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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Germany’s Dr. Fauci in a Duel Over How Covid Affects Children: That’s the Way Science Ought to Be



The public does not understand that there is no “settled science.” Science is always on the move. Previously accepted notions are challenged. What were consensuses are replaced by new “paradigms,” enjoying their time in the sun and waiting for their turn to be challenged.

Most scientific disputes are fought behind closed doors, “peer review” refereeing for scholarly journals, and in opaque scientific conferences.
Occasionally, especially when the stakes are high, scientific battles are fought in the open. In Germany, two dueling scientists are battling over the effect of covid on children, especially whether children can be carriers of the coronavirus.

As Germany opens its schools and its Kitas (Kindergartens), its politicians very much need “science” to tell them whether Kindergarteners  can infect their parents and grandparents. Science’s answer is: Yes, I know the answer, and those who think otherwise are wrong.

The chief virologist of the famed Charite Hospital in Berlin, Christian Drosten, is the closest equivalent in Germany to the US’s Dr. Fauci. For weeks he has featured on the regular Coronavirus update on the nightly news. As he answers questions from worried viewers, he gives the impression of authority and assurance.

In the past few days, his disagreement with Alexander Kekule, virologist and Director of the of Medical Microbiology of the University Clinic of Halle, has burst the boundaries of scientific discourse. Their duel is featured in nightly news, TV reports, and newspaper interviews.

What is the disagreement about? In a preliminary (preprint) publication not intended for media publication, Drosten reported that his study found that children can transmit coronavirus as readily as adults. Dr. Kekula begs to differ. Dr. Drosten’s study, he claims, is deeply flawed.

The Drosten-Kekule debate has turned into twitter exchanges and personal insults, but the outcome of the debate could not be more important. Kekule attacks Drosten for faulty statistical analysis and demands that the paper be withdrawn. Drosten counters that Kekula’s weak scholarly credentials should destroy his credibility.

Families with young children anxious to return to their schools are verunsichert (unsettled). All they know is that two credentialed specialists in virology are coming to opposite conclusions.

In an attempt to come to the rescue, the Berlin Tagesspiegel consulted a series of scientist-virologists in the hope of deciding who is right and who is wrong. What the Tagesspiegel got was a lot of hemming-and-hawing. Yes, there may be some problems with the Drosten study, but it should be  understood as a “part of the scientific process;” e.g., there is no right and no wrong.

I do not see the German debate as politically motivated. It is instead an insider’s glimpse into the world of  science and scholarship that has spilled over into social discourse.

In an interview with network TV, Germany’s Parliament President Wolfgang Schauble addressed the problem of the interactions between elected officials, responsible for policy, and scientists. Schuable admitted what American politicians do not want to say – science is unsettled, scientists disagree among themselves but policy must be made, decisions must be taken. All politicians can do is do their best with inadequate scientific information and disagreement.

In Germany, there appears to be room for scientists to disagree and for policy makers to be informed of their disagreements and do the best they can. This may no longer be possible in the US where questions, such as school openings, business shutdowns, protective masks, and tests of  hydroxychloroquine become so politicized that few are willing to hear both sides of scientific arguments. Actions are agenda driven, and the agenda need not be informed by science anyway.


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Germany Begins to Calculate the Indirect Medical Costs of Corona (Including Brothels)



The daily dose of Corona statistics has created a pervasive climate of fear of infection in the United States.  As an unanticipated consequence, people are cancelling necessary medical appointments and avoiding going to emergency rooms. Scott Atlas and colleagues have calculated the indirect medical costs of corona-fear for the United States, including mental health costs ,to be on par (or worse) with the direct costs of Coronavirus.

Germany,  rated as having Europe’s best anti-Coronavirus  recovery program, is beginning to report similar indirect medical costs: A study by NDR finds that up to 30 % of oncological appointments, 50% of cardiology, and 80% of dental appointments are being cancelled. Mental health hotlines are being flooded with calls associated with Coronavirus, including many from youths. Germany is fortunate in that its suicide rate has not risen during Corona.

The sex trade is also a victim of Corona. Legal in Germany, prostitution has been temporarily  banned as a consequence of the virus. The labor union that represents sex workers is lobbying for a resumption, arguing that brothels have always been strictly regulated for hygiene. Sex workers, they claim, can wear masks and rooms can be aired after each encounter.


