Eric Clapton breaks my heart for the fourth time, bankrolling an anti-vaxer band

October 11, 2021 • 11:30 am

Well, call me stupid, but I thought that Eric Clapton’s musical genius would extend into other areas, too. Thus I was gobsmacked when he became an ardent antivaxer, letting me down three times by opposing antivaccination restrictions, opposing the shot itself (though he got two AstraZeneca jabs), and releasing two anti-vax songs, “This Has Gotta Stop” and “Stand and Deliver,” the latter with Van Morrison.

Now, as Rolling Stone reports (click on screenshot below), Clapton is funding a band, Jam for Freedom. whose sole purpose appears to be to oppose vaccination:

Eric Clapton not only donated more than $1,300 to a GoFundMe posted by a vaccine skeptical music group, but he also lent the “pro-medical choice” band his family’s personal Transporter van to use for touring around the country, Rolling Stone reports. A musician for the group Jam for Freedom, known for songs with lyrics like, “You can stick your poison vaccine up your arse,” told the magazine that when he saw the donation he thought he was being tricked, until he received a text from the 76-year-old singer-songwriter himself. “It was something complimentary, along the lines of, ‘Hey, it’s Eric—great work you’re doing,’” McLaughlin said. Though he declined to say how much, McLaughlin also told the magazine that Clapton gave them more money to buy a new van and said he might play with the group in the future.

Clapton apparently is becoming (or always was, but kept it quiet) a conservative, and maybe even a racist.  There were those comments at a concert in 1976, which I didn’t know about until they surfaced recently. The magazine reports those, too:

In the summer of 1976, Dave Wakeling thought he knew Clapton, too. Wakeling, who’d go on to found the English Beat, one of the U.K.’s pioneering ska bands, was 20 that year, and such a big Clapton fan that he’d once hitchhiked from his Birmingham home to London to see Clapton’s band Blind Faith in Hyde Park.

But when he saw Clapton at the Odeon theater in Birmingham in August 1976, Wakeling was gob-smacked. A clearly inebriated Clapton, who unlike most of his rock brethren hadn’t weighed in on topics like the Vietnam War, began grousing about immigration. The concert was neither filmed nor recorded, but based on published accounts at the time (and Wakeling’s recollection), Clapton began making vile, racist comments from the stage. In remarks he has never denied, he talked about how the influx of immigrants in the U.K. would result in the country “being a colony within 10 years.” He also went on an extended jag about how “foreigners” should leave Great Britain: “Get the wogs out . . . get the coons out.” (Wog, shorthand for golliwog, was a slur against dark-skinned nonwhites.)

“As it went on, it was like, ‘Is this a joke?’ ” Wakeling recalls. “And then it became obvious that it wasn’t. . . . It started to form a sort of murmur throughout the crowd. He kept talking, and the murmurings started to get louder: ‘What did he fucking say again?’ . . . We all got into the foyer after the concert, and it was as loud as the concert: ‘What is he fucking doing? What a cunt!’ ”

When Clapton voiced support onstage for the conservative British flamethrower and fascist Enoch Powell, a prominent anti-immigration politician who had given his polarizing “rivers of blood” speech on the topic in Birmingham in 1968, Wakeling was particularly offended. Thanks to white and black workers toiling together in its factories, Wakeling had sensed that Birmingham had become more integrated in recent years.

Make this breaking my heart for the fifth time.

Clapton later tried to explain away those comments, saying they weren’t really racist, but his excuse isn’t very convincing (read the piece).

Finally, Clapton vowed that he would never play in a venue that required vaccination, and is scheduling his tours according to that dictum:

Clapton recently embarked on a U.S. tour booked in red states despite surging transmission numbers and death rates — and at venues that largely don’t require proof of vaccination. In the process, this Sixties icon, who embraced the sex, drugs, and rock & roll lifestyle as much as anyone in his generation, has drawn praise from conservative pundits. In Austin, he posed for backstage photos with Texas’ anti-vax-mandate Gov. Greg Abbott, known for his attacks on abortion and voting rights. The sight of Clapton in backstage photos with the notorious governor amounted to a deal killer for some: “I just deleted all my Clapton songs,” went one comment on Abbott’s Twitter feed, along with, “A Kid Rock type with better guitar skills. Done with him.”

However, as Rolling Stone reports in a separate article, Clapton broke that vow, too, playing a venue on Sept. 18 that mandated testing or jabs:

He broke that absurd promise by playing Smoothie King, which, according to its website, is following New Orleans regulations that require all ticketholders 12 and above, as well as staff and participants, to either prove they have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine or provide a negative test taken within 72 hours. Moreover, they must wear a mask while not eating or drinking.

Well, fine, though it does show that he isn’t holding to his convictions.

What happened to Clapton? The Rolling Stone piece above is long and detailed, and advances some ideas that you’ll want to read if you’re a Clapton fan.

My booster shot

October 1, 2021 • 12:00 pm

Yesterday at about 10 a.m. I got the booster shot for the Pfizer vaccine at the University of Chicago Hospital, which was offering it to all staff (I count). I confess that when I called my doctor to ask his advice, he didn’t think it was necessary. This is because given the low infectivity rates, a waning of immunity over six months of about 10% makes almost no difference in your chance of landing in the hospital or dying. I raised the objection that I wasn’t worried about those outcomes, but simply about getting sick, as even a breakthrough infection can last several weeks and make you miserable.  When I added that I was likely to be on a ship in Antarctica this winter, and wanted extra protection in that situation, he said that that a booster was fine for me.

Here I’m reporting my physiological reaction to the booster.

I had no reaction to the first Pfizer jab save a bit of soreness in the arm that abated within a day.

The second shot, though, had more severe effects, as it does with many people. I got that one about 8 a.m. on January 25, and was fine for the rest of the day. I also woke up the next day and felt good. The side effects didn’t set in until about noon on day 2: a flu-like feeling, malaise, some chills, and general debility. I went home early, a no-no for me, and woke up the next day completely fine.

