrence Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University who has advised the WHO on international health regulation matters. “Once a government knows that there is a novel virus that fits within the criteria, which China did, it’s obliged to report rapidly,” he said.

China also flouted the IHR by not disclosing all key information it had to the WHO, said David Fidler, an expert on global health and international law at the Council on Foreign Relations. The regulations call for member states to provide the WHO with “timely, accurate and sufficiently detailed public health information available to it on the notified event.”

For the full story, see:

Betsy McKay and Drew Hinshaw. “Doctors Split on Best Way To Treat Coronavirus Cases.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, August 29, 2020): A1 & A10.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 28, 2020, and has the title “How Coronavirus Overpowered the World Health Organization.”)

Trump Administration Pushed FDA to Allow Citizens to Choose Vaccines Sooner

(p. A7) On Sept. 23 [2020], Dr. Stephen M. Hahn left a virtual meeting of the White House’s coronavirus task force to take a call from the president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows.

Mr. Meadows was angry with Dr. Hahn, the head of the Food and Drug Administration, for pushing new guidelines for vaccine developers, according to two senior administration officials familiar with the call who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it. The F.D.A. wanted to require two months of follow-up data to make sure a vaccine was safe and effective, all but ensuring one would not be ready by Election Day as President Trump had promised.

Mr. Meadows told the commissioner the White House would not sign off on the guidance because it was unnecessary and would delay vaccine approval, so he should drop it, the officials said.

. . .

Mr. Meadows, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and the president himself have called Dr. Hahn directly to urge him to speed up emergency authorization of vaccines and treatments, according to the two senior administration officials.

But despite the White House refusal to approve the new vaccine guidance document, the F.D.A. published the guidelines in briefing materials to an advisory committee that will discuss them on Thursday [October 22, 2020], effectively making them official.

For the full story, see:

Sheila Kaplan, Sharon LaFraniere, Noah Weiland and Maggie Haberman. “How the F.D.A. Stood Firm Against White House Pressure.” The New York Times (Wednesday, October 21, 2020): A7.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 20, 2020, and has the title “How the F.D.A. Stood Up to the President.”)

Costs and Difficulties of Clinical Trials Delay “Most Promising Experimental Drugs”

(p. A6) As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc in the United States and treatments are needed more than ever, clinical trials for some of the most promising experimental drugs are taking longer than expected.

Researchers at a dozen clinical trial sites said that testing delays, staffing shortages, space constraints and reluctant patients were complicating their efforts to test monoclonal antibodies, man-made drugs that mimic the molecular soldiers made by the human immune system.

As a result, once-ambitious deadlines are slipping. The drug maker Regeneron, which previously said it could have emergency doses of its antibody cocktail ready by the end of summer, has shifted to talking about how “initial data” could be available by the end of September [2020].

And Eli Lilly’s chief scientific officer said in June that its antibody treatment might be ready in September, but in an interview this week, he said he now hopes for something before the end of the year.

“Of course, I wish we could go faster — there’s no question about that,” said the Eli Lilly executive, Dr. Daniel Skovronsky. “I guess in my hopes and dreams, we enroll the patients in a week or two, but it’s taking longer than that.”

For the full story, see:

Katie Thomas. “Clinical Trials of Drugs For Virus Are Delayed By a Swamped System.” The New York Times (Saturday, August 15, 2020): A6.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 14, 2020, and has the title “Clinical Trials of Coronavirus Drugs Are Taking Longer Than Expected.”)

W.H.O. Helped Authoritarian Communist Chinese Leaders Conceal Origin of Covid-19

(p. A1) GENEVA — On a cold weekend in mid-February [2020], when the world still harbored false hope that the new coronavirus could be contained, a World Health Organization team arrived in Beijing to study the outbreak and investigate a critical question: How did the virus jump from animals to humans?

At that point, there were only three confirmed deaths from Covid-19 outside China and scientists hoped that finding an animal source for the coronavirus would unlock clues about how to stop it, treat it and prevent similar outbreaks.

“If we don’t know the source then we’re equally vulnerable in the future to a similar outbreak,” Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s emergency director, had said that week in Geneva. “Understanding that source is a very important next step.”

What the team members did not know was that they would not be allowed to investigate the source at all. Despite Dr. Ryan’s pronouncements, and over the advice of its emergency committee, the organization’s leadership had quietly negotiated terms that sidelined its own experts. They would not question China’s initial response or even visit the live-animal market in the city of Wuhan where the outbreak seemed to have originated.

Nine months and more than 1.1 million deaths later, there is still no transparent, independent investigation into the source of the virus. Notoriously allergic to outside scrutiny, China has impeded the effort, while leaders of the (p. A8) World Health Organization, if privately frustrated, have largely ceded control, even as the Trump administration has fumed.

. . .

. . . , the health organization pushed misleading and contradictory information about the risk of spread from symptomless carriers. Its experts were slow to accept that the virus could be airborne. Top health officials encouraged travel as usual, advice that was based on politics and economics, not science.

The W.H.O.’s staunchest defenders note that, by the nature of its constitution, it is beholden to the countries that finance it. And it is hardly the only international body bending to China’s might. But even many of its supporters have been frustrated by the organization’s secrecy, its public praise for China and its quiet concessions. Those decisions have indirectly helped Beijing to whitewash its early failures in handling the outbreak.

. . .

China’s authoritarian leaders want to constrain the organization; President Trump, who formally withdrew the United States from the body in July, now seems intent on destroying it; and European leaders are scrambling to reform and empower it.

The search for the virus’s origins is a study in the compromises the W.H.O. has made.

. . .

The W.H.O. has repeatedly said that investigations are underway but has done little to clarify the uncertainty. Chinese health and diplomatic officials did not respond to repeated interview requests and have been publicly silent on what happened.