Saturday, May 23, 2020

Three Wuhan Citizen Journalists Disappear as China Falls to 177th Place in Press Freedom


The Chinese CCP does not tolerate critical reporting by its own citizens, especially that of “citizen journalists.”  Video blogger Fang Bin posted dramatic scenes of body bags and crying relatives from Wuhan hospitals with his cell phone. That same evening, Fang was taken to the police station and questioned as an “enemy of the state.”  A few days later, he disappeared without any trace - until today.
Chen Qiushi worked as a human rights lawyer and reported intensively as a citizen journalist on the pro-democratic protests and on the Wuhan virus. He has not been seen in public since early February.
Li Zehua, who also reported on the Wuhan virus, has disappeared. He  briefly reappeared in a video uploaded to YouTube two months after his disappearance. Since then, Li has also not reappeared.
The British Daily Mail reports that  during the first few weeks of the Corona outbreak, more than 5,000 people who spread information about the virus disappeared. While Beijing is stepping up its international propaganda to praise its alleged success in containing Covid-19, the government is taking action against anyone who wants to report the pandemic independently.
Based on https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/china-blogger-101.html, Die Verschwundene Blogger von Wuhan


Friday, May 22, 2020

German Speaking Europe Reports Huge GDP losses but Is the Crisis Letting Up?

Austria’s Weekly GDP Figures Point to Declining Losses as the Economy Adjusts, but the Losses Throughout German Speaking Europe Are Huge.

The Austrian National Bank has developed weekly measures of GDP, based on flash measures such as credit card transactions, truck border crossings, and electricity usage. These figures show a 25 percent decline in real GDP compared to the pre-crisis figures, with the low point reached end of March. The Swiss Economics Secretariat calculates a similar drop. German statistical authorities report a slightly smaller (15-20%) decline in economic activity. Notably, the Austrian weekly GDP figures show declining economic losses. By May 11, weekly GDP was some 11 percent below the previous year’s figure.
For charts, see https://www.nzz.ch/wirtschaft/coronavirus-und-die-wirtschaft-eine-bilanz-der-schaeden-ld.1557344

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Germany's 'return to normal' could well be America's future

go to Washington Times

The greatest challenge presented by coronavirus is its end game. Experts tell us that COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future. There are no silver bullets that will make it go away. Instead, we have to worry about second and third waves. We wonder whether we are emotionally equipped to handle what appears to be a permanent crisis. Germany has decided on its solution: Declare victory and “Leben mit Corona” or “Live with Corona.”
Let’s pay attention to the German case. It may be our own future.

Friday, May 8, 2020

The World Health Organization is Worse Than We Think

The WHO's delegation report of its February inspection of China reveals the WHO to be a blatant mouthpiece of the CPC and a strong admirer of "agile" authoritarian regimes. The report reminds me of Walter Duranty's NYT coverage denying the Ukraine famine.
go to The Hill

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Measuring the Spanish Flu’s Economic Impact Using Historical Statistics



go to Real Clear Markets

 The most direct measure of the economic cost of a pandemic is lost economic activity. The most common aggregate measure of such costs would be the decline in real GDP or industrial production (relative to trend) that is attributable to the pandemic. Researchers have used municipal and regional data as an alternative to try to tease out the loss of economic activity due to the Spanish Flu but with  contradictory results.

The 1918-1919 Spanish Flu preceded modern statistical measures; so we have to work with imperfect and limited data. This study uses historical statistics to assess the impact of the Spanish Flu on economic activity in its day. We examine separately the US, Europe,  and the UK. The data are drawn largely from Historical Statistics of the United States, Millennial edition, from the  Maddison Historical Statistics Data Base (2010 and 2018) and specialized studies. For details, go to my website.

My results are summarized in Figures 1-3.  

Figure 1 shows  that none of the four series suggests a detectable effect of the Spanish Flu on economic activity-- not that there weren’t significant downturns during this period of history, such as in 1914 and 1921.

In their classic study of the US business cycle, Arthur Burns and W.C. Mitchell make no mention of the Spanish Flu (that I could find). They characterize 1918-19 as a mild downturn that was speedily reversed.

America’s entry into World War 1 could confound the above finding of an insignificant economic effect of the Spanish  Flu. In 1917, 719,000 men were in the armed forces. Within a year, that figure rose to almost three million. During the call up, the unemployment rate fell from an average of five percent to  1.4 percent in 1918 and 1919. Another complicating factor is that the US economy was gearing up military production during this period – a form of stimulus of the economy.

To sum up, the best available historical data suggest that, despite its horrendous human capital costs, the Spanish Flu did not affect US economic activity in a significant way.

The European data for the period of the Spanish Flu offer something of  a natural experiment that allows us to  abstract from the effects of World War I: By focusing on non-combatant nations, we can get a somewhat cleaner look at the Spanish flu’s  impact. This does not mean that the war did not affect economic activity in the non-combatant countries, just that its effects were less distortive than in the combatant countries.

Figure 2 shows a clear decline in GDP for European non-combatant countries in 1918, averaging some seven percent. However, the losses of output in non-Spanish-Flu years of 1917 and 1921 were equally large.

For the first quarter of the 20th century, the Spanish Flu appears to be just one of many economic setbacks for Europe. Much longer time series from Maddison cement the conclusion that 1918-19 does not especially stand out as a significant economic event.

