Tuesday, April 6, 2021

U.S. COVID-19 Restrictions Cost-Benefit Analysis

Using an unlikely assumption that COVID-19 restrictions cut the U.S. death and hospitalization count in half from what they would have been without restrictions, the U.S. spent 5 trillion dollars to lose 86 million QALY. The problem is doing population-wide public health measures on an illness that is disproportionally fatal for the frail aged.

Updated April 27, 2021

Public health cost-benefit analyses are usually done using Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALY). QALY ranges from 0 to 1, with 0 being death, and 1 being a fantastic year. When COVID-19 lockdowns began in the U.S. in March 2020, leaders rushed to implement unprecedented totalitarian public health measures that were first used in China. They ignored a viewpoint (later known as the Great Barrington Declaration) that, based on the 1000-fold difference in mortality risk between young and old, called for a focused protection approach for the vulnerable old, while letting non-vulnerable young people live normal lives. What is the cost-benefit analysis for these policies based on a year of experience?

The U.S. states had differing approaches that varied over time, from severe lockdowns to milder measures. Typically, Republican governors chose less restrictive measures than Democratic governors. No state (or Western country) did a full Great Barrington-type policy, which involved no general testing/contact tracing/quarantining, letting non-vulnerable younger people live near-normal lives, while protecting the vulnerable essential workers by giving them disability pay to stay home, protecting vulnerable people in multigenerational homes by giving them the option to live elsewhere at government expense, protecting vulnerable people living alone by delivering all food and supplies, and doing a better job protecting nursing home residents.

Regression analysis indicates that there is little correlation between level of restrictiveness of public health measures and COVID death rates, indicating that it’s unlikely that a less restrictive approach would have made much of a difference in death rates. It’s possible that a Great Barrington focused protection approach would have resulted in fewer deaths. It’s certain that a focused protection approach would have been much less expensive, and avoided the collateral damage of lockdowns and other restrictions.

I will do a cost-benefit analysis for the U.S. being especially generous to lockdown proponents, using CDC data for March 19, 2021. Let’s assume that the U.S. COVID death count of 535k is an accurate number of people who died of COVID (it actually includes many frail elderly with comorbidities who died with COVID). Let’s assume that without lockdowns and other restrictions that the U.S. death count would have doubled, from 535k to 1.07M. Considering the high percentage of elderly people in this death count, including 81% above 65 years old, and 59% above 75 years old, and about 1/3 nursing home residents, QALY lost will be much less than for younger people. Older people have fewer years remaining, and these years are far less than 1 QALY each due to health conditions, restricted mobility, etc. To be generous, let’s assume an average of 5 QALY lost per COVID death. That implies that lockdowns/restrictions saved 535k * 5 = 2.7M QALY.

Immediate family and close friends of the COVID deceased would have lost QALY. Let's assume 0.5 QALY lost for immediate family member, with an average of 3 immediate family members for every deceased. Let's also assume 0.25 QALY lost per close friend, with an average of 2 close friends per deceased. Then lockdowns/restrictions saved 1.6M immediate family members from losing 803k QALY, and 1.07M close friends from losing 268k QALY.

There have been 1.88M U.S. COVID hospitalizations. Let’s assume that these would have doubled without lockdowns/restrictions to 3.76M. Let’s assume 0.5 QALY lost per hospitalization. That implies that lockdowns/restrictions saved 1.88M * 0.5 = 0.94M QALY.

Let’s also assume that all of these extra hospitalizations would have stressed and sometimes overwhelmed hospital staff, and resulted in inferior care for both COVID and non-COVID patients. Some patients will immediately die, others will die sooner than they otherwise would have, and others will have lower quality of life due to lack of care. Many of these people would have been elderly, as they are more likely than younger people to have conditions that require hospitalization. Let's assume that the number of non-COVID hospitalized people affected by this is the same as the additional COVID hospitalizations, or 1.88M. Let’s assume an additional 3 QALY lost per additional COVID hospitalization. That implies that lockdowns/restrictions saved 1.88M * 3 = 5.64M QALY.

We need to account for the QALY lost for hospital staff that were stressed due to the doubling of COVID hospitalizations. There are about 6.6M hospital employees in the U.S. Let's assume that hospital employees would have lost an average of 0.25 QALY each due to the doubling of COVID hospitalizations. Then this implies that lockdowns/restrictions saved 6.6M * 0.25 = 1.65M QALY. 

The impact of COVID on other health problems is controversial. During the pandemic, people have died from heart attacks, strokes, suicide, drug overdoses, dementia, etc. Did some of these people who wouldn’t have died if there were no pandemic die because of COVID, or because of restrictions? COVID made a lot of people afraid to get care, or find it hard to get care. The lockdowns and restrictions almost certainly increased this fear. Lockdowns and restrictions didn’t cancel emergency care, but did cancel some elective surgeries and other non-critical care. Social isolation is a risk factor for many medical problems, especially mental health and cardiovascular issues. Enforced social isolation due to COVID social distancing restrictions likely contributed to additional excess deaths, along with increased morbidity from many non-COVID health problems. Missed cancer screenings will contribute to excess deaths in the coming years. For the sake of simplicity, and to be generous to lockdown proponents, I will ignore this impact on other health problems in the QALY calculation.   

Long COVID is another problem that costs QALY. It’s unclear how many people have long COVID, but one suggestion is 10% of COVID infections. There have been 29.4M U.S. COVID cases. A CDC estimate of total infections is 4.6 * cases, or 4.6 * 29.4 = 135.2M. 10% of this number of 13.5M. Let’s assume that these long COVID cases would have doubled without restrictions to 27M. Long COVID is more common among younger and healthier people than being hospitalized for or dying of COVID, so QALY lost should reflect that. Let’s assume that QALY lost for long COVID is the same as that lost for hospitalizations, or 0.5. That implies that lockdowns/restrictions saved 13.5M * 0.5 = 6.75M QALY.

