Good news, everyone! The U.S. healthcare system is a little bