Thursday, December 10, 2020

Does America Need to Do Penance?

I am not an epidemiologist and have no expertise in medical science. So, I can do no better than report what John Tierney recommends in a recent City Journal column (via Ace of Spades. and Maggie's Farm.)

In effect, Tierney claims that Vitamin D supplements, coupled with sunshine-- which produces the vitamin naturally-- are more effective in preventing Covid-19 infections than are lockdowns and mask mandates.

Truth be told, Sweden had already been touted for avoiding lockdowns, but now, in the face of a new proliferation of cases, it is moving toward lockdowns. 

It’s not a reason not to wear a mask. But it is likely that more sunshine and even a Vitamin D supplement might help you. 

But, that’s not what drew me to the Tierney article. I was intrigued by the way he narratized the pandemic and the reaction to it. By the terms of the narrative, one that was in force during the bubonic plague during the fourteenth century, the pandemic is God’s punishment for our sins. The solution is penance. 

Whereas bands of penitents walked through the streets of Florence during the plague flagellating themselves until they bled, the better to pay for everyone’s sins, nowadays our leaders oblige us to do penance via lockdowns. The latter especially hurt women and children, but I suspect you have long since overcome the tendency to think that the political party that says it cares about women and children really cares about women and children.

Tierney explains:

Instead of beatdowns, today’s regulators favor lockdowns, which are less bloody but inflict more social pain. For all the talk about following science, the authorities—and much of the citizenry—can’t resist the primal intuition that a pandemic can be quelled only through public penance. 

Tierney asks which will be more effective-- public penance or more time in the sun?

Consider two strategies for dealing with the Covid-19 virus: urge the public to spend time outside in the sun to build up their vitamin D, and to take supplements of the vitamin, repeatedly demonstrated to protect against viral infection; or shut down most businesses, deprive children of classroom education, and order everyone to stay home, a strategy never previously tested and yet to prove effective.

In effect, it is true that this past spring we had near lockdowns in many parts of America. Gyms were closed. Restaurants were closed. Schools were closed. Businesses were closed. The virus abated, but, lo and behold, it has returned with a vengeance.

The public health experts have little use for vitamin D, because ordering lockdowns and mask mandates enhances their power and importance. Again, it might be slightly exaggerated, but still it makes a certain amount of sense:

If you chose the vitamin D, you have no future in the public-health establishment. While a few researchers are touting the vitamin’s potential and advocating government programs to distribute the supplements during the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control can’t bring itself even to suggest that people take the pills on their own. In its Covid-19 guidelines, the CDC declares that “there are insufficient data to recommend either for or against the use of vitamin D.”

But, is there any data regarding the current lockdown and masking protocols:

Somehow, though, the “insufficient data” problem disappeared when it came to lockdowns and mask mandates. Before the pandemic, the official expert consensus was against those measures, but the consensus was promptly discarded in the hope that these sacrifices might help. The evidence since then could easily be called insufficient, given the lack of randomized studies and the inconvenient data showing that places with lockdowns didn’t fare any better than the places without strict measures. And given what has emerged about the minuscule rate of transmission in outdoor settings, you could certainly say there’s insufficient evidence to order people to stay inside their homes or to mandate masks outdoors.

Taking vitamin D as a prophylactic, Tierney says, is too easy. It does not require us to pay for our sins:

Going out for a walk or taking a vitamin D pill is just too easy. It entails no pain and provides no glory or power to public-health officials and politicians, so they rarely give this advice despite the evidence that vitamin D helps the immune system against viral infections. It’s not surprising that groups with disproportionately high rates of Covid mortality are also prone to vitamin D deficiency: African-Americans and other minorities, the obese, residents of nursing homes and other elderly people. Levels of vitamin D tend to decline with age, and because the vitamin is synthesized in the body by exposure to sunlight, people tend to have lower levels if they spend less time outdoors or have darker skin that absorbs less ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

Call it something worth thinking about.


trigger warning said...

The root of the lockdown / social distancing mania is, believe it or not with apologies to Ripley, a middle school science project by a 14 year old girl, Laura Glass. Her dad, Robert J Glass, was a systems engineer with Sandia Labs. Papa Glass' work focused on simulations of complex adaptive systems. The kid's work eventually resulted in a 2006 paper published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, available here:

Ultimately, through Glass' bureaucratic influence, his kid's science project became official US Government policy.

Sadly for the millions of suffering Americans, the Glass simulations (no pun intended) are infected with Ricardo's Vice, first identified by economist Joseph Schumpeter (whose genius is memorialized by the eponymous and coveted Schumpeter Prize) and described thusly by Investopedia:

"the tendency for economists to make and test theories that aren't troubled by the complexities of reality, resulting in theories that are mathematically beautiful but largely useless for practical applications"

Sam L. said...


Walt said...

This is a broader social experiment about whether people can be induced, frightened or shamed into following irrational orders with equally irrational loopholes. This reminds me of something I read in the Times many years ago about an experiment done in the early phase of the Nazi control of Germany. In order for Goebbels to determine if Germans (generally known to bow to Authority) would bow to completely irrational orders, tne Psych Dept of a university placed signs on the curbside phonebooths within a five block radius of the school, some reading "Men Only," others "Women Only," then set out to watch the booths for the next x hours to see what happened. What happened was this: while some would-ne phoners cocked their heads and shrugged, all of them nevertheless complied. Except for one woman who, on questioning, was a French tourist.

Ares Olympus said...

The low vitamin D message is certainly just as important. I only started taking Vitamin C and D3 a few weeks ago with winter coming and just in time with cases exploding in the Midwest. Who knew there'd be a winter wave? But I knew there would when I saw the cases and knew 3 weeks later deaths would follow. It would be great if identifying low D is the best lesson learned after this is gone, and it might save tens of thousands more from flu and other infections. We tend do ignore things that seem ordinary and have no idea we can do much better.

The original March advice against masks were (1) limited PPE needed for hospitals, and (2) because it could give a false security so people might get closer and stay close longer than they need to. So after explaining that, it was only a matter of uncertainty how much it helped. Why fight simple things? Because people are stubborn and prefer not to change apparently. I admit it takes getting used to, but after wearing a few times in stores in before it was mandated, I got used to it. Being an adult is challenging.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Ares, taking responsibility for one's own decisions is challenging.