Total QALY saved from lockdowns/restrictions is 2.7M + 0.80M + 0.27M  + 0.94M + 5.64M + 1.65M + 6.75M = 18.75M. Deaths, impact on family, impact on friends, COVID hospitalizations, non-COVID hospitalizations, impact on hospital workers, and long COVID would have affected a total of 1.07M + 3.21M + 2.14M + 3.76M + 1.88M + 6.6M + 27M = 45.66M people without lockdowns/restrictions.

Now we need to find the QALY lost from lockdowns/restrictions. Everyone who didn’t die, wasn't family/friend of deceased, be COVID or non-COVID hospitalized, was a hospital worker, or develop long COVID lost QALY due to the lockdowns/restrictions. To simplify the analysis, I will assume a uniform level of moderate restrictiveness in the U.S. (in reality, there was a lot of variation across states). Healthy young people, who had the least to fear from COVID, lost the most. A normal year for them is about 1 QALY. Being denied the ability to socialize, travel, go to school in person, participate in group sports, go to concerts, shows, sporting events, etc. for a year deprived them of much of this 1 QALY. Being subjected to testing/contract tracing/quarantining/masking for a virus that posed little risk of death or serious illness also deprived them of QALY. Being subjected to stay-at-home orders (essentially house arrest) for periods of time deprived them of QALY. Being subjected to periodic unemployment due to business closures deprived them of QALY. Some young people did better than others. Considering that restrictions limited most social activity outside of the home, married people and people in relationships did better than single people, and single people living alone did the worst. Social distancing and masking made it difficult for single people to meet other single people in the few public places that were open. Children who attended in-person school did better than children who attended remote school. The parents of children who attended in-person school did better than the parents of children who attended remote school. Introverted/socially anxious people did better than extraverted people. Professionals who were able to work remotely did better than essential workers who were forced to show up for work and risk exposure to the virus. Small business owners did especially poorly, and many lost their businesses. Let’s assume that young people lost an average of 0.5 QALY each. Older people have less QALY to lose, and would have isolated even without lockdowns/restrictions. But some older people would have wanted to travel, see family, go to concerts, etc. While they were at much higher risk of dying of COVID, a year is a lot more valuable to a person who doesn't have many years left. Let’s assume that QALY lost for older people was 0.1 QALY each. Middle-aged people would be somewhere in between older and younger people, say 0.3 QALY each. There are 171.2M younger Americans (under 40), 103.3M middle aged (40 – 65), and 54M over 65. Weighted mean of QALY lost is (171.2 * 0.5 + 103.3 * 0.3 + 54 * 0.1)/328.5 = (85.6 + 31.0 + 5.4)/328.5 = 0.37. Subtract the 45.7M who died, were family/friends of deceased, were hospitalized, denied hospitalization, were hospital workers, or developed long COVID from 328.5M to come up with 282.8M. 282.8M * 0.37 QALY = 104.6M QALY lost.
Net QALY lost is 104.6M – 18.8M = 85.8M. The U.S. federal government spent $5 trillion to lose 86 million QALY.

While all of the numbers used as input to this calculation are open to reasonable criticism, it’s unlikely that any change will affect the outcome that net QALY will be negative. I show QALY lost being over 5 times QALY gained from the restrictions. The reason for this is that even for an aging society like the U.S., people over 65 who are most vulnerable to COVID only make up about 16% of the population. Due to their age and comorbidities, dying from COVID results in a relatively low number of QALY lost. Taking away a fraction of a QALY from the much larger healthy younger and middle-aged population to save some elderly people from dying has more cost than benefit.

Assuming that COVID lockdowns and restrictions cut the death and hospitalization rates in half is almost certainly an overestimate, even if nothing at all was done. “Letting it rip” would have resulted in front loading deaths and hospitalizations to the first (spring) and second (summer) waves, but would have had a much milder impact for the fall/winter wave. It would have allowed for the buildup of herd immunity with the less contagious earlier variants of COVID-19, which would have protected a majority of the population from the more contagious later variants. Most remote working, unemployed or retired vulnerable people living in the community would have self-isolated regardless of government restrictions. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities would have been pressured to restrict visitors and socially distance residents regardless of government regulations. Letting it rip would have avoided the collateral damage that the lockdowns/restrictions occurred.

Following the Great Barrington focused protection approach would have also avoided the collateral damage, but would have better protected the vulnerable. It’s possible that the Great Barrington approach would have ended in the same or lower death/hospitalization count than what actually occurred, while allowing the non-vulnerable to live near-normal lives. The government would have spent a fraction of the $5 trillion, and avoided the QALY lost from locking down the non-vulnerable.

Monday, August 24, 2020

COVID-19 Pandemic Will Trigger Collapse of the Global Political Left’s Soft Totalitarianism

Soft totalitarianism is an unstable mix of anarchy, democracy, and totalitarianism. The good news is that it will not survive the COVID-19 pandemic. The bad news is what will likely replace it.

Updated October 18, 2021

The political left in Western countries has transitioned since the 1960s from a movement primarily promoting the interests of the working class to a strange mix of disparate elements. On the one hand, there continues to be the traditional leftist redistribution advocacy, including support for higher taxes, increased minimum wage, unions, regulation, etc. But the 1960s added social liberalism and identity politics. Social liberalism is the belief in unrestricted personal freedom, including collapse of the traditional family and traditional gender roles, fighting for the rights of sexual nonconformists like LGBT, psychotropic drug use, and extreme anti-authoritarianism, including handcuffing law enforcement while extending the rights of criminals. Identity politics is viewing all public policy from the lens of one’s group, rather than the general public interest. Feminism and black advocacy are examples of identity politics.

