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Odd Lots

  • Wow. The magazine that gave us “The Case for Killing Granny” is now saying that our public health officials have overcounted COVID-19 deaths by counting any person dying with COVID-19 as dying of it–including suicides and, sheesh, car accident victims. This has been known for some time, but I give the otherwise dopey Newsweek credit for admitting that government isn’t always right.
  • More on how we count COVID-19 deaths: Johns Hopkins published a paper suggesting that we are overcounting COVID deaths and undercounting deaths from other causes like heart disease. By misclassifying deaths as from COVID, we undercount deaths from other causes. The authors of the paper suggest that this means COVID-19’s impact on US deaths is far less than commonly stated. Johns Hopkins has predictably deleted the article, but there’s an archived copy on The Wayback Machine. Well worth a read–and possibly worth saving the original Johns Hopkins article to local disk in case threats of legal action force Wayback to take their copy down.
  • A new paper posits that UVB in sunlight stimulates the production of antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) in the skin, especially cathelicidin (LL-37). LL-37 has several roles, but it has been shown to inhibit the action of the influenza virus in humans. AMP action involves Vitamin D, but the D3 found in OTC supplements does not appear to work with it. My serum D3 tested toward the top of the recommended level several months ago, but it’s hard to know how much of that was produced in my skin in this (outrageously) sunny place, and how much came to me in pills.
  • David Prowse, who played Darth Vader in the original Star Wars movies, died yesterday, at 85. He was 6’6″ and was given the choice of playing either Vader or Chewbacca. He chose Vader because “you always remember the bad guy.” (Well, true. But nobody’s going to forget Chewie, either.) Click through to it: The photo of gentle giant Prowse with six little girls in a UK safety program is priceless.
  • Somebody did a test on the startup time required for programs written in various languages, including nearly all of the ones I’m familiar with. (At least those that weren’t Xerox in-house experiments.) FreePascal 3.0.2 and 3.0.4 beat all the others, hands down, not even close. I don’t know enough about compiler internals to tell how one gets that kind of startup performance, but you sure as hell do not get it with C# or Java.
  • I should add that if you’re on Twitter and work in Pascal, you must follow @SciPasTips.
  • Bummer: The Arecibo radio telescope will be scrapped. Stuff is breaking in the basic structure of the mechanism that just can’t be swapped in without rebuilding practically the whole thing. That reflector comprises eighteen acres. It’s been in operation for 57 years. Wait! I have an idea! Let’s build an even bigger one…in space! (Yes, I’m pretty sure Heinlein thought of it first.)
  • As far as I’m concerned, this kid wins the Best Halloween Costume Award not only for 2020, but for the rest of time.

14 Comments

  1. Olli says:

    “Pascal (Not Just Nickel & Dime) – Computerphile”
    — YouTube

  2. RickH says:

    Re the John Hopkins study:

    The John Hopkins site retracted that story, and explained why on their site. https://www.jhunewsletter.com/article/2020/11/a-closer-look-at-u-s-deaths-due-to-covid-19

    “Briand was quoted in the article as saying, “All of this points to no evidence that COVID-19 created any excess deaths. Total death numbers are not above normal death numbers.” This claim is incorrect and does not take into account the spike in raw death count from all causes compared to previous years. According to the CDC, there have been almost 300,000 excess deaths due to COVID-19. Additionally, Briand presented data of total U.S. deaths in comparison to COVID-19-related deaths as a proportion percentage, which trivializes the repercussions of the pandemic. This evidence does not disprove the severity of COVID-19; an increase in excess deaths is not represented in these proportionalities because they are offered as percentages, not raw numbers.”

    See this site for data analysis: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/excess-mortality-raw-death-count?tab=chart&stackMode=absolute&region=World .

    “Excess mortality during COVID-19: Raw number of deaths from all
    causes compared to previous years, United States. Shown is how the raw number of weekly deaths in 2020 differs from the number of deaths in the same week over the
    previous five years (2015–2019). We do not show data from the most recent weeks because it is incomplete due to delays in
    death reporting.”

    Some interesting data is charted on that site.

  3. RickH says:

    Re the John Hopkins study (reformatted): The John Hopkins site retracted that story, and explained why on their site.

    https://www.jhunewsletter.com/article/2020/11/a-closer-look-at-u-s-deaths-due-to-covid-19

    “Briand was quoted in the article as saying, “All of this points to no evidence that COVID-19 created any excess deaths. Total death numbers are not above normal death numbers.” This claim is incorrect and does not take into account the spike in raw death count from all causes compared to previous years. According to the CDC, there have been almost 300,000 excess deaths due to COVID-19.

