Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 5/16/2020: The Experts Edition


Why aren’t you at the beach?

1. One reason: it’s stupid at the beach. Here’s a sign on a beach at Ocean City New Jersey:

Explain that, please. Are you OK as long as you stay on the surfboard, but not permitted to swim if you fall off? Why is a solo sunbather breaching the rules? Sitting in chairs is dangerous, but standing around is not? These kinds of arbitrary restrictions can’t be justified, and will inevitably lead to public distrust and defiance…and ought to.

Here is the obligatory clip from “Bananas” (with Greek subtitles, for some reason):

2. Here’s the “expert” who is imposing dubious restrictions in LA County: Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Dr. Barbara Ferrer, who first told the county’s board of Supervisors that the county’s “Safer at Home” order would  be extended for three more months when it expired yesterday, then extended it with no end date. The reason her opinion should be worshiped without question is…well, I don’t know what.  As I keep trying to explain to my Deranged Facebook friends, you only allow doctors to dictate policy if the only thing the public has to worry about is health, since that’s all doctors care about: if we are reduced to living on roots and berries and living in caves, well, if everyone is healthy, that’s a win from from a doctor’s perspective.

Dr. Ferrer, however, isn’t even a medical doctor. She’s not an expert in virology or epidemiology. She has a Ph.D in  social welfare, making her a Doctor of Wokeness, and also has the degrees Master of Arts in Public Health,  Master of Arts in Education, and Bachelor of Arts in Community Studies.  Based on these credentials, she is paid a half-million dollars a year to tell citizens how they will be allowed to live their lives “for the greater good.”

3. Then there are dog experts...In various posts about anti-pit bull dog  breed bigotry, I’ve pointed out that news reports and even supposed dog experts frequently misidentify the breeds involved in attacks and mauling. The default ID is that any dog that attacks a human being is  a pit bull ( which is really a generic term for any dog that looks like what people think pit bulls look like, including American Bull Dogs, Bull Mastiffs, Bordeaux Mastiffs, and this thing (I want one!), which is called an “American Bully”…

…among other non-pit bull breeds.  Two days ago, it was reported that an Illinois  woman was killed by her…French Bulldog. You know, one of these:

The story said that the dog was 55 pounds. Well, Frenchies are typically about half-that size. Sure enough, a little checking revealed that the dog was a mix. Also of note, a woman commented on the story complaining that USA’s ” file pic used for this article is a Boston Terrier. How do I know? because I own one. and my daughter has a French bulldog. they are not the same breed.” No, they’re not. But the USA Today pictures were definitely of pure breed French Bulldogs…which were not implicated in the attack.

4. I still have no idea whether masks are good, bad, or indifferent.  As late as mid-April, WHO was saying that healthy people needn’t wear masks. Two days ago, a neurosurgeon, Dr. Russell Blaylock, wrote for Technocracy that people who aren’t sick should not wear a face mask.  Blaylock said that since there have not yet been any studies of the effectiveness of masks in slowing or preventing COVID-19 transmission, we should look to the impact masks have had against the flu. He cited a  2012 analysis on this point:

As for the scientific support for the use of face mask, a recent careful examination of the literature, in which 17 of the best studies were analyzed, concluded that, “None of the studies established a conclusive relationship between mask/respirator use and protection against influenza infection.”

Those wearing the most effective masks, N95 respirators, are at risk of negative effects from having their oxygen intake limited for extended periods of time.

Meanwhile, some experts are saying that it is dangerous to wear a facemask while exercising, as demonstrated by the case of the Chinese jogger who ruptured his lung running while wearing one..Never mind! The City and County of Los Angeles announced that residents are required to wear masks whenever they’re outside of their homes, even while exercising.

Of course, the expert Dr. Barbara Ferrer, who you met in #2 above, is calling the shots, so I’m sure it’s safe.

5. These people aren’t “whistle-blowers.” Dr. Rick Bright, a vaccine expert who until last month led the federal office in charge of developing measures to help guard against infectious threats and securing vital supplies, testified this week that the Trump administration is mishandling the response to the  pandemic. The news media is calling him a whistle-blower. That gives him a mantle of braver and virtue that he does not deserve. Such people are not highlighting waste, fraud and abuse or unlawful activity. They are classic “disgruntled former employees.” His whistle is that he doesn’t agree with the policies his superiors decided upon, so he is exploiting the media’s hostility to the administration to strike back at those who over-ruled him.

If Congress wants to hear what he has to say, that’s fine, but the public is being deceived about what Dr. Bright is doing. Saying, “I’m right and they are wrong” is blowing his own horn, not a whistle.

