Tag Archives: medical science

Dear Vaccine Conspiracy Theorists: You’re Killing People (And Making A Fool Of Yourself)

Wednesday, March 17th 2021: JJ McCartney LIVE on St. Patrick's Day 3-5pmET  – JJMcCartney 24/7 – The Re-Union Station

In general, I try to respect the sincerely held beliefs of others. It’s something I hope most decent human beings can agree upon. Mocking, belittling, or denigrating someone else’s beliefs isn’t just bound to cause conflict. It’s just a dick move.

I say that as someone who has criticized organized religion many times before. Within those criticism, though, I make it a point to say that I try to respect those who are sincere in their beliefs. I’ve no desire to mock them or make them feel lesser for believing what they belief.

All that being said, I draw a clear line when those beliefs get people killed.

This brings me to vaccines and the conspiracy theorists who love whining about them. These are people whose beliefs are hard to respect in any context. They’re not just skeptical about the efficacy of vaccines. They go out of their way to protest their use, even during a global pandemic that has killed millions.

I’m sorry, but I just can’t respect that. I don’t care if it’s for religious or non-religious reasons. This sort of thing is killing people. That’s objectively bad.

Now, I predicted last year that religious zealots would be among those who refuse to take vaccines and go out of their way to denigrate scientists. Unfortunately, that prediction proved distressingly accurate.

However, what I didn’t predict was how many self-professed “skeptics” would protest vaccines for non-religious reasons. I knew it was going to get absurd. I just didn’t know it was going to get “vaccines are making people magnets” absurd.

Seriously, I wish I were making that up. That’s a real testimony from a registered nurse, of all people, during an Ohio public hearing. Here’s the story from the Huffington Post. Be warned, though. Your faith in humanity will be shaken.

Huff Post: Nurse’s Attempt To Prove Vaccines Make People Magnetic Hilariously Backfires

An anti-vaccine Ohio nurse attempted on Tuesday to prove that COVID-19 vaccines make people magnetic, but ― to use a gymnastics term ― she failed to stick the landing.

Registered nurse Joanna Overholt, testifying before the Ohio House health committee about what she said were potential coronavirus vaccine dangers, tried to use her own body as proof.

Overholt said she heard during lunch that vaccines cause magnetism in humans, so she decided to prove her point on herself by attempting to show how a bobby pin and a key would stick to her exposed skin.

Spoiler alert: It didn’t go well.

Now, I don’t know this woman’s full story. I have no idea what’s going on in her life or what led her to belief something this absurd. I’m fairly certain she didn’t just wake up one day and decide to believe bullshit conspiracy theories about vaccines.

Whatever her story, it doesn’t change the implications or the consequences. What she’s promoting isn’t just wrong or absurd. It’s legitimately harmful. On top of that, we’re still dealing with a pandemic and rhetoric like this is going to get people killed.

That’s the main takeaway I glean every time I see stories like this. That’s what sets them apart from other absurd conspiracy theories. Believing there are alien bodies in Area 51 or that the moon is made of cheese doesn’t directly harm anyone. Just being ignorant of certain facts is also forgivable. The internet is full of dumb falsehoods these days.

However, there are some facts that just aren’t in dispute. Chief among them is the demonstrable fact that vaccines save lives. The fact that nobody has died from smallpox in five decades is proof enough of that. In fact, few advances have ever saved as many lives as vaccines. The vaccines for COVID-19 are only adding to that total.

Unfortunately, these anti-vaxx conspiracy theorists are only fueling a sense of vaccine hesitancy that was always going to be an issue. Even before the age of the internet or modern religion, there has always been a skepticism about scientific advancements. This is just making it worse and getting people killed.

It’s one thing to make yourself look foolish in public in a manner that’s recorded and spread throughout the internet. That usually doesn’t have major consequences beyond making certain people internet celebrities for all the wrong reasons. It’s quite another to be foolish in a manner that undermines public health and leads to undue suffering.

There’s just no getting around it. Lower vaccination rates mean more disease. More disease means more suffering. In this case, it’s not a minor inconvenience. It’s potentially fatal. I feel like that last detail is worth emphasizing.

The problem is that those pushing anti-vaccine conspiracies don’t see that detail, either by ignorance or by choice. They may, in their heart of hearts, believe they’re saving lives by preventing people from getting vaccines. However, basic biology and math say otherwise. The data is not in dispute.

These beliefs are killing people.

The people who push these beliefs are responsible for propagating that suffering.

These beliefs do not deserve respect.

Consider this both a plea and an angry rant of sorts. If you are pushing these conspiracy theories, you’re not just a misguided fool. You’re going to get people killed. After last year, we dealt with enough death. Please don’t add to it.

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Filed under Current Events, health, human nature, Uncategorized

Why I’m Still Going To Wear A Mask (For Now)

Australia's about-face on masks and Covid-19: why our health advice was  late to the party | Health | The Guardian

The past few months have been full of objectively great news in terms of ending the COVID-19 pandemic. Given how, at this time last year, the entire world was shutting down and the news kept getting worse with each passing day, I welcome that news. Hell, I’m willing to celebrate it.

It’s now safe to say with a straight face that we’re almost through this once-in-a-century pandemic. The trend line, both in terms of new cases and deaths, is going down. It’s still terrible in some parts of the world, but unlike last year, we have multiple vaccines with which to fight it.

Again, this is a good thing. I got my vaccination and I cannot overstate the relief I felt when it was all said and done. I still take precautions when I go out in public, mostly because there are still some restrictions in place and I understand that not everyone has gotten their vaccine. That includes wearing a mask.

Then, last week, a big announcement from the Centers for Disease Control brought more good news to those who have been vaccinated. Apparently, if we get the vaccine, then there’s no reason to keep wearing a mask. Here’s the story from NPR.

NPR: Fully Vaccinated People Can Stop Wearing Masks Indoors And Outdoors, CDC Says

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that fully vaccinated adults can safely resume activities indoors or outdoors without masks or distancing, in gatherings large or small. The announcement marks a major milestone in the effort to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced the new guidance Thursday.

“You can do things you stopped doing because of the pandemic,” Walensky said.

The new policy is based on recent real-world studies from Israel and the U.S. on people who’ve been vaccinated, she said.

Once again, I welcome this news. Like everyone else, I’m sick of having to wear a mask, just to go and get groceries. I also don’t like wearing a mask when I work out. That’s just one other piece of cloth that gets all sweaty and stinky. I’m as eager as everyone else to discard them.

However, despite this welcome news, I’ve already made a choice. I will continue wearing a mask in public, at least for now.

My reason for doing so has nothing to do with my trust in the science. I believe it’s legitimate. This is the Center for Disease Control. They’re not some wannabe guru trying to sell vitamins as a cure all. These brave men and women have been on the front lines since this crisis began. They’ve earned that credibility.

For that same reason, I choose to wear a mask because I understand that not everyone trusts the news and policies that public officials have given. That includes those who refuse to get the vaccine and refuse to wear masks. As a result, these people, who are a sizable chunk of the population, are still vulnerable. They’ll remain vulnerable until the infection rate is at a point where it’s easy to track, treat, and contain.

We’re not quite at that place yet. As of this writing, only about half the population has been vaccinated by at least one of the available vaccines. Just this past week, most clinics and pharmacies in my area started offering walk-in vaccinations without an appointment. That’s a great thing and people now have no excuse not to get one.

However, until that vaccination rate gets to a point where the virus can’t easily spread, I’m still wearing a mask. Even though the vaccine does prevent me from getting ill or showing symptoms, there’s still the possibility of breakthrough infections. While those vaccinated may never feel ill at all, they may still spread it and they could spread it to someone who is not vaccinated.

I do not want to be one of those people.

I do not want to be someone who spreads this terrible disease to someone, even if I never feel sick.

Yes, wearing a mask is uncomfortable and I look forward to discarding them.

No, I’m not willing to risk hurting other people for my own personal comfort.

That’s not just an informed choice. It’s the right thing to do and it’ll get us out of this crisis that much sooner.

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A Brief Video To Address (And Debunk) Vaccine Hesitancy

Last week, I got my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. It was a smooth, pleasant experience by every measure. Those involved were kind, professional, and diligent. My arm was a bit sore for a while, but other than that, I felt no major side-effects.

Having covered the development of this vaccine, I cannot overstate what a monumental achievement this is for science, health, and the general improvement of human well-being. Those involved in the development of this vaccine are real-life heroes. It’s because of them that this terrible pandemic will never claim as many lives as it could’ve.

However, there are still those who are reluctant to take the vaccine. Some do it for religious reasons. Some do it for political reasons. Whatever their reason is, I won’t mince words. It’s stupid, selfish, and is putting other people at risk. This pandemic will drag on longer and kill more people because of them. They should be criticized for that.

Some of those people cannot be reasoned with and are just a lost cause. For others, though, who may be nervous or reluctant to take this vaccine, I feel we should reach out to those people. I’m sure they’ve heard plenty of conflicting messages as well about the vaccine. There are real answers to those concerns and I’d like to share them.

Below is a video from the YouTube channel, asapSCIENCE. They’re a good YouTube channel with millions of subscribers and great production values. They have a talent for breaking down major science-related issues in a simple, easy-to-follow manner. I sincerely hope this video allays any concerns you might have about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

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Filed under Current Events, health, YouTube

Finding An Available COVID-19 Vaccine With A (Very) Useful Website

I’m not a doctor. I’m not the least bit qualified to give medical advice. Unless it involves superhero comics, football, or 90s sitcoms, I have little to no expertise in that field. I’m just a guy who writes sexy stories and makes YouTube videos.

With that disclaimer aside, I do feel comfortable giving one bit of advice. It’s simple and you’ve probably heard it from people who are much smarter than I’ll ever be.

Please, if you can, get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.

I know that’s easier said than done. Hopefully, with the recent approval of a third vaccine, it’ll be even easier in the coming weeks. Even with supplies being so limited, I encourage everyone to make the effort. To help, I’d like to share a very useful tool that I recently found, courtesy of NPR. It’s called Vaccine Finder.