Since the 1960s, social liberalism has resulted in a condition of semi-anarchy in regions of many Western countries. In the U.S., this began with the 1960s and 1970s explosion of crime and drug use in the big cities. As people escaped to the suburbs, crime and drug use migrated there. Crime was successfully reduced beginning in the 1990s with a combination of more effective policing, mass incarceration, and legalized abortion. All three of these crime-reduction tactics were controversial, with the left opposing policing and mass incarceration, and the right opposing legalized abortion. Mass incarceration, especially, has been both extremely expensive and partly self-defeating, as it is enabling future crime by expanding the number of fatherless children in minority neighborhoods.

The explosion of drug use and addiction, on the other hand, has never been successfully managed, and it has only gotten worse with prescription drug abuse and deadly synthetic opioids like fentanyl. A recent partial surrender to the war on drugs by legalizing cannabis will help with states’ revenues and redirect law enforcement to more serious drugs, but will probably have little impact on the overall drug problem.

Identity politics has produced a condition of warring groups, which fight each other to the death, while the general public interest is ignored. The U.S. in the new millennium is an extreme example of this trend.

The recent George Floyd protests and riots demonstrate how social liberalism and identity politics combine to promote the indefensible notion that the police are the enemy, and black men who defy the police and resist arrest, and who are subsequently killed, are heroes. This is an ideology of anarchy, which does nothing to address the real economic and social problems in the black community. Seattle’s autonomous zone was a recent example of a failed attempt to create a small region of anarchy in a big city.

While the left has been in favor of participatory democracy, including a universal franchise (e.g. the Voting Rights Act of 1965), and mass protests, on the intellectual side there has been a soft totalitarianism. Unlike the old-fashioned totalitarian tactics of arresting, jailing, torturing, and sometimes executing dissidents, soft totalitarianism uses more subtle tactics to ensure intellectual conformity. These tactics include gaining near-total control of major institutions which employ artists and intellectuals, including academia, the media, art and cultural institutions, think tanks, publishing, etc. That resulted in most dissidents without a way to financially support themselves, forced to work in non-intellectual fields. For the few dissidents who remained employed by these institutions, the leftist soft totalitarians utilized social pressure, protests, boycotts, and other means to force them out, or at least keep them silent (e.g. preventing Charles Murray from speaking at Middlebury College). Even dissidents working in non-intellectual careers such as technology weren’t immune from this pressure to conform, finding themselves fired from their jobs for speaking out (e.g. at Google and Cisco).

Anarchy is inherently unstable. There is no known stable anarchic society in history. The extreme social and intellectual control of totalitarianism requires extreme restrictions on liberty and democracy. There is no known stable soft totalitarian society in history. This instability implies that soft totalitarianism is destined to be a fad, to be swept away in a major crisis. COVID-19 is the crisis that will end soft totalitarianism.

While the leftists in Western societies were able to gain near monolithic control of intellectual life, they have not been able to maintain totalitarian control of economic and political life. As long as they stayed in the intellectual realm, they were probably reasonably safe. But the COVID-19 pandemic has extended their control in unprecedented ways. Mass lockdowns are a totalitarian tactic learned from China, which have no precedent in the U.S. or other democratic societies, even for the far-worse Spanish flu of 1918 - 1919. The business restrictions are driving many small and medium-sized businesses to bankruptcy, and also are without precedent in democratic societies.

There are three types of totalitarianism in history:

  1. Communism, e.g. Soviet Russia and Red China.
  2. Fascism, e.g. Nazi Germany.
  3. Religious Theocracy, e.g. post-revolutionary Iran.

Communism is the most economically destructive of the three. Businesses are mass-expropriated in the name of the proletariat, and the economy is centrally planned by the state. Beginning with the 1917 Russian Revolution, communist revolutions have cratered their countries’ economies. This economic destructiveness has been protective, as there is no example in history of a successful communist revolution, or communists being voted into power, in a major world economy. Russia during World War I, China after World War II, Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba, etc. were all basket-case economies. The only times that major, advanced economies have gone communist is after a military invasion, e.g. Eastern Europe after World War II.

Our contemporary soft totalitarians have made a major tactical error in destroying their countries’ economies in the name of public health. They have crossed a line, going beyond the intellectual realm to affect daily life. That will be their undoing.

The similarities between the COVID-19 response and a communist takeover are uncanny. In both cases, you have “idealists” who claim that economic devastation is justified by a higher purpose. For communists, it’s Marxist-Leninist ideology, which promotes the ideal of a classless society. For contemporary leftists, it’s saving lives. Both share a blithe disregard for the economic destruction their ideals engender, and for the “selfish” capitalists whose businesses are expropriated (communism) or killed via regulation (contemporary leftists).

In both cases, they make an appeal to science. Marxism-Leninism is supposed to be a scientific way to run a country (religion is outlawed, for example). Contemporary leftists say that they are following scientific guidance from epidemiologists. But this scientific justification is a sham. Marxism-Leninism was a pseudoscientific political-economic theory that was one of the greatest failures in world history. Epidemiology can assert that if you shut everything down and force people to stay at home, you will have fewer infections. But epidemiology doesn’t take into account other factors that should also be considered in political decision making, such as the effects of shutdowns on the economy and individual liberty, the destructive mental and physical consequences of social isolation, the detrimental effects on child development of not going to school, etc.

While clueless leftists call for a second major U.S. lockdown  (if it didn’t work the first time, why do they think it will work the second time?), and say that the economy won’t come back until the virus is “crushed,” I argue for the opposite extreme of ending all U.S. COVID-19 restrictions. The COVID-19 pandemic is not unprecedented historically, and is not comparable to the deadly 1918 – 1919 Spanish flu, contrary to what the leftists keep telling us. It is instead comparable to milder flu pandemics of the 1950s and 1960s, which most people alive at the time don’t remember because there weren’t any economically-destructive public health measures. COVID-19 is hard to control in democratic countries because it is so mild, with many infected people experiencing either no symptoms or minor symptoms, especially the young and the healthy. It is not in the public interest to sacrifice the young and the healthy to the old, the sick, and the fat, as we are doing with these idiotic restrictions.

