Tag Archives: News

Did COVID Come from a Lab? A Doctor’s Perspective

In southern China near the border with Laos, there is a mine. To this day, it is heavily guarded by the Chinese government. Any journalist who tries to visit is detained.

Inside the mine: the possible origin of the COVID pandemic.

Scientists identified the animal that first transmitted the original SARS virus (SARS-CoV-1) within 6 months. The culprit was the civet cat. But no animal intermediary for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, has ever been found. Meanwhile, we know that bat guano samples from that mine were taken to the Wuhan Institute of Virology and studied. Is that lab the real source of the pandemic?

In an excellent podcast by the eminent Doctor Peter Attia, he and journalist Katherine Eban dig into the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from the Wuhan lab. There are many precedents for this: SARS-Cov-1 has escaped from labs several times. And the Wuhan Institute was not very secure: some of its labs had biosafety level (BSL)-2 precautions. This is about the same level of security as an American dentist’s office.

There is no longer any scientific consensus on whether the virus came from an animal or a lab. But we may never know for sure where SARS-CoV-2 came from, since China has stonewalled international researchers and the Wuhan Institute’s database of virus info just happened to be taken offline in September 2019, shortly before the pandemic began to rage.

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.

More on China:

IS CHINA USING ITS COVID VACCINES TO CONTROL OTHER COUNTRIES?

CHINA IS CRUSHING ONE OF ITS MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES

HOW CHINA’S TECH INDUSTRY DIES

Note: The doctor I’m referring to is Dr. Attia. I have no scientific or medical background.

Photo: “File:Wuhan Institute of Virology main entrance.jpg” by Ureem2805 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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Forget GameStop, Treasury Yields Are The Thing to Watch

Treasury bonds have been falling hard lately. Their interest rates are up significantly as a result:

The yield on the 10-year note, a bellwether for borrowing costs on everything from mortgages to corporate loans, has jumped to near 1.5% from around 1% in a matter of weeks, lifted by increased expectations that vaccines and government stimulus efforts will accelerate growth and inflation.

And the sell-off is making its way into the stock market today:

The sell-off in the bond market ricocheted into equities, pushing the broad S&P 500 down 2.3 per cent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite down 3.3 per cent by afternoon on Wall Street.

A lot of this is the side effect of something good: people are getting vaccinated, new vaccines are coming, and economic stimulus could boost the economy further. That picture is leading investors to expect greater economic growth in the future, along with greater inflation (see the Feb 22 post):

Signs of a renewed economic boom, in tandem with pockets of price pressure, color that move in rates. Bianco Research notes today that Wall Street economists now expect U.S. real GDP growth of nearly 5% this year

But higher rates on Treasury bonds could affect other markets negatively in several ways:

  • Higher Treasury yields tend to mean higher rates in other areas. This could make it more expensive for companies to borrow to fund expansion, etc. That would hurt their shares.
  • If Treasuries offer more interest, that makes stocks less attractive by comparison.
  • Treasury yields, especially the 10 year note, tend to drive mortgage rates. Higher mortgage rates mean a weaker real estate market.

Nonetheless, the Fed remains committed to low interest rates and a loose monetary policy:

In his remarks to the House Financial Services Committee, [Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome] Powell said it could take more than three years before inflation reached the Fed’s target of 2%. That helped to reiterate the message that the central bank was in no rush to pare back on stimulus anytime soon, Deutsche’s Reid said.

I think that if rates spike too high, Powell will probably get the Fed in there buying lots of bonds (with printed money, if necessary) to get the rates back down. He doesn’t want to see higher rates derailing the economic recovery.

A slower rate rise may be less problematic:

“If it is stable and steady, it is easier for equities to digest,” O’Rourke said in an interview. “A quick spike has the potential to create a shock.”

Overall, this situation concerns me and it’s one I’m going to watch. But I am pretty confident that Powell will put a stop to extreme increases in Treasury yields.

For more on recent developments in financial markets, check out these posts:

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Photo: “Jerome H. Powell, governor of the Federal Reserve Board, discusses how markets currently function” by BrookingsInst is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Killer Kittens Can Be Placated With Meat and Playtime, New Study Finds

It would be wise not to anger him.

Cats kill billions of animals yearly, but feeding them a meaty diet and providing lots of playtime can redirect them to less violent pursuits, a new study finds.

The mother of one cat in the study had seen her furry friend wreak havoc:

“We’ve had birds in the bedroom, rats in the paper bin, rabbits in the utility room, and several vermin that have died of fright,” says her owner, Lisa George from Cornwall, U.K.

But redirecting their prey drive to play, plus keeping them sated with meat, greatly reduced the body count:

the high-meat diet and playtime approaches had the most sweeping impacts, slashing all types of animals on the doorstep by 36% and 25%, respectively.

See the full study out today in Current Biology here.

A surprisingly large number of species have a prey drive. Our gerbil stalked, attacked and ate caterpillars, leaving only the legs. He also ripped the head off a cockroach and wisely left the remains for my wife to clean up rather than eating them.

