Category: Science

Human beings are not the same thing as monkey cells: no, don’t start taking fenofibrate

Audacy (a site for radio stations’ online presence) reports, “Cholesterol drug cuts COVID infection rate by 70%: study”.

Actually, no, that is not what’s reported.

70% reduction in infection would be incredible, so naturally I read the article. I even read the actual journal paper they refer to.

Bonus points for this being an actual, peer-reviewed, published paper in a real journal, Frontiers in Pharmacology Translational Pharmacology. It just does not say anything about infection in humans. It says that the virus failed to infect monkey cells in culture media by up to 70%.

This is a really interesting paper, and I look forward to future work. This could potentially be a useful treatment.

That does not justify the utterly false headline. Audacy reporter Stephanie Raymond apparently either did not read the paper or did not know what Vero cells are and did not bother to look it up. Certainly she did not interview any of the scientists involved. One wonders if she worked off a press release.

Note: in the subject line I said not to start taking fenofibrate. I of course mean, “Unless it’s prescribed by your doctor, for a valid reason.” I am not a medical doctor and I’m not giving medical advice. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t start any prescription med unless it is prescribed by a licensed practitioner.

Kaiser doctor: Cause, Effect, What’s the Difference?

A press release on the Kaiser Permanente web site showcases Doctor Robert Sallis, who conducted a study in which the data on 50,000 KP members diagnosed with COVID-19, finding that people who were less active were 20% more likely to be hospitalized and 30% more likely to die after diagnosis.

Yes, it’s just as nonsensical as you are quite likely thinking.

We know that various comorbidities, such as diabetes, asthma, old age, and kidney disease can result in worse outcomes when someone gets COVID-19. And we also know that these same conditions are associated with lower levels of physical activity.

So Dr. Sallis has found that … sicker people are less active.

But he interprets it as meaning that exercise can save you from dying if you get the disease. That might be true, but the press release comes nowhere near proving it.

Of course, it’s possible the actual paper in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has a more powerful analysis. So I found it.

Umm ….

The activity levels were self-reported. Red flag.

The authors mention confounders. That’s it. They make no effort to account for them, they just vaguely discount them: “There is also the potential issue of residual confounding due to unmeasured confounders or measurement error. However, many studies have demonstrated numerous strong benefits from PA, especially among those who suffer from a variety of chronic diseases.” Yes, but that doesn’t mean that exercise automatically has benefits in every case. It would in principle be possible to do a better analysis, in which you compared people in matched subgroups (groups matched by age and pre-existing conditions, where the only difference between members is level of physical activity). They didn’t bother to do that.

Let me be clear: if I had access to the data I could do that analysis. It isn’t mysterious. They just didn’t.

So … this paper is, let’s say, very far from convincing.

Terrifyingly transmissible variants?

So, we hear a lot about how the VOC 202012/01 variant (the “British variant”) and 501Y.V2 (the “South African variant”) are more transmissible than the baseline SARS-CoV-2 virus, and there is evidence that this is true.

However, something to keep in mind:

New Cases of SARS-CoV-2 InfectionUKSouth Africa
Jan 1641,34613,973
Jan 3023,2755,297
Source: Worldometers.info

So, while these new variants are coming to dominate new infections in both nations, both countries have reduced their number of actual infections dramatically. That isn’t an inconsistency–it just indicates that common-sense public health measures like distancing and mask-wearing actually work fine against the new variants. (There are lots of other factors, like the “post-Christmas surge” in cases abating, of course.)

This is what evil looks like

A protest forced the temporary closure of a COVID-19 vaccination site in Los Angeles. They’re literally willing to kill people for the fiction that COVID-19 doesn’t exist.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-01-30/dodger-stadiums-covid-19-vaccination-site-shutdown-after-dozens-of-protesters-gather-at-entrance

They’re willing to kill for a lie. I literally can’t think of worse evil. Bigger evil, sure, but not worse.

To quote a post from one of the protestors, “… please refrain from wearing Trump/MAGA attire as we want our statement to resonate with the sheeple. No flags but informational signs only.” Naturally, they had to lie about who they were.

Retail Unmasked

I wrote this to a particular local store. I’m not going to name-and-shame them, so this is an open letter to many retailers:


Hello,

I was in your store this morning.

Several of your staff were wearing their masks either around their necks, or not covering their noses.

This is another way to say, “Not really wearing masks.”

Or, “Not protecting your customers or each other from disease.”

I am deliberately not naming or describing them, because this is not a failure of the hourly employee. It is inevitably and inarguably the responsibility of the management to ensure that the staff follows proper health and safety practices.

If you need assistance, Suffolk County and the State of New York have many resources available to you.

I will note that at least one staffer was apparently walking in to start a shift. You may want to remind them to wear a mask whenever they are in the store, not just when they are on the clock. The same rules that apply to your customers apply to your staff. Masks protect us all, but only if we all wear them.

Let me emphasize that I’m not angry at your staff, or you. I am trying to help protect them, and you, from a potentially deadly disease.

Thank you.

Resurrections in Spain!

According to the Worldometer, 1915 people returned from the dead today (May 25, 2020). Specifically, COVID-19 victims.

I thought this would be the result of a statistical correction, maybe Spain reclassifying a bunch of deaths as being caused by something else, but their News section says nothing about that. My Spanish is very rusty, but their source also doesn’t say such a thing.

