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Thread: Is the "diseases and pandemics" thread doing more harm than good?

  1. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    But what about when someone, assuming a professional not a blogger, makes what appears to be a math error? For instance, if an authority claims an expected death rate of, say, 0.1%, but based on the actual no. of deaths and the likely no. of cases the math reveals a more likely result of something much closer to 0.5%. Would it be not proper to have a place, even the ATM, to at least work through it and look for an explanation, like the no. of false positives/negatives for the testing being used?
    Well, then you're making an argument based on "likely number of cases", which immediately gets you into deep epidemiological waters.
    So my advice (which I gave in my little survival guide) would be to seek out the opinion of other professionals (there are plenty of people with the necessary skills who are writing reviews and opinion pieces at present), rather than to attempt your own amateur analysis.

    Grant Hutchison
    Last edited by grant hutchison; 2020-Apr-28 at 05:23 PM.

  2. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    Would it be not proper to have a place, even the ATM, to at least work through it and look for an explanation, like the no. of false positives/negatives for the testing being used?
    To amplify what Shaula wrote, such a use of the ATM forum would be outside of its scope. There must be hundereds or thousands of more appropriate forums and other venues in which to have such a discussion. And really, if you feel you have significant contributions to make, why would you insist on undertaking it an off-topic forum? After all, epidemiologists don't routinely publish in Better Homes and Gardens magazine any more than Martha Stewart appears in JAMA.
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  3. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    But what about when someone, assuming a professional not a blogger, makes what appears to be a math error? For instance, if an authority claims an expected death rate of, say, 0.1%, but based on the actual no. of deaths and the likely no. of cases the math reveals a more likely result of something much closer to 0.5%. Would it be not proper to have a place, even the ATM, to at least work through it and look for an explanation, like the no. of false positives/negatives for the testing being used?
    I'll give one more idea. Ask it as a question. "I'm reading this paper/blog/article (whatever) and I don't understand how they came up with this value for the death rate. Could someone explain it?"

    There: no bad math, no ATM, no advocating. Just be sure when someone like Grant gives you the answer, and the answer doesn't satisfy you, that you only respond with either "OK, could you explain this part further" or "OK, I'll go find a medical forum to ask about it", and not with "Yes, but I made my very own model in Excel and it shows that the number is 10,000 times higher".
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  4. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Well, then you're making an argument based on "likely number of cases", which immediately gets you into deep epidemiological waters.
    Yes, but if that statement and number of "likely cases" comes from the professional, wouldn't the use of math to articulate a potential discrepancy be worthy of consideration, though done in a way that isn't meant to be derogatory, of course?

    So my advice (which I gave in my little survival guide) would be to seek out the opinion of other professionals (there are plenty of people with the necessary skills who are writing reviews and opinion pieces at present), rather than to attempt your own amateur analysis.
    Your point for this thread is valid and the thread should be one of high integrity, to be a reprieve from the media's flailing if for no other reason.

    But, as an amateur, you known I'm not going to bother other professionals unless I can get a clear handle on whether or not the professional might actually benefit by my question. Hence the idea for a somewhat more typical thread where people attempt to ask intelligent questions that allows honest statistical analysis to help point out the many directions this pandemic is taking with different regions and different policies. There may be apparent discrepancies in what we think is reliable information, though we all know there are real error bars on all the data.

    If you would agree, the problem I see, and it's been mentioned, is that the moderators would need to work extra hard and I honestly think that alone makes the auxiliary(?) thread unwarranted.

    But, as a last stab at this, what if a thread could be used for simply the posting of the latest graphs, and discussion is limited to the objective explanations of the graphs themselves, not excessive subjective projections from them?

    Regardless, thanks again for your great diligence in addressing so many aspects of this pandemic.
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  5. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    Yes, but if that statement and number of "likely cases" comes from the professional, wouldn't the use of math to articulate a potential discrepancy be worthy of consideration, though done in a way that isn't meant to be derogatory, of course?
    If you think someone hasn't been able to divide one number by another, using their own data, then that would be a question of arithmetic, not epidemiology. Do you think something like that is likely to come up?
    On the question of graphs, I have no interest in them and never look at them, so can't really comment.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by PetersCreek View Post
    To amplify what Shaula wrote, such a use of the ATM forum would be outside of its scope. There must be hundereds or thousands of more appropriate forums and other venues in which to have such a discussion.
    That's likely true. If anyone knows of one where a large number of members have science degrees for greater objective reasoning, I would appreciate hearing of it. I will still follow the main thread here since I learn so much from it.

