More pandemic deaths in 2020 than 2021?

So if you’ve been watching the news over the last few days you’ve seen a rash of headlines along the lines of “US COVID-19 deaths in 2021 surpass last year’s toll” (The Hill). Is that true? Let’s see what Dr. House has to say …

I feel his pain.

Even some basic common sense shows comparing year-to-date numbers for 2020 and 2021 is utterly absurd. Let’s take a look at the CDC’s excess death database, using data through the end of October (since US medical statistics reporting is a train wreck and the November data isn’t usable yet due to late reporting). COVID19 wasn’t widespread in the US last year until at least April. There were only five COVID19 excess deaths in the first five weeks of 2020. There were 120,541 in the first five weeks of 2021. So these reports comparing 2020 to 2021 are just typical modern media reporting: simplistic, context free, and melodramatic.

So what if we do a rational comparison. By the first week of April 2020 COVID-19 was widespread in the US and weekly excess deaths were over 10,000. Let’s compare the first week of April through the last week of October in each year. In that period last year (2020) we had 230,240 excess deaths attributed to COVID. 2021? “only” 207,590 – . I say “only” in the sense it’s not as high as 2020, not in the sense that it’s anywhere near a good thing or shouldn’t have been a lot lower. (and, that number may go up some due to the reporting problems, but it’s probably not far off). For reference, using a baseline of that period (April to October) of 1,730,000 deaths (the number of people we would expect to die in the US during those months), over 12% more people died so far this year who wouldn’t have were it not for COVID. Still, put it all together … lower is lower, and you can argue it’s a positive sign given the “Delta Surge” the last couple of months. However, hope doesn’t sell for some reason and there is a lingering fear among officials who certainly know better about the statistics that if the message is “diluted” with hope, people who haven’t been vaccinated will use it as yet another excuse to avoid the jab.

The “Delta Surge” starting in August seems to be waning, but if last year is a guide the winter surge got started about the end of October/Early November. Will we have a similar winter surge this year? Hard to say, but it might be that the Delta surge, combined with vaccination and the sad fact that many vulnerable people have already been lost, it will take the edge off the expected winter peak.

If we use the first week of April as a baseline, the total number of excess deaths (people killed by the SARS-COV-2 virus who wouldn’t have died otherwise) in the first full year of the pandemic, from April 2020 to the end of March 2021, was 556,179. Even if this winter season (Nov to March) is exactly as bad as last year, the total will be 5% less than the first year of the pandemic. For what it’s worth I think this winter won’t be as bad as last year, and I suspect when we look at the number for April 2021 to March 2022 they will be 10% or even 15% lower than the first year. To be clear, that’s not as big a dip as I’d hope, but given the mangled response to the pandemic by all the key players (government, industry, public), sadly not surprising.

Side note: if you’re over 30 or have an underlying vulnerability, just get the stupid shot.

Surprise! Another day of flooding for coastal GA/SC

I didn’t bother to check the updates this morning, but it looks like the high tide this morning was actually higher than yesterday, and busted in to the top 5 records at 10.45 feet (preliminary). That flooded US 80 (the road to Tybee). NWS/Charleston also got caught a bit off guard (although they did still have coastal flood advisories in effect), saying in the early morning discussion (referring to the coastal surge models) ….

However, that guidance has consistently over predicted tides for several days now. Thus we are reluctant to utilize it for this morning.

That was my thinking as well. Probably should have re-examined that plan. Here’s the tide graph from Ft. Pulaski as of 2:30pm EDT:

(The weird jog at 3am is due to the time shift)

So why? Several things – onshore winds stayed above that forecast for longer than expected, a big factor was more rain than expected (5 inches here in midtown), and the marshes just didn’t have a chance to drain out overnight (notice in the above plot how high the “low” tides are, two feet above normal). For what it’s worth, both the models and humans are saying tomorrow morning’s high tide should be at least a foot lower (~9.5 feet, which is the flood stage for this gauge, and at which Catalina Dr and Lewis Ave start to get wet on Tybee).

Bottom line:

Why #climate change isn’t the problem.

