The metric US that could have been

Why hasn’t the United States adopted the metric system for widespread use? I’ve generally thought there were two reasons. One is that with the enormous US internal market, there was less incentive to follow international measurement standards. The other was that the US has long had a brash and rebellious streak, a “you’re not the boss of me” vibe, which means that there will inevitably be pushback against some external measurement system invented by a French guy and run an international committee based in a Paris suburb. 

However, Stephen Mihm makes a persuasive case that my internal monologue about the metric system is wrong, or at least seriously incomplete, in “Inching toward Modernity: Industrial Standards and the Fate of the Metric System in the United States” (Business History Review, Spring 2022, pp. 47-76, needs a library subscription to access). Mihm focuses on the early battles over US adoption of the metric system, waged in the 19th and early 20th century. He makes the case that the metric system was in fact blocked by university-trained engineers and management, with the support of big manufacturing firms.

This is not a battle for today. At some point the US and the other outliers will embrace the metric system. I drive friend, family, and SO crazy with my adherence to matrix measurements (and 24-hour clocks) where I can.

YMMV

Junk Science: Bad Research is Indistinguishable from Fraud

On the face of it, this is kind of amazing: flat-out admitting the problem but not wanting to do anything about it! As Francis says, it’s opposition to opposition.

More generally, there are people in academia who take an anti-anti-junk science stand. They’re not exactly in favor of junk science—if you pressed them on it they would accept that open data is better than not, that non-replication tells us something, that accurate measurement is a good idea, etc.—but what really bugs them is when people are anti-junk science.

… I’m reminded of Clarke’s Law: Any sufficiently crappy research is indistinguishable from fraud. I don’t know if the numbers in the article in question were made up, or rounded and unrounded too many times, or mistyped, or maybe Francis messed up in his calculations—I’m guessing the most likely possibility is that the authors messed up in some small way in their analysis, including certain data in some comparisons but not others—but it really doesn’t matter, except for historical reasons, to help understand how things went so wrong for so long in that field.

(Via Andrew)

Also, literally, Hanlon’s Razor: never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. And note my addendum: … or laziness or hubris.

The J.&J. conundrum

The Morning: The J.&J. conundrum:

The Morning: The J.&J. conundrum

You can find a longer version of today’s newsletter online, with more detail and explanation. In the email version, we will focus on nine main points.

The key points

1. From the start, J.&J.’s single-shot vaccine has appeared to be less effective than the two-shot vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer. The J.&J. shot still provides good protection against serious illness, but not as much as the others. And the Delta variant may be widening the gap.

2. Federal officials have suggested they are likely to approve a booster shot for J.&.J recipients eventually. But any approval seems to be weeks away, if not months.

3. Regardless, many J.&J. recipients are less interested in receiving a second J.&J. shot than in getting a follow-up shot with either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine — sometimes known as a “mix-and-match” approach.

4. Many experts believe that this approach will be effective, maybe even more effective than two shots of the same vaccine. Britain has used this strategy, giving many people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine (which is similar to J.&J.’s) a second shot with Moderna’s or Pfizer’s.

5. But there is still not much data on the benefits or the risks of combining a J.&J. shot with a different vaccine.

6. Numerous doctors and experts who themselves received the J.&J. vaccine aren’t waiting for the government to act. They have gotten a follow-up Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. “Sometimes public health requires making tough decisions without a complete data set to support it,” Angela Rasmussen, a virologist who received a Pfizer shot after having received the J.&J. vaccine, has written. The city of San Francisco also began offering a Moderna or Pfizer booster shot to J.&J. recipients about a month ago.

7. When Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., was asked whether she considered it a mistake for J.&J. recipients to pursue a Moderna or Pfizer follow-up shot, she said, “Not with what I’ve seen so far.” From the head of a notoriously cautious agency, that was a remarkable and telling statement.

8. Getting a follow-up shot with the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines may not be easy. Because the government has not authorized them, doctors often refuse to give them. Many people are understandably frustrated by the situation: It can feel like there is one set of rules for people with medical connections and another set of rules for everyone else.

9. Still, if you want a shot, you have a few options. You can try different drugstores or clinics, hoping to find one that is willing to give a Pfizer or Moderna shot to a J.&J. recipient — or one that won’t ask about your history. You can also choose to be less than fully honest. You won’t be alone.

The bottom line

Here’s the brief case for getting a Pfizer or Moderna shot as a follow-up to a J.&J. shot: The available evidence suggests you will benefit. There are no signs of worrisome side effects so far. And the Delta variant is an even bigger threat to human life than earlier versions of Covid. By waiting, you may be allowing bureaucratic caution to get in the way of your health.

