URLs du Jour

2021-02-19

  • This is … CNN: Fact check: Biden makes at least four false statistical claims at CNN town hall.

    Yes, however mildly and forgivingly, they did point out that President Wheezy had a bad case of Malarkeyism:

    We're still looking into some of the claims Biden made, so this article is not comprehensive. But we can tell you now that he made at least four false claims -- all of them involving statistics -- about the minimum wage, undocumented immigrants, China's economy and Covid-19 vaccinations.

    Well, statistics! That's a hard subject! Who could expect a geezer like Joe to have statistics right?


  • Ann Althouse takes the WaPo "fact checker", Glenn Kessler, to school:

    Biden is making a lot of misstatements of fact. The WaPo fact checker, Glenn Kessler, writes:

    During his recent town hall on CNN, President Biden made a number of mistaken claims and assertions. He suggested racehorse owners receive tax breaks worth $9 billion, almost enough to pay for free attendance at community college — a claim that left tax experts scratching their heads. He said that the $7.25 minimum wage set in 2009 would be worth $20 if indexed for inflation, a statement that only makes sense if you are measuring from 1968. He wrongly stated that “vast majority” of undocumented immigrants were not Hispanic.

    No Pinocchios assigned for any of that. It's all so obviously wrong that maybe it's not worth bothering to investigate. But Kessler's approach in these columns is, I think, to isolate one thing and figure out where it stands on the continuum from utter truth to bald-faced lie. Here, he's chosen the 17,000 with Xi Jingping assertion. 

    Ann detects a Kesslerian Double Standard between Trump's treatment and Biden's. As befitting a retired professor, she observes: "Biden gets graded on a curve."


  • And the least surprising headline of the day comes from Axios and ace reporter Felix Salmon: Trust in media hits new low.

    Of course. But what's the remedy? Well…

    Media outlets can continue to report reliable facts, but that won't turn the trend around on its own. What's needed is for trusted institutions to visibly embrace the news media.

    Emphasis added.

    In other words: "media outlets" are doing just fine! Just keep on reporting "reliable facts", like you've been doing all along, media outlets!

    Instead, we need "trusted institutions" to start propagandizing on behalf of the media.

    Salmon specifically mentions CEOs as one of those "trusted institutions".

    Felix, you know the easiest way for a "trusted institution" to lose that trust? Start telling me things I know aren't true.


  • Jeff Jacoby advises both sides: Don't get hooked on executive orders. He details the whipsaw nature of EOs between Obama → Trump → Biden.

    This has become the norm in American politics, and it should disturb anyone who values representative government and constitutional order — regardless of partisan loyalty. Americans who condemned Obama for bypassing Congress and unilaterally changing policy should have been just as unhappy when Trump later did the same thing. If a president's moves to govern by diktat were alarming under Trump, they should be no less worrisome under Biden. Yet too many pundits and politicos condemn executive imperiousness only when it comes from presidents they don't like. When they support the occupant of the White House, their response is more like that of Paul Begala, one of Bill Clinton's political advisers, who in 1998 summarized the appeal of presidential reliance on executive orders.

    "Stroke of the pen, law of the land," Begala told the New York Times. "Kind of cool."

    It's not cool, man.

    Biden should put down the duckie pen. And Congress should start doing its job of legislating.


  • Patterico has a Substack presence. Unfortunately (but understandably) unfree. But he plugs it on his blog, and includes an excerpt on income inequality that's very good. Working off the story of Dr. Gokal (the Houston was fired for "stealing" COVID vaccines, i.e. vaccinating people with shots that would have otherwise been thrown out) and the CDC's decision for race-based vaccination guidelines:

    So we have now seen two stories — the story of Dr. Gokal and the story of the CDC’s prioritization of vaccines — where officials came to the conclusion that the pursuit of “equality” may be worth sacrificing lives. (Only certain lives can be sacrificed, of course. When you’re seeking equality, some are more equal than others!) Which leads me to my final topic: that of “income inequality.”

    Is there any stupider phrase in the English language?

    Let me be clear: income inequality is never a real problem. If it were, there would be an easy solution: pick the person with the lowest income, and then make everyone else “equal” to that person. If everyone is equally poor, they are still “equal” — and there is no longer any income inequality.

    There will be crushing poverty, but that’s OK, right?

    A point I've made myself, but not so well.


  • Veronique de Rugy notes the coming corporate welfare: Never Let a Good Manufactured Crisis Go to Waste.

    A seemingly effective way for politicians to justify our need for their services is to fabricate or exaggerate a problem, promise to fix said problem with a new program or lots of spending and then claim victory in the form of public acclaim and reelection.