With the COP26 meetings starting today, lots of angst will be generated about the state of Earth’s climate system and human impacts. Although this post talks a lot about climate, it may surprise you that at this point I’m not really “worried” about it; like the pandemic, at this point I’m much more worried about how badly world leaders are screwing up the response. By far the greatest threat to humanity is our flawed system of governance and, in particular, the collapse of the US as a superpower. That is a much more immediate threat to the planet than the most likely climate change scenarios. So you’re still doomed, just not because of anthropogenic climate change. Here’s why …

What clouds might look like …

If you’re not familiar with my background and position on all this, you might want to start by reading a couple of previous posts. If you’re too impatient to do that, I’d gently point out that this is a very complex subject that involves politics, economics, engineering, and science, and you’re going to have to work to create an informed opinion. The climate problem isn’t an existential crisis, but it isn’t a hoax either. Be very careful of hand waving and simplistic points of view that exist in sound bites. As for my background and views …

The post in that last link discussed things from the perspective of COP25 and the US withdrawal under Trump, but Democrats often are equally problematic, and so far the Biden Administration has followed the destructive trends of prior (pre-Trump) administrations such as Obama, Bush II, and Clinton. I’ll add that the current US positions in most international organizations are (as always) more about internal US politics than the actual global problem. But that would be another long blog post.

With respect to the science, our understanding continues to improve. There is no doubt humans are altering our climate system. But the key is what is going to happen in the future; that will drive, in part, our solutions. The future scenarios used by the IPCC and echoed by decision makers and activists are weighted towards more extreme carbon production and economic activity than is possible given resource and growth limitations. That is a complex issue, but it’s not likely that most of the scenarios (“Shared Socioeconomic Pathways” or SSP’s) are even possible; they are certainly not likely for the medium to distant future (50-100 years). We know the models “run hot,” so that is another potential bias. Forming policy around extreme scenarios is always dangerous, especially when based on modeling. Some of the better performing configurations with respect to history combined with reasonable scenarios do not forecast nearly the severe outcomes that are being repeated and promoted by advocates for radical action on climate (not that they don’t forecast Bad Things, just not Horrific Things). So I’m increasingly skeptical about the more extreme outcomes.

Cloud microphysics is a vital component of climate modeling. Here at the top of the cloud, where water droplets, ice crystals, sunlight and clear sky meet are extremely important and complex small scale processes that have to be parameterized since they can’t be simulated from first principles. Small changes in these assumptions and models can cause huge swings in predicted temperatures.

This weighting towards extreme scenarios has a toxic effect on any attempts to do something about the real problem. First, it opens the door to both healthy skepticism and unhealthy dismissal of the reality of the problem as ideological. Second, it pushes potential solutions away from those that are practical and less disruptive towards more radical and harmful economically actions, which is therefore unacceptable to the majority of people and countries. But it fits in well with the current mode of human governance, where in order to get anything done, it has to be a “crisis,” and somebody (preferably the existing oligarchs) need to profit.

To be clear, we have and continue to alter the earth’s climate system, and we need to stop it. But I don’t think the climate problem is a “crisis” or “emergency” that requires (or is even amenable) to radical immediate action in and of itself – especially if those actions are themselves not sustainable or risk destabilizing societies and economies. It is intimately entangled with politics, economics, and therefore lifestyle. Solving these interrelated aspects will take long range, multidecadal, multilateral, consistent and careful action (action that should have started 20 years ago). Unfortunately, that kind of planning and action is impossible in the US political system which is incapable of looking beyond the two year election cycle in the House of Representatives. And if it is impossible in the US, it is even more impossible globally given the fact that the US is so vital to the global system of governance, and the dis-functionality of the US political system means that humanity itself is at risk, in part from climate, but more so from geopolitical instability and the threat of global war, including something we thought left in the 1960’s but is now more likely than ever, nuclear war.

In the US, “solutions” to problems often boil down to two competing narratives believed with almost religious fervor by the bases of each party, neither of which is true, and more often than not neither of which will actually solve the problem. So climate change is either Crisis or Hoax. The political objective is the next election cycle – and the “news” media is an enabler because they profit from that system, and horse race reporting with two sides yelling at each other is easier than trying to explain cloud microphysics. Social media didn’t start this, but it is making things worse. So an emotionally driven deeply split and angry electorate with mutually exclusive policy positions are the “optimal” way to win election cycles and keep ratings high. But they make it nearly impossible to govern. And policy radically swings depending on who is better able to scare the fraction of the electorate that changes sides from year to year, and is thus able to seize power. This is catastrophic since almost all of the problems we face require a consistent approach measured in years or decades, not election cycles. Even if the Biden Administration had policies that would work (TLDR: they don’t), it wouldn’t matter: the political pendulum will likely swing, and they will be scuttled, just as the Trump Administrations policies (also bad) are being scuttled.