Here’s the brief case against a follow-up shot: A single shot of the J.&J. vaccine still provides good protection, and the government may soon allow a second J.&J. shot. There is not yet rigorous data on the benefits or risks of the mix-and-match approach with J.&J. And you may need to resort to some deviousness to get another shot.

We understand why so many people are flummoxed.

Illustrative of the vaccine messaging mess in the US, I’m glad the Times put this article together. The CDC and other government agencies would do well to take notice of this and do something similar.

Also, in odd naming the J.&J. Shot is called “Janssen”, which is the name primarily used outside of the US but only commonly seen by me in US government materials.

Johnson & Johnson & Regret

Johnson & Johnson, the one-and-done vaccine, was supposed to be the easy way out of COVID. Instead, it became a kind of purgatory.
— Read on nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/09/johnson-and-johnson-and-regret.html

But after months of confusion, there remains more or less radio silence on the J&J question from those famously effective communicators at the CDC and FDA.

Ha!

An Actual Party of Death, Now

It’s genuinely astounding to me. The GOP messaging machine has for decades done a fine job at making poor and middle-class white people vote against their own economic interests through the clever use of aspirational messaging and veiled racism, but the fact it is now actively working to kill off its base by extending a pandemic — and the base is loving it — really feels like a floor. What else can you do, once you’ve killed off your base? The phrase “eating your seed corn” is made for moments like this.

(Via Whatever)

Funny this article showed up in my feed right after I posted this.

Personal liberties -vs- public health & safety

Which is more important: personal freedoms or the health and safety of the country?

(Via the Poynter Report)

I act toward health and safety. That should surprise no one. I cast a critical mind to how I define both personal freedoms and health & safety – and how it is defined by various governments.

Today, here are my thoughts:

  • Mask mandates are “a matter of health and safety” and not an infringement on personal liberty. It is personal safety for the wearer and those around the wearer.
  • I endorse requiring vaccinations except for those with a medical exemption.
  • Individuals have a right to choose not to get the vaccine, but they don’t have any right to be around anyone else and put others at risk, vaccinated or unvaccinated. This includes religious and parental opt-outs.
  • I support state and local governments requiring masks.
  • I support employers requiring workers to get the vaccination.
  • I support businesses refusing service to the unvaccinated, but would prefer they use 2020 approaches to serving the unvaccinated via methods like on-line ordering, contactless curbside pickup, and outdoor seating.
  • I support banning the unvaccinated traveling by airplane or mass transit. Masks for all should be mandated.
  • I support sporting events and concerts barring the unvaccinated. Indoor events should require masks.
  • I support every school’s right to require students to be vaccinated in order to return to campus. There should not be a parental “opt-out” where the child gets to attend school and events if they can be vaccinated but don’t. Younger kids should be masked at all times. Parents who exercise their opt-out bear the financial and educational burden of their choice.
  • Federal, state, and local governments should not interfere with how schools deliver education to students when public safety is an issue; banning remote learning is short sighted.
  • Regular COVID testing is not a replacement for masks and vaccinations.
  • I support a federal vaccination registry with a strictly limited scope and oversight by an independent ombudsperson.

As always, I reserve the right to change my mind on any of these based on new empirical information.

This house is on fire

Yep.

Holy shit.
I don’t watch a lot of videos; I prefer transcripts. When I absolutely have to get through a video, I usually put it in a background window and listen.
Don’t do that with Thunberg’s four-minute address to the UN.
Instead, watch it. I understand and agree with her that we should be listening to scientists, not her, but if anyone can get us to listen to scientists, it’s her. Now I know why the people followed Joan of Arc.

(Via boing boing)
Can’t agree more. Greta Thunburg is remarkable, and she’s not wrong. Even if her message doesn’t resonate with you, she speaks multiple languages, has a grasp of science and statistics, and is a sailor. Her evil eye at the UN was pure, unadulterated disgust.

Self-Conscious Minds, Our Selfish Selves, and Possible Salvation

Like all living things, humans are organisms, biological entities that function as physiological aggregates whose constituent parts operate with a high degree of cooperation and a low degree of conflict. But unlike other organisms, humans possess a rogue component – a brain network that can, at will, choose to defect and undermine the survival mission and purpose of the rest of the body. This is the network that underlies human consciousness, and especially our capacity for autonoetic, or reflective, self-awareness, the basis of the conceptions that underlie our greatest achievements as a species – art, music, architecture, literature, science – and our ability to appreciate them.

(Via Can our self-conscious minds save us from our selfish selves? by: Joseph LeDoux; picture Via Abishek on Unsplash)
I highly recommend reading the whole piece.