Please, if you ever bookmark a website, make it this one. It may very well help end this horrible pandemic just a little bit sooner. If you need more information on it, here’s the same NPR story that I came across that explains what it is and how to use it.

NPR: CDC Launches Web Tool To Help Americans Find COVID-19 Vaccines

Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with Boston Children’s Hospital and Castlight Health, is launching a new tool that allows Americans to search for COVID-19 vaccine providers with stock of vaccine where they live.

The tool, which builds on the existing VaccineFinder.org platform, will capture inventory data from vaccine providers around the country.

In most states, the initial launch is limited to certain providers — those getting the vaccine directly from the federal government. In Alaska, Indiana, Iowa and Tennessee, the tool shows all the vaccine providers, including hospitals, clinics and public health vaccination sites.

Residents of those four states can look up their cities or ZIP codes and find an interactive map of all the places administering COVID-19 vaccines and see which ones have vaccine doses in stock.

Again, I’m not expert, but this website will help you link to people who are. Check it daily. Make it part of your morning routine. Make your coffee and then use this site to try and locate a vaccine. Then, make the appointment and follow all the necessary steps. You’ll help yourself, your loved ones, and your entire community.

We’re almost through this horrific pandemic. We’ll get through it faster if we all make the effort. Hopefully, this website will help.

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Vaccine Update: Making Sense Of The (Critical) Data On The Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

Last year did a lot to crush my usually optimistic outlook on the future. I experienced a level of cynicism I haven’t felt since high school, a time when I only ever assumed things would get worse and rarely made an effort to change that. It was bad. Global pandemics have that effect on people.

I still made it a point to note when positive things actually happened, especially when it came to news of the vaccine. That marked the ultimate turning point. A vaccine was always going to be our best weapon in terms of ending the pandemic, regardless of what the anti-vaxx crowd says. The fact that we now have two vaccines at our disposal is genuinely encouraging.

Yes, I know the distribution of these vaccines has been a mess, to say the least.

I also don’t deny that the emergence of new mutant strains of the virus could hinder their effectiveness.

Those are legitimate concerns. We should all be worried about how this will impact our ability to finally end this awful pandemic that has caused so much damage. At the same time, we should also be hopeful. Believe me, I’m trying.

That hope got another boost recently when it was announced that a third vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson had completed its final round of trials. Having a third weapon against this virus can only help. In addition, this one has the advantage of being a one-shot vaccine, as opposed to the two required by Moderna and Pfizer.

While that’s good news for those who hate needles, there is a trade-off. According to the research reported by the media, the vaccine is effective. However, the numbers aren’t quite as promising as what we got with the first two. This is what CNN reported.

CNN: Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine is 66% effective in global trial, but 85% effective against severe disease, company says

Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 single-shot vaccine was shown to be 66% effective in preventing moderate and severe disease in a global Phase 3 trial, but 85% effective against severe disease, the company announced Friday.

The vaccine was 72% effective against moderate and severe disease in the US, the company said.

It’s a striking difference from vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, and it may give pause to people uncertain about which vaccine to get or when they can get one. The vaccines already on the market in the US are about 95% effective overall against symptomatic Covid-19, with perhaps even higher efficacy against severe cases.

But experts say the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will still be useful against the pandemic in the United States and around the world.

I know the numbers are the only thing that stands out in this piece. That seems to be the main sticking point for most reports about this virus.

Those numbers are still good. The 66% may not be as promising as the 90% promised by the other two, but that’s still more effective than a standard flu vaccine. On top of that, being a one-shot vaccine that can be easily stored in a typical refrigerator will help even more. It means more of this vaccine can get to people, especially in places with less-than-ideal health infrastructure.

This will definitely help in terms of ending or at least mitigating this pandemic. However, there’s one other critical point of data that’s worth highlighting with this vaccine. It’s in some of the reports, but it’s often difficult to discern, mostly because the media’s track record with reporting science is not that great.

For this vaccine, it’s boils down to certain degrees within the data. It’s true the Johnson & Johnson vaccine won’t give you the same protection you’d get from the other two. There’s a good chance that, even after getting this vaccine, you could still become very sick with COVID-19. However, and this is the key, it will help ensure that you don’t become severely ill and die.

That’s not just a sales pitch. According to the research, there were no hospitalizations or deaths among people in the vaccine arm. That may mean some did get sick. Some might have even spread it. However, they didn’t get so sick that they ended up in the hospital. They all survived.

To me, at least, that’s the most important result. Getting sick is one thing. Getting so sick that you die in a hospital bed is something else entirely. One is a bad flu. The other is debilitating illness. That alone makes this vaccine a critical tool in the effort to end this pandemic.

I admit that if I had a choice between the three, I would choose Moderna or Pfizer. I actually know someone who got the Pfizer vaccine and their experience gives me great assurance that it works as intended.

However, if those two were not available and all I could get was the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, I’d take it in a heartbeat. It could mean the difference between being sick and being deathly ill. In a pandemic, that’s the only difference that matters. To all the doctors, nurses, participants, and health care workers who were part of this effort, I sincerely thank you. A lot of lives will be saved because of this vaccine. That makes you true heroes in a world that badly needs them.

