Friday May 1st… Dear Diary. The main purpose of this ongoing blog will be to track United States extreme or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials).😉
Main Topic: Enough Bunk and Junk…Let’s Stick To Science
Dear Diary. As most of my readers know since starting this site in 2017 I will not go into the weeds of defending true climate science against denialist arguments. I just won’t waste my time or yours since the planet has only a few years to cut carbon pollution before we all fall over a big proverbial cliff. Still, at times we need to be reminded how badly false narratives can harm humanity. The COVID-19 health crisis underscores how pseudoscience can hurt us all. Here is more from Nature:
WORLD VIEW 27 April 2020
Pseudoscience and COVID-19 — we’ve had enough already
The scientific community must take up cudgels in the battle against bunk.
Cow urine, bleach and cocaine have all been recommended as COVID-19 cures — all guff. The pandemic has been cast as a leaked bioweapon, a byproduct of 5G wireless technology and a political hoax — all poppycock. And countless wellness gurus and alternative-medicine practitioners have pushed unproven potions, pills and practices as ways to ‘boost’ the immune system.
Thankfully, this explosion of misinformation — or, as the World Health Organization has called it, the “infodemic” — has triggered an army of fact-checkers and debunkers. Regulators have taken aggressive steps to hold marketers of unproven therapies to account. Funders are supporting researchers (myself included) to explore how best to counter the spread of COVID-19 claptrap.
I have studied the spread and impact of health misinformation for decades, and have never seen the topic being taken as seriously as it is right now. Perhaps that is because of the scale of the crisis and the ubiquity of the nonsensical misinformation, including advice from some very prominent politicians. If this pro-science response is to endure, all scientists — not just a few of us — must stand up for quality information.
Here are two places to start.
First, we must stop tolerating and legitimizing health pseudoscience, especially at universities and health-care institutions. Many bogus COVID-19 therapies have been embraced by integrative health centres at leading universities and hospitals. If a respected institution, such as the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, offers reiki — a science-free practice that involves using your hands, without even touching the patient, to balance the “vital life force energy that flows through all living things” — is it any surprise that some people will think that the technique could boost their immune systems and make them less susceptible to the virus? A similar argument can be made about public-health providers in Canada and the United Kingdom: by offering homeopathy, they de facto encourage the idea that this scientifically implausible remedy can work against COVID-19. These are just a few of myriad examples.
In my home country of Canada, regulators are currently cracking down on providers such as chiropractors, naturopaths, herbalists and holistic healers who are marketing products against COVID-19. But the idea that a spinal adjustment, intravenous vitamin therapy or homeopathy could fend off an infectious disease was nonsense before the pandemic.
The fight against pseudoscience is weakened if trusted medical institutions condemn an evidence-free practice in one context and legitimize it in another. We need good science all the time, but particularly during disasters.
There is some evidence that alternative treatments and placebo effects can relieve distress — a common justification for tolerating unproven alternative treatments. But it’s inappropriate to deceive people (even for their benefit) with magical thinking, and it is inappropriate for scientists to let such misinformation go unremarked.
Second, more researchers should become active participants in the public fight against misinformation. Those pushing unproven ideas use the language of real science — a phenomenon I call ‘scienceploitation’ — to legitimize their products. It is, alas, all too effective. Homeopathy and energy therapies, proponents argue, depend on quantum physics. Colonic hydrotherapy is justified using phrases borrowed from microbiome studies. And the language of stem-cell research is used to promote a spray claiming to have immune-boosting properties.
We need physicists, microbiologists, immunologists, gastroenterologists and all scientists from relevant disciplines to provide simple and shareable content explaining why this hijacking of real research is inaccurate and scientifically dishonest.
It does actually need to be said that quantum physics doesn’t explain homeopathy and energy therapies such as reiki. That a colonic won’t bolster your immune system. That, no, a supplement spray won’t enhance the functioning of your stem cells.
In a world where anti-vaccination advocates and climate-change denialists persist, talking sense might seem hopeless, especially when social-media algorithms and deliberate bad actors amplify pseudoscience messages. There is no easy answer to solving this, but science-informed messages are not easily found. We need more researchers making an effort. A quick search turned up only one physicist publicly countering claims that quantum physics explains homeopathy, although I know that their view is the overwhelming consensus.