I suspected that the effects of the booster would resemble those of the second shot, which represented my antibody reaction to the spike protein after my system was programmed. And, sure enough, that’s what happened. The effects did come on a bit earlier. My arm was sore most of yesterday, but otherwise I felt fine. I woke up this morning, though, and knew I was AFFLICTED. I trudged into work in the dark and labored away at those three posts, and then took a nap at my desk for an hour. After checking on the ducks (there are ten now, including Honey and Dorothy), I still felt like the bottom of a birdcage, and so took two Advil. I don’t know if it was the pills or the side effects are wearing off, but I feel much better now.

Everyone has to make their own decision on this, though I see nearly all the gub’mint experts are recommending getting a booster. To me, it’s worth a half day of malaise to avoid the possibility of a breakthrough infection, even though a booster may not have a substantial effect on even that.

If you’ve had yours, report in below on the effects.

Oh, and I have received NO pictures of polydactylous cats from any reader, despite my plea. Seriously, I don’t ask much from you, so if you own a Super Scratcher, send me a photo or two (paw and cat, perhaps), and a short paragraph of explanation.

Credit: Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times

Pastor Warren compares pro-choice views with anti-vaxers ( touts the benefit of religion in helping us making sacrifices for society

September 27, 2021 • 11:30 am

In her weekly New York Times column, Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren makes two arguments. It’s not as bad as her other columns, as there’s actually some material for thought here, but, as usual, she winds up making bad arguments, and then touting the benefits of believing in God. Click to read:

Warren makes two arguments. The first is to point out what seems like hypocrisy when one considers “pro choice” people who don’t oppose abortion with “anti vaccine” people who object to getting shots. In both cases, says Warren, one is being asked to curtail one’s personal freedom (“my body, my choice”) for the benefit of society as a whole—or so she says. The implication is that this is doublethink:

At a protest against vaccine mandates, a hospital worker told New York’s Livingston County newspaper: “If you want it? Great. If you don’t? Great.” She continued: “Choice is where we stand. If you want it, we’re not against it. That’s your choice.” Those I know who have refused to get vaccinated or wear masks have echoed this same idea. They assure me that they aren’t telling anyone else what to do but that this is a matter of personal choice. They are doing what they think is best for themselves and their families.

“My body, my choice,” the rallying cry of the pro-choice movement, has been adopted by those opposing mask and vaccine mandates. People who are pro-choice have voiced outrage that their phrase is being co-opted, which in turn thrills those on the right who are using it.

In Vogue, Molly Jong-Fast said that the phrase, when used by conservatives who oppose vaccine mandates, shows that “for Republicans, it’s a case of government regulation for thee but not for me.” Of course, critics would accuse her of the same hypocrisy for being pro-choice but also favoring vaccine mandates.

What’s useful here is the inspiration to think about her premise: how far must we curtail our freedoms to help society What’s not useful—and she does say that “the complexities of abortion and Covid prevention are different”—is that the situations are not at all comparable in the nature of the “freedoms” curtailed. Unmasked and unvaccnated, you might be endangering strangers you come in contact with, and the masking will last only the duration of the pandemic. Shots are even less onerous, and protect more people than do masks.

Pregnant, you do not endanger society as a whole—unless, and this may be true of Warren—one thinks an abortion is committing murder. Further, you are bringing an unwanted child into the world who will require years of care, as reader Mike pointed out yesterday.

I’m pretty much in favor of unrestricted abortions, as I don’t see it as the equivalent of murder. Further, I also favor the termination of the lives of already-born infants who have invariably fatal conditions like anencephaly and will suffer horribly until the inevitable end. (Peter Singer has been demonized for holding this view.)

But you can think on your own about whether there is any “hypocrisy” in favoring vaccine mandates and also being pro-choice. It is food for thought.

The other argument is that only Christianity (she singles it out, but would probably add “religion in general”) gives us a moral basis for making self-sacrifice for the good of society.

Christian ethics call people to ideas of freedom that are not primarily understood as the absence of restraint, but instead as the ability to live well, justly and righteously. In Galatians, after an extended meditation on liberation, Paul says: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Freedom, for him, had a purpose and end, a “telos.” We are freed not to do whatever we feel is best for us individually, but instead to love our neighbors.

. . . .Over the past year as we’ve asked people to go into lockdown, cancel their travel plans or family gatherings, close or curtail their retail businesses, wear masks and get vaccinated, we are asking them to assume some level of financial and personal risk for the greater good — for strangers, for the elderly, for the immunocompromised, for the medical community. We can and should enact legislation like paid family leave, no-cost health care and other measures to support mothers, just as we support economic relief for those affected by Covid prevention. But we cannot deny that even if we seek to lessen the load, we are asking people to bear a burden.

How do you call a society committed to personal freedom and happiness to bear the burdens of others? Most of us intuitively grasp that there’s more to life than living for oneself and one’s own happiness or comfort. But we lack a positive vision for the purpose of individual liberty.

Thomas Aquinas, a medieval Catholic theologian, gave us the gorgeous and helpful phrase “arduous good.”

. . . . Consumer capitalism is not going to teach us about how to pursue arduous goods, nor is technological progress, nor is either American political party. Theoretically, religious communities are places that train us toward ends other than individual autonomy. They point us to something bigger and higher than ourselves, calling us to love God and our neighbors. However, this is unfortunately not always the case. Many religious communities have lost their ability to articulate an alternative to the sovereignty of personal choice and individual autonomy.

. . . But as a culture, we desperately need religious communities that do not parrot the predictable ethical arguments of the right or the left. We need a rooted and robust call to love our neighbors, our families and the marginalized, the needy, the weak and the afflicted among us.

But the arguments she makes apply to secular humanism even more than to Christianity. After all, it is conservative Christians who “parrot the predictable ethical arguments of the Right” against abortion because it’s seen as murder, usually because the fetus is ensouled.  Secular humanists have a diversity of views on abortion, and often considered ones. They don’t need the buttressing of ancient scripture and authority to arrive at a position.

