Keeping up with the FITs, 1/22
Emily Oster on a CDC study; Tyler Cowen and Russ Roberts; Amy Wax seems unFIT, and Heather Mac Donald less so; Zvi bets his virus predictions; Freddie deBoer on social change; Coleman Hughes, rapper
In early January, the CDC released, through its MMWR paper series, a report suggesting that kids under 18 who recovered from COVID-19 were at higher risk for developing diabetes. This was, predictably, widely covered in the media and led (for me, at least) to a long thread of panicked emails.
Online, a number of commentators picked at very significant limitations in the study. I agree; the study is extremely flawed. But it’s one thing to say that the study is problematic and another to unpack it and think about what might have been done differently. Which is what I want to do today. The TL;DR is that I do not see any compelling reason that the evidence should make you any more worried about this issue than you were before seeing the study.
. . .Why weren’t these issues caught in peer review? The goal of peer review, in an ideal world, is to identify basic weaknesses and ask the authors to fix them. The main answer is that MMWR isn’t peer-reviewed, at least not in the traditional sense. Papers undergo a 14-step review process that takes months, but the review is all internal to the CDC. In my experience from publishing there, much of this review focuses on format and phrasing and not on the content of the analysis.
Let’s put the CDC in receivership. Have a court appoint an oversight board, and let no public statement come out of the CDC without approval of said board.
Tyler Cowen and Russ Roberts. Not clear who is the podcaster and who is the podcastee. I like some of the discussions in the latter part of the podcast, including the problems with libertarianism and the way that “recency bias” can make one complacent that old conflicts will not resurface.
Glenn Loury updates us on a controversy that Amy Wax created on his show. Earlier, Wax had written,
We can speculate (and, yes, generalize) about Asians’ desire to please the elite, single-minded focus on self-advancement, conformity and obsequiousness, lack of deep post-Enlightenment conviction, timidity toward centralized authority (however unreasoned), indifference to liberty, lack of thoughtful and audacious individualism, and excessive tolerance for bossy, mindless social engineering, etc.
Oy. My view is that, whatever the culture of origin, the process of immigrating to America selects for people who are inclined toward American characteristics and values. Historically, a lot of immigrants have returned to their homelands. I presume that some of this is because they could not accustom themselves to our liberty, religious and ethnic variety, hostility to authority, and so on. The immigrants who stay tend to be a pretty all-American lot, as far as I can tell. If you’re worried about a group that is undermining America’s culture, I would toss away the faculty from Ivy League universities before I would toss away the immigrants from Pakistan or Korea.
But still, I do not believe that Amy Wax should suffer for her opinions. More from Loury here.
And Loury also interviews Heather Mac Donald, who comes across better. But I would caution you that early in the pandemic, I called out Mac Donald for making a naive linear extrapolation of virus deaths. Again, I would not cancel her, nor would I conclude because she got something wrong that she is always wrong.
Zvi Mowshowitz, who clearly understands exponentials, writes
The thing that jumps out at me right away is that this is placing the majority of the probability in a narrow range between 400k and 600k. With a full two weeks to go, this seems superficially seems overconfident. Yet there’s good arguments that it’s not, and on reflection I mostly agree.
He is evaluating a prediction market for virus cases. One of the scoring categories in Fantasy Intellectual Teams is thinking in bets. This does two things. It clears up vagueness and it makes you think about the chance that you are wrong. For example, if you write, “The U.S. seems headed for a civil war,” you are just vaguely catastrophizing. If you write, “I think there is a 25 percent chance that more than 100,000 Americans will die in domestic political violence between now and the year 2027,” you are making a more concrete statement.
I think we simply can’t trust that a solution to a social problem that requires behavioral changes among Americans is actually a solution. Because when the citizenry doesn’t trust the government, the major institutions of civic life, or each other, hate the half of the country on the other side of the partisan divide, and think life is getting worse despite economic and technological growth, what force is going to compel them to sacrifice for the greater good?
Fascinating interview with Coleman Hughes. Especially if, like me, you did not know that he has another persona (“Cold Man”), the rapper. He makes a strong case for fully understanding and taking seriously a person with whom you disagree.
At around minute 36 of the podcast, Hughes makes the point that as individuals, black people and white people can become close with one another and in those relationships race does not matter. But the people promoting race as essential, as in Critical Race Theory, make it more difficult for individual blacks and whites to form close relationships.
A very important point, in my opinion.