Disinformation expert Claire Wardle at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has said, “The best way to fight misinformation is to swamp the landscape with accurate information that is easy to digest, engaging and easy to share on mobile devices.” So, let’s get swamping.
Tweet. Write a comment for the popular press. Give public lectures. Respond to reporters’ requests. Empower your trainees to get involved in science communication. Share accurate information that you feel is valuable for the public. Complain to the appropriate regulatory agency or oversight entity if you think there is a problem that needs to be rectified.
Correcting misrepresentations should be viewed as a professional responsibility. Some scientific societies have already moved in that direction. In 2016, for example, I worked with the International Society for Stem Cell Research on their guidelines for clinical translation, which tell researchers to “promote accurate, balanced, and responsive public representations”, and to ensure their work is not misrepresented.
Of course, part of the scientific community’s fight against pseudoscience is keeping its own house in order. Those pushing biomedical conspiracy theories and other nonsense point to legitimate concerns about how research is funded, interpreted and disseminated. Scientific integrity — particularly, refraining from hype and being transparent about conflicts — is crucial. We must promote both trust in science and trustworthy science.
Let us hope that one of the legacies of this crisis will be the recognition that tolerating pseudoscience can cause real harm. Good science and public trust are perhaps the most valuable tools in the fight against misinformation.
On both COVID-19 and climate in the United States the biggest, least trusted source of information comes from Rupert Murdock’s Fox News. As of today I am going to war with that organization, putting down the worst of its offenders, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham…but only from an intellectual standpoint. I hope you will ally with me in my fight to right the ship of truth over “junk science.”
Remember that thousands of people, mostly uneducated conservative types, are no longer social distancing and reopening businesses, hanging on every word from Hannity and Ingraham each night putting everyone in more jeopardy. Should the pandemic ramp up, they are squarely to blame.
For the disgusting and dangerous tack that both Hannity and Ingraham are taking on COVID-19, please read the following Washington Post articles:
Sean Hannity’s self-own
By Erik Wemple Media criticApril 28, 2020 at 4:08 p.m. EDT
No one controls Sean Hannity, as he himself will tell you. “Nobody tells me what to say on my show,” said the Fox News host in 2017. He will use bogus polling scorned by his own employer, if he wants to. He will appear onstage with President Trump in defiance of Fox News wishes, if he wants to. He will promote the bogus Seth Rich conspiracy theory, if he wants to. He will participate in a video ad for candidate Trump, if he wants to.
Perhaps espying these episodes, New York Times opinion writer Kara Swisher addressed her March 31 column directly to Hannity, taunting him for his dismissive coverage of coronavirus: “You can relax, Sean Hannity, I’m not going to sue you,” wrote Swisher. “Some people are suggesting that there might be grounds for legal action against the cable network that you pretty much rule — Fox News — because you and your colleagues dished out dangerous misinformation about the virus in the early days of the crisis in the United States.”
Bolding added to highlight a formulation that apparently irked Hannity, to judge from the 12-page threat letter that his lawyer, Charles Harder, sent to the New York Times requesting a retraction and apology of the paper’s recent coverage of Hannity. The above-cited passage from Swisher’s column features prominently in the list of Hannity grievances cited by Harder (bolding in original): “[Y]ou falsely state and imply that Mr. Hannity is responsible for determining all of Fox News’ coverage of the coronavirus, regardless of program or host, and you again falsely state and imply that Mr. Hannity has downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and given the public ‘misinformation’ about the pandemic,” writes Harder, whose initial fame stemmed from taking out Gawker Media with a privacy suit and whose subsequent fame stems from risible threat letters and lawsuits representing the Trump campaign.
A headline on FoxNews.com to this day reads, “Sean Hannity accuses Democrats of ‘weaponizing’ coronavirus ‘to score cheap, repulsive political points.’ ”
TV is a visual medium, moreover. It matters more what viewers see on the screen than what Hannity may have said:
The only New York Times vulnerability cited by the Harder letter emerges from Bellafante’s “Big City” column, which explores the covid-19 death of 74-year-old Joe Joyce, a longtime Brooklyn bar owner. He went on a cruise on March 1 with few worries about the coronavirus. In assessing his state of mind, Joyce’s daughter is quoted in the story as saying, “He watched Fox, and believed it was under control.” Unfortunately, to provide context on how Joyce may have reached such a conclusion, Bellafante went on to cite a dismissive Hannity remark that actually postdated Joyce’s departure for the cruise. “Mr. Hannity could not have influenced Mr. Joyce because the statements that you claim Mr. Hannity made which supposedly influenced Mr. Joyce were made on March 9—eight days after Mr. Joyce had already embarked on his cruise on March 1, according to the timeline in your report,” notes Harder’s letter. Bolding in original, again.