    A good example of this behavior is President Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan, which reflects a tweet by then-candidate Biden that he does "not buy for one second that the vitality of American manufacturing is a thing of the past."

    His plan asks for $400 billion to purchase American-made equipment, along with $300 billion in government spending on research and development. Hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of additional subsidies will be used to encourage the production and sale of other domestically manufactured products.

    Joe, the easiest way to ensure the non-viability of American manufacturing is to make it dependent on billions in unsustainable government spending.

UNH COVID False Positives? Probably Not. Unreasonable Panic? Maybe.

[I've broken this out into a separate article because I slag my former employer for so many other reasons. And it's one of those rare occasions where I've come closer to Actual Journalism than my usual arrogant opinionizing.]

I was intrigued by this Greg Piper article at the College Fix: False-positive COVID scandal rocks Harvard, but student paper doesn’t ask for ‘positive’ threshold. Here's the problem:

The PCR tests most commonly used to test for the novel coronavirus are idiotically sensitive, to the point where they can catch dead virus or otherwise insignificant viral loads. This means even a “positive” test indicates a non-infectious person – someone who shouldn’t be forced to quarantine, much less wear a mask. (Reminder that people without symptoms are extremely unlikely to transmit virus even in the same home.)

I winced a little at Greg's "much less wear a mask" wording, implying that masking is a more drastic measure than quarantining. But I get the point: a low viral load means you're probably not going to infect someone, and there's a good chance you're immune yourself. At least for a while.

Greg points to this New York Times article (from August): Your Coronavirus Test Is Positive. Maybe It Shouldn’t Be. It details how the PCR test can, depending on the "cycle threshold" used, generate a positive result for very small, probably negligible, viral loads. See above: there's no need to panic in such cases. But (since only a yes/no result is returned), people panic anyway.

And then Greg points to a February 12 Harvard Crimson article: Updated Lab Protocols Invalidate Positive Covid-19 Test Results for More Than Two Dozen Harvard Affiliates. Indicating that the smart folks at Harvard may have made the exact blunder the New York Times detailed back in August.

So that's Harvard. But the University Near Here recently got its students back on campus. And near-immediately detected a spike in COVID cases, i.e., positive test results. Causing a shift to online classes only.

Which caused me to wonder if UNH was making the same mistake as Harvard. Hm.

UNH has an address for people to ask COVID questions. Even though I'm no longer affiliated other than my (now useless) employee-emeritus library card, I took a chance:

After reading a recent New York Times article (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/29/health/coronavirus-testing.html) I was wondering if UNH uses the PCR test for Covid, and if so, what "cycle threshold" is used to determine a positive result?

I didn't have a lot of hope on getting a response. But near-immediately:

The UNH Durham lab does use PCR testing. There are actually several different CT thresholds we use in a complicated method, so there isn't a single CT value.

OK… well, nice try. I thanked my correspondent for his answer:

Thanks very much for the response. As a retired UNH employee, I should have known it wouldn't be simple.

If there's publicly-available documentation for the complicated method, I wouldn't mind a pointer, but if there's not, no worries.

Best wishes!

And I really didn't expect a response after that. But I got one anyway:

I don't think there's anything publicly available, but I was able to find some more details for you:

The design of the UNH's testing strategy is unique in that a positive result is analyzed multiple times so false positives are very rare, included a pooled and unpooled test. In addition, if a positive is detected using our surveillance testing, that person is then called into to Health Services to get another swab, this time under CLIA regulations, specifically that the specimen is collected by a trained professional. That CLIA-certified swab is never pooled.

In summary this testing strategy of doing 3 different PCR runs for each positive and the fact that it relies on two separate swabs of a person results in a much lower false positive rate than most labs. Regarding Ct values, the lab analyzes both control and multiple regions of the viral genome. The Ct value is a relative measure of the concentration of target in the PCR reaction. The Ct value is not a lab specific number, nor is it absolute. The COVID method is qualitative (yes/no for presence of virus) not quantitively. So, since the experiment is not designed to be quantitative, Ct values are not clinically relevant and are not reported.

So, good news and bad: UNH understandably worries about people bungling their self-test in a way that causes false positives. But they don't seem too worried about the false positive concern expressed in the NYT article.

Good on UNH for being open about this. They seem confident that they're not getting false positives. Whether they are unnecessarily labelling people with negligible COVID viral loads as dangerous? I don't know.

There's also the possibility that UNH's assertion that "Ct values are not clinically relevant" is totally correct, according to current best practice, and the August NYT article is totally misguided.

I'll keep my non-virologist eyes open.


Last Modified 2021-02-19 7:39 AM EST