Regardless of what other dissenters and I argue, the leftist soft totalitarian establishment has determined that we need to respond to COVID-19 as if it were the second coming of the Spanish flu, with even more extreme measures than were taken a hundred years ago. They have, true to form, silenced dissenters by utilizing their usual tactics. They have forced every Western country (except Sweden) to follow the harsh Chinese lockdown tactics and economically destructive restrictions.

The fact that supposedly conservative governments like those in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and Israel went along with the totalitarian lockdowns reveals the intellectual bankruptcy of modern conservatism. When faced with a crisis, the conservative leaders of these countries were unable to resist the monolithic advice of people with MD or PhD degrees to lockdown. Sweden’s more laid-back approach came not from a conservative government (Sweden is run by Social Democrats), but from a nonconformist state epidemiologist named Anders Tegnell. “Once you get into a lockdown, it’s difficult to get out of it,” he said. “How do you reopen? When?” As other countries have reopened, cases have increased, forcing more lockdowns.

Major world economies will not fall to communism, and will not fall to the neo-communism of contemporary leftists. At some point in the near future, there will be a reaction. This reaction will depend on a country’s individual circumstances, including its history, strength of democratic institutions, how quickly an effective COVID-19 vaccine or treatment is invented and made widely available, and how rapidly the country’s economy is brought down by shutdowns and other COVID-19 restrictions. This reaction will spell the doom of soft totalitarianism, to be replaced by something different. This replacement most likely will be worse, sometimes much worse.

In most countries, soft totalitarianism will be replaced by either authoritarianism or (hard) totalitarianism. The U.S. will most likely turn authoritarian, and eventually become a Christian religious theocracy. This will mean that the three most powerful countries in the world (the U.S., China, and Russia) will be either authoritarian or totalitarian. Unlike during the bipolar Cold War, when the U.S. promoted liberal capitalistic democracy, and the Soviet Union Marxist-Leninist communism, the tripolar post-COVID-19 world will have three powerful countries promoting their political-economic systems to smaller countries. China will promote its unique type of totalitarian quasi-capitalistic communism to smaller countries in East Asia. Russia will promote its brand of Putin-type authoritarianism to smaller countries in Eastern Europe, and possibly Western Europe. The U.S. will promote its version of capitalistic authoritarianism to countries in Latin America. Africa and the Middle East will be a free-for-all, with all three major powers competing. India will be the major authoritarian power in South Asia, and will likely be a lesser superpower competing with the big three.

Liberal capitalistic democracy will live on in smaller Western countries, but unlike during the Cold War, they won’t have the backing of a superpower, and will be impotent to affect world events. Eventually, their number will shrink as one or more superpowers use persuasion or coercion to bring them into their fold.

Why such pessimism? After all, things were looking so bright after the end of the Cold War, with the U.S. liberal capitalistic model seemingly victorious. The reason has to do with the creative intellectual vacuum of our age, which I talk about here. Liberal capitalistic democracy was born in the U.S. in the late eighteenth century during one of the greatest Western intellectual movements in history, the Enlightenment. The modernist movement that began at the turn of the 20th Century has become an anti-Enlightenment, reversing a 500-year glorious history of Western progress in the arts and culture. Science continues, but global progress is held back by lack of individual accomplishment. COVID-19 is an example of this lack of accomplishment, as this pandemic could have been prevented if we had responded appropriately to the threat that SARS revealed to the world in 2002 – 2003. This response should have been using the past 18 years to develop panviral (i.e. universal) coronavirus vaccines and treatments. Such an effort would have required a combination of political long-term, strategic planning along with scientific genius, which are globally lacking in today’s world thanks to the anti-Enlightenment.

As I indicate here, there is some hope for the future. The cause of the modernist movement has to do with the interaction of modern technology with the human magnetic sense, which has led to an explosion of drug abuse and mental illness. We are starting to make progress in understanding human magnetoreception, which will take some time. This understanding will lead to both better treatments for mental illness, and fewer people being affected. Eventually there will appear creative geniuses who will lead a future major intellectual movement that will replace modernism. This movement will also lead to a restoration of liberal capitalistic democracy.

Friday, August 7, 2020

End U.S. COVID-19 Restrictions Now

It’s not in the public interest to sacrifice the young and the healthy to the old, the sick, and the fat. 

Updated September 14, 2020

COVID-19 has upended life globally. As of August 2020, it has directly killed over 800 thousand people  and indirectly killed thousands more due to their not being treated for other medical conditions. It has led to a global recession that may turn into a second Great Depression. Governments worldwide have taken unprecedented powers to enforce social distancing, lockdowns, and other public health measures, and to try to prop up economies.

There are heroes in this worldwide tragedy. Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers have stepped up at significant personal risk to treat the sick. They should be saluted, along with other essential workers like grocery store workers, police officers, and transit workers who have helped keep us fed, safe, and able to go to where we need to go.

But we must not overlook the collective failure of important institutions that could have prevented this catastrophe. This pandemic is both a scientific and political failure. Scientists knew from the SARS epidemic of 2002 – 2004, and the MERS epidemic beginning in 2012 that certain coronaviruses could be deadly, but didn’t do enough to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic. What could they have done? Universal (aka panviral) coronavirus vaccines or treatments. Isn’t that very difficult? Yes. It would have required the combination of a major research effort, including funding, along with a scientific breakthrough. In other words, a combination of political long-term, strategic planning along with scientific genius. Both are globally lacking in today’s world, and we are now paying the price.

Many countries have combined lockdowns with widespread contact tracing, testing, and social distancing to flatten the curve  The economic cost has been high, but countries that managed to reduce the case count are now reopening (although some of them are locking down again due to renewed COVID-19 spread). In the U.S., this has not been successful. Although it created a temporary flattening of the curve, buying time for health professionals to ramp up testing, PPE, and better treat the disease, we are now seeing a spike in many parts of the U.S. (although this spike is associated with much lower death rates than before). The combination of poor U.S. public health infrastructure, large number of people with chronic health conditions, fragmentary government responses, and history of individual freedom and rejection of government authority, made the global standard COVID-19 public health response a failure in the U.S.