27 thoughts on “Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 5/16/2020: The Experts Edition

  1. #4. I don’t know the effectiveness, either, but full disclosure is necessary. Dr Fauci — who is an expert — acknowledged that masks (at least non-N95 masks) — do not protect the wearer; masks should be worn to help protect others from the wearer. This is especially so, as the reasoning goes, because there are so many asymptomatic people. I don’t know if he or the CDC, which adopted the same approach, are correct. However, it makes sense and it’s a small “burden” if it actually helps protect others. In other words, it’s the ethical thing to do.

    • I disagree. This whole episode has probably driven me crazy, but I think wearing a mask is a chicken shit thing to do. When I’m out in public I keep my distance. I don’t sneeze, I don’t cough. If that’s not sufficient, we’re all doomed, DOOMED I tell you. Walking around like a bunch of Chinese is just not a good look. If the research quoted above didn’t take not infecting others into account, it wouldn’t have survived peer review.

    • That’s where the “healthy” part comes in. In addition, making doing anything mandatory whne there is literally no data supporting it is dubious, in my view. My sister’s attitude is “it can’t do any harm.” But as the jogger shows, it can. Let’s wear ducks on our heads! Can’t do any harm…

      • I’m not a doctor, not even of Wokeness, (maybe especially not of Wokeness), but I don’t think it’s correct that there is “literally no data” supporting mask wearing. The analysis quoted by Dr. Russell Blaylock is from 2012, so not so recent, despite what he says. Here is the abstract from a more recent analysis (submitted May 12, 2020):

        which states:

        “The preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces the transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected droplets in both laboratory and clinical contexts. Public mask wearing is most effective at stopping spread of the virus when compliance is high. The decreased transmissibility could substantially reduce the death toll and economic impact while the cost of the intervention is low.”

        Just below the abstract is a link to a pdf of the analysis in its entirety. It addresses all the issues in your post and the comments. The analysis is a preprint, which means it is not yet peer reviewed. However, all the studies examined in the analysis are listed in the References section, and while I have only looked at a couple of them, I would bet that most, if not all, are peer reviewed, so for someone who doubts the conclusions I would recommend going through and reading the various studies cited, and then coming to your own conclusions.

        My personal understanding is as follows, (again, I never completed my Wokeness degree, so take what I say with a grain of salt):

        1. Mask wearing is not a panacea. It does not provide magical protection. Caution is advised. Proper training is definitely preferable.
        2. The primary purpose of mask wearing is to limit droplets coming from you. (This is the point of surgical masks in surgery. They are to protect the patient, not the surgeon.) Just speaking normally causes the expulsion of an astounding number of droplets. Coughing or sneezing can propel these droplets to something like 20 or 30 feet. There are videos available online from studies which demonstrate this. Mask wearing substantially, if not completely, stops these droplets. Btw, while I’m grateful to Other Bill for not coughing or sneezing in public, I myself find that, despite my best intentions, it sometimes occurs spontaneously before I can stop it. I imagine there are many others like myself who don’t have swami-like control.
        3. Regarding self-protection provided by masks, it’s a given that it’s not 100%. Unless you’re wearing one of the spacesuits, some particles get through. However, let’s say someone who is infected but asymptomatic (not Other Bill) coughs in your face. You’re going to get infected by some virus particles. I understand they call this the “inoculum”. Those virus particles then start multiplying in your body, and once they reach a certain threshold, you get sick. This is just a totally made up number, but let’s say it takes 1 Trillion virus particles for you to have symptoms. If you start with a higher inoculum, you’ll get to that 1 trillion faster. If you start with a lower inoculum, your body has longer to mount a defense before it gets overwhelmed by the multiplying viruses within your body, so if you can limit the inoculum, you have a better chance of a more favorable outcome. (No guarantee, though, just a better chance.)
        4. It’s extremely important that health care workers stay healthy, for a variety of reasons. Since they are working in close contact with the infected, they are also at risk of getting infected with a high inoculim. If there is a shortage of masks, healthcare workers should get them first.
        5. Cloth masks are better than nothing, surgical masks are better than cloth masks, N95 masks are better than surgical masks. If you agree that masks are helpful, then wearing one of those N95 masks with the valve, as mentioned by Matthew B, is rude and unethical.
        6. Don’t exercise while wearing a mask.

        • Thanks. It still is “pick your authority” and “it’s better than nothing.” Why did WHO make its statement in April? I’ll wear my mask, and have been, but before my government starts threatening me with fines and arrest, I need better than a single study.