As for “a rooted and robust call to love our neighbors, our families, and the marginalized, the needy, the weak, and the afflicted among us,” what about that comes from religion? Was it Christianity that gave us income taxes, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the other institutionalized forms of our sacrifices for those needier than we?  And wasn’t it Jesus who said this (Luke 14:25-27)?:

25 Many people were traveling with Jesus. He said to them, 26 “If you come to me but will not leave your family, you cannot be my follower. You must love me more than your father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters—even more than your own life! 27 Whoever will not carry the cross that is given to them when they follow me cannot be my follower.

But let me admit that yes, studies have shown that Christians give more to charity than do nonbelievers. What I don’t know is whether how much of Christian charity goes to tithes or Christian organizations.  And countering that, let me say once again that the countries of Northern Europe, particularly in Scandinavia, are largely atheistic societies whose members give much more per capita to help their societies than do Americans. That’s one reason taxes are so high, and why state does what private organizations must take over in America.

No, what we don’t need is more love of God to spur us on to be more socially conscious. We need governments like those of Denmark and Sweden.

I wonder how longer the NYT will allow Warren to continue spoon-feeding us pabulum. At least she has a bit of a point in this week’s column. But surely there are pastors or theologians out there who can give us more food for thought, even if they’re victims of the God Delusion.

Ivermectin: still horsewash

September 26, 2021 • 10:30 am

Yes, I know that ivermectin is used against human lice, rosacea, and worms, and is safe when used properly. And it’s also used against worms in horses, though the veterinary formula appears to differ from the human drug, so those people who buy and swallow animal ivermectin are just dumb.

What I do not know, because the data are unclear, is whether ivermectin is a palliative or preventive of Covid-19. Some studies say that, but none of the studies published so far adhere to the gold standards of drug testing: double-blind randomized tests with very large sample sizes, carried out over a decent length of time. If you look at the FDA link to existing studies below, you’ll see that only one study used a placebo, and only a couple used “standard care”, (i.e. neither vaccination nor drug given).  Most studies appear to be retrospective analyses of ivermectin treatments without controls, and those are worthless.

Because of this, the FDA has definitely warned against ivermectin’s use against covid (and gives a link to existing tests). FDA says this:

Here’s What you Need to Know about Ivermectin. 

  • The FDA has not authorized or approved ivermectin for use in preventing or treating COVID-19 in humans or animals. Ivermectin is approved for human use to treat infections caused by some parasitic worms and head lice and skin conditions like rosacea.
  • Currently available data do not show ivermectin is effective against COVID-19. Clinical trials assessing ivermectin tablets for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 in people are ongoing.
  • Taking large doses of ivermectin is dangerous.
  • If your health care provider writes you an ivermectin prescription, fill it through a legitimate source such as a pharmacy, and take it exactly as prescribed.
  • Never use medications intended for animals on yourself or other people. Animal ivermectin products are very different from those approved for humans. Use of animal ivermectin for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 in humans is dangerous.

It also notes that ivermectin, though safe when taken as directed by itself, can interact negatively with other drugs taken by humans.

And here’s one other thing I don’t know for sure, but strongly suspect: if you have a choice of getting vaccinated with any of the major vaccines, and not taking ivermectin, versus another choice of not getting vaccinated but taking ivermectin, your chances of illness and death will be higher if you choose the latter, and that includes possible side effects of both treatments. I don’t think there’s been a controlled study of this, but we’ll have the data some day.

Sure, it’s possible that ivermectin may have some useful effects against Covid-19, preventing or mitigating its symptoms. But we can’t say that with confidence until the results of large studies in progress are completed. They’re not, so those who tell you to take ivermectin and avoid “dangerous” vaccinations are, insofar as they’re influencing anyone, putting lives at risk.

A new letter by five researchers in Nature Medicine (below) examines the studies combined in meta-analyses that purport to show the efficacy of ivermectin for Covid-19. The researchers find flaws in some of them that are so serious that they probably invalidate the conclusions. Click on the screenshot to read for free:

I’ve left out the references, but you can see them in the original letter. Here’s the gist of the author’s conclusions:

Research into the use of ivermectin (a drug that has an established safety and efficacy record in many parasitic diseases) for the treatment and/or prophylaxis of COVID-19 has illustrated this problem [relying on “high volumes of recent, often unpublished trial data of variable quality”] well. Recently, we described flaws in one randomized control trial of ivermectin, the results of which represented more than 10% of the overall effect in at least two major meta-analyses. We described several irregularities in the data that could not be consistent with them being experimentally derived. That study has now been withdrawn by the preprint server on which it was hosted. We also raised concerns about unexpected stratification across baseline variables in another randomized controlled trial for ivermectin, which were highly suggestive of randomization failure. We have requested data from the authors but, as of 6 September 2021, have not yet received a response. This second ivermectin study has now been published, and there is still no response from the authors in a request for data.

It is highly unethical for scientists to withhold published data from other researchers! The letter continues:

The authors of one recently published meta-analysis of ivermectin for COVID-19 have publicly stated that they will now reanalyze and republish their now-retracted meta-analysis and will no longer include either of the two papers just mentioned. As these two papers were the only studies included in that meta-analysis to demonstrate an independently significant reduction in mortality, the revision will probably show no mortality benefit for ivermectin.

Several other studies that claim a clinical benefit for ivermectin are similarly fraught, and contain impossible numbers in their results, unexplainable mismatches between trial registry updates and published patient demographics, purported timelines that are not consistent with the veracity of the data collection, and substantial methodological weaknesses. We expect further studies supporting ivermectin to be withdrawn over the coming months.

Since the above primary studies were published, many hundreds of thousands of patients have been dosed with ivermectin, relying on an evidence base that has substantially evaporated under close scrutiny.

All I know is that I wouldn’t take ivermectin without FDA or CDC approval, and if you’re doing so in lieu of getting vaccinated, you’re foolish.

The researchers also suggest a different way besides large double-blind tests or meta-analysis to analyze data (assuming it’s good data):

Most, if not all, of the flaws described above would have been immediately detected if meta-analyses were performed on an individual patient data (IPD) basis. In particular, irregularities such as extreme terminal digit bias and the duplication of blocks of patient records would have been both obvious and immediately interrogable from raw data if provided.