While some commentators have attributed this failure to American decline, others have noted that the projected COVID-19 death count is not comparable to the horrific Spanish Flu of 1918 – 1919, but instead the Asian flu of 1957 – 1958, or Hong Kong flu of 1968 – 1969, in which there were no U.S. shutdowns, and minimal public health response and economic impact. We had better leaders back then who, guided by common sense, understood that shutting down the economy in response to a pandemic would have devastating effects.

At this point, it’s time to reopen the U.S. economy. Repeated widespread lockdowns to flatten the curve are not going to be politically acceptable anymore. The business closures that remain are only postponing the inevitable deaths, while destroying the economy. People are going to become sick and die of COVID-19 whether or not the economy reopens. We might as well reopen it now.

It’s summer as I write this. People are doing less risky outdoor activities. It makes sense to completely open up the economy now. Let’s build up herd immunity among liberated younger people. Continuing the way we’re going with partial closures and restrictions will result in a large number of susceptible people this coming flu season. Then hospitals will be overwhelmed with the combination of flu and COVID-19, and our leaders will demand more shutdowns. Small businesses can survive a single shutdown, but not repeated ones. Very soon, years of hard work and effort among thousands of business owners to build their brands will be flushed down the toilet.

By rescinding all state, county, and local COVID-19 business restrictions, many small and medium-sized businesses will be saved from destruction. Governments are not expropriating wealth, but instead are destroying it by continuing with these restrictions. This will save a large fraction of our middle class, many of whom are small business owners. It will save millions of jobs from elimination. Opening schools will save our children, the future of our country, whose education is at risk of being abandoned. Many school systems refuse to reopen despite the overwhelming evidence that remote schooling is ersatz, especially for disadvantaged kids, and children rarely become seriously ill with COVID-19.

I’ll now discuss some arguments and counterarguments for COVID-19 restrictions.

Economist Paul Krugman argues that Republicans have “sacralized selfishness,” encouraging people to act irresponsibly by going to bars and refusing to wear masks. Implicit in this argument is that it’s selfish for young people to party, hang out at bars, and engage in what otherwise would be a normal social life for a young adult. Taking its argument to its logical conclusion, it’s also selfish for young people to go to school, work, shop, socialize, travel, or do anything other than sit at home and watch Netflix, because there’s the chance that they will catch COVID-19 and pass it onto vulnerable people. That’s one way to look at things.

There’s another way to look at this. We know that people vulnerable to getting seriously ill and dying from COVID-19 include the elderly, those with chronic health conditions like hypertension and diabetes, and the obese. In other words, the old, the sick, and the fat. Isn’t it selfish for the old, the sick, and the fat to tell the young and the healthy that they cannot have a life? They cannot go to school, work, shop, socialize, or do anything that normal, healthy young people do? They cannot do this because there’s a chance they will catch the virus and pass it onto a vulnerable person? Many of the old, sick, and fat were once young and healthy. Back then, they had the opportunity to go to school, work, socialize, travel, and have fun. Isn’t it selfish of them to tell the youth of today that they cannot do what they themselves did when they were younger? That the youth of today must come of age in Great Depression 2, a Great Depression that was caused by a global overreaction to COVID-19, with no opportunities to have a fulfilling career and make money? That the youth of today must pay off massive government debt that we have accumulated trying to prolong the lives of the old, the sick, and the fat?

Another perspective, common in contemporary America, is the rights perspective. The old, the sick, and the fat have a right to life, that’s being taken away by the irresponsible young and healthy who party and pass on the virus to them. That’s one perspective, and the right to life is important.

But there’s another perspective: the right to liberty. The young and healthy have a right to liberty, which is being taken away in an unprecedented way with COVID-19 restrictions. For example, when in American history has there ever been a general stay-at-home order or lockdown, affecting most of the population? World War II? There were restrictions and shortages, and young men were subject to the draft, but people were free to move about and go on with their lives. The same was true for World War I and the Civil War (with the possible exception of being actively attacked or invaded). There were pandemics in the past that provoked a public health response, the most notable being the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 – 1919. As I said above, COVID-19 is not comparable to the Spanish flu. The Spanish flu’s death rate was 2 to 6 times higher than COVID-19’s death rate. Also, unlike COVID-19, the Spanish flu was especially deadly for young adults. But despite being the most deadly flu pandemic in modern history, the public health response was muted compared to what we’ve done with COVID-19. In some cities, bars, restaurants, theaters, and schools were closed, and masks were required. Sound familiar? But there were no general lockdowns, no attempt at universal “social distancing” (a euphemism for enforced mass social isolation), and no restrictions on private social functions. The economy back then was mostly agricultural and industrial, and healthy people continued to work in the farms and factories.

If this extreme mass denial of liberty resulting from the global overreaction to COVID-19 didn’t come from democratic historical examples, where did it come from? China, where the virus also came from. Although China at first denied the severity of the virus, allowing it to escape to other countries, eventually they instituted a strict lockdown of Wuhan. Other countries, including the U.S., decided to imitate the Chinese response, conveniently forgetting that China is a totalitarian communist dictatorship. Why should democracies imitate the actions of a totalitarian communist dictatorship? Aren’t we supposed to value individual liberty? 

In my opinion, the best perspective to evaluate the COVID-19 response is on the basis of the “public interest.” I define this as the long-term interest of society as a whole. In the contemporary U.S., the public interest is not discussed very often. On the political left, identity politics rules. Every group is concerned with its own interests, and these interests conflict with each other. Examples include feminists, and advocates for blacks, gays, and the disabled. On the political right, the interests of the wealthy donors are paramount. Hence the Reagan, Bush Jr., and Trump tax cuts, which overwhelmingly benefited the rich.    

