Coronavirus days: lab leak?

PXL_20210524_123538146~2 The hot topic around coronavirus nowadays - apart from whether I get to go to Switzerland this summer - is the "lab leak theory"1. As a starter, I like The media's lab leak fiasco; A huge fuckup, with perhaps not-so-huge policy stakes by Matthew Yglesias. From which the key part is

What happened is that Tom Cotton raised this idea in February in his capacity as a China hawk, and then again in March as part of a nonsensical attack on Joe Biden. He got shouted down pretty hard by scientists on Twitter, by formal institutions, and by the media. Then this kind of pachinkoed down into being a politics story where writers and fact-checkers who didn’t cover science at all “knew” that this was a debunked story that right-wingers were pushing for their nefarious ends. I think it’s increasingly clear that this was a huge fiasco for the mainstream press that got way over their skis in terms of discourse-policing, and there is in fact a serious scientific question as to where the virus came from — a question that we will probably never be able to answer because the Chinese government has clearly committed to one viewpoint on this and isn’t going to allow a thorough investigation.

I say "starter" but actually that's about all there is to say. This piece goes into some more detail (note: IANAV and can't judge the science) but it turns out that all you end up with is that (A) none of the evidence either way is particularly convincing and (B) various statements by various scientists expressing certainty or near-certainty that the lab-leak theory is wrong, are themselves wrong; in that their certainty is unjustified. The WMO investigation seems to me to have been farcical - as MY puts it "the Chinese government has clearly committed to one viewpoint on this and isn’t going to allow a thorough investigation"; it looks like political pressure made the statements in that report unreliable2.

196332592_10226431452237257_5727916697193286201_n From the policy-response side I think the interesting point is that all the nice people saw the bad people saying this thing, and concluded that it must be false. Which is logically obviously wrong. And yet nominally sane people are still making this mistake. Wittily, it turns out that fb had banned talking about it, per Facebook lifts ban on posts claiming Covid-19 was man-made which shows the dangers of pressuring fb to censor things you don't like.

That the commies are doing their best to impede investigation is not proof of their guilt. It seems like moderately convincing evidence, until you remember that, well, that's just how authoritarian govts behave about everything; and also recall Saddam's impeding of the WMD inspections.

The NewYorker notes that The left’s theory blamed an unreconstructed pre-modern approach to wildlife that, instead of protecting it, killed and ate it; there certainly were a number of stories around that, and a number of people were rather clearly "happy" to have their worst fears confirmed. But I'm not sure these were influential.


1. FWIW, there are two variants: (1) accidental leak, and (2) deliberate release. (2) seems implausible to me, and I think some people have used 2-is-obviously-false to somehow elide into 1-is-false; which is logically invalid.

2. Quite a lot of other stuff by experts turned out to be unreliable; the early advice on masks for example; the surface-contact stuff: see the Economist's Evidence points to SARS-CoV-2 being a virus which travels easily through the air, in contradistinction to the early belief that short-range encounters and infected surfaces were the main risks.


* Possible, but far from proven: Assessing the theory that covid-19 leaked from a Chinese lab: The evidence so far is circumstantial - the Economist.

* PW notices that herd immunity was indeed the govt's policy, as advised to them by scientists.

New Amazon Bond Film Will Feature 007 Assassinating Small Business Owners.

Hayek was not a conservative. Here's why.

* Paper tiger: India’s national government looks increasingly hapless. Confronted with catastrophe, the state has melted away - the Economist.

* Johnson & Johnson single-shot Covid vaccine approved for use in UK.

Switzerland walks out of seven-year treaty talks with EU.

The Wuhan Lab and the Gain-of-Function Disagreement.