            • I just had a moment to look at this briefly. I’ll be busy for a few hours, but I’ll look harder when I return.

              At first glance, though, it looks just like opinion, with no reference to any research. Here’s one line that jumped out at me:

              “You’ve decided to become a “joiner” without doing even the smallest amount of research. You’ve ignored the exhaustive list of things the experts have gotten wrong about COVID-19.”

              I can’t speak for others. This is not the case for me.

          • Thanks for your reply.

            My guess, and this is just a guess, is The WHO found themselves in a situation where most governments had failed to plan by stockpiling sufficient PPE for healthcare workers. Rather than coming out and saying “We screwed up and didn’t plan. We need everyone to cooperate for the good of all. Leave the facemasks for the healthcare workers because if they get sick we’re all screwed.”, they just tried to convince everyone that wearing facemasks was counterproductive so they wouldn’t have to admit their failure. I could be wrong. Maybe they just changed their minds.

            Also, the article I linked to isn’t a “single study”. It’s a review of many different studies. (The same is true for the review quoted by Blaylock that you quoted.) If their analysis is accurate, it should be more powerful than any single study. For the curious, all those studies are listed in the reference section. And again, Blaylock’s is from 2012. The review I linked to was from this past Tuesday. (Though not yet peer reviewed.)

            I appreciate your wearing a mask. I haven’t thought about it in depth, but I share your aversion to government threats of fine and arrest. It would be nice if just education and peer pressure did the trick. A consistent message from the WHO and other government authorities would probably have gone a long way to avoiding disagreements and confusion as well.

            • I acknowledge that more recent studies are preferable to earlier ones. As with the whole pandemic fiasco, there hasn’t been sufficient time for definitive research and peer reviewed, duplicated studies on this virus, which, I think it is fair to say, doesn’t compare to anything seen previously.

    • I see a fair number of people wearing relief valve masks. For those not familiar with what that means, it is a one way valve allowing for free exhale bypassing the filter. It allows for a freer exhale and lowers the humidity in the mask because the filter isn’t moist from exhaled air.
      If the mask is there to prevent asymptomatic carriers from releasing particles to the surrounding environment, a relief valve totally defeats the purpose.

    • If masks stop the virus going out, wouldn’t they also stop it going in? Conversely, if wearing a mask shows no efficacy in preventing the wearer from contracting a virus, why should it be presumed effective at preventing the wearer from spreading the virus? Especially the janky homemade masks everyone is wearing. N95 masks might be helpful, but a scrap of t-shirt material rubber-banded to your face is not going to stop very many .02-micron virus particles.

      Also, we’re being given two incompatible directives. Wear a mask. Don’t touch your face. Wearing a mask for most people, especially those wearing glasses, means constantly adjusting it and trying to make it comfortable, which causes plenty of face-touching.

      Lastly, one thing I’ve noticed as mask-wearing has become more common (and mandated in many locations) is that social-distancing has been reduced. People feel protected by the mask and no longer maintain the recommended distancing. There’s a concept known as “risk compensation”, where in a dangerous environment, people will seek safety to their comfort level. If you increase safety beyond that point, they will begin to take more risks to return to their preferred comfort level. Seatbelts and airbags causing people to drive faster is one common example. I think the masks are having this effect, and causing people to be less cautious and aware of their behavior than was the case earlier in the pandemic.

      • The mask reduces the concentration of particles leaving your mouth, thus reducing the potentially infected droplets in the environs. It also reduces the particles you inhale if some coughed near you. However, if you maintain 6 feet, the mask offers little additional protection compared to the ordinary dispersion of droplets due to distance.

        My state has a vague but minimally-stupid requirement to wear a mask in situations where staying six feet apart is difficult, and an automatic exemption without documentation for people with health issues that a mask would exacerbate. I am rather amazed that other states/localities have dumber (ie. “stricter”) restrictions.

  2. Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Dr. Barbara Ferrer, who first told the county’s board of Supervisors that the county’s “Safer at Home” order would be extended for three more months when it expired yesterday, then extended it with no end date.

    I am old enough to remember when it was extended to April 19th.

  3. 4. On my morning walk this morning, a young couple, in their twenties or thirties, I’m guessing, passed me jogging. With masks on. She was wearing a stagecoach robber bandana and he was wearing … wait for it … an N95 respirator. Out in the God damned fresh air. I was tempted to ask him if he knew about the possibility of his collapsing a lung but I didn’t. What a terrifiable populous we have in this country. It’s depressing.