As the Erik Wemple Blog has noted before, that’s a mistake. A highly un-actionable mistake, we might add: Hannity, after all, couched coronavirus as a political ploy before and after Joyce left for his cruise.
There’s a comical dimension to the letter, too. It states that Hannity participated in an hour-long phone call with Smith before his influential March 22 column. “During this telephone call Mr. Hannity also specifically explained to you that your characterization of his coverage of the coronavirus pandemic was false and incorrect.” To judge from the paucity of Hannity quotes in that Smith column, it appears that the call with Hannity was off the record. So: Hannity expects the New York Times to take at face value the remarks that he made on an anonymous basis. This, from a guy whose on-the-record remarks on radio and television are commonly fraught with falsehoods, omissions and misdirection. Opinion | Sean Hannity wants to rewrite history on Fox’s coronavirus coverage. He can’t.
The Fox News personality’s coverage has been so irresponsible that he should be off the air, says Post media critic Erik Wemple. (Joshua Carroll, Erik Wemple/The Washington Post)
In a letter to Harder, New York Times Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel David McCraw wrote that the “columns are accurate, do not reasonably imply what you and Mr. Hannity allege they do, and constitute protected opinion,” reads the April 28 letter. “In response to your request for an apology and retraction, our answer is ‘no.’ ”
Harder’s letter maintains that the material at issue isn’t, in fact, protected opinion. But to explore any legal intricacies here would be to honor Hannity’s gripes. What we have here is a media loudmouth whose millions and millions of earnings each year as a radio and TV host come wrapped in the protective gauze of the First Amendment. The very lines that he accuses the Times of crossing are boundaries he fails to observe in his daily ramblings.
Consider his treatment last year of former FBI director James B. Comey. Using a report from John Solomon, former executive of the Hill, Hannity last summer told viewers that an impending report from the Justice Department’s inspector general included a specific condemnation of Comey. “The DOJ’s watchdog, the Inspector General [Michael] Horowitz, is preparing a damning report on Comey’s conduct in his final days as the FBI director that will likely conclude that he leaked classified information and showed a lack of candor. That would be lying,” said Hannity.
Well, the report came out weeks later and guess what? Though it criticized Comey, it stopped short of finding that he exhibited a lack of candor. Even so, Hannity refused to take his mouth off autopilot: “Let’s be clear, this report is exactly what a few weeks ago we told you exactly what it would be. We were not wrong,” said Hannity. Comey noticed:
Were Comey anything like Hannity, he would have filed suit against Fox News.
And Mr. You-Harmed-My-Reputation might want to reconsider his treatment of Seth Rich, the slain Democratic National Committee staffer whom conspiracists accused of having leaked the DNC emails during the 2016 presidential election. This nonsense appealed to Hannity because of its political value; if Rich forked over the emails, Russia couldn’t have been involved! Hannity blew past signpost after signpost indicating that the story was garbage en route to hyping it.
Luckily for Hannity, you can’t libel the dead. Rich’s parents, however, sued Fox News for emotional distress over the outlet’s May 2017 ultimately retracted story that had fueled Hannity’s conspiracy-theorizing. The suit was tossed out, only to be reinstated last September. In their ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit cited concerns that the conspiracy theory was still available via a “Hannity” video from May 16, 2017. “Now, if true, this could become one of the biggest scandals in American history and could mean that Rich could have been murdered under very suspicious circumstances,” said Hannity during the segment.