We recommend that meta-analysts who study interventions for COVID-19 should request and personally review IPD in all cases, even if IPD synthesis techniques are not used. In a similar vein, all clinical trials published on COVID-19 should immediately follow best-practice guidelines and upload anonymized IPD so that this type of analysis can occur. Any study for which authors are not able or not willing to provide suitably anonymized IPD should be considered at high risk of bias for incomplete reporting and/or excluded entirely from meta-syntheses.

Hurdles to the release of IPD from clinical trials are well described, and generally addressable with careful anonymization and integration of data sharing plans at the ethical approval stage of trial planning.

We recognize that this is a change to long-accepted practice and is substantially more rigorous than the standards that are typically currently applied, but we believe that what has happened in the case of ivermectin justifies our proposal: a poorly scrutinized evidence base supported the administration of millions of doses of a potentially ineffective drug globally, and yet when this evidence was subjected to a very basic numerical scrutiny it collapsed in a matter of weeks. This research has created undue confidence in the use of ivermectin as a prophylactic or treatment for COVID-19, has usurped other research agendas, and probably resulted in inappropriate treatment or substandard care of patients.

Meta-analyses, of course, usually combine the results of different studies of a treatment to arrive at an overall conclusion, while IPD uses each patient across many studies as an individual datum to get an overall conclusion. I haven’t investigated the niceties of this analysis, but you can go here or here to see how it’s done.  I am not necessarily recommending this type of analysis, as I haven’t studied it, and those combined patients could also represent data that is dubious but undetectably so. I would therefore still recommend a large number of random, double-blind tests of ivermectin, each including large samples of patients as well as a control group given a placebo.

In the meantime, don’t listen to the neigh-sayers about vaccines. If you don’t have medical contraindications, get your jabs! (This is my recommendation as a doctor, though the wrong kind of doctor.)

Traveling with the Great Unmasked

September 23, 2021 • 2:51 pm

I’m cooling my heels in Baltimore for an hour, as the direct flights from Chicago to Boston and back were either ridiculously expensive or sold out.  In airports and on planes, masks are required, but, at least in the airports I’ve visited, obedience isn’t universal.

On my Southwest flight from BOS to BWI, for example, they were hardasses about mask wearing, and good for them! They announced several times that, except when you were drinking, you had to have your mask over your nose and mouth, and, sure enough, the flight attendants went down the aisles and chided those who had their masks over their mouth but not their nose. (Is this behavior sheer stupidity or a duplicitous way to evade the restrictions?)

And in the airports, while nearly all people have masks somewhere around their neck, a few are sitting around with all facial orifices open to the free air, while many others have their noses hanging out over the top of their masks.  Nobody is enforcing this, of course, and it’s only my fear of being yelled at or beaten up that keeps me from a “get off my lawn” gesture of reminding these miscreants to cover up their schnozzes. All I can do is keep away from them.

Well, I remember some advice that the Southwest attendant told us on the way to Boston: “Masks are like pants: if anything is hanging out, you’re doing it wrong.”

I also found a page of over 100 mask jokes. Here’s one:

I recently bought my pet duck a mask to protect it from coronavirus.

It’s nothing flashy, but it fits the bill.
I’ll be here all year, folks!

 

Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying go unvaccinated for Covid, take and promote Ivermectin instead

September 16, 2021 • 9:30 am

Since Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying left Evergreen State under trying circumstances, they’ve made a living doing podcasts on YouTube, and have become somewhat notorious for their stand on Covid-19 and the dubious remedy Ivermectin.

The story below, from the Portland, Oregon news site Willamette Week, reports how both Weinstein and Heying not only remain unvaccinated against Covid, as they don’t trust the vaccine, but are also dosing themselves with Ivermectin, a drug used in humans for roundworm, lice, and skin conditions, but which has no effect on the coronavirus. (It’s also famous for de-worming horses.) The FDA has strongly warned humans not to dose themselves with this drug as a treatment or preventive for Covid.

Nevertheless, according to both the story below (click on screenshot) and the section on Weinstein and Covid on Wikipedia, the ex-professors have been relentlessly touting Ivermectin (read the Wikipedia section for documentation) and taking it themselves.

Here’s how two “progressive” biologists (not just one) have completely ignored science for reasons best known to themselves. What they have accomplished, instead, is to ruin their reputations except among the loons and some Trumpies.

From the paper:

Instead, the loudest voice [doubting vaccines] may be that of a Toyota-driving Bernie Bro who lives near Lewis & Clark College, an evolutionary biologist with a Ph.D. who studied and taught at two of the nation’s most liberal universities and participated in Occupy Wall Street.

His name is Bret Weinstein, and he makes his living preaching the dangers of COVID-19 vaccines while extolling ivermectin, the controversial drug often used to deworm horses.

Weinstein, 52, is one of the foremost proponents of ivermectin. He’s appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show to flog the drug. He and his wife, Heather Heying, also a Ph.D. biologist, went on Real Time With Bill Maher in January, an appearance that boosted interest in their DarkHorse Podcast, which has 382,000 subscribers on YouTube alone.

Weinstein’s biggest fan is probably Joe Rogan, host of the most popular podcast in the U.S. Weinstein appeared with Rogan four times, including a June 2020 show that’s gotten almost 8 million views on YouTube. In June 2021, it turned into a lovefest.

. . .“Your podcast is one of my very favorites,” Rogan said. “I listen to it or watch it all the time. It’s an amazing source of rational thinking by educated people who talk about things they understand, which is exactly the opposite of what I do!”

LOL.

. . . Now, because of people like Weinstein, a drug meant for 1,000-pound animals is flying off the shelves in feed stores not just in red states, but even in Multnomah County, where the vaccination rate is approaching 80%.

. . . But unlike most of their fellow residents in Multnomah County, both say they are not vaccinated. Instead, they protect themselves from COVID by eating whole foods from farmers markets and by taking weekly doses of ivermectin, along with vitamins C and D, and zinc.

. . . Weinstein likes ivermectin, he says, because it has a stellar safety record (it does) and it’s cheap (it is, at about $5 a pill). Vaccines, meantime, are the opposite. They aren’t proven to be safe yet, Weinstein says, and they’re more expensive (for the governments who purchase them).