  4. If you’re going to use “Dr of wokeness” you need to put up a drink warning. Nearly shot my coffee out my nose.

  5. See Forbes May 14 for a summary of mask studies. Studies from JAMA and National Academy of Sciences underscore why wearing masks to protect OTHERS is a good thing.

  6. #1: Is that in the same jurisdiction that declared walking on wet sand permissible, but not on the dry sand (not sure how you make your way to the wet sand to start with).

    Health note: When you’re down to eating roots, making a tea from pine needles can provide needed vitamin C to prevent deadly scurvy. Unfortunately, this was not known to some Klondike gold rush participants who died trying to overwinter. A relatively short (for Michener) interesting book on a particular event of that period:

  7. This statement is a little bit late, but I find it interesting that the left is saying that the President should absolutely defer to the experts in this matter, like Fauci’s word is gospel and the president is committing a serious sin by not following it to the letter..

    These same lefties are the same people who would be singing quite a different tune if we were say, contemplating military action. Even if the treasury and commerce said this was necessary, even if the director of national intelligence said he had hard evidence and good information that this would work, even if defense and the joint chiefs said that we could make this operation happen with minimal losses, even if state said our allies were on board, they would still oppose.

    The left would be the ones saying not to trust former businessmen who probably all had interests in making sure this action took place. The left would be the ones saying not to trust spies and intelligence officers who were probably spinning all the information they provided. The left would be the ones saying not to trust the generals, who probably were just looking for a victory and to show off their expensive toys so they could justify asking for more expensive toys later. the left would be the ones saying don’t trust diplomats who say yes when they mean maybe and maybe when they mean no. What they are really saying is that they don’t want this action to happen no matter what, and no matter what anyone says.

    However, in this case, since this can make the president look bad, they are saying follow the experts’ advice to the letter, which he isn’t doing.

    • As the left is now fond of pronouncing, “SCIENCE!” Grrr. Of course, they’re actually talking about “computer generated models” and “hypotheses!”

    • Also, “Dr. Rick Bright, a vaccine expert who until last month led the federal office in charge of developing measures to help guard against infectious threats and securing vital supplies, testified this week that the Trump administration is mishandling the response to the pandemic.”

      These kind of things baffle the shit out of me.

      I’m constantly inundated hearing or reading fully consumed lefties proclaim to the world that they are the ones seeing the “big picture” directly implying that conservatives are ignorant and cannot see the “big picture” and then those same lefties tout people like Dr. Bright as a know-it-all simply because he disagrees with the Trump Administration while Dr. Bright is literally narrowly focused on vaccines and doesn’t have the “big picture”. Their condescending bull shit is preventing any possibility of working together, and by their actions I think that is exactly what they are after – a permanently deeply divided society. The political left is buried in a quagmire of their own blatant hypocrisy.

      I recently lost a long time friend partly because I pointed out his condescending bull shit, and this “big picture” bull shit was part of it. He chose not to learn from from our conversation and immediately resorted to deflections, ad hominems, and personal insults, he chose to trash a long term friendship and he chose to walk away from our friendship not me. He’s a rhetorical coward and a socialist moron living in an ideological bubble. I’m quite sick and tired of the bull shit emanating from these far left extremist morons and their blatant hypocrisy and hate, I’ll be civil with those that choose to be civil back but for the ones that go down the road of deflections, ad hominems, and personal insults – there are consequences to their words.

      • By the way; the extreme Socialist in the United States consider any kind of disagreement with their ideological views as “right wing and neoliberal aggression” and openly saying that this perceived “aggression” is destroying USPS, Social Security, disadvantaged portions of the population, democratic institutions and the environment. They truly hate anyone who’s opinions are anywhere right of their narrow-minded extreme Socialist ideology. The same condescending extreme Socialist morons mentioned above will look you straight in the face and call you a toxic Dunning-Kruger bloviator and a propagandist simply for saying or writing something that they disagree with, I say these extreme Socialist morons need to look in the mirror…

  8. A bit more on #2:
    OpEd: Why is a Social Worker Dictating COVID-19 Policy for the Country’s Largest County?
    “…To be clear she is not even a medical doctor. She has a Doctorate in “Social Welfare.” So essentially, we have a high-powered social worker (albeit one of the most well-known in the country) leading the largest county in the United States in the fight of our lives against this biological threat.

    Yes, this is the real-life version of “I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV.”

    Instead of looking at science and data and adapting her public health response to attack what we now know are the strengths and weaknesses of this virus, she is essentially behaving like an elementary school principal (probably because she was one). Exerting her new-found unchallengeable and unelected power over an entire population that she views as children. She tells us what to do, how to do it, and even threatens to take away our few remaining freedoms, if we misbehave…”

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