    “Additionally, Briand presented data of total U.S. deaths in comparison to COVID-19-related deaths as a proportion percentage, which trivializes the repercussions of the pandemic.

    “This evidence does not disprove the severity of COVID-19; an increase in excess deaths is not represented in these proportionalities because they are offered as percentages, not raw numbers.”

    See this site for data analysis: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/excess-mortality-raw-death-count?tab=chart&stackMode=absolute&region=World .

    “Excess mortality during COVID-19: Raw number of deaths from all causes compared to previous years, United States. Shown is how the raw number of weekly deaths in 2020 differs from the number of deaths in the same week over the previous five years (2015–2019). We do not show data from the most recent weeks because it is incomplete due to delays in death reporting.”

    Some interesting data is charted on that site.

  4. RickH says:

    (sorry about the formatting on the previous commenting – blank lines were entered, but stripped out)

  5. Keith says:

    While the misclassification of deaths discussed in the Johns Hopkins article may well be happening (and really ought to be corrected), it seems to me that, since the load on hospitals has greatly increased this year, the redistribution of the cause of deaths definitely is a serious problem.

    It also the case that the load on hospitals has somehow been mischaracterized?

    Maybe it is that the people with Covid-19 require much more hospital resources per death than the people who die of other causes?

    1. Keith says:

      Oops. Second paragraph should have begun “Is it also …”

    2. TRX says:

      > mischaracterized

      My local hospital closed its ER last year. It closed entirely back in March. And was the only hospital on this end of the county, in one of the larger towns in the state.

      I don’t know the occupancy rate for the hospital next town over, but its parking lot was mostly empty a couple of weeks ago when I passed by. Normally it’s mostly full.

      Their occupancy rate doesn’t seem to be available on the web, or I haven’t used the right search terms. But it doesn’t look like they’re maintaining even a normal patient load, much less overrun with chinavirus.

      1. Keith says:

        I have read reports that hospitals are suffering financially due to shutting down elective surgeries, which apparently were their big money makers. That might be the reason your local hospital closed entirely. They probably were in a tight situation already (assuming that is why they had to close their ER), and might have been able to tell they would not be able to hold on after switching to exclusively Covid-19 treatment mode.

        Near empty parking lot at the hospital in the next town might also be due to shutting down elective surgeries (and outpatient services). Also, restrictions on visitors due to Covid-19 would contribute to near empty parking lot.

        People in the hospital for Covid-19 probably expect to be there for many days, so probably aren’t leaving their cars in the hospital parking lot.

        Clearly, I don’t know what is going on at that particular hospital. I just wanted to point out reasons why I don’t think we can take a near empty parking lot, by itself, as indication that it is not near their capacity to treat Covid-19 patients. Not without looking into the situation there more fully.

  6. TRX says:

    > Arecibo

    Nobody seems to be asking what happened to its maintenance budget. And the people who decided it was “too dangerous” to repair don’t seem to be familiar with how suspension bridges are repaired. “It’s not rocket surgery.”

    Arecibo costs almost nothing to operate, and even replacing the cabin and equipment with all-new bits is little more than pocket change by government, college, or corporate standards.

    The telescope didn’t just suddenly deteriorate. Someone is responsible for that.

    In today’s post-trust society, the default assumption is someone made off with the money and they’re trying to cover their tracks with explosive demolition.

    1. Michael Black says:

      Some years back funding shifted. I can’t remember details, but I think it was before any of the damage (from a hurricane years back).

      The concrete shift was that Cornell University was no longer involved, and a Florida unuversity took over

    1. Yup. It’s over. The instrument platform fell on the already damaged reflector, completely destroying both. One wonders if they will even remove the wreckage, much less rebuild.

  7. Tom says:

    Re: Arecibo radio telescope

    Visited Arecibo with my family 25+ years ago.

    My kids weren’t impressed.

  8. WILLIAM H MEYER says:

    As to Covid stats: GIGO applies. The states have differing “standards” for collecting whatever they identify as a case. Nice that we have access to Johns Hopkins data, but would be far better if the data were known to be reliable.

    A local (anecdotal) datum: A teen driver (son of my barber’s neighbor) was killed in a traffic accident. Death certificate said Covid-19. Parents had to retain an attorney to get it corrected, as the auto policy would not pay death benefits on a Covid-19 death.

    Anecdotal evidence is not inherently irrelevant. And these days, there are too many of these anecdotes similarly close to the source to simply ignore them.

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