    And really, if you feel you have significant contributions to make, why would you insist on undertaking it an off-topic forum?
    Right, and I'm grateful for those members here interested in astronomy and space who happen to be knowledgeable, or actually in the medical field, and willing to produce such a powerful thread.

    I often claim to be your average Joe around here. So I expect others like me may avoid participation in the thread in question, more so than perhaps any other thread. Given its seriousness, I do agree with all the points above, though, again, your suggestion for me to look elsewhere is reasonable.
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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    But, as a last stab at this, what if a thread could be used for simply the posting of the latest graphs, and discussion is limited to the objective explanations of the graphs themselves, not excessive subjective projections from them?
    You are still trying to analyse data you don't understand in a simplistic manner. Any conclusion, whether it is a projection or a statement about the here and now, is going to be highly suspect.

    Honestly, if you care this much about these graphs and your analysis of them wouldn't it be better for you to go and get a reasonable understanding of the topic? There are lots of free courses out there that could start the ball rolling. Spend a few weeks or months with them and hone your skills on older data sets that are well understood. This is the sort of advice we give to people who want to tackle hard problems in GR, for example.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Swift View Post
    I'll give one more idea. Ask it as a question. "I'm reading this paper/blog/article (whatever) and I don't understand how they came up with this value for the death rate. Could someone explain it?"
    Yep! How much better this world would be if what could be a finger-pointing could be turned into a respectful question. Sometimes a statement is both and without any malice, but inferred to be the worst case.

    There: no bad math, no ATM, no advocating. Just be sure when someone like Grant gives you the answer, and the answer doesn't satisfy you, that you only respond with either "OK, could you explain this part further" or "OK, I'll go find a medical forum to ask about it", and not with "Yes, but I made my very own model in Excel and it shows that the number is 10,000 times higher".
    Right, but if something is patently in error then its not going to often regarded as "possibly in error", especially by those who do know the difference. My thinking was that another thread might allow these side issues, and often distracting, to have a side to go to.
    We know time flies, we just can't see its wings.

  9. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shaula View Post
    You are still trying to analyse data you don't understand in a simplistic manner. Any conclusion, whether it is a projection or a statement about the here and now, is going to be highly suspect.
    Agreed, I can say the comments should be limited in subjectivity but it's very difficult to maintain it. But what about the graphs themselves? If others benefit from timely graphs, wouldn't that be worth having?

    Honestly, if you care this much about these graphs and your analysis of them wouldn't it be better for you to go and get a reasonable understanding of the topic?
    Of course, if I were doing analysis. I try not to though I did address that peculiar graph another posted showing a huge spike in the growth rate (based on a weekly per capita death rate). I, later, showed why greater context needed to be taken into consideration since the graph appear to show Covid-19 far more deadly than all the rest.

    Usually I simply share the graphs based on reliable (Johns Hopkins U.) data. I think I had all of one response to any of those graphs.

    There are lots of free courses out there that could start the ball rolling. Spend a few weeks or months with them and hone your skills on older data sets that are well understood. This is the sort of advice we give to people who want to tackle hard problems in GR, for example.
    I suspect I'm too old for such... advice.
    We know time flies, we just can't see its wings.

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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    But, as a last stab at this, what if a thread could be used for simply the posting of the latest graphs, and discussion is limited to the objective explanations of the graphs themselves, not excessive subjective projections from them?
    I don't see a thread with such a limitation working any better than the current pandemic thread. That thread had similar limitations..."because it's science" and its location in the S&T forum...but still, there were issues.
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  11. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    If you think someone hasn't been able to divide one number by another, using their own data, then that would be a question of arithmetic, not epidemiology. Do you think something like that is likely to come up?
    Yes, unlikely as it seems, though the example I gave doesn't mean to suggest the contradiction is found from one single source. Simple and innocent hiccups happen so a little discourse might clear it up. Betelgeuse was quite dim recently and active astronomers on this subject reported it was 100K cooler and 9% greater in diameter. They later found that their ratio of ratios had the numerator and denominator accidentally swapped -- I think Einstein and friends called this a pancake error since flipping is required -- thus the simple correction showed it would be smaller in diameter. [The dust discharge made things more complicated.]

    On the question of graphs, I have no interest in them and never look at them, so can't really comment.
    See, this is the stuff where you make me curious and I have to ask questions like "why not?" knowing you have a cool answer, like such graphs are too much like stock market results, or something like, "They are incidental to policies and things like the current state of therapeutics, which are ahead of any graph."
    Last edited by George; 2020-Apr-28 at 11:03 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by PetersCreek View Post
    I don't see a thread with such a limitation working any better than the current pandemic thread. That thread had similar limitations..."because it's science" and its location in the S&T forum...but still, there were issues.
    Yeah, that's understandable.
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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    <snip>
    If you would agree, the problem I see, and it's been mentioned, is that the moderators would need to work extra hard and I honestly think that alone makes the auxiliary(?) thread unwarranted.
    Why does everyone always think that moderators make decisions based upon us minimizing our work load? Extra work has nothing to do with it, as least as far as I'm concerned. It has completely to do with our rules about non-mainstream ideas. You are asking to get around those rules. I for one have no interest in softening our restrictions on non-mainstream ideas.

    But, as a last stab at this, what if a thread could be used for simply the posting of the latest graphs, and discussion is limited to the objective explanations of the graphs themselves, not excessive subjective projections from them?
    I don't know what graphs you are talking about. If you are talking about graphs from sources like the CDC or WHO, then post them. I don't know why we need a special thread for them. But if you are going to start criticizing such graphs, models, projections, etc. from such agencies, based on your own models or analysis, you are probably going to risk being infracted for advocating ATM ideas. And no, I have no interest in allowing any special thread for such a discussion.
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  14. #44
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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    See, this is the stuff where you make me curious and I have to ask questions like "why not?" knowing you have a cool answer, like such graphs are too much like stock market results, or something like, "They are incidental to policies and things like the current state of therapeutics, which are ahead of any graph."
    Nothing particularly cool. I was referring to your graphs in particular, and it's because I need to understand the data before I look at the graph (What's a "case"? What's a "death"?), and I'm not going to chase off to examine the original data sources for a whole bunch of home-made graphs that someone else posts, especially when their reasons for doing so are usually unclear to me. So I give them a miss.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by Swift View Post
    Why does everyone always think that moderators make decisions based upon us minimizing our work load? Extra work has nothing to do with it, as least as far as I'm concerned. It has completely to do with our rules about non-mainstream ideas. You are asking to get around those rules. I for one have no interest in softening our restrictions on non-mainstream ideas.
    My thought was that the auxiliary thread could be a bit messy, and more so than normal. Some brilliant folks can be a bit verbose and the calculus can get tricky. Worse is trying to get a handle on the quality of the data being used.

    I don't know what graphs you are talking about.
    I've posted many in that thread, though there are a few others. I don't feel qualified to state much about what they imply though some things are encouraging and others are not. They were meant to stir interest for those who are better at grasping their broader implications, if any.

    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison
    I was referring to your graphs in particular, and it's because I need to understand the data before I look at the graph (What's a "case"? What's a "death"?), and I'm not going to chase off to examine the original data sources for a whole bunch of home-made graphs that someone else posts, especially when their reasons for doing so are usually unclear to me. So I give them a miss.
    Right, and I'm far worse at even being able to get to the fine detail of what those two terms really mean, how the data is acquired, and policies regarding how they are handled. This is why my focus was on the rates, not no. of cases or deaths that much, for that reason. If we assume some consistency in those variables including their inaccuracies, then the rate at which the no. of reported cases and reported deaths (@ Johns Hopkins U) change each day offers some guide to whether or not things are improving.

    The one exception was the highly dramatic graph from the New Atlantis that was introduced by someone that made use of a statistical tool that produced a "hockey stick" rate for Covid-19 compared to all the other causes of death. It was an eye-opener to counter claims that this virus is nothing special, after all. But, a closer look shows it was misleading. I felt it worthy of more discussion than it received, hence my favor for the auxiliary thread.

    But I don't wont to wear-out my welcome, so I'm putting my patton down and switching tracks. I look forward to learning more in the main thread.
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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    ...If we assume some consistency in those variables including their inaccuracies...
    George, I am sorry to say this as I know you are doing this with good intentions but... Some of what you are doing is not helpful. You are inviting people to make assessments based on graphs they didn't produce and don't know the precise methodology for as it hasn't been recorded and peer reviewed. Graphs that were made by a person who doesn't understand the data and has made a whole series of assumptions that have not been tested. And then you are defending those graphs and therefore by extension the things people think they see in them.

    The analysis of large, messy data sets is a skill. Just as hard to learn as advanced physics, medicine or any other technical topic. Anyone can do it, there are resources out there - but unless they do have at least a reasonable understanding of it they shouldn't really be doing analysis on this kind of data and especially on this topic. Because if they are wrong then people will be reassured or terrified by what they are saying, or could even see it as a reason to ignore advice from professionals (the whole "the professionals don't have a clear view of what is happening, we need to do our own work and pick what to believe" thread was particularly unhelpful).

    Discussing the literature is good, and trying to understand why it says what it does is a great way to understand where the medical community are in understanding this pandemic. But the understanding and skills required to do that are not the same as the ones required to start contributing.

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    I would argue there were several ways the thread in question was quite helpful. In addition to the important medical knowledge passed on by knowledgeable people, including at least one medical doctor with extensive knowledge on viral activity, there was also access to material that could be understood and analyzed by non-medical professionals. Some of that information involved determinations of death rates per capita per time in various places, which is just obviously important, and also there was considerable debate about mask wearing. It seems the medical authorities are finally starting to get the story straight on mask wearing, as described in this preprint: https://www.preprints.org/manuscript/202004.0203/v2 .

    Salient statements from the abstract: "The preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces the transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected droplets in both laboratory and clinical contexts." And "Given the current shortages of medical masks we recommend the adoption of public cloth mask wearing..."

    I don't know if the WHO has come on board with this at last, or if there remains some controversy, but this preprint thinks the case is open and shut, especially given how easy it is to enact widespread cloth mask wearing, and indeed we are starting to see that even in the US now. Readers of that thread were perhaps aware of this possibility, even as medical authorities in the US were stressing the importance of not wearing masks (the surgeon general sent out the word on twitter at the start of March: "Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!") Considering that statement in light of more recent discoveries, summarized in that preprint, puts into perspective the importance of the general public being able to be scientists, and think for themselves, as per Richard Feynman's definition of science as the belief in the ignorance of experts. Perhaps his statement was a bit harsh, but we know what he meant, and forums like this are the place where people thinking like scientists can actually happen. Not that we don't need the sage advice of experts to temper the conversation, but rather, that we do need the conversation itself.
    Last edited by Ken G; 2020-May-16 at 08:39 PM.

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    And scientific conversations about a topic known to have gaps in knowledge, in a science forum, are normally a two-way street, regardlesss of historical sensitivities acquired from years of past explicit ATM advocacy.

    Otherwise, ATM has succeeded.

  19. #49
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    I would argue there were several ways the thread in question was quite helpful. In addition to the important medical knowledge passed on by knowledgeable people, including at least one medical doctor with extensive knowledge on viral activity, there was also access to material that could be understood and analyzed by non-medical professionals. Some of that information involved determinations of death rates per capita per time in various places, which is just obviously important, and also there was considerable debate about mask wearing. It seems the medical authorities are finally starting to get the story straight on mask wearing, as described in this preprint: https://www.preprints.org/manuscript/202004.0203/v2 .

    Salient statements from the abstract: "The preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces the transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected droplets in both laboratory and clinical contexts." And "Given the current shortages of medical masks we recommend the adoption of public cloth mask wearing..."

    I don't know if the WHO has come on board with this at last, or if there remains some controversy, but this preprint thinks the case is open and shut, especially given how easy it is to enact widespread cloth mask wearing, and indeed we are starting to see that even in the US now. Readers of that thread were perhaps aware of this possibility, even as medical authorities in the US were stressing the importance of not wearing masks (the surgeon general sent out the word on twitter at the start of March: "Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!") Considering that statement in light of more recent discoveries, summarized in that preprint, puts into perspective the importance of the general public being able to be scientists, and think for themselves, as per Richard Feynman's definition of science as the belief in the ignorance of experts. Perhaps his statement was a bit harsh, but we know what he meant, and forums like this are the place where people thinking like scientists can actually happen. Not that we don't need the sage advice of experts to temper the conversation, but rather, that we do need the conversation itself.
    Ken G

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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    YES. What he said. Not here, let Reddit do that.
    Lots of folks spouting off there. Still, I think speculation—even from outsiders—has its place. I would prefer it were done in a more carefully monitored place like this. JPL’s ventilator may be the best yet made— perhaps due to the fact that it came from an outsider. Sometimes you need freewheeling discussions— just with fewer folks from the peanut gallery.