I won’t go on; you can check for yourself, but I will quote David Gorski, also known as Orac and an oracle on the Science-Based Medicine site:

“Bret Weinstein is one of the foremost purveyors of COVID-19 disinformation out there,” says Dr. David Gorski, a surgical oncologist and professor at Wayne State University who also debunks quack remedies as managing editor at a website called Science-Based Medicine. “Weinstein can be ‘credited’ with playing a large role in popularizing the belief that ivermectin is a miracle cure or preventative for COVID-19, that the vaccines are dangerous, and that the disease itself is not. Why are Rogan and Maher attracted to his messages? Contrarians and conspiracy theorists tend to be attracted to each other.”

I am still baffled why Weinstein and Heying are pushing quackery after careers as biologists—ecologists and evolutionary biologists! I think most of us admired Bret for taking a stand against extremist anti-racism at Evergreen State, a stand for which they eventually had to leave teaching. But then Bret started broaching weird and convoluted theories of evolution, and now this—horse drugs!

All I can guess is that the pair are contrarians to the bone, and are acting it out with horse pills. It can’t really be the science, as all the data say that the vaccines are both effective and safe, while Ivermectin is of NO value in preventing or treating Covid-19. And, of course, it could be dangerous, especially if you buy the veterinary brand, as it’s designed for horses, who have much greater mass than humans, and the animal formula of Ivermectin is different from that used for other human ailments.

Bret and Heather, are you listening? Please stop this dangerous and antiscientific madness, as you could be hurting people rather than helping them.

They won’t listen to their critics, of course, and for that reason their reputation will be permanently marred in the community of rational thinkers.

Bret and Heather from the news site:

h/t: Marion

Should there be religious exemptions from vaccine mandates?

September 7, 2021 • 9:15 am

The other day I had a bright idea for a post on my drive to the store, and, since my short-term memory has always been lousy, I should have made a note to myself. SInce I didn’t do that, I promptly forgot it, though I knew the topic was interesting.

I was, however, just reminded of what I’d thought of by seeing the title below of a NYT op-ed by Curtis Chang (identified as “a co-founder of Christians and the Vaccine, a consulting faculty member at Duke Divinity School and the C.E.O. of CWR, a management consultancy serving secular nonprofits and government agencies”).

I haven’t yet read this op-ed except for the title, so let me first give my own view before I parse the article.

First, I agree with the title wholeheartedly.  The only people who should be exempted from vaccine mandates are those who might be injured by vaccines, including the immunocompromised.  Now adults above a certain age should be allowed to make medical decisions if those decisions don’t endanger anyone else. Thus, if you have appendicitis and are one of those sects that don’t accept medical intervention (Christian Science is supposed to be one, but members often sneak around the restrictions), it’s okay by me if you reject the operation and endanger yourself. (If you have a wife and kids, however, that may be another matter, largely because the kids, who could be left without a parent, don’t get to choose their faith.)

But with vaccinations, you’re endangering not only yourself by rejecting science-based medicine, but others as well. Thus, if you refuse the Covid shot on religious grounds, you’re endangering other people because you might get infected and spread the virus. Even if nearly everyone else is vaccinated, you could still infect the few who aren’t. Even the Bible talks about rendering unto Caesar. Well, Caesar is the state, and to the state belongs the purview of preventing pandemics and epidemics.

The fact that religious people are allowed to refuse medical care for their kids in some places, or get a slap on the wrist when they do—even when the child dies—is absolutely unconscionable. It’s one of the unjustified forms of “respect” that we afford to religious beliefs. The subject of religion and healthcare is largely the subject of the last chapter of my book Faith Versus Fact, and I tell some horrific stories of those who believe in faith healing letting their children die in the vain hope that God would save them. This should be a felony, and it is in some places, but all too often that unwarranted “respect” for faith gets parents either off the hook or with a minimal sentence. And all too often those parents justify their behavior, even when, by withholding medical care, they’ve killed their own child. As I note in my book (p. 234):

It’s not just the parents who are at fault. Religious exemptions are written into law by the federal and state governments—that is, those who represent all Americans. In fact, 38 of the 50 states have religious exemptions for child abuse and neglect in their civil codes, 15 states have such exemptions for misdemeanors, 17 for felony crimes against children, and five (Idaho, Iowa, Ohio, West Virginia, and Arkansas) have exemptions for manslaughter, murder, or capital murder. Altogether, 43 of the 50 states confer some type of civil or criminal immunity on parents who injure their children by withholding medical care on religious grounds.

As for vaccinations, there should be no religious exemptions for getting them, regardless of the dictate of your faith. That’s because refusing a vaccine is not a decision with purely personal consequences, but can have widespread and deleterious effects on other people. And yet, as I note further in my book (pp. 235-236):

Religious exemptions for vaccinations, allowed in 48 of the 50 U.S. states (all except Mississippi and West Virginia) endanger not only the children who don’t get immunized, but the community in general:  not everyone gets vaccinated, and even those who are don’t always acquire immunity. To attend public schools and many colleges, like the one where I teach, students must show evidence of vaccination for diseases like hepatitis, measles, mumps, diphtheria, and tetanus. The only exemptions permitted are for medical reasons, like a compromised immune system—and religion.

Nor are Christians the only believers who oppose immunization. Islamic clerics in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria urge their followers to oppose polio vaccination, declaring it a conspiracy to sterilize Muslims. These efforts may prevent the complete eradication of polio from the human species, something already been achieved for smallpox. Dr. A Majid Katme, spokesman and former head of the Islamic Medical Association of the UK, described by the Guardian as “a respected figure in the British Muslim community,” has come out against all childhood vaccination, claiming that “the case of vaccination is first an Islamic one, based on Islamic ethos regarding the perfection of the natural human body’s immune defense system, empowered by great and prophetic guidance to avoid most infections.”  Taking his advice would, of course, be disastrous.