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The First People Have Received The COVID-19 Vaccine (And We Should Celebrate)

It’s almost over. I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking that with each passing day.

This historically horrible year is almost over. We’re in the home stretch with the holidays approaching. A new year is almost upon us and the bar for improvement for 2021 is laughably low compared to previous years.

We can also say with a straight face that the COVID-19 pandemic is almost over. I say that knowing full-well that cases are still rising and people are still dying at a horrific pace. That’s still objectively terrible.

The reason there’s hope now is we actually have a working vaccine. Thanks to the heroic efforts of scientists, doctors, and those who volunteered to test this unproven treatment, the key to ending this pandemic is upon us.

It also is just the first. There are multiple vaccines in late stages of development. It’s very likely that we’ll have a second effective before New Years. That’s a powerful one-two punch to this pandemic that has killed so many and disrupted so many lives.

These aren’t folk remedies or something some shady health guru is trying to pawn for a quick buck. Contrary to what anti-vaxxers may claim, these vaccines will actually protect people. As of this writing, it’s being distributed to front line care workers and vulnerable populations.

Just this past week, the first individuals received the vaccine. It started with a British woman in Coventry. It continued with an ICU nurse in New York City. CNN even captured it in a live video feed.

CNN: ICU nurse in New York among the first people in the US to get authorized coronavirus vaccine

A critical care nurse was the first person in New York and among the first people in the United States to get a shot of the coronavirus vaccine authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Sandra Lindsay, an ICU nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, New York City, was administered the vaccine during a live video event at about 9:20 a.m. ET on Monday.

Dr. Michelle Chester, the corporate director of employee health services at Northwell Health, delivered the shot.

“She has a good touch, and it didn’t feel any different than taking any other vaccine,” Lindsay said immediately afterward.

This isn’t just a turning point in the fight against a deadly disease. This is something we should celebrate. Moreover, I believe this is the kind of celebrating we should learn from.

I admit I’ve celebrated some less-than-important things in my life. Hell, I celebrated the day when comics started coming out digitally the same day they came out in shops. I treated that like I won the Super Bowl.

People celebrate all sorts of events that they believe to be the most important thing in the world. Whether it’s their team winning a championship or a movie grossing $2 billion at the box office, we all have a different bar for what warrants celebrating.

For just once, let’s all re-think where we raise that bar. Let’s also let this be a prime example of something that’s truly worth celebrating and praising.

Make no mistake. Creating this vaccine this quickly is a remarkable achievement. We’ve endured pandemics in the past. Some of those pandemics have killed far more people. This disease could’ve definitely killed more. If we didn’t have this vaccine, or even if we had to wait a year to get it, thousands more would’ve died.

Now, going into 2021, countless lives will be saved because of this. It’s a testament to the power of science, hard work, and human ingenuity. It’s as heroic as we can be without the aid of superpowers or magic wands. As someone who loves superhero media, I say that’s a beautiful thing indeed. So, let’s all take a moment to appreciate and celebrate this achievement. I also fully intend to get this vaccine, once it’s available. When that day comes, I’ll gladly share that moment and encourage others to do the same.

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A Quick Note: Fact-Checking Is NOT Censorship

In general, I am very against censorship. I’m a strong advocate of ending the outdated and asinine practice of bleeping profanity and blurring female nipples. There is no reasonable justification for that kind of censorship. It’s just a dumb, misguided effort to try and cover up certain words and images that some people find offensive. That kind of censorship has no place in a free society.

In that same spirit, I am also very much in favor of fact-checking. I’ve been on the internet long enough to know the near-infinite volumes of bullshit that fill websites, social media, and even blogs like mine. In fact, given the recent trends in politics and a preference for “alternative facts,” I think fact-checking has never been more critical.

For that very reason, it’s important to make clear that fact-checking is not the same as censorship. Verifying whether some bullshit claim about chemtrails or shape-shifting lizards is valid does not constitute censorship. It’s consistent with a sincere and honest effort to filter bullshit from meaningful facts.

I bring this up because certain groups and movements are having a difficult time discerning between the two. More recently, anti-vaxx groups on social media sites like FaceBook have been whining about censorship of their extreme, unsubstantiated views. ARS Technica recently reported that this whining has escalated into a full-fledged lawsuit.

ARS Technica: Anti-vaccine group sues Facebook, claims fact-checking is “censorship”

A notorious anti-vaccine group spearheaded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. filed suit today in federal court in California alleging that Facebook’s fact-checking program for false scientific or medical misinformation violates its constitutional rights.

Children’s Health Defense claims in its suit that Facebook, its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and the organizations Science Feedback, Poynter, and PolitiFact acted “jointly or in concert with federal government agencies” to infringe on CHD’s First and Fifth Amendment rights. The suit also alleges Facebook and the fact-checking organizations colluded to commit wire fraud by “clearing the field” of anti-vaccine ads.

As anti-vax movement gets weirder—and dumber—Facebook announces crackdown
Facebook has “insidious conflicts with the pharmaceutical industry and its captive health agencies,” CHD claimed in a press release. “Facebook currently censors Children’s Health Defense’s page, targeting its purge against factual information about vaccines, 5G and public health agencies.”

