Tuesday 9 June 2020

The New York Times tries to balance black lives against black lives

I just happened across this, which is from the New York Times Coronavirus Live Updates on Sunday. 

And on Sunday, infectious disease experts on Twitter debated how to supply a reliable estimate of the protests’ impact on virus transmission — or whether trying to do so may wrongly be seen as discouraging participation in the growing racial justice movement.

In what he called a back-of-the-envelope estimate, Trevor Bedford, an expert on the virus at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute, wrote on Twitter that each day of protests could result in about 3,000 new cases and 50 to 500 deaths. Given the racial disparities seen during the pandemic, he noted, that surge would disproportionately affect black people. “Societal benefit of continued protests must be weighed against substantial potential impacts to health,” he wrote.

Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at Harvard, agreed that Dr. Bedford’s projections were in the ballpark, and said in an email that he had done “a service’’ by making an approximate estimate with explicit assumptions.

But he also noted that if states where the virus was still spreading managed to rein it in, the number of lives saved would “massively overshadow the effects of the protests.” If all states were better able to detect new cases with tests and contact tracing, or reduce transmission by social-distancing and mask-wearing, it would mitigate a rise in infections acquired at protests.

Dr. Bedford wrote that his estimates contained a lot of uncertainty. There is no official estimate for how many people are protesting on an average day, for instance. Still, he thought it was important, he said, to provide a framework grounded in epidemiologic principles to counter the offhand assumptions being made by political pundits. But, in response, other scientists voiced concern that Dr. Bedford’s posts would “give fodder to those opposing civil rights.”

As Oscar Wilde said of the death of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop, you'd need a heart of stone not to laugh. It's very black humour in the manner of Evelyn Waugh, perhaps of 'The Loved One', his satirical novel about the American way of death, with a dash of his 'Black Mischief'. 

I hope the protests and riots will prove in two or three weeks that social distancing doesn't save lives. We must all hope that, especially the protesters.

The last time I read a newspaper report so unintentionally funny was when I read aloud to a barrister with whom I worked Mr Justice Caulfield's summing-up in the Jeffrey Archer trial

'No, Paul, you are making that up' 

he said twice. Eventually he walked over to me with feline steps, twitched the Independent from my hands, read and said with astonishment 

'It's true.' 

Looking up the two experts quoted in the New York Times on Twitter I note they both loathe Donald Trump. 

I suddenly realise that almost all academics and Ivy League graduates probably detest him. Just as most Oxford and Cambridge undergraduates loathed Mrs Thatcher in the early 1980s, including me. 

I perfectly understand why they detest Trump, of course, but not why they take Black Lives Matter and many other things seriously. I know their lack of sense of the ridiculous and inability to be embarrassed are two of Americans' greatest strengths, along with (in the case of Republicans) religiosity, patriotism and parochialism. But I can't help feel enormous sadness and wonder if, despite the economic numbers, America is lost.  

And if so so is the world.

1 comment:

  1. As many Jewish organizations across the United States sent out statements decrying racism over the past week, the head of the Zionist Organization of America took a different approach.

    Black Lives Matter “is a Jew hating, White hating, Israel hating, conservative Black hating, violence promoting, dangerous Soros funded extremist group of haters,” ZOA President Mort Klein tweeted on Saturday.

    That tweet, vilifying Black Lives Matters as others sought to show solidarity with nationwide protests calling for racial justice, could be a turning point for the ZOA’s membership in a national coalition of Jewish organizations. Just weeks ago, another group in the coalition lodged a formal complaint that could result in the ZOA’s expulsion. Klein’s tweet now appears to be galvanizing liberal support for such a move.