In all states, immunizations are required for public school enrollment, except for medical, religious and philosophical exemptions. Here’s the latest map (2021) of exemptions, taken from The National Conference of State Legislatures. As you can see, since my book was published in 2015, it appears that four states—Maine, New York, Connecticut, and California—no longer grant religious exemptions for vaccination. That’s good news. Note as well that only 15 states allow philosophical exemptions (the striped ones are also blue, meaning that they allow religious exemptions too). This shows not only that religion gets precedence over philosophy, but also that this precedence makes no sense, since a philosophical exemption is presumably a “reasoned” one (misguided though it may be), while religious dictates come from scripture or authority. Every state in the map below should be white.

Now I’ll read the article, and you are free to at any time by clicking on the screenshot below.

Chang and I largely agree, but diverge in three important ways:

First, though, he notes that the religious exemption comes from Title VII of the Civil Rights acts, which “require American employers to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs.” And those are the grounds on which many people are claiming religious exemption from the Covid vaccination, though Chang believes that these religionists aren’t really doing it on religious grounds (which don’t exist anyway, see below), but are “nonreligious and rooted in deep-seated suspicion of government and vulnerability to misinformation.”

Further, and this is what made me realize originally that this topic deserves a post, how many religions really have dictates prompting their followers to refuse vaccination?  We know about Christian Science, of course, and there are dozens of evangelical Christian sects, largely in the American Northwest, that refuse medical care as part of their faith. But try to find a justification for that in scripture. As Chang notes:

. . . there is no actual religious basis for exemptions from vaccine mandates in any established stream of Christianity. Within both Catholicism and all the major Protestant denominations, no creed or Scripture in any way prohibits Christians from getting the vaccine. Even the sect of Christian Scientists, which historically has abstained from medical treatment, has expressed openness to vaccines for the sake of the wider community. The consensus of mainstream Christian leaders — from Pope Francis to Franklin Graham — is that vaccination is consistent with biblical Christian faith.

Biblically based arguments against vaccination have been rebutted. The project Christians and the Vaccine, which I helped to found, has created numerous explainer videos in an effort to refute attempts by anti-vax Christians to hijack pro-life values, to distort biblical references like the “mark of the beast” and to inflame fears about government control. Christians who request religious exemptions rarely even try to offer substantive biblical and theological reasoning. Rather, the drivers for evangelical resistance are nonreligious and are rooted in deep-seated suspicion of government and vulnerability to misinformation.
Chang is doing a good deed by pointing out the weakness of religious exemptions for vaccination, and by insisting that all employers should get rid of religious exemptions for coronavirus vaccines (he specifies “for Christians”, but I think no religious exemptions should be allowed).

That’s one way we differ. The other is that Chang appears to think that Christians have a “right” to refuse the vaccine in general, though not necessarily to be employed without it:

My plea to my fellow Christians: If you insist on refusing the vaccine, that is your right. But please do not bring God into it. Doing so is the very definition of violating the Third Commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

I don’t think there’s a “right” for Christians to refuse vaccines deemed essential by the state. They have no more right to do that than to refuse to pay taxes on religious grounds, nor to send their children to public schools without the required shots (except, of course, for those pesky exemptions).  And not paying taxes is far less harmful to society than walking around with a possibly infectious microbe.  Everyone should be vaccinated for diseases like Covid unless there are medical contraindications. I can see no reason not to. People may say that a few people may suffer serious side effects, but those are far less harmful than living through a pandemic.

Finally, many religious schools allow unvaccinated children to attend, and some parents are sending their children there, or homeschooling them, to get around the normal vaccine requirements (right now only older children must be vaccinated). For safe vaccines, as Covid-19 jabs will surely prove to be for younger children, all children everywhere must be vaccinated, just like adults. After all, even religious children mingle with the general public, and endanger them when they’re unvaccinated.

Of course given my view that religion is man-made and generally detrimental to society (this is of course demonstrated by the last chapter of my book), I would object to any favoritism based on religion that doesn’t apply to secular people. (This doesn’t mean, though, that I favor philosophical exemptions to vaccination!) But you don’t have to go that route when making the argument that nobody should be exempt from a Covid vaccination except on medical grounds. The public health argument is sufficient.

Perhaps you disagree, or have other views. By all means, use the comments to air your thoughts.

Evidence waning for the Wuhan lab-leak theory for the origin of the pandemic

August 28, 2021 • 12:45 pm

In the past month, two papers have appeared, one in Science and one in Cell, addressing the issue of whether the Covid-19 infection began in a wet markets in Wuhan as a zoonotic infection, or, alternatively, as an escaped virus from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).  While we’ll never know for sure where the virus came from, the wet-market origin is looking increasingly likely.

Why is this important? Well, as the article below in the LA Times notes (click on screenshot, and if you hit a paywall, it’s republished for free on yahoo! finance), the precautions we’d take depend on the pandemic’s origin. If it came from a wet market, we’d want to take a close look at these markets, and possibly close them. (I think they should be closed anyway, for, as I’ve seen, the animals for sale are kept under horrible conditions.) If it escaped from the WIV, on the other hand, we’d want to institute more stringent regulations in lab.

Click below or on the link above.

Now the column is written by Michale Hiltzik, a business writer for the Times, so you might want to take that into account. Still, he reprises the evidence in the two papers (both in top-tier journals) that makes a lab origin look pretty unlikely.  In fact, he claims there’s no good evidence for the lab-leak theory, which is a lesson emphasized in those two papers. A quote from the LA Times article:

It would be inaccurate to say that evidence for the lab leak theory is fading. That’s because there never was any evidence for the theory, just conjecture.

Virtually from the outset, the lab leak theory was driven by ideology, not science. It employed the vocabulary of science, but that’s a familiar technique for bamboozling a susceptible public.

“The only evidence for a lab leak, period, is just that the virus emerged in Wuhan, where the Wuhan Institute of Virology is,” Rasmussen told me. “That’s it. Since day one, that has been the only piece of evidence.”

The assertions supporting the lab leak theory are not only conjectures, but in many cases provably wrong conjectures. They’re often based on misinformation, scientific ignorance, or even bad translations from Chinese documents.

Proponents have made much of the fact that the Virology Institute is only about 300 yards from the animal market that appeared to be the source of the first infections, for instance.

But that’s wrong. The facility 300 yards away is the Wuhan Center for Disease Control, which doesn’t conduct research on raw viruses; the Virology Institute is about 7.5 miles from the market and on the far side of the Yangtze River.