“This is an important First Amendment case testing the boundaries of government authority to openly censor unwanted critiques of government policies and pharmaceutical and telecom products on privately owned internet platforms,” Kennedy added in a written statement.

Now, I’m not a lawyer and I have no legal expertise on the nature of censorship and free speech in the internet age. However, I’m smart enough and sane enough to understand the difference between actively censoring ideas that I don’t want to hear and trying to verify a ridiculous claim shared on social media.

I’m also informed enough to understand that FaceBook isn’t the government, even though it tries to be at times. It’s a platform. It can decide for itself whether or not it wants to remove certain content. Every private organization does that to some extent, especially ones with such a vast reach.

The content they permit has a tangible effect on their brand image. It’s why FaceBook’s reputation is not on the same level as 4chan, even if that’s not saying much. Their efforts to verify or discredit claims on their platform is perfectly in line with standard practices. It doesn’t actively punish or fine anti-vaxxers like the government did when Janet Jackson’s nipple popped out during the Super Bowl. It just removes or flags the content.

You can call that a lot of things. You may not like that companies like FaceBook can decide what is and isn’t appropriate on a platform that has had such a spotty history with censorship, to say the least. In this case though, it’s not censorship.

If anything, fact checking medical claims during a global pandemic is probably the most responsible thing a company like FaceBook can do. Hosting those claims can potentially do a great deal of harm to those who don’t know the difference between clickbait and a legitimate news story. People could actually suffer and die.

When feelings and sensibilities are the only thing at stake, then it’s fine to talk about the merits of censoring content. However, when lives are at stake on a large scale, there is no merit. Claims that may or may not affect those lives should be fact-checked. You can complain about it all you want in a lawsuit, but unless you can verify your bullshit, then that’s exactly how it’s going to be labeled and that’s not FaceBook’s fault.

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Why You Should Be Pessimistic About Optimistic News On Vaccines

In general, I’m a pretty optimistic person. I try to focus on the positives, even when I’m surrounded by a lot of negatives. It’s part of my personality. Granted, I wasn’t always like that. As a teenager, I was a pretty miserable, jaded, self-loathing cynic. There’s a long story behind that, but it’s not important right now

The reason I make that disclaimer is because the past few months have killed my sense of optimism. Actually, that’s an understatement. The impact of this massive global pandemic has taken my optimism, shot it five times with a shotgun, and ran it over eight times with a fully loaded pickup truck. My optimism is dead. It will be for the foreseeable future. That’s what this pandemic has done.

At this point, I question the sanity of anyone who has clung to any sense of optimism. Thousands of people are dead. Infections are in the millions. Things are getting worse every day. That’s not an opinion. That’s just basic goddamn math.

Now, I’m not trying to turn everyone into a pessimist, nor am I trying to crush everyone’s hopes. The point I want to make here is that there are just some things that hope cannot help, no matter how many inspirational quotes you read. Yes, hope and optimism can go a long way in many fields. A global pandemic just isn’t one of them.

To that point, I want to highlight the recent “optimism” surrounding vaccine research. I admit I too have been following this closely, too. How can you not? Even a cynic would agree. The best way to end this pandemic and get our lives back is with a vaccine. That’s somewhat distressing, given all the negative press vaccines had leading up to this moment.

At the same time, it’s remarkable how much the world has united behind this effort. I can’t remember a time when so many countries and so many organizations were this unified in their effort to achieve something. I want to find hope in that, but there are still a few intractable problem. This time, it has to do with both math and physics.

Making a vaccine is hard. There’s just no way around it. Even if you know the exact molecular sequence, producing it on a mass scale and distributing it to a large number of people is also difficult. It’s not a matter of will. It’s a matter of resources and logistics, the likes of which can’t be solved overnight or even within a year.

For that reason, when you see a positive story about a vaccine for COVID-19, you should be very pessimistic. Just look at this recent story from the Associated Press regarding Moderna’s vaccine research.

AP: First COVID-19 vaccine tested in US poised for final testing

There’s no guarantee but the government hopes to have results around the end of the year — record-setting speed for developing a vaccine.

The vaccine requires two doses, a month apart.

There were no serious side effects. But more than half the study participants reported flu-like reactions to the shots that aren’t uncommon with other vaccines — fatigue, headache, chills, fever and pain at the injection site. For three participants given the highest dose, those reactions were more severe; that dose isn’t being pursued.

Some of those reactions are similar to coronavirus symptoms but they’re temporary, lasting about a day and occur right after vaccination, researchers noted.

“Small price to pay for protection against COVID,” said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, a vaccine expert who wasn’t involved with the study.

He called the early results “a good first step,” and is optimistic that final testing could deliver answers about whether it’s really safe and effective by the beginning of next year.

On the surface, it looks rosy. It hints that a vaccine is getting closer. It may even arrive at the end of the year. They’re even saying that research is moving at record speed. It all sounds so great.

Don’t get your hopes up.

Don’t expect this pandemic to be over by Christmas, either.