“This is part of the Chinese psyche — to demonstrate to the world that they do the very best science,” said Peter Daszak, a disease ecologist and president of EcoHealth Alliance in New York. “But in this case, it didn’t work. And I think that is the reason why we don’t know much more.”

. . .

. . . Dr. Tedros, . . . decided against declaring an international emergency after convening a committee to advise him.

What was not publicly known, though, was that the committee’s Jan. 23 decision followed intense lobbying, notably by China, according to diplomats and health officials. Committee members are international experts largely insulated from influence. But in Geneva, China’s ambassador made it clear that his country would view an emergency declaration as a vote of no confidence.

China also presented data to the committee, portraying a situation under relative control.

Half the committee said it was too early to declare an emergency. The outcome surprised many countries, as did Dr. Tedros when he publicly praised both Mr. Xi and China’s pneumonia surveillance system.

“It was that system that caught this event,” he said during a news conference.

That was wrong. China’s surveillance system had failed to spot the outbreak, a failure that experts now say allowed its spread to accelerate.

. . .

(p. A9) On the origins of the virus, the experts mostly shifted the onus to China, asking the government to prioritize a “rigorous investigation.” But they also assured people that numerous investigations were underway.

“It was an absolute whitewash,” said Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University. “But the answer was, that was the best they could negotiate with Xi Jinping.”

. . .

In January, Dr. Tedros had announced that China had agreed to share biological samples. Nothing ever came of it.

Then the thesis about the origin of the outbreak suddenly pivoted.

Dr. Gao, the director of China’s C.D.C., told the journal Science in March that the virus may not have originated at the market. Maybe, he said, it “could be a place where the virus was amplified,” meaning it began elsewhere but spread wildly there.

Then Dr. Gao told a local TV station that animal samples from the market did not contain the virus. That indicated at least that samples had been taken from animals. Yet the details remained concealed.

For the full story, see:

Selam Gebrekidan, Matt Apuzzo, Amy Qin, and Javier C. Hernández. “W.H.O. Ceded Control to China In Murky Hunt for Virus Origin.” The New York Times (Tuesday, November 3, 2020): A1 & A8-A9.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 2, 2020, and has the title “In Hunt for Virus Source, W.H.O. Let China Take Charge.”)

Bayesian Updating, Not Clinical Trials, Is Key to Advancing Medical Knowledge

(p. D8) In the early pandemic era, for instance, airborne transmission of Covid-19 was not considered likely, but in early July the World Health Organization, with mounting scientific evidence, conceded that it is a factor, especially indoors. The W.H.O. updated its priors, and changed its advice.

This is the heart of Bayesian analysis, named after Thomas Bayes, an 18th-century Presbyterian minister who did math on the side. It captures uncertainty in terms of probability: Bayes’s theorem, or rule, is a device for rationally updating your prior beliefs and uncertainties based on observed evidence.

. . .

As Marc Lipsitch, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard, noted on Twitter, Bayesian reasoning comes awfully close to his working definition of rationality. “As we learn more, our beliefs should change,” Dr. Lipsitch said in an interview.

. . .

But there is little point in trying to establish fixed numbers, said Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida.

“We should be less focused on finding the single ‘truth’ and more focused on establishing a reasonable range, recognizing that the true value may vary across populations,” Dr. Dean said. “Bayesian analyses allow us to include this variability in a clear way, and then propagate this uncertainty through the model.”

. . .

Joseph Blitzstein, a statistician at Harvard, delves into the utility of Bayesian analysis in his popular course “Statistics 110: Probability.” For a primer, in lecture one, he says: “Math is the logic of certainty, and statistics is the logic of uncertainty. Everyone has uncertainty. If you have 100 percent certainty about everything, there is something wrong with you.”

By the end of lecture four, he arrives at Bayes’s theorem — his favorite theorem because it is mathematically simple yet conceptually powerful.

“Literally, the proof is just one line of algebra,” Dr. Blitzstein said. The theorem essentially reduces to a fraction; it expresses the probability P of some event A happening given the occurrence of another event B.

“Naïvely, you would think, How much could you get from that?” Dr. Blitzstein said. “It turns out to have incredibly deep consequences and to be applicable to just about every field of inquiry” — from finance and genetics to political science and historical studies. The Bayesian approach is applied in analyzing racial disparities in policing (in the assessment of officer decisions to search drivers during a traffic stop) and search-and-rescue operations (the search area narrows as new data is added). Cognitive scientists ask, ‘Is the brain Bayesian?’ Philosophers of science posit that science as a whole is a Bayesian process — as is common sense.

. . .

Even with evidence, revising beliefs isn’t easy. The scientific community struggled to update its priors about the asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19, even when evidence emerged that it is a factor and that masks are a helpful preventive measure. This arguably contributed to the world’s sluggish response to the virus.

. . .

In 1650, Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, wrote in a letter to the Church of Scotland: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

In the Bayesian world, Cromwell’s law means you should always “keep a bit back — with a little bit of probability, a little tiny bit — for the fact that you may be wrong,” Dr. Spiegelhalter said. “Then if new evidence comes along that totally contradicts your main prior belief, you can quickly ditch what you thought before and lurch over to that new way of thinking.”

“In other words, keep an open mind,” said Dr. Spiegelhalter. “That’s a very powerful idea. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be done technically or formally; it can just be in the back of your mind as an idea. Call it ‘modeling humility.’ You may be wrong.”

For the full story, see:

Siobhan Roberts. “Thinking Like an Epidemiologist.” The New York Times (Tuesday, August 4, 2020): D8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “How to Think Like an Epidemiologist.”)