The preservation of a free system is so difficult because it requires a constant rejection of measures which appear to be required to secure particular results, on no stronger grounds than that they conflict with a general rule, and frequently without our knowing what will be the costs of not observing the rule in the particular instance. A successful defence of freedom must therefore be dogmatic and make no concessions to expediency, even where it is not possible to show that, beside the known beneficial effects, some particular harmful result would also follow from its infringement. Freedom will prevail only if it is accepted as a general principle whose application to particular instances requires no justification - Hayek via CH; and In civilized society it is indeed not so much the greater knowledge that the individual can acquire, as the greater benefit he receives from the knowledge possessed by others, which is the cause of his ability to pursue an infinitely wider range of ends than merely the satisfaction of his most pressing physical needs. Indeed, a ‘civilized’ individual may be very ignorant, more ignorant than many a savage, and yet greatly benefit from the civilization in which he lives.

* The Climate Book You Didn’t Know You Need: The Physics of Climate Change by Lawrence Krauss by Sabine Hossenfelder.

Covid: Zero daily deaths announced in UK for first time - Aunty


Washington Post Corrects Year-Old Article Calling Lab-Leak Theory ‘Debunked’

* Katherine Eban in Vanity Fair via Twatter.

Some reflections on (corona) truth wars - ATTP.

* 2021/09: An appeal for an objective, open, and transparent scientific debate about the origin of SARS-CoV-2 by Jacques van Helden et al. in the Lancet via PG on Twatter.


Twenty firms produce 55% of world’s plastic waste, report reveals?

PXL_20210516_112750999~2 It am de Graun, channelling The Plastic Waste Makers index. This is eerily familiar and reeks of Retread: Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions? The Graun, as you'd expect, is a bit confused, quothing Twenty companies are responsible for producing more than half of all the single-use plastic waste in the world, fuelling the climate crisis and... But of course turning oil into plastics doesn't much affect the climate; carbon is emitted during this as during any industrial operation, but unless you burn the plastics, most of the carbon is locked away. Indeed, by being a use for oil, and thus raising its price, and thereby increasing the price of petrol, it arguably reduces carbon emissions. Until you burn the waste; but those twenty companies are, of course, not burning it.

As you'd hope, they've managed to get Exxon to the top of their list of Evil Plastics Companies, which sort of surprised me, cos I don't associate Exxon with making plastics. And they don't; because what the report is actually about is subtly different: the companies that produce from fossil fuels the five primary polymers (my bold). So, it is the feedstocks. I think that leaves me with the same opinion as for Evil Fossil Fuels: the people that burn them are responsible for burning them. Or, if you're worried about plastics pollution of the world, the people that throw it away are responsible for doing so.

Speaking of which, the Graun quotes “Plastic pollution is one of the greatest and most critical threats facing our planet,” said Dr Andrew Forrest AO, chairman of the Minderoo Foundation. Which is pretty funky; it is hard to see plastic as that, unless you're job is to be obsessed with plastic. I seem to have said this before... which link will also point you at nice pix telling you who the naughty people throwing plastic into the ocean are. Hint: it isn't the Cold West.

Pic: my Tree Peony. Thanx TPP.


ExxonMobil found the real reason for the climate crisis: You - Salon mindlessly parrots Supran and Oreskes latest drivel, which is really just the same old drivel.

* One of the great scientific truths of the “invisible hand” is that the participants do not have to grasp (in fact cannot grasp) the overall operation of the system but are guided only by their own private interests in particular contexts. But it may very well be the case that while we don’t have to understand the spontaneous order of the free-market economy in order to benefit from it, a significant portion of the general public might need to grasp the basic scientific principles and the aesthetic beauty of the “invisible hand” in order for it to be sustained in the face of ordinary political pressures for expediency - from Fearing Freedom: The Intellectual and Spiritual Challenge to Liberalism by Pete Boettke; h/t CH.

* The media's lab leak fiasco: A huge fuckup, with perhaps not-so-huge policy stakes by Matthew Yglesias (arch) h/t TF; and The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan? by Nicholas Wade h/t Timmy. Nate Silver.

