Friday Links

In New York, Texas, and a slice of the rest of the country where data is available, teachers and other staff where school buildings are open have higher COVID infection rates than their surrounding communities.

Critically, the data does not show whether teachers caught the virus in schools, or offer definitive answers about the risks of school reopening. It’s possible the results reflect more widespread testing among teachers, and the evidence that remote teachers have lower infection rates is mixed. But the latest data complicates our understanding of the risks of school reopening.

A couple of years ago I gave a statistics course for the Swedish National Research School in History, and at the exam I asked the students to explain how one should correctly interpret p-values. Although the correct definition is p(data|null hypothesis), a majority of the students either misinterpreted the p-value as being the likelihood of a sampling error (which of course is wrong, since the very computation of the p-value is based on the assumption that sampling errors are what causes the sample statistics not coinciding with the null hypothesis) or that the p-value is the probability of the null hypothesis being true, given the data (which of course also is wrong, since it is p(null hypothesis|data) rather than the correct p(data|null hypothesis)).

This is not to blame on students’ ignorance, but rather on significance testing not being particularly transparent (conditional probability inference is difficult even to those of us who teach and practice it).

For a typical citizen, political knowledge is just as often a liability as a source of power. Ignorance protects us from painful truths, insulates us from responsibility for our actions, and sustains the relationships that we depend upon for meaning and belonging. To understand and address societal ignorance, we must come to terms with such benefits.

The link between the Great War and the influenza pandemic was more than a mere coincidence of timing. Massive movements of troops around the world — unprecedented at the time, but foreshadowing our own world of extensive tourist and business travel — were a major factor in spreading the 1918–19 pandemic. And, as with current pandemics, the close proximity of humans and food-producing animals played a major role. But recent research has also pointed to more direct links to the war, including the role of poison gas and the local climate change created by the conflict.

The gases used in the Great War included chlorine, phosgene and (perhaps the most horrible of all) mustard gas, which not only caused disabling blistering but is also highly carcinogenic and mutagenic. The outbreak of flu, particularly deadly to the young men among whom it spread, probably arose from the mutagenic effects of one or more of these gases, combined with repeated transmission from humans to animals and vice versa.

Even more striking is the possibility that soil particles, explosives and other chemicals generated by the continuous bombardment on the Western Front played a role in generating a six-year European climate anomaly characterised by unusually cold and rainy weather — weather that contributed both to the infamous mud of the trenches and to the severity of the pandemic. As well as the obvious effects of cold weather, which weakened immunity and encouraged crowding indoors, the climate anomaly disrupted the migratory patterns of mallard ducks and other birds that were important vectors for the disease.

“Making progress in this effort will help us reach our full economic potential as a nation,” Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan said at a conference Tuesday addressing the topic of race and the economy.

A December study by consultant McKinsey & Co. found that students of color in U.S. schools had fallen behind in math by three to five months because of the pandemic; White students trailed by only one to three months.

It’s rare for economists to highlight how little is known about which policies and institutions fuel economic growth and prosperity. But in their latest book, Good Economics for Hard Times, Nobel Prize-winning economists Esther Duflo and Abhijit V. Banerjee do exactly that. And it’s this quality of humility and courage, espoused throughout their writing, that inspires confidence and curiosity in what they hae to say about other, potentially more important, issues.

The chapter on trade more or less debunks a foundational economic model — Ricardo’s Law of Comparative Advantage, which describes how countries are better off under free trade.

Our crowds are “the people” in action; their crowds are oppressed automatons.

About Me

Developer at Brown University Library specializing in instructional design and technology, Python-based data science, and XML-driven web development.