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    Quote Originally Posted by publiusr View Post
    Lots of folks spouting off there. Still, I think speculation—even from outsiders—has its place. I would prefer it were done in a more carefully monitored place like this. JPL’s ventilator may be the best yet made— perhaps due to the fact that it came from an outsider. Sometimes you need freewheeling discussions— just with fewer folks from the peanut gallery.
    You'd prefer that medical speculation be carefully monitored by people with an interest or background in physics?

    If you want freewheeling speculation the best place to have it is somewhere that a community of people with relevant expertise can moderate the threads themselves. Most people on here are no more qualified to assess complex medical studies and data analysis than your average Reddit user. Me included.

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    Quote Originally Posted by publiusr View Post
    JPL’s ventilator may be the best yet made—
    Discussion not appropriate here, but I think you'll find the categories "cheap and simple" and "useful for Covid-19 patients" are actually mutually exclusive. We've already had exactly that problem with the UK's "Formula One" ventilators.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by publiusr View Post
    Lots of folks spouting off there. Still, I think speculation—even from outsiders—has its place. I would prefer it were done in a more carefully monitored place like this. ...
    Perhaps you're referring to the reddit community as a whole because the r/COVID19 subreddit certainly does not have "lots of folks spouting off" and is in fact well moderated.

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    To be honest, I would rather have lost the thread than KenG.
    "Occam" is the name of the alien race that will enslave us all eventually. And they've got razors for hands. I don't know if that's true but it seems like the simplest answer."

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    Quote Originally Posted by parallaxicality View Post
    To be honest, I would rather have lost the thread than KenG.
    This is not a criticism of your opinion parallaxicality, but in my opinion, if this forum can't discuss what is arguably one of the most important science topics of this century and do so within the rules that we've all worked under for years, then we have failed as a science forum.

    Ken G's problems did not start with this particular thread. He had 16 infractions going back to 2010. The fault did not lie with the pandemic thread.
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    I think the thread's showing signs of dying a natural death as people accommodate to a new reality--an outcome I'd certainly welcome. To that end, I decided a few weeks ago that I'd stop posting any new research findings on the thread, except in response to issues raised by others. It feels too much like feeding fuel to a smouldering fire.
    I know how difficult it is for people to try to be dispassionate about such a life-threatening and life-changing issue, especially when the journalists are churning out polemical copy and the preprint servers are heaving with poor-quality material. Every now and then we have threads in which people become so passionate they can't let an issue go, and wind up being seriously infracted or banned; I think by its nature the pandemics thread is that sort of thread. The fault is still with the people who choose not to heed repeated moderator warnings, though.

    Grant Hutchison
    Last edited by grant hutchison; 2020-May-29 at 04:04 PM. Reason: Second para

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    I hope you reconsider posting new research/discoveries... we need all the good news we can find because passions are so high— people have been bottled up so long that existing tensions in the social world have been fanned...then too, it also shows how one act can worsen things. I think a lot of folks don’t know what to believe anymore.

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    Quote Originally Posted by publiusr View Post
    I hope you reconsider posting new research/discoveries... we need all the good news we can find because passions are so high— people have been bottled up so long that existing tensions in the social world have been fanned...then too, it also shows how one act can worsen things. I think a lot of folks don’t know what to believe anymore.
    You make my case for me. There's essentially nothing that can be posted on that thread that won't have the capacity to make someone anxious or annoyed, or encourage someone to run with the data further than the data allow.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by publiusr View Post
    I hope you reconsider posting new research/discoveries... we need all the good news we can find because passions are so high— people have been bottled up so long that existing tensions in the social world have been fanned...then too, it also shows how one act can worsen things. I think a lot of folks don’t know what to believe anymore.
    The doctor has noted the sources he commonly cites; WHO, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the NHS, the CDC, etc. These are still readily available.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    I have this idea—not scientific, mind you—that perhaps in asking even the simplest question— that a new train of thought might occur. I often think that a breakthrough could come from an unlikely source. Too much a trope, I know, but it eats at me that a solution might come at any moment if one happens to look at things just so.

    We may have new discoveries come from this bug that might help with other diseases like Kawasaki’s

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