I was never that great of a programmer, but surely someone at the Worldometer could have inserted sanity checks for things like the dead rising from the grave. Is Spain threatened by a zombie apocalypse, in addition to the pandemic?

On that same page, they also show that -372 new cases appeared today, and that no one in Spain has recovered from COVID-19 since March 18.

I emailed to let them know about that last anomaly a couple of days ago. No answer so far.

I like the Worldometer’s coronavirus pages and look at them regularly. I have no idea why this slipped through and never got corrected.

Covid-19 and your business: an open letter

In the past few days, I have received emails from hotel chains, supermarkets, convenience stores, travel brands, and a storage locker company explaining how they’re protecting my health from the Covid-19 outbreak. Almost all of them are stamped from the same template:

  • We are sanitizing frequently-touched surfaces more often
  • If you have reservations, we are giving you flexibility to change them, even if we don’t usually let you cancel without penalty
  • We’re following applicable recommendations from WHO and the CDC

Only one, 7-Eleven, has mentioned a critical one: asking sick people to not come in, and saying that they’re directing any employee to stay home if feeling ill. That last is obviously key, though. Here’s the thing: they don’t mention “And we’re giving them sick pay.”

People who work in restaurants and convenience stores are often part-timers with no benefits, and in particular no paid sick days. Telling a person who needs her pay from the night shift to feed her kids, “Just stay home if you run a fever,” is like saying “Just let your family starve if you run a fever.” They won’t and they can’t.

So: how seriously do you really take this outbreak? Are you ready to pay your staff to stay home when sick? Because if not … then people will inevitably die.

No, I don’t think the Thais have cured the Wuhan virus

Did you see that Thai doctors have cured the Novel Coronavirus?

https://www.ibtimes.co.in/cocktail-flu- … and-812699

Don’t hold your breath. They claim to have used anti-HIV drugs. Those are almost all antiretrovirals. Coronavirii are not retroviruses. It seems very unlikely meds that work by inhibiting the enzyme reverse transcriptase would affect members of the Coronaviridae, since the RNA of a coronavirus is not reverse-transcribed into DNA.

Oseltamivir (trade name Tamiflu), their third drug, is specific to influenza and again would not be expected to work against a totally different type of virus. I actually found a Chinese study that tested it against the SARS virus (close relative of 2019-nCoV) and found no activity.
https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/10/4/pdfs/03-0458.pdf

The whole media brouhaha is based on … one patient.

I can’t rule it out. I can and do doubt it a lot.

The Washington Post embarrasses itself

I just dashed off an angry letter to the Post about their recent article, UFOs exist and everyone needs to adjust to that fact. I reproduce my text below.

The above article is apparently a fairly subtle joke that has taken in the Post’s editorial team. Surely you wouldn’t post something so afactual and nonsensical without a disclaimer in a serious “Perspective” demi-editorial? Surely you should at least have had an article by a person competent in some sort of science? I find it hard to believe you were taken in.

On the off-chance you took that … set of words … seriously (I’m eliding my more strident description), may I suggest you consult Professor Massimo Pigliucci (CUNY), or Professor Steven Novella (Yale Med), or someone from the CSI (Center for Skeptical Inquiry)? Massimo in particular as a philosopher and scientist could point out both the factual incorrectness of some of the assertions, and the logical fallacy blatantly present in the phrase, “… but even those skeptics could not completely rule out the possibility that extraterrestrial activity was involved.”

I await your retraction.

Carl Fink

The article is a hot mess of nonsense. I’m embarrassed for every newspaper editor, just because their colleagues published this waste of photons.

(Image courtesy Wikipedia user D J Shin)

Non-GMO means “evil”

gmo

Today I sent the following to two manufacturers of almond milk.


I like one of your products. Because of a misleading, unnecessary label on the package I’m reluctant to buy it.

To be specific, I like your almond milk (specifically the unsweetened and unflavored variety). It’s nutritious, low in calories, supplies lots of calcium which I happen to need from time to time, and tastes just fine.

But you had to stick that “Non GMO” logo on the package.

It isn’t exactly false, it’s just morally wrong. No almonds currently on the market are genetically modified, and no water is GMO. Those are the ingredients of unsweetened almond milk. The label is misleading because it falsely implies that your competitors do use GMO almonds.

It’s also morally wrong because NOT using GMO almonds, if they did exist, would be unethical. GMO crops use less land and less fertilizer and less pesticide to produce the same amount of food. This is not only profitable for the farmer, it means that we can feed everyone using less land, which allows more land to be wild, or used for solar or wind production. By being non-GMO you would be harming everyone.

It may be worth pointing out that there are NO KNOWN UNDESIRABLE EFFECTS from the consumption of GMO foods. In many hundreds of scientific papers, no real evidence of any harms has ever been detected. You’re also falsely implying that GMOs are bad. They simply are not.

So your label boils down to two misleading implied claims, to justify doing something that causes harm to everyone.

I strongly urge you to remove that undesirable label from your products. Until you do … well, as I said I’m reluctant to buy products that advertise that they are unethical.

Sincerely,
Carl Fink

Pardon the ALL CAPS for emphasis, I was using web contact forms that have no boldface.

So anyone know of a non-non-GMO brand of almond milk. It also has to be non-organic. (“Organic” means “farmed inefficiently for no good reason.”) Thanks.

(Image created by De Cora, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.)