(Figure 2 here)

The United Kingdom was a combatant in World War 1  but did not serve as a battlefield. The Spanish Flu peaked in the UK after the November 1918 armistice, as troops returned home in cramped rail cars and transport ships.

Figure 3 shows 1918 to be a year  of modest or zero GDP growth. As the Spanish Flu made its way into the UK in 1919, the economy went into decline, falling 12 percent according to Maddison and 7 percent according to the Bank of England figures.

The years following the Spanish Flu were difficult ones, with substantial declines in 1920 and 1921. UK growth did not resume until 1922. There is a massive literature on the multiple causes of the UK’s “interwar slump.” Major surveys of this literature do not mention the Spanish Flu as a cause.

(Figure 3 here)

The broad conclusion to be drawn from Figures 1-3 is that, despite its immense demographic damage, the Spanish Flu did not depress economic activity in the US and Europe in a significant fashion. The UK was a possible exception but experts on the UK’s interwar slump blame a number of factors other than the Spanish Flu.


The results of Figures 1-3 should not come as a surprise. For an explanation, go to https://www.realclearmarkets.com/articles/2020/05/05/coronavirus_and_the_great_lockdown_a_non-biological_black_swan_490756.html

Thursday, April 2, 2020

COVID-19 Around the Globe: Observations April 2, 2020 GERMANY


Immunity Certificates

Germany’s Der Spiegel has reported that Germany will issue “immunity certificates” to those testing positive for Coronavirus antibodies.  Certificate holders, presumably free of the virus, can return to the work force and are not subject to social distancing. It turns out that this proposed program would apply to 100,000 subjects and the first results would not be available until the end of April. It is unclear whether the program has been approved.

On Trump’s handling of the crisis

DeutscheWelle, the government funded German international broadcaster, posted the following virulent anti-Trump opinion piece on its international news site:
In the United States, the administration first attempted to portray COVID-19 as a hoax (See Fact Check for rebuttal), and then tried to present it as something far less deadly than health officials had warned. Ultimately left with no other choice, US President Donald Trump was forced into action as the coronavirus began to quickly spread across the country. In doing so, he never missed the opportunity to make crystal clear that his top priority was the health of the US's economy and not its citizens. The country now has more infections than any other.

Masks Don’t Help?

In its news broadcast  of April 1, a German government spokesman advised against the use of surgical masks by the population. He claimed they do not help against Coronavirus. The German government’s unambiguous stance is in contrast to the controversy on the subject of masks in the United States.
Why Germany has the lowest mortality rate
One school of thought is that Coronavirus was introduced into Germany and spread by predominantly young people returning from skiing in Italy and France or from reveling in Fasching in Cologne. We would need the age distributions of Coronavirus victims to test this proposition.

Merkel Seems to approve Tracing Aps for Smartphones

Germany has a long history of fear of government surveillance. Apparently eight European countries are cooperating on  developing a tracing app, which will automatically notify those who have had contact with an infected/exposed? person. From her shelter-in-place, Merkel spoke favorably of the concept.


Sunday, March 29, 2020

Some Encouraging News from 1918


go to Defining Ideas


In a 2007 National Academy of Sciences study of the Spanish Flu, researchers used  data on the timing  of 19 classes of NPIs in 17 U.S. cities during the 1918 pandemic to test whether early implementation of multiple NPI interventions was associated with reduced disease transmission. Indeed, the researchers found that “cities in which multiple interventions were implemented at an early phase of the epidemic had peak death rates 50% lower than those that did not and had less-steep epidemic curves.” In other words, the timely introduction of NPI measures reduced peak mortality in the surveyed cities.

The finding of reduced peak mortality seems to confirm that the timely introduction of multiple interventions does indeed buy time to prepare for the peak of the pandemic and in this sense plays a positive role. The finding does not rule out that NPIs simply transfer illness and death to later dates and hence does not lower cumulative mortality.

On this point, researchers find that “cities in which multiple interventions were implemented at an early phase of the epidemic also showed a trend toward lower cumulative excess mortality, but the difference was smaller (20%) and less statistically signi´Čücant than that for peak mortality.”

The lower cumulative mortality rate is the most encouraging finding from the 1918 flu experience, although this finding is less robust than the effect on peak mortality.

Should we follow the Swiss in dealing with COVID-19?

go to TheHill.com


Within Europe, the Swiss are caricatured as deliberate, unemotional, and  imperturbable. Their reaction to the Corona Virus pandemic fits this stereotype. Of course, it helps that the Swiss are better positioned than other countries with a debt to GDP ratio of 40 percent (versus 81 percent for the US) and a fully funded unemployment insurance fund. (In the US, impending shortfalls at the state level will require huge federal bailouts).

Unlike raucous US politics, the Swiss formed a swift national consensus, and their rescue package is already underway, at an estimated cost of 5 percent of GDP. At this juncture, the US rescue package awaits approval by the House at a cost  that will well exceed ten percent of GDP.