To sum up, just like what happened last year with the pandemic, any estimates I might make as a scientist about the potential impacts of climate change will more than likely be totally swamped by the impacts of the horrible decisions and policies implemented by human leaders, based on short term thinking, lack of understanding of the complex technical issues, and their greedy and narcissistic values based on gaining and holding power.

In defense of the explorers (#Erikson, #Columbus)

October 9th was Leif Erikson Day, and October 12th is Columbus Day. In recent years it has become fashionable to denounce European explorers, Columbus in particular, with monuments being removed across the country. In my view this is a mistake, creating a false perception of history for short term political purposes, while ultimately perpetuating and aggregating the racial and ethnic divides these actions claim to be trying to heal. OK, now that I’ve angered half of my readers, let’s see if I can annoy the other half … 😛 … but please read on and consider. It’s a long post, but it’s a complex subject.

First, perhaps I’m a bit biased, but in the absence of older records it seems Leifr Eiríksson actually discovered America, rather than blunder into it looking for something else as did Columbus. Leifr heard about a new land from Bjarni Herjólfsson, who had been blown off course and seen it but not made landfall. Leifr bought Bjarni’s boat and deliberately retraced the voyage for the purpose of finding and exploiting that land, setting foot in what is now Newfoundland.

Leifr Eiríksson discovers America …

There are stories of earlier contact from Europe going back to Roman times, but if such contact existed (and it possibly did), they left little trace and no solid records. And of course there were many rich, complex, and fascinating (as well as utterly horrific) civilizations here. I do agree it’s somewhat dismissive to imply that if it was unknown to Europeans it needed to be “discovered” so it’s probably better to say Leifr was the first European to discover America, but of course it’s complicated. As far as we know, the indigenous peoples migrated here across the land bridges that existed at the end of the last ice age. There were certainly explorers among them – but we do not know their names or motivations. Indeed, there have always been “explorers” among us, going back to our early, pre-human ancestors, those who looked to the horizon and wondered what was there, and left the familiarity of their homes to find something better, or different, or just because. But as far as we know the major migrations were of the “let’s follow that herd of food” variety rather than the deliberate “let’s collect supplies, organize transportation, head out into the unknown and go find a new thing.” Again, no disrespect, but it’s not the same thing. (And, of course, this discussion is limited to the discovery of North America by Europeans – there were amazing explorers in the Pacific, the Middle East, India, and Africa throughout history).

The celebration of my ancestors like Leif is absolutely not to disparage Columbus – of course his explorations resulted in a permanent exchange between the hemispheres and radically changed the course of history. The Norsemen got here first, but their settlements were not permanent, in large part due to the rapidly worsening climate – but that’s a different post.

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Earthquakes in the SC Low Country and Savannah

Just before 10 pm on the evening of August 31, 1886, residents of the Low Country thought the world was ending. The earth shook violently for over a minute, and in many areas the ground seemed to turn into quicksand, collapsing sturdy brick buildings in an instant. The earth continued to rumble, and a second major shock hit around 4am. Those few who slept did so outside. As the sun rose, the devastation became apparent …

Charleston, SC, after 31 August 1885 earthquake

In Savannah, terrified people ran out into the streets, and one woman leapt from her second story bedroom with her baby in her arms (they survived). But others were not so lucky, and while accurate death tolls were not kept, it was likely near or over 100. Although it took days for the full extent of the event to be known, it was felt over 2.5 million square miles, from Cuba to New York, with structural damage as far away as Kentucky. Every major building in Charleston is said to have been damaged or destroyed. With the recent spread of the newfangled technology of photography, we have a record in images of the aftermath (link goes to collection at the University of South Carolina). In Savannah, a twenty foot long fissure opened on Bay Street, and the facades on several buildings on Broughton Street collapsed.

The violence of the 1886 event came as a surprise to residents of the area – major earthquakes are not frequent. Historical studies reveal three major ruptures: the 1886 quake, one in the 1600’s, and one in the late 1300’s or early 1400’s. There is also evidence of additional earthquakes over the last 6000 years in the sediments of the region. Today we know a lot more about the subsurface geology of the Charleston-Savannah area. The University of South Carolina has a network of seismographs monitoring the region in real time …

Seismograph record for September 27th, 2021,

Just inland of the City of Charleston lies what we know today as the Middleton Place – Summerville Seismic Zone (MPSSZ). It is a complex structure consisting of at least two active faults. Unlike faults in the western US, these faults are buried under hundreds of feet of sediments and there is little evidence to be seen at the surface. While most people never feel them (or think it’s just a passing truck or car wreck on Victory Drive), there are on average between 10 and 15 minor earthquakes a year. By careful analysis of these events, the subsurface geology can be mapped, as seen in this diagram …

From Dura-Gomez and Talwani, 2009 (link goes to research paper).

The earthquake on September 27th was a reminder that deep under the earth there are forces that build over time, and must be released. While not located on a plate boundary, the Charleston area is on a dangerous, deep fault system that will from time to time violently rupture. Simulations show that if the 1886 earthquake were to happen today, there would be at least 45,000 people injured and thousands needing hospitalization for major injuries. Over 200,000 would be homeless. Many roads would be impassable, a third of hospitals in the low country and Savannah would be out of commission. The Beaufort and Hilton Head areas would also be severely impacted, with liquefaction (the ground becoming unstable due to high water tables and shaking) causing major damage and loss of life. While the most severe devastation would be in the Charleston area, many of the major buildings in Savannah would be damaged, with hundreds injured and dozens likely to die, and there would be structure damage across the US East Coast.

Unlike a hurricane, unfortunately while we know where earthquakes happen, we don’t know when the next one will occur. We can only estimate the probabilities. Here is the latest analysis from the USGS National Seismic Hazard Model …

Latest USGS probability of damaging earthquake in the US

So what are the odds? It looks like the chances of a major earthquake on these MMPZ system are about one in 400. By comparison, the chances of your home being severely damaged by a tornado is about 1 in 300, by other thunderstorm related winds about 1 in 180. A tsunami? Hard to say, the worst odds I’ve seen based on a solid scientific study are around one in 47,000, but I think they are much lower, probably over one in 250 thousand. The chances of a home in the Low Country and Savannah area being damaged by a hurricane is about one in 30, destroyed about one in 110. So while this is a risk to be aware of, and the consequences of a major earthquake extreme, there are other things to worry about. It is worth looking at the DHS/FEMA web site for earthquake preparedness (link), and remember that most of the things you do to prepare for a hurricane or other event are similar to that for other disasters.

#Sam, and #Teresa – ¿Esa hembra es mala? No, not this one.

If you’re a fan of Mexican Telenovelas (my wife watches them to practice Spanish) you’ll probably recognize the theme song to the series “Teresa”, and I can’t hear that name without the song getting stuck in my head. Teresa is pretty bad (mala), but her tropical storm namesake this year isn’t. In fact, by the time you read this she will might well have broken up. In any event, Teresa is just offshore the US, and there are no watches or warnings. Sam on the other hand is almost a major hurricane, and should continue to gain some strength. But as expected, it should miss the Leeward Islands, and all of the major track models agree with it turning to the north, with the ECM right over Bermuda, and GFS well to the east, so they might have something to worry about late next week. Here’s the respective swaths of doom for the next five days:

click to embiggen.

Teresa raises a point to remember when at the end of the season people start taking about the number of storms. Teresa is the ninth short lived, structurally marginal storm that in past years might well not have been named or tracked. If we are generous and say two or three would have been counted, then this year doesn’t look so bad (12 or 13 named storms rather than 19). Again, that is a testament to improved monitoring, and partly due to changes that allow/encourage NHC to track hybrid systems that don’t exactly fit the tropical cyclone definition (which is important due to the explosive growth in vulnerable coastal areas over the last few decades). So while climate change is very real, and how storm frequencies and intensities are changing is a subject of intense study right now, the raw numbers game can be misleading. In this case, the hype is wrong – but the underlying truth of anthropogenic climate change is all too real.

“Tropical” Storm #Odette, other disturbances

Here’s the morning surface analysis from TAFB (the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch, within the National Hurricane Center) over the GOES IR satellite image …

click to embiggen.

The two features of interest are “Tropical” storm Odette, and the disturbance approaching the Leeward Islands(lower right, above the word “Surface” in the label). I put Odette’s title in quotes because Odette isn’t really very tropical – and despite having some areas of tropical storm force winds, it’s really more like a nor’easter in structure and impact. It will be bringing wind and rain to the Canadian Maritime Provinces, especially Newfoundland (more properly, Vinland). To quote from the Environment Canada forecast

This storm is expected to behave more like a strong fall storm with northerly winds and heavy rain. A cold front moving over Newfoundland on Sunday will interact with Odette's moisture to enhance the rainfall over southeastern Newfoundland later in the day Sunday and Sunday night. A special weather statement is in effect for eastern Newfoundland for Sunday into Monday. There will be some minor influence in Nova Scotia's weather with gusty northerly winds on Sunday. Gusts could be near 70 km/h or so in Cape Breton which may cause some minor issues. Some enhanced rainfall is likely over eastern Nova Scotia Sunday morning as Odette interacts with the cold front.

Odette is another example of a storm that needs advisories, but doesn’t quite fit our current system of “tropical gets one kind of advisories, other storms get something different.” Why does this matter? It’s inconsistent for one thing, and confusing in that a 50 mph wind and coastal flooding from a nor’easter has a different warning structure and, especially in the commercial weather media world, different level of reporting and attention.

On the science side it can cause problems as well, especially in the popular mindset. As data has become better, and marginal storms are tracked and named, there is an impression that tropical cyclones/hurricanes are more frequent. It is true that storm characteristics seem to be changing (almost certainly due to human driven climate change), but you have to be careful with the numbers game because the metrics haven’t been consistent over time. Simple storm counts and trends aren’t diagnostic when it comes to climate change. That’s not a criticism of NOAA or the Hurricane Center – they are doing their job, which is to issue watches and warnings, and over time they have continued to get better and better at it. But people who use that data for other purposes need to be very careful. Which brings up the insurance world.

At least in the US, how something is named and warned has a direct impact on things like insurance deductibles, and the same damaged roof could cost a homeowner $500 or $5000 depending on how the contract handles the “named storm deductible.” After the huge industry losses in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s due to earthquakes and hurricanes, rather than design a rational system the insurance industry successfully lobbied state regulators to allow them to have separate “catastrophe deductibles” for these major events. So US consumers face a bewildering array of contract conditions depending on the hazard or if a storm is named or not. You get crazy things like if your roof is damaged and water leaks in and damages your carpet, it’s covered by private insurance. But if that same rain backs up because of a drainage problem, enters your house and ruins your carpet, it isn’t covered unless you have separate, Federally sponsored flood insurance from FEMA. Even outside the US things like reinsurance contracts and parametric insurance depend heavily not on the actual impacts or damage a storm produces, but how it is classified and if it is named or not. It’s a dumb system – insurance triggers should NOT be tied to a watch and warning system. That just isn’t what it was designed for. End of rant.

For the US, it looks like the impacts of Odette will be limited to high surf and rip currents; there are no watches or warnings at this time. As for the disturbance off of the Leeward Islands, it may briefly become a tropical system, but isn’t likely to last long once it starts its northward curve. As the Tropical Weather Outlook says, people there should “monitor” until it is safely past …

#Ida: the wobbles will matter for #NOLA (11am Sunday Update)

Ida is a category four, nearly a category five storm with winds just below the threshold (150mph, 155 is the lower limit for a cat five), and should make landfall in the next few hours. The 11am NHC update didn’t change the track or intensity much, so the post this morning on potential impacts is still valid (link). In that post I noted that small track changes can make a huge difference, especially for storm surge. The core of Ida is actually small – especially compared to Katrina – so while this is going to be bad, it’s possible that downtown New Orleans may avoid a total catastrophe. Let’s take a closer look …

First, recall how wind blows around a hurricane. Here is the wind flow around Ida from this morning as it approaches the coast:

Wind flow around Ida (from GFS model). Click to enlarge.

Air flows around a storm counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, and is strongest in the northeast quadrant of the storm due to storm motion as well as Coriolis forces. So in general, the water piles up on the right hand side (facing the direction of motion) because the wind is blowing it towards shore; on the left, the winds are blowing offshore and can actually blow shallows bays and shorelines dry! Since the Gulf Coast faces south, this means that in general the peak storm surge will be to the east (right) of the landfall location. So far so good.

But New Orleans is very different because its most vulnerable shoreline is actually on the North side of the city! That’s because the city is in between the Mississippi River (with its tall natural and artificial levees) and Lake Pontchartrain – a great place for storm surge with its long, shallow fetch. Let’s start with the forecast track (which is virtually identical to the 5am track):

Surge if storm follows forecast track (click to enlarge).