Notice that I bolded the phrase “a good first step.” Also, note how few details about the research are actually listed or linked to. It just notes how many people were involved and how many will be utilized in the next step. That’s both a sign and a red flag.

It’s a common problem whenever the media tries to report on science. Actual scientific research, namely the kind reported in journals, is not the kind of thing you can fit into a simple news blurb. You can’t fit it in an article, let alone a tweet. Most scientific research, especially of the medical variety, involves a lot of numbers, intimate details, and chemical constructs that most people aren’t equipped to understand.

It’s not that the news media has to dumb it down for us, the public. It just can only report on the broadest details. Those details often include the various complications and shortcomings of the research. Make no mistake. Those complications are there. If they weren’t, then the scientific research wouldn’t be necessary. It’s why becoming a doctor is so difficult and laborious.

I don’t doubt for a second that most of these doctors want to end this pandemic. Some are probably hopeful that they’re close. However, you can’t be a good doctor without sticking to rigorous science. Breakthroughs don’t happen all at once. Those light-bulb moments we see in movies and TV shows aren’t even close to what happens in real life.

In real life, medical breakthroughs still take years if not decades. The sheer complexity of disease and our methods for treating it preclude easy fixes to big problems. In terms of problems, pandemics are as big as they come. If ending it required only one breakthrough, it would’ve been found by now and thousands of lives wouldn’t have been lost.

That’s why you should never look at vaccine news in terms of a breakthrough. Even headlines that inspire hope in this field can only ever tell part of the story. Unfortunately, science is hard and so is creating effective medicine. You can’t rush it. You can’t encourage it. It’s at the mercy of hard limits that you can’t bullshit your way around. That’s what makes it hard. It’s also why it works.

Remember that the next time you see headlines about the prospect of vaccine research. Don’t assume it’s going to finish tomorrow. Don’t assume a miracle will speed it up. That’s not how science works and that’s not how this pandemic will end. For now, the best we can do is endure, brace ourselves, and retain our sanity until things eventually do change for the better.

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How Technology Will Change Professional Sports

cyborg

In 2008, the International Association of Athletics Federations issued a momentous ruling. From that day forward, double-amputees who used specialized blade prostheses were not permitted in Olympic competition. However, it wasn’t because that double-amputees were at an inherent disadvantage. It was because these high-tech prostheses made runners too fast.

Think about that for a moment. When someone loses their legs, it’s devastating. Their lives will never be the same. Never mind hindering their ability to participate in Olympic-level events. They will be forever handicapped, unable to conduct themselves in an able-bodied society. For most of human history, this was a sad reality.

Suddenly, advances in technology have flipped the script. Existing research on these blade prostheses shows that those using them expend significantly less energy to sustain their top running speed compared to their able-bodied counterparts. Now, a double-amputee actually has an advantage in a race, especially one that relies on stamina.

The implications go beyond helping double amputees live normal lives. This marks a critical turning point for technology and sports, alike. For once, able-bodied athletes are at a disadvantage and that gap is only going to get wider. I’ll go so far as to say that in the next few decades, professional sports will undergo enormous change due to technology.

That’s not an overly bold prediction. Technology and medicine have been enhancing sports for decades. I’m not just talking about the use of performance enhancing drugs, either. There are certain medical procedures, such as Tommy John Surgery, that can give professional athletes a competitive advantage. They’re so common these days that neither athletes nor fans think much of it.

On top of that, advances in medicine have made injuries that once ended careers into extended injuries. Just a few decades ago, an NFL player who tore their ACL was likely finished. Today, such an injury still means an extended stay on the injured list, but players can come back from it. Some even manage to have MVP caliber seasons.

In the future, more advanced treatments involving stem cells or lab-grown body parts will further improve injury treatment. Given the billions in profits generated by professional sports and the massive incentives to keep star athletes healthy, there’s are plenty of reasons to push this technology forward. Before long, star quarterbacks in the NFL playing into their 40s might not be so extraordinary.

However, recovering from injuries is only a small part of a much larger upheaval that’s set to occur in the world of sports. The entire concept of competition may need revising as technology reaches a point where maintaining parity is almost impossible. Unlike performance enhancing drugs, it won’t be possible to test for them or remove them.

Today, it’s easy to appreciate how gifted the best athletes in the world are. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and effort to achieve the mental and physical prowess that allows these individuals to be at the top of their game. To build muscle, you need to spend hours in the gym. To master a skill, you need to spend years practicing and honing your mechanics.

All that work and training, however, has the same goal. The intent is to strain the body to make it stronger and wire the mind to make it more capable. At a fundamental level, it’s just restructuring the body and brain with a mix of brute force and mental effort. Modern medicine and technology can help supplement those efforts, but only to a point.

That point, however, keeps changing and will continue to change. Think back to emerging technology like Neuralink’s brain implants. Instead of spending years learning the mental aspect of a sport, why not just use an implant that mirrors the neural patterns of athletes like Tom Brady or LeBron James? They’ve already done the work. In theory, all you have to do is mimic their neural connections.