* The long walk to learning; Asfaw Yemiru died on May 8th; The founder of Ethiopia’s best school for poor children was 78 or 79

* A lesson for a food writer and for all of us. The Secret Recipe for Civilization by Tim Worstall.

Coronavirus days: the beginning of the end

1621343360891-c949835c-a753-4771-84f3-386d93192a05_ Today I went out for a coffee inside a coffee shop. Two indeed: the local Tishka's, and then Waterstones cafe. And for the first time in ages I got to sit down and read some book. Being rather at a loose end for a book I wanted I found... The Case For Trump. Well, it beats reading Kamala Harris. Notice that link focusses on very New Yorker things and doesn't once discuss Trump's shit-for-brains protectionism, because Newyorkers quite like that stuff. 

Aanyway, I just wanted to note that chapter one ("Meet Donald Trump") has as a tagline "Ordinary men usually manage public affairs better than their more gifted fellows" from Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War (spoken by Cleon, son of Cleaenetus). And the quote is accurate. But he is relying on you not realising that Cleon is the demagogue, opposed to the rationalist Diodotus. I covered this in the context of Brexit in The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun; it is fun to see it come back.

Update: continuing, chapter two offers "Trump from the very beginning, saw that his budding idea of populism could be..." and what I wanted to say is that I don't credit Trump with skill or cleverness in tailoring his message or ideas. He got lucky. What he was offering fit the times. He pushed his only available ideas and style, and found that they were popular.

I'm still waiting for Switzerland to go onto the green list though. Come on Switzers, get those needles in. They're (just) doing even worse than the EU!



Half of emissions cuts will come from future tech, says John Kerry

Of course, this being a newspaper headline he didn't actually say that; nothing will stop newspapers from lying in headlines. What he said was something closer to I am told by scientists that 50% of the reductions we have to make to get to net zero are going to come from technologies that we don’t yet have. That’s just a reality. What he means by this isn't clear; I think it likely that most of the savings will come from solar panels and windmills, and entirely possible that this will come from boring incremental technological improvements that probably don't really merit the phrase "not yet invented"1. But these are just words, from a politician, so it is probably a mistake to read too much into them2. We won't be using this year's tech in what we install next year, let alone five or ten years from now. I thank KR for the Twit, and for getting the predicatable-response bandwagon rolling with "[I] thought it an unfortunate framing". But then MM kicks in with the equally predictable The Biden administration has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by a factor of two over the next decade. That will have to be done with existing technology  @JohnKerry, and not imagined & untested "future tech". Yawn. Even worse opinions are available, and some sane ones.

Slightly more interestingly, he prefixed this with You don’t have to give up a quality of life to achieve some of the things that we know we have to achieve. That’s the brilliance of some of the things that we know how to do. This too is vague pol-speak (you don't have to give up "a" quality of life, but you do have to give up some others? And you that applies to some-of-the-things; so you do have to give up quality of life for some of the others?) which again shouldn't be over-interpreted but does amount to not scaring the horses I think. My own answer hasn't much changed since How much would we have to adjust our lifestyle to stop global warming? but that was only in 2018.


* If you prefer science, KR has a nice post on new work on temperatures at the The Last Glacial Maximum.
There have been 7m-13m excess deaths worldwide during the pandemic - Economist, modelling to try to fill the yawning data gaps in third world countries like India.


1. Which word "invented" I now discover is yet more made-up stuff from the Graun; FFS, why can't they just tell you what people have said rather than making up things they didn't say?

2. It looks like he was channelling Fatih Birol: However, IEA analysis shows that about half the reductions to get to net zero emissions in 2050 will need to come from technologies that are not yet ready for market; and "not yet ready for market" is a rather better way of saying it. There's also an IEA Press release: Pathway to critical and formidable goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 is narrow but brings huge benefits, according to IEA special report; 18 May 2021. But not everyone is happy with the IEA claiming to be first (or indeed the details of what they say). It does include "These include, from today, no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects", despite my doubts.