On this track, which remains the most likely scenario, it would likely cause around $45 Billion in damage, with the eye wall passing through the western suburbs of New Orleans. Notice that as expected the surge on the coast is to the right, the storm surge in Lake Pontchartrain is pushed into the west (left) side, and causes minimal flooding in urban areas. On this track water from the Gulf (Lake Borgne) isn’t pumped in to Pontchartrain since Ida is too small to put high enough winds on that side. Now let’s shift the track 30 miles east (the diameter of the eye):

Same intensity, just shifted the track right (east) 30 miles …

Now the eye wall passes over downtown New Orleans, and there is a lot more wind damage, so the total jumps to at least $52 Billion. Notice too there is a lot more water in the lake, but fortunately it mostly ends up on the north side (well, for NOLA, it’s unfortunate for Covington). Now lets shift the track another 20 miles (in other words, 50 miles to the right/east of the expected track):

Same storm, shifted 50 miles from the expected track.

Ut oh. Wind damage in the city has actually decreased. But now the storm surge has shifted to the bottom of the lake, because the winds during eye passage are blowing south. Extra water from the Gulf flows into the lake and south, the levee’s get topped, water ends up in the city, and damage more than doubles due to flooding, probably over $125 Billion.

So now you know more than at least three CNN meteorologists who keep getting this wrong 😛

At the moment it looks like Ida is still tracking towards Houma, and won’t start the northward turn in time for the eyewall itself to sweep over downtown New Orleans, much less pass just east of the city and produce our nightmare scenario shown above. Here’s the latest radar loop (11:50am). Let’s hope it stays that way – the next few hours will be nerve wracking.

Radar from Slidell, LA, 11:53am Sunday 29 August 2021

#Ida at 11am update: clock ticking on #LA, #NOLA preparations. #ToxicStew

Those in the forecast impact zone and under warnings should really be wrapping up preparations and getting out. While a bit behind the forecast, Ida is still organizing and has every potential to be a Cat 4 at landfall. Updated Key Messages regarding Hurricane Ida (en Español: Mensajes Claves). If you’re in New Orleans (NOLA), a wobble one way or the other is the difference between some wind damage, and swimming for your life. Don’t bet on it.

It’s well known that the Louisiana coast is home to hundreds of facilities associated with the petrochemical and related industries. Modern life requires it – the amount of hazardous materials required to manufacture the things we want and drive our machines is enormous. But the extent isn’t clear until your map it out and start looking at the potential for toxic spills due to hurricane damage. This map shows the 11am forecast track and sites containing hazardous materials. Each icon indicates a facility, red is at highest risk of materials getting off-site.

Facilities containing hazardous materials at risk from Ida (11am Sat Forecast). Click to enlarge.

That’s over three hundred facilities at risk. Of course, some only have relatively small quantities, but some contain thousands of pounds or gallons of pretty toxic stuff. One of the lesser known aspects of the Katrina cleanup was the thousands of workers out in chem-suits (and think about being out in the Louisiana summer in a chemical protection ensemble) trying to sop up the mess. Although with the damage and human suffering it might be overlooked, this is another aspect of hurricane and disaster planning that is essential in the planning, response, and recovery process. Clicking on one point at random gives us America’s Styrenics LLC, with an estimated 12 percent structure damage …

The other aspect is of course economic. This morning’s post noted the potential impact on oil and gas production, but a lot of the other things like plastics that are so essential in our society are made from petrochemicals, and those are in shutdown and may not, depending on the track, come back for weeks or months. Many of these facilities are very specialized bits of engineering and the parts have to be custom made. Something else to consider …

Scientist or Administrator?

Scientists who move into administrative and policy positions have a very delicate line to walk. At some point, you’re no longer a scientist. Yes, you bring expert knowledge, and are hopefully better at backing policies that are supported by the science, but that doesn’t mean you are still making your judgments based on the scientific method: almost certainly, other factors are weighing in. The move from science to policy is a hard transition, and in my experience many who have done so often don’t internalize that they are no longer practicing scientists and now have a different role, responsibility, and relationship to the scientific endeavor. Perhaps it has something to do with the Peter Principle – that individuals who are competent – especially super-competent – are promoted out of those roles until they are in positions outside their level of comfort, competence, and experience.

It is painful to watch this process play out – and sadly I think we are watching it with Dr. Anthony Fauci. He has become such a lightning rod for both derision and worship it must be incredibly difficult for him personally. While it’s cool to have your own action figure …

You can really buy one of these:

… all the publicity and hate is hard to deal with. While of course not to anywhere near the same degree, having been publicly and very personally attacked over both science and policy (and more rarely praised as a paragon of Scientific and Manly Virtue 😛 ) it’s hard to take, and I really understand his frustration and pain. But he’s not doing himself – or most importantly the scientific enterprise – any favors with comments like these:

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