Attributing the disease outbreak to the lab would be akin to stating that a disease outbreak in Santa Monica had to have originated in a lab at UCLA about seven miles away.

The WIV-origin theory was also supported by a mistranslation: when Texas congressional representative Michael McCaul claimed that the WIV put out a $606 million contract for a new air-conditioning system—something reported by the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal (the amounts now appear to have been corrected)—it turned out that the amount was actually $606,000, which is about what it would take to put in a new A/C system in my lab.

Other evidence supposedly favoring the WIV origin, like the so-called “engineered adaptation” of the virus to humans, has fallen apart, since the virus infects many mammals. The famous “furin cleaveage site” supposedly put into the virus’s code for the spike protein to make it more infectious—a site said to be too novel to have been a natural occurrence—has now been seen in other coronavirus spike proteins.

Finally, Christopher Ford, a former Assistant Secretary of State, has recounted in an open letter how the State Department itself pushed the WIV-origin theory without scientific evidence, motivated mainly by the intelligence division, which saw sinister motives more strongly than evidence.

As I said, we’ll never know for sure where the pandemic came from, but to me the epidemiological evidence is telling, and it points strongly to a wet-market rather than to a WIV origin. They also found viral material in the wet market.

This article concludes with some common sense:

Research supporting the theory that the pandemic originated in a natural jump from animals to humans has moved ahead, with more evidence accumulating drawn from the virus’ genetic footprint. Evidence for the lab leak, however, has stagnated. Nothing has been posited about the possibility of a laboratory leak this year that wasn’t posited in 2020, when the theory was widely dismissed.

No reputable scientist would assert that a laboratory origin of the SARS2 virus is impossible or inconceivable. But it’s looking more and more like a dead end. That means pursuing it, especially to the exclusion of natural explanations, may not be merely foolhardy, but dangerous for the health of humankind.

Here’s the wet market, closed, photographed on January 21, 2020. (AP Photo by Dake Kang)

The Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, where a number of people related to the market fell ill with a virus, sits closed in Wuhan, China, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Heightened precautions were being taken in China and elsewhere Tuesday as governments strove to control the outbreak of the coronavirus, which threatens to grow during the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Dake Kang)

 

h/t: Woody

More evidence that COVID-19 had a zoonotic (animal) origin and didn’t come from a lab

August 19, 2021 • 10:30 am

“Zoonotic,” in case you didn’t know, refers to an infectious disease transmitted between animals. And, in a post a few days ago, I highlighted a paper in Science suggesting that the coronavirus did originate as a zoonotic disease: it came from horseshoe bats and was transferred by bats to another mammal (one likely candidate is the palm civet or “civet cat”, a viverrid, not a felid), and then from this mammalian carrier to humans in Wuhan “wet markets.” The authors emphasized that there was no evidence that the virus came out of the local lab.

A new paper in press in Cell comes to the same conclusion, though they summarize all the evidence, not just the phylogenetic evidence (family tree of viruses). The new paper, however, is not as certain about the species of mammal that transferred the virus from bat to human. But they are pretty sure that the virus was not cultured in the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), and then either escaped or was somehow released to cause disease. This paper, which Matthew called to my attention, has an international team of distinguished disease experts as authors, and they summarize all the evidence that COVID-19 is a purely zoonotic disease and escaped from a Wuhan wet market, not from the WIV. The paper is really only 11 pages long, and you can download the pdf by clicking on the screenshot below.

I’ll just summarize the lines of evidence (there’s more in the paper, too, but the first 11 pages of double-spaced text is all you need to read.

1.) All previous coronavirus infections of humans (viruses other than SARS-CoV2, or what I’ll call COVID-19) have a zoonotic origin, several of which had their origin in “wet markets” selling animals like civet cats and raccoon dogs. Workers in these markets have high concentrations of antibodies against various coronaviruses.

2.) The sequence of COVID-19 is similar to that of other coronaviruses in humans known to have zoonotic origins.

3.) Epidemiologically, the spread of the virus strongly implicates the wet market in Wuhan as the source, not the WIV.  As the authors note:

Based on epidemiological data, the Huanan market in Wuhan was an early and major epicenter of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Two of the three earliest documented COVID-19 cases were directly linked to this market selling wild animals, as were 28% of all cases reported in December 2019 (WHO, 2021). Overall, 55% of cases during December 2019 had an exposure to either the Huanan or other markets in Wuhan, with these cases more prevalent in the first half of that month (WHO, 2021). Examination of the locations of early cases shows that most cluster around the Huanan market, located north of the Yangtze river (Figure 1B-E), although case reporting may be subject to sampling biases reflecting the density and age structure of the population in central Wuhan, and exact location of some early cases is uncertain. These districts were also the first to exhibit excess pneumonia deaths in January 2020 (Figure 1F-H), a metric that is less susceptible to the potential biases associated with case reporting. There is no epidemiological link to any other locality in Wuhan, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) located south of the Yangtze and the subject of considerable speculation. Although some early cases do not have a direct epidemiological link to a market (WHO, 2021), this is expected given high rates of asymptomatic transmission and undocumented secondary transmission events, and was similarly observed in early SARS-CoV cases in Foshan (Xu et al., 2004).

If you’re a conspiracy theorist that the virus was released from the lab by mistake, you’d have to say that it somehow got itself over to the wet market before it started infecting people. The wet market, not the WIV, was the epicenter of the infection.

4.) The COVID-19 virus was actually detected in “environmental samples” taken in the Hunan wet market, especially in the part of the market that sold animals and animal parts.

5.) As I showed in my post two days ago, the viruses closest in sequence to the human COVID-19 virus are three bat viruses from Yunnan. (It’s still not clear how they or their relatives found their way to the Yunnan wet market). But the telling part is, as the authors say, “None of these three closer viruses were collected by the WIV and all were sequenced after the pandemic had begun.”

6.) The absence of the known intermediate animal host for COVID-19 does not suggest that the virus was clearly engineered by humans in the lab, for the animal source of many human pathogens of zoonotic origin, including Hepatitis-C, polio, and Ebola, have not been identified.