That technology is a long way off, but accelerated learning is already an emerging field in the military. It’s only a matter of time before some enterprising sports league attempts to use it. A technology that may be closer and more controversial is biohacking. I’ve mentioned it before, but it has the potential to complicate any competition.

We already know how to use genetic engineering to build bigger muscles without steroids. That same technology could be refined to impart other advantageous traits like better reaction time, quicker reflexes, and enhanced bone strength. Unlike other drugs, it wouldn’t require athletes to take pills. These skills would be written right into their genetics, which means it won’t show up on a typical drug test.

Push this technology even further and the world of professional sports gains even more complications. As time goes on, the forces of medicine, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and machine/human interface will steadily converge. We’ll get to a point where enhancing the human body is akin to upgrading our computers.

Instead of regular natural cells, we’ll rely on entirely synthetic cells that are programmable and capable of achieving more than even the best athletes of today.

Instead of intense mental training, we’ll be able to link our brains to computers to effectively learn the skills we need, whether it involves throwing a baseball or weaving baskets.

Instead of waiting for damaged body parts to heal, we’ll just swap them out for newer, better models that are much more efficient and capable.

Under such conditions, the current system for professional sports just couldn’t work. If every new quarterback could just copy the skills and experience from Tom Brady’s brain, then what’s the point of competing in the first place? If every NBA team has as much talent as the 2018 Golden State Warriors, then how does competition even work at that level?

The questions get even more profound when applied to Olympic competition. If we get to a point where double amputees run faster and those with robotic arms throw harder, then that changes the entire approach. Sure, some may still prefer seeing non-enhanced humans compete, but their feats won’t be as spectacular.

Instead, imagine events where javelin throwers can use robotic arms or swimmers could use bionic lungs. The feats they’ll achieve won’t just be better, in terms of stats. They’ll be a far greater spectacle. Given the declining ratings of the Olympics in recent years, I suspect future events will need those spectacles to maintain interest.

Personally, I would definitely watch the Olympics if it had athletes that utilized cybernetic enhancements, be they artificial limbs or brain implants. It would require a mix of both athletic training and applied science to achieve championship status. It won’t be the same as simply winning the race through sheer grit, but it will still be an achievement worthy of a metal.

What is the future of professional sports?

What is the future of professional athletes?

How will people compete in a world where the human body can be enhanced, programmed, and modified at will?

These are questions that none of the major sports leagues have to answer immediately, but they will start to become more relevant in the coming years. The fact that some of the prosthesis we give double-amputees are better than regular human legs is the first tangible step towards a very different future for professional sports.

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How To Know When A Crisis Is (NOT) A Crisis

Anyone who watches the news for more than 15 minutes will probably hear about some dire new crisis that’s going to utterly destroy society, their way of life, or the entire world.

One day, it’s some terrifying new disease. The other, it’s some environmental catastrophe. Every now and then, you’ll even get someone saying we’re creating the robots that will eventually kill us all. That, or we’re just seeing a trailer for a new “Terminator” movie. These days, it’s kind of hard to tell the difference.

There are so many unfolding catastrophes in this world. When you look at history, recent and ancient alike, and see how close we’ve come to destroying ourselves, it feels like a goddamn miracle that we’re still in one piece. Thanks to the news, the internet, and Roland Emmerich movies, it feels like any day could be the day where aliens, asteroids, and earthquakes decide humanity’s run is over.

However, that day hasn’t come. Aliens, diseases, and global warming hasn’t killed us yet. Can we at least stop for a moment to appreciate that? Whether it’s the news media, disaster movies, or boredom, most people don’t realize just how much progress we’ve made as a species. We realize even less that the driving force behind that progress is something that will also solve future problems.

It’s kind of our not-so-dirty secret-that-shouldn’t-be-a-secret. We’re all so used to hearing about a new crisis that we should worry about, but we rarely hear about the solutions. We hear even less about the problems that humanity actually solved because who wants to hear about those? It’s not like human triumph sells or anything.

I could go on for multiple post about how fear is a lucrative industry, from slasher movies to stories about bear attacks. I’d rather give people a sense of hope and leave the depressing nihilism to street preachers, cable news, and grunge rock. Instead, I want to focus on the secret weapon that humanity has to solve a major crisis.

For a point of reference, let me list a few major problems that once filled humanity with an existential dread, only to be solved to the widespread cheers of no one.

Remember the dire threat we faced when a hole in the ozone layer formed in the arctic? Well, we’ve largely solved that problem.

Remember the dire threat we faced with acid rain? We solved that too.

Remember when AIDS, SARS, and bird flu were deemed the plague that would wipe out humanity? Well, thanks to modern medicine, we’ve either solved it or contained it.

Remember how for most of human history, we were always just one bad harvest away from a horrific famine? Well, most people don’t remember that, but we solved that problem anyway.

Then, there are the ongoing problems that we haven’t solved, but are making considerable progress. Every now and then, we’ll be reminded that it’s still a problem, but we’ll rarely acknowledge the progress. Make no mistake, though. That progress is there.

Issues like climate change are still a problem. Thanks to the growth of green energy and improvements in efficiency, we’re making slow, yet steady progress.