Looking at COVID-19 from a public interest perspective, is it in the public interest to sacrifice the young and the healthy to the old, the sick, and the fat? Let me ask the question in another way. Who is the future of our country? Is it the demented 85-year-old man in a nursing home, or a 7-year-old in elementary school? Should the 7-year-old elementary school student be denied an education because there’s a chance that, not that the student will get seriously ill from COVID-19, but that he might pass the virus to someone, who will pass it to someone else, and it will eventually reach the 85-year-old demented guy in the nursing home? The 85-year-old demented guy represents the past. He’s lived his life. It may have been a good life, maybe not. He has, at best, a few more demented years left. The 7-year-old represents the future. He may live another 80 years or more. His development could be irreparably harmed if he’s denied an education and normal social interaction with his peers.

Some may argue that I am making a straw man argument. Many people who die of COVID-19 are not demented old guys in nursing homes. But 40% of U.S. COVID-19 deaths are linked to nursing homes (nursing home residents make up only about 0.5% of the U.S. population). Elderly people are in nursing homes for a reason. They’re not doing too well. The point is that by continuing these restrictions, we’re sacrificing our future to our past.

What about teachers in schools? Let’s take the case of a 65-year-old teacher with diabetes and hypertension. She is afraid of contracting COVID-19 from her students. I would be afraid if I were in her situation, also. But there’s a simple solution for her: she can quit. There are plenty of unemployed and underemployed young healthy college graduates who could replace her. You could hire someone with a bachelor’s degree and without teaching credentials, and have her earn credentials while she’s working.

Another argument is that the restrictions are only temporary, until we get an effective vaccine or treatment. In the meantime, why can’t the young and healthy stay at home and not infect the vulnerable? If “temporary” meant a month or two, I might agree with this. But the lockdowns and restrictions in the U.S. started in March, over 4 months from the time I’m writing this. I don’t see an end date. The longer the restrictions occur, the more businesses will fail, the more the economy will suffer, and the better chance the world economy will sink into Great Depression 2. While optimists can say that as soon as we have a vaccine everything will return to normal, we don’t know that. We don’t know if or when we’ll have an effective and safe vaccine. Many small businesses, and the jobs associated with them, will be permanently closed. The passion, energy, and years of hard work they put into these businesses will be lost forever. Some of these businesses go back generations. It’s unlikely that we can just flip a switch and get back to the way things were. It’s incredibly risky to start a Great Depression 2. Along with the expected consequences of widespread unemployment, homelessness, starvation, etc., the unexpected consequences can be catastrophic, as they were for the Great Depression in the 1930s. The Great Depression led to Hitler and the Nazis coming to power in Germany, and six years later Hitler started World War II by invading Poland. 70 to 85 million people died in that war.

Rushing a vaccine to return as quickly as possible to normal life is also a bad idea. An unsafe and ineffective COVID-19 vaccine would not only hurt the people who received the vaccine and got sick and/or died, but would also make people wary of taking other vaccines. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been a lot of people refusing to take safe and effective vaccines like measles. A COVID-19 vaccine fiasco would accelerate this anti-vaccination trend, resulting in preventable outbreaks of measles and other diseases.

The solution in the U.S. (and many other countries) is to no longer utilize public health interventions for COVID-19. These interventions, such as testing, contract tracing, and isolation/quarantining, made sense early in the pandemic, as an attempt to contain the virus. Not only would containment have saved thousands of lives, but it would have had minimal impact on the economy and daily life. After containment failed, it no longer was logical to continue these interventions. The cost in terms of jobs, economic collapse, mass restrictions on individual liberty, and disruption to daily life have become too high. “Flattening the curve” sounded good in theory, but has proved to be a total failure, at least in the U.S. People with serious symptoms requiring medical attention should be tested and treated; everyone else with mild or no symptoms should be left free to go on with their lives. All state, county, and local restrictions should end (with the exception of protecting nursing homes and other elderly long-term care institutions). Schools should be open for full-time in-person instruction under normal pre-pandemic conditions. People with mild or no symptoms should go about their life without being subject to testing, enforced mass social isolation, masking, quarantining, or any other public health intervention. If businesses want to implement health measures such as masks/distancing/cleaning, they should be allowed to but not required by law. Vulnerable people living outside of institutions will need to take appropriate precautions while there is community spread (e.g. while usually it’s healthy for obese people to work out at the gym, not now). It’s possible that natural herd immunity will occur before an effective and safe vaccine is developed, which will make the vaccine superfluous. Whether the herd immunity is achieved naturally or through a vaccine, life must go on.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Website Updates

I’ve updated my harrymagnet.com website. I’ve removed the 2009 research paper, which reflected my thinking in the early stages of my project, and is now out of date. The plan is to eventually replace it with an autobiographical book, but for now I present my main findings in an updated Two Mysteries article. This article is shorter and less technical than the research paper. Here are some of the highlights:
  • Updated brief discussion of animal and human magnetoreception research, with links for further reading
  • Expanded discussion of the Psychological Magnetic Map and associated peaks, with reference to light-dependent magnetoreception.
  • Discussion of the East-West Map/Natural Time Zones (NTZs), including psychological effects of living far from one’s home NTZ. I introduce the concept of NTZ Reset.
  • Expanded discussion of bed angles and bed angle reset.
  • Discussion of psychic experiences such as telepathy and messages in peak locations. Rotating bed angle connects me with different psychic entities, like rotating the tuning dial of an old-fashioned radio.
  • Discussion of ideal bedtime, and the formula used to calculate it anywhere on Earth.
  • Discussion of electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
  • Discussion of sleep sensitivity to near distance and far distance objects. I introduce the concept of OSSADs (Objects to which I’m Sleep Sensitive At a Distance). I talk in depth about my experiences with these objects, mostly nonpowered, that affect my sleep at distances up to 60 meters/197 feet.
  • Discussion of my experiences with energy healing, specifically Biofield Tuning. I explain the connections between Biofield Tuning and magnetoreception.
  • Discussion of how some of my ideas can be experimentally verified. My sleeping behavior and environment should be focused on initially, and recent advances in the experimental study of human magnetoreception make it technically feasible to do so.
Other changes include some updates to the Are You Sensitive article. I talk about how my creative writing motivation seems to occur only in odd numbered solar cycles.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Human Magnetoreception Research Resumes After 30 Years of Neglect