As crazy as it is to have a television host hyping fringe falsehoods, it’s just about as crazy to have a television host hire his own lawyer to sue another media outlet. “Nothing says journalist like suing other journalists for defamation,” says First Amendment attorney Ted Boutrous. It’s almost as if taking such a step would constitute evidence that such an individual “pretty much rules” the network. We asked Fox News about all that. “The letter speaks for itself,” said a network spokesperson. Opinion | Sean Hannity wants to rewrite history on Fox’s coronavirus coverage. He can’t. The Fox News personality’s coverage has been so irresponsible that he should be off the air, says Post media critic Erik Wemple. (Joshua Carroll, Erik Wemple/The Washington Post)
Read more from Erik Wemple:
Dissecting Laura Ingraham’s attempt to gin up a mystery around coronavirus in New York
Laura Ingraham speaks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)By Philip Bump April 29, 2020 at 11:26 a.m. EDT
You have to give Laura Ingraham credit for how she structured her defense of President Trump on Tuesday evening. Her years of practice in crafting arguments compelling to her audience were obvious in how she walked Fox News viewers through an “I’m just asking questions” assessment of the effects of the novel coronavirus in New York. That her arguments were facile at best was beside the point, as is often the case.
She began by establishing her own credentials for the task.
“We are asking questions,” she said at the outset. “We’re doing the digging that old-time real journalists used to do. You know, in the olden days before Obama worship and Trump demonization became their 24/7 focus.”
The thrust of those questions: supporting the idea of scaling back social distancing measures, as red-state governors have.
“Tonight, I’m speaking to you as a mom, as a friend, as an American,” Ingraham said. “And I say it’s just time that we take back control over our own lives.”
Why? Because we have weathered past pandemics without closing businesses and implementing restrictions like stay-at-home orders. And as proof that all of this is unwarranted, Ingraham pointed to … the flu.
She spent an extended segment walking through maps and figures that she argued showed how the “horrific flu season” that New York had been experiencing had suddenly — and, she suggested, suspiciously — evaporated as cases of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, spiked.
Here is how she described the change in flu cases as documented by the state Department of Health.
“There was a really weird drop-off,” Ingraham said. “We’ve been trying to figure this out. Maybe some of you can help us. Week 12 in the flu-counting weeks. It’s kind of weird; they start at the end of August, and they go through the following August. But week 12. It’s, like, about the end of March. There were 3,336 cases. All right? Influenza cases in New York.”
“But week 13, the number dropped to 764 cases. That’s down more than 77 percent,” she said. “Week 14 dropped to 193 cases. Week 15, dropped to 143 cases. The entire state of New York! Huh.”
After a bit more of this, she reached her point.
“We certainly do not wish to think that influenza deaths and this horrible flu season in New York are being logged incorrectly as covid deaths,” Ingraham said. “We don’t want to think that; that would erode the public’s trust in the ‘experts.’ We can ask questions. We can say, are people dying at home with covid, or are they dying at home with the regular flu, but they’re fearful of going to a hospital? Are those cases being logged at all? We may never know.”
Okay. So let’s start by looking at what the numbers show and how to understand them.
No, actually, let’s start by pointing out that it isn’t “kind of weird” that the state logs flu cases on an August-to-August time frame. That’s because the flu is seasonal, spiking and fading during the winter. That’s important later on, so we might as well note it now.
Anyway, a look at the numbers. Here’s how the flu season evolved on three metrics: cases by week, percentage change from the prior week and raw change from the prior week (in other words, the increase or drop in the number of cases).
Ingraham is focused on the area shaded in orange.
She didn’t show the data like this, of course, instead showing statewide maps in the downward trend of flu saturation and highlighting those percentage-point changes. (The on-screen text as she did so? “A deeper look into the covid-19 numbers.”) By looking at the data in this way, though, two things become clear.
The first is that she’s focused on the tail end of an obvious downward trend. The second is that those large percentage-point drops are from relatively low numbers of cases. It’s a much smaller drop when you fall 77 percentage points from 3,336, of course, than it is from the peak cases this year, 17,233 in the sixth week of the year. The biggest drop in the actual number of cases was from week seven to week eight — in late February.
Ingraham said she reached out to the state about the numbers and they “tried to tell us that drops like this are normal.” Well, they tried to tell her that because they are. Here’s how the evolution of this flu season compares with the seasons of 2017–2018 and 2018–2019.
Incidentally, while Ingraham repeatedly claimed that this was a particularly “horrific” flu season and “one of the worst on record,” the peak number of cases in 2017–2018 was even higher. At one point, she tried to accentuate how bad this flu season was — in order to make the drop seem more dramatic — by comparing the number of cases in the first week of January this year to last year: 10,076 versus 3,736. She chose not to compare the seventh week of this year to the seventh week two years ago, when there were 18,258 cases compared to 14,263 this year. It’s just cherry-picking, which, at its heart, simply shows that the flu season peaked earlier this year than in the past two.