7.) Although there have been isolated incidents in labs in which people got infected with viruses, there’s been only one documented example of a pandemic coming from human origin: “the 1977 A/H1N1 flu epidemic, that most likely originated from a large-scale vaccine challenge trial.” There are no epidemics known caused by the escape of a novel virus. (You might respond that, “Well, this could be the first one,” but the other evidence I adduce tells against this.)

8.) There is no evidence that the WIV or any other lab was working on the SARS-CoV-2 virus or any related virus before the pandemic.

9.) Despite extensive attempts to find the virus in workers at the WIV, there are no reports of COVID-19 infections in that institute.

10.) Previous experimental work on coronaviruses at the WIV have involved inserting a “genetic backbone” and other genetic markers that we do not see in the human COVID-19 virus that’s causing the pandemic.

11.) To culture the virus in the lab, workers would have to infect wild-type mice, but were unable to do so with SARS-CoV-2.  The virus has since been engineered to be culture-able in mice, but that occurred after the pandemic had already begun.

12.) Adaptive mutations that enhanced the infectivity of the virus arose after the pandemic started, ergo were not engineered in the lab.

13.) Sequences that “lab-contaminant” advocates say could only have been engineered into the virus by humans have in fact been found naturally in other coronaviruses. That they’re missing in close relatives of the coronavirus could reflect only our pretty profound ignorance of what strains SARS-CoV-2 evolved from from.  And there is no evidence that that kind of genetic engineering was ever going on at WIV.

The “conclusions” on pp. 10-11 are pretty clear:

“the most parsimonious explanation for the origin of SARS-CoV-2 is a zoonotic event” involving transfer from an intermediate host in a Wuhan wet market.

“There is currently no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 has a laboratory origin.”

And the last paragraph:

We contend that although the animal reservoir for SARS-CoV-2 has not been identified and the key species may not have been tested, in contrast to other scenarios there is substantial body of scientific evidence supporting a zoonotic origin. While the possibility of a laboratory accident cannot be entirely dismissed, and may be near impossible to falsify, this conduit for emergence is highly unlikely relative to the numerous and repeated human-animal contacts that occur routinely in the wildlife trade. Failure to comprehensively investigate the zoonotic origin through collaborative and carefully coordinated studies would leave the world vulnerable to future pandemics arising from the same human activities that have repeatedly put us on a collision course with novel viruses.

This paper is of course tentative, like all such conclusions, but the data add up to a “normal” zoonotic event and not escape from the lab. It’s clear the virus was not engineered to kill humans as a bioweapon, as there’s no evidence that the WIV worked on it. And even if it did, why would it happen to escape to a wet market—places where these viruses are known to exist naturally.  Nor is there evidence that the WIV was simply studying the virus and it escaped as an accident that caused the pandemic.

In other words, conspiracy theories about the virus seem to be untenable, but, humans being human and prone to conspiracies, they’ll persist.

UPDATE: in the thread after this tweet, third author Rasmussen goes through the evidence that people think supports a lab origin, and then dispels it:

h/t: Matthew

The origin of the coronavirus

August 17, 2021 • 1:00 pm

A new paper in Science (click on screenshot below, pdf here, reference at bottom) suggests that Covid-19—referred to in this study as SARS-CoV-2—likely originated in horseshoe bats that were collected in Yunnan in southern China, were not contaminations from the Wuhan Institute of Viriology (WIV), but were transferred to humans via an intermediate animal vector (probably a civet cat) in a wet market. Note that two of the authors are Chinese, and one might think that they have an interest in exculpating the WIV, but that opens up a whole can of worms that I’d prefer to avoid.

Click:

Here’s a phylogeny (family tree) of the “sarbecoviruses” that are evolutionarily closest to the Covid-19 virus, with the caption from the Science paper. Click on photo twice to make it really big.

Note that the three viruses closet to human coronavirus in sequence are all from areas close together in Yunnan, and all in species of horseshoe bats ( genus Rhinolophus, variants RpYN06, RmYN02, and PRC31). Viruses in pangolins (Manis javanica), also presumably derived from bats, are much less closely related, and thus unlikely as a source of human infection. The virus RaTG13, sequenced and kept at WIV, seems too distant from the human coronavirus to have been the source, and horseshoe bats are found not just in Yunnan, but are widely dispersed throughout China.

The authors posit that, since bats were not sold in Wuhan markets, another animal—they think the civet cat—is the likely transmitter of the virus to humans in a wet market, and this happened in about December of 2019. The bat virus may have gotten into a civet (or a raccoon dog, or a fox, or a mink) on one of the many farms where these animals are raised for sale as meat, and then transported to wet markets in other places in China.

As an interesting sidelight, the authors suggest that the spread of the coronavirus was promoted by a shortage of pork in China in 2019, which itself was due to swine flu that led to 150 million pigs being killed. They posit that other animals, like civet, could have replaced pork in the diet, and those animals would be intermediate vectors that led to the interspecies leap in late 2019. (Our own species is now considered the main vector for Covid-19!).  They suggest, alternatively, that the virus could have survived in frozen wild meat rather than in live animals sold in wet markets.

Finally, now that we’re the main host of the virus, the authors worry that we ourselves could infect other wildlife, which would then become reservoirs for evolution and re-infection (this is called “reverse zoonoisis”)

There are several questions that are unanswered in this short paper, but may be common knowledge. How do the authors manage to discount a lab strain as a source of the human infection? Were the closest Yunnan viruses not kept in the Wuhan Institute? Did anybody sample civets or other animals sold in the Wuhan market for coronavirus? (The market, of course, is closed, so this may be impossible.) Why do the authors consider the civet cat (palm civet) the most likely intermediate host of the virus? They cite this paper, showing a near-identity of the human and palm civet virus, but do they have similar data from other mammals?

I am not an expert on the various theories of transmission of cornavirus from bats (the most likely origin) to humans, but offer this for your delectation.

___________

Lytras, S., W. Xia, J. Hughes, X. Jiang, and D. L. Robertson. 2021. The animal origin of SARS-CoV-2. Science: DOI: 10.1126/science.abh0117