Issues like factory farming, over-fishing, and the animal cruelty that goes with it is a problem. We’re dealing with that too through advances in synthetic meats and vertical farming.

Few issues generate as many headlines and/or first world guilt than global poverty. However, thanks to advances in modern economies and an unprecedented decline in war, the number of people living in poverty has decreased significantly.

Again, you probably don’t hear about these stories and it’s not just because fear sells better than hope. A lot of these problems weren’t solved overnight with a single, brilliant idea. That may work in reruns of “House” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” but that’s not how real progress works.

Real progress takes time. It happens gradually. It’s like a shoulder massage that turns into an orgy at the Playboy Mansion. It doesn’t happen all at once. We don’t entirely understand how we get there. We just stop thinking about it and enjoy the fruits of that progress.

That’s entirely understandable. When you find yourself in a room with Channing Tatum, High Jackman, and a half-dozen naked bikini models, you tend not to care how you got there. You just smile, take your clothes off, and start enjoying yourself.

Now, I’m all for getting naked and enjoying the moment as much as the next guy. Put me in a room where dancing, nudity, and cold beer are all celebrated and I’ll be the first to overlook whatever progress led me there. However, I think it’s worth taking a moment to understand when a crisis is truly dire.

I don’t deny for a second that when the problems I mentioned above were first explored, they seemed pretty damn daunting. Anyone who knows the history of famines, disease, or environmental catastrophes would’ve spent an hour or so in the fetal position listening to old Evanescence songs.

Then, once the dread wears off and the music gets old, those same people would’ve gotten up, rolled up their sleeves, and gotten to work. That’s because, as fearful as we can be, we generally like living in a world that’s comfortable enough for life, love, and bacon-flavored lube.  We’re very motivated to work towards that kind of world and not just because we’re hungry, horny, or lonely.

So how do we do it? How does humanity solve these problems or even begin to solve them? How the hell is it that we’ve made as much progress as we have, especially over the last century? Moreover, how can we know whether humanity will solve all the other overwhelming problems we’re facing now?

These questions are all actually very easy to answer. In fact, I’ve even come up with a simple checklist that anyone can use to figure out whether a problem is solvable. When looking at a problem from afar, ask yourself the following three questions.

  1. Can the problem be solved with a new tool or an improvement to an existing tool?

  2. Would the tool that solves the problem violate the known laws of physics?

  3. Is there a non-zero incentive to make that tool?

If the answer to all three of these questions is yes, or even kind of, then go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief. That crisis, whatever it may be, will be solved in some form or another. It won’t happen overnight. It won’t happen in a single eureka moment. It’ll still happen though and for a very good reason.

Say what you will about the flaws in humanity. I certainly do on this blog, from the deficiencies in our bodies to our outdated marriage practices. However, there is one skill that humanity is objectively good at, so much so that it has made us the dominant species on this planet by an obscene margin.

We humans make awesome tools. We know how to build amazing things. Say what you will about a beaver dam, a spider web, or an ant colony. They don’t hold a candle to the Hoover Dam or a solar powered vibrator.

A lot of the seemingly unsolvable problems of the past were, for the most part, solved by tool. We developed cleaner, more efficient cars. We developed more efficient farming techniques. We developed more effective medicines.

That effort hasn’t stopped either. We’re still making newer and better tools every day. Tools like CRISPR could potentially cure hundreds of diseases. There may very well come a day where someone dying of genetic diseases will be as rare as someone dying of small pox.

Other tools, such as better batteries, more efficient light bulbs, and advances in nuclear power, will cut down on pollution and generate cleaner energy. Given the incentives to breathe clean air, as well as the massive profits to be made, we can expect those tools to put a major dent in the various environmental disasters that seem to crop up every single day.

Even problems on a smaller scale, such as head injuries in professional football, could be solved with better tools. The human brain, and the body as a whole, isn’t a rough-cut diamond that can never be repaired once flawed. It’s a hunk of malleable biomatter. Fixing it requires tools and make no mistake. Smart, well-paid people are working on it.

Thankfully, making tools is one of mankind’s greatest skills. To say a problem is insurmountable is like saying a sixth round draft pick from Michigan could never win five Super Bowls and marry a supermodel. Even if you hate Tom Brady’s guts, he is living proof that insurmountable obstacles are a relative, if not outright flawed concept.

Now, I don’t mean to say that humans will overcome everything. As soon as I post this article, a gamma ray burst from across the galaxy, a super volcano could erupt in Yellowstone, or an asteroid the size of Montana could crash into the planet, killing us all. These are major problems that we probably can’t solve, even with our awesome tools.

However, with all the doom-saying in the world and a new crisis emerging at least once a week, let’s not let humanity’s strength’s overshadow its flaws. Let’s not cower in fear when we don’t have to.

If a problem can be solved by a tool, then we humans are uniquely equipped to solve it. If there’s time, motivation, and resources to work with, we’ll solve it eventually. It may take a while and involve many setbacks, but we’ll eventually succeed. Lions maul zebras. Terminators terminate their targets. Humans build awesome tools to solve big problems. That’s something to be proud of.

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