Again, the point is that the trends this year don’t seem exceptional when actually compared to the past two seasons. Yes, those percentage-point drops of more than 70 percent are unusual relative to the past two seasons, but, then, that massive week-over-week drop of more than 7,200 cases in the 2017–2018 season was also unusual. We can safely assume it wasn’t a function of misreported covid cases.
All of this is beside the point. We can more effectively consider the oddness of Ingraham’s case by simply comparing the number of weekly confirmed coronavirus cases with the number of flu cases in the state.
You’ll note that we flagged the implementation of a statewide stay-at-home order on there, and we also highlighted the two-week period that followed. Those two weeks are important because they mark the understood duration during which people show covid-19 symptoms. New infections will continue to show for two weeks after a shelter-at-home order is implemented, as those who contracted the virus immediately before the order realize they’re infected. From two weeks on, the number of cases should fall — as they did in New York.
In other words, the evidence at hand indicates that the stay-at-home order worked to contain the virus.
Ingraham actually waves this away, noting that the 77-point drop in flu cases correlates to the implementation of the order, but suggesting that the order “may have convinced people to stay home, but we don’t know that, and neither do state health officials.” She added, “Epidemiologists will probably be debating this for years.”
Maybe, but her “old-time digging” didn’t look at the actual covid-19 cases. It’s hard to tell the effect on flu cases in part because the flu season was already almost over when the stay-at-home order took effect.
From a rhetorical perspective, Ingraham needs to diminish the effect of the stay-at-home order to bolster the argument that we should quickly restore economic activity to normal levels.
“Remember, even when early on we were warned that this flu season was going to be particularly deadly, we didn’t pull kids from schools. Remember, we played those clips for you last night. People were warning about this is going to be one of the worst on record. But still, we didn’t require people to wear masks on planes or in grocery stores, and we didn’t decide to ruin our economy,” Ingraham said. “But then covid hit. And it was like this flu season we were hearing about [that was] going to be so horrific never even happened at all. The media never talked about it. And even our infectious-disease specialists didn’t really address it as time went on. Why? I think we need answers so we can move forward with a full understanding of what actually happened here and how deadly covid really was.”
This is, to put it bluntly, nonsense. While it is the case that we accept a certain number of flu cases and deaths that are preventable, we also have systems in place that already contain the flu’s spread. We have vaccinations. We have people with immunity. We should, in fact, wash our hands more during flu season than we do and be more careful about our own exposure. But because there are containment systems, that’s less urgent than it was for the coronavirus, for which no vaccine and no immunity existed when it arrived.
That’s why covid-19 cases spiked so fast in New York. And that spike is why the exceptional measures were necessary. The reason the media and infectious-disease experts didn’t focus on the flu season before the arrival of the coronavirus — beyond standard seasonal warnings about getting flu shots — is that the flu season wasn’t all that exceptional.
The arrival of a highly contagious virus that is deadlier than the flu (which The Post explained a few hours before Ingraham’s show) meant a sudden need for dramatic action.
There’s a valid discussion to be had over when and how to scale back social distancing metrics. But Ingraham’s effort to use run-of-the-mill flu numbers to hint at the possibility of a conspiracy as she pursues her goal of a return to normal is as irresponsible as her repeated hyping of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the virus. There’s nothing suspicious about the flu data, as Ingraham was told by actual experts who have done years of “digging” into how the seasonal flu works.
Nonetheless, she wanted to ask some questions. And she deferred to the viewers she was supposedly informing to “help us” solve the nonexistent mystery she had created.
Enough said. I’ll post more on the goings on at Fox News as we roll through 2020.
Now here are some of today’s articles and notes on the horrid COVID-19 pandemic. (As usual, the most noteworthy items will be listed first.):
Here is more climate and weather news from Friday:
(As usual, this will be a fluid post in which more information gets added during the day as it crosses my radar, crediting all who have put it on-line. Items will be archived on this site for posterity. In most instances click on the pictures of each tweet to see each article. The most noteworthy items will be listed first.)
Here is one hot “ET” from Friday:
(If you like these posts and my work please contribute via the PayPal widget, which has recently been added to this site. Thanks in advance for any support.)
Guy Walton “The Climate Guy”