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Photo: “killer kitty” by Ayeshah Ijaz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A COVID Vaccine is Being Manufactured in Baltimore Now. But the Government Won’t Let You Have It.

The AstraZeneca COVID vaccine is being manufactured today at a plant in Baltimore. This vaccine has been show to be between 62% and 90% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID.

But despite those excellent results in trials in the UK, Brazil, India and South Africa, the US government plans to wait until an American trial is finished in April. This as 4,000 of our fellow citizens die daily.

We should do what the UK and other nations have done, rely on the data we have, and get this vaccine approved immediately. I propose we follow the counsel of economist Alex Tabarrok:

“The AZ vaccine should be given an EUA immediately and made available in pharmacies for anyone who wants it while continuing to prioritize Moderna and Pfizer for the elderly and essential workers.”

Alex Tabarrok, Marginal Revolution

I just wrote my Congressman and Senators to urge them to push for immediate FDA approval of this life saving medication, and I humbly request you do the same! Frankly, I am very frustrated with this situation. Maybe you are too!

If you like, you can use the text I used, below. You can find your Congressman’s contact info here and your Senator’s contact info here.

Dear X,

The AstraZeneca COVID vaccine is approved in the UK and other countries and has shown efficacy of 62-90%. With over 4,000 of our fellow Americans dying daily, I urge you in the strongest possible terms to push the FDA to authorize this lifesaving medication immediately.

Thank you for all the good work you do!

Sincerely,

X

The Best New Thinking on COVID

Today, I came across two new articles that provide a great perspective on the COVID crisis.

Enjoy!

“State Public Health Laboratory in Exton Tests for COVID-19” by governortomwolf is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Pace of Vaccination is Increasing Rapidly

Take a look at the chart above…this is COVID vaccines administered daily (7 day moving average). We see a trend of rapid increase in the pace of vaccination. The numbers bounce around a bit from day to day, but I find this trend very encouraging along with the new federal policy to release 2nd doses and allow everyone over 65 to be vaccinated.

Could a Head Lice Medication Help COVID Patients?

There is increasing evidence that ivermectin, a drug usually used for head lice and other parasitic infections, may help COVID patients. A new randomized controlled trial from India found patients with mild to moderate COVID admitted to the hospital were more likely to survive.

Another study from Florida also showed lower mortality among patients given ivermectin, but others have shown no effect. There are also concerns about being able to safely get to the necessary blood levels of ivermectin in humans.

The investigation of this drug as a treatment is ongoing, and we cannot definitively say yet whether it works or not. But given its low cost and wide availability, it could be very helpful in the fight against COVID if it is found to be effective. Many trials are ongoing.

“Pills” by Grumpy-Puddin is licensed under CC BY 2.0

How We Could’ve Known Theranos Was a Fraud

Investors lost over $9 billion on Theranos, the diagnostics testing company run by Elizabeth Holmes that was exposed as a fraud. Worse yet, patients received inaccurate test results, imperilling their health. But what if asking one simple question could’ve prevented all this?

In the book Editing Humanity, Keith Davies notes that Theranos’ technology had no foundation in peer-reviewed, published research. The always-astute John Ioannidis pointed this out as early as 2015. Theranos published a single paper in 2018, after the company was already exposed as fradulent and was near bankruptcy. Theranos made incredible claims for its technology, but without peer review by respected journal, there was no one to check if those claims were actually true. (Theranos had filed patent applications, but that doesn’t necessarily provide the same level of detail and review.)

This stands in contrast to many other biotech companies, such as several in the CRISPR area (Editas Medicine, Intellia Therapeutics, etc.) whose approach grows out of research published in major journals. Also, such companies have major scientists as co-founders, not a 19 year old unknown.

I am considering getting involved in early-stage biotech investment, so asking “What papers can you point me to that underlie your technology?” is a question I plan to ask in the future. That may be able to weed out some weaker companies and potential frauds.

For more background on Theranos, I strongly recommend the outstanding book Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. I listened to it as an Audible audiobook. It was read by Will Damron, whose voice is outstanding.

I also hear excellent things about the ABC News podcast series The Dropout, which details Holmes’ path from Stanford student to billionaire to accused criminal awaiting trial today. I haven’t listened to it yet, but I look forward to getting a chance soon!

“File:Elizabeth Holmes 2014 cropped.jpg” by Photo by Max Morse for TechCrunch TechCrunch is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I Listened to Sammy “The Bull” Gravano’s New Podcast

It’s awesome! Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, Gambino crime family underboss turned government witness, released the first episode of his new podcast today. It’s called “Our Thing” and you can see it here.

I found it very engaging. The style is spare and fast-paced. The first episode covers the planning of a hit on Genovese family boss Vincent “The Chin” Gigante and also Gravano’s later arrest and cooperation with the federal government.

This episode includes interviews with both Gravano and the FBI agents who caught him, so you get a reality check on what could have otherwise been a self-serving narrative.

I found the sound effects really enhanced the story, which is rare in podcasts, where I find they generally detract. Give it a listen! The next episode in this series, which took two years to develop, should come out in the first days of 2021.