Robin Baker’s human magnetoreception experiments in the late 1970’s and 80’s were pioneering efforts that led to—30 years of basically doing nothing. Failure to replicate his results was the reason for this, but failure to replicate is common in neuroscience. The brain is complicated, and we don’t have a good understanding of it yet. Why failure to replicate led to scientists abandoning human magnetoreception, but not abandoning other fields like brain imaging, search for chemical imbalances, etc. probably requires a psychological explanation along the lines of Thomas Kuhn’s classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

While scientists abandoned the study of human magnetoreception, a small number of scientists continued studying nonhuman animal magnetoreception, making important contributions in experimental technique and understanding of biophysical mechanisms. These contributions, which were yet to be discovered at the time of Robin Baker’s pioneering experiments, along with general technological improvements, have led to much better experimental control than was possible during Robin Baker’s time. I’m pleased to be able to report two human magnetoreception experiments that make use of these scientific and technological advances, and have been published in science journals this year.

The first experiment, Chae et al., was done by a research group in South Korea. They did a modification of Robin Baker’s spinning chair experiment. In Baker’s original experiment, blindfolded subjects were spun around in random directions in a chair, and asked to say the compass direction they were facing. In this new experiment, the researchers created an artificial magnetic field using Helmholtz coils, and shielded subjects from external EMF’s using a Faraday cage. 41 subjects with no physical or mental disorders, ages 19-33 years, approximately evenly divided between men and women, were studied. Subjects were able to rotate their chairs instead of having the chairs rotated for them. They were asked, with eyes closed, to rotate their chair to face magnetic north or east. These magnetic directions were modified by the Helmholtz coils. Adding an operant conditioning component, some subjects were starved, and “rewarded” with candy if they faced the correct direction. The ambient light was experimentally controlled. Some subjects were blindfolded. The study made use of scientific advances in understanding of factors that can affect animal magnetoreception, including that some RF frequency EMF’s can affect magnetoreception, and that some types of magnetoreception requires low wavelength monochromatic visible light (i.e. blue or green, but not red or yellow). The authors concluded that starved men (but not women) significantly oriented toward magnetic north or east. This orientation was maintained under blue light, but not under long wavelength (> 500nm) light.

I have several issues with this experiment. One is that, like with many of the Robin Baker experiments, and unlike with most nonhuman animal experiments, there’s a lot of spread in the data. The highest r value (a measure of the variability, with a higher r meaning less variability) is 0.51, which isn’t very good. To get a visual idea, here’s a reproduction of the main results figure:

The blue dots represent data points, i.e. direction estimates. See how the blue dots in the supposedly significant D and H are spread around in a circle. If the subjects really were able to ascertain their direction, the dots would be congregated either at magnetic north or magnetic east. Results like these are invitations for failure to replicate, as happened with Robin Baker.

If you’re going to test light-dependent magnetoreception, why ask subjects to close their eyes? It drastically reduces the light hitting the retina, and may disable the light-dependent magnetoreceptor. There was no reason in this experiment for subjects to close their eyes, as the magnetic field was modified by the Helmholtz coils, and was invisible to the subjects.

It’s not a good idea to test human magnetoreception in only healthy subjects. Most people who have contacted me regarding purported magnetic sensitivity have some sort of psychological and/or physical problems. Just think about it—if you’re sensitive to magnetic fields, you’re not going to do well in modern society, with all the artificial magnetic fields that we’re forced to live with. You may have done well a long time ago, when we were hunter-gatherers, but not today.

I don’t see how starving humans and conditioning them using food adds anything of value to this experiment. If humans were able to ascertain compass direction, then it shouldn’t matter if they were starving or not.

Did any individuals exhibit special powers of ascertaining compass direction? The results were grouped, so I can’t tell. Anyone studying magnetoreception should look for individual differences and focus on those who are sensitive. This leads to my discussion of the second experiment, which did just that.

This Wang et al. experiment, done by a research group at Caltech headed by longtime magnetoreception researcher Joseph Kirschvink (joined with others at Princeton and the University of Tokyo), has been extensively reported in the science press (see this, and this for good nontechnical summaries). Instead of measuring navigational abilities like Robin Baker or the Chae et al. study mentioned above, this experiment looked at a drop in amplitude of the alpha EEG brainwave (known as alpha-event-related desynchronization, or alpha-ERD) in response to changes to external magnetic fields. It studied 24 adult males and 12 adult females, ages 18-68, “recruited from the Caltech population.” Subjects included people of European, Asian, African, and North American descent. Like with the Chae et al. experiment, a Faraday Cage was used to shield against external EMF’s. This experiment used a nested set of orthogonal, squared Merritt coils to modify the magnetic field surrounding the subject. An EEG was used to measure brainwaves, and current EEG analytical techniques were used to identify patterns. A battery-powered digital conversion unit relayed data over an optical fiber cable to a remote-control room. This room, ~ 20 meters away from the subject, had all power supplies, computers, and monitoring equipment. The paper goes into great detail on the experimental setup, to aid in future replication efforts. Participants sat with eyes closed, in total darkness during the experiments. Tests were run that varied inclination with declination constant, or varied declination with inclination constant. Each run was ~ 7 minutes long, with 8 runs in a ~ 1 hour session. There were sham runs (no changes) interspersed with real runs, and the experiment was conducted double blind. Here's a picture of the experimental setup:

The study reported alpha-ERD in 4 out of the original 36 participants (11%) that remained stable over time. The alpha-ERD occurred when inclination changed (i.e. from upward to downward, or vice versa). The alpha-ERD also occurred when declination changed counterclockwise, but only when the magnetic vector was pointed downward, as it does naturally in the Northern Hemisphere. There was no alpha-ERD when declination changed but the magnetic vector pointed upward, as it does naturally in the Southern Hemisphere. This asymmetry, along with other analysis, was used to rule out potential biophysical mechanisms such as the quantum compass and induction. The authors suggest magnetite as a likely biophysical magnetoreceptive mechanism, although this experiment wasn’t designed to prove this. None of the participants in the study could consciously distinguish between different magnetic field conditions.

This study needed a lot more information about the participants, especially the ones who had the strong responses. We are given no information about how they were selected. They were from the Caltech population. What does that mean? Were they students, professors, employees, or a combination of the three? The fact that someone is at Caltech at the time of the experiment tells me nothing of their background. They could have lived all their life in Sydney, and started at Caltech a month or two before the study. In that case, I’d expect their magnetoreceptor to be tuned to the Southern Hemisphere. Future human magnetoreception studies should have a detailed history of where and when a person lived. Many people move around a lot in their childhood, including from Northern to Southern Hemisphere, and vice versa. We also need to know where they spent their adult life. If someone who spent their childhood in Cape Town but has lived in LA for 6 years, and has alpha-ERD responses at Caltech with downward inclination like in the Northern Hemisphere, then that would indicate that this response is capable of adaptation after childhood.

There should also be personality and clinical testing of participants to determine if the responders had any noticeable differences from the non-responders. That would aid in identifying other responders.

One flaw in this study is that it groups statistics between responders and non-responders. They did find significant ANOVA results, but what if there were only one or two responders instead of four? That’s a potential problem for replication. If they need more subjects for statistical power, they should find more responders, and group the responders together.

While the authors’ exclusion of the quantum compass (i.e. radical pair) biophysical process makes sense based on their data, it must be remembered that the experiment was done with eyes closed, in total darkness. The quantum compass is a light-dependent magnetoreceptive process. It’s possible that humans have this quantum compass, which was turned off under these experimental conditions.
The alpha rhythm is an awake, resting rhythm. The conditions of eyes closed and total darkness is somewhere in between normal waking behavior and sleep. Studies of normal alert waking behavior should involve eyes open and lights on. This would activate the light-dependent quantum compass magnetoreceptor, assuming humans have it.

This study is very important in creating a magnetically-controlled condition that utilizes EEG, as this can be applied to sleep research. Ten years ago, I argued in my research paper that any studies on my magnetoreceptive abilities would require experimental control of my sleeping behavior. I couldn’t imagine at the time how this could be accomplished in a magnetically controlled way, especially EEG, which is critical in sleep research. Thanks to the Wang et al. experiment, it does appear now within reach. The kind of experimental controls used in this study can also be used in a sleep experiment. Some of the independent variables in sleep magnetoreception research include inclination and intensity, bed angle, bed time, and ferromagnetic materials near one’s head when sleeping. Bed angle (i.e. angle of the long axis of the bed relative to magnetic north), inclination and intensity can be manipulated by the Merritt coils. With EEG, bed time (i.e. the time when you initially go to sleep) can be precisely determined, along with the progression of sleep stages. Ferromagnetic materials can be introduced in the experimental chamber in a double blind manner to determine the effect on sleep. Dependent variables include subjective sleep quality, psychological state upon awakening (which is heavily dependent on sleep quality), and EEG.

I think from my own experience that human conscious perception of magnetic field changes requires prior sleep under similar conditions to the awake testing ones. That means that the subject will have to spend at least several nights sleeping in the experimental sleep apparatus prior to awake testing. It also means that magnetic changes need to be physically realistic. In the Wang et al. experiment, the inclination sweep was not realistic. It would require a Star Trek-type transporter to move physically that amount of inclination in that short a time. Realistic inclination changes that would maintain conscious magnetoreceptive responses are similar to those occurring while running, biking, or driving (not flying). Declination sweeps, however, are more realistic, as it only requires body rotation. In North America, both inclination and intensity are highly correlated, so physically-realistic changes would require changes in both at the same time, and in the same direction. Lastly, the subjective importance of bed time in my research seems to imply perception of geomagnetic diurnal variation. It’s possible that conscious perception of the artificially-generated magnetic field may require a time-dependent component similar to the natural field.

In summary, human magnetoreception research is back in business. While these two experiments are a start, and need to survive replication, they point the way to further experiments of sleeping and waking behavior. Under the right conditions, these future experiments can verify my hypothesis that some people are sleep sensitive to magnetic fields, that some people can consciously perceive magnetic fields, and this sleep sensitivity and conscious perception may be connected to symptoms of psychiatric disorders.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Harry Magnet Site is Now Mobile Friendly

Check out the updated site at harrymagnet.com. You can now view the site on your phone or tablet, along with your computer. There is some updated content, primarily in the Are You Sensitive page. I restructured the page to separate out geomagnetic field and artificial field sensitivity, with further separation of waking and sleeping states. I also made changes based on feedback I've gotten over the years, such as from people who claim to be able to perceive distant earthquakes before they occur.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Harry Magnet Mentioned in Podcast

My harrymagnet.com website has been up for over 5 years, but there have been very few external web references to it. I was pleased to find today a Mysterious Universe podcast from June 19 that mentions me. The entire podcast is over an hour in duration. The discussion turns to animal magnetoreception at 14:30. The narrators then discuss Robin Baker's human experiments at 17:35. They discuss me beginning at 20:00, ending at 24:15. The discussion is partly humorous, partly serious, but I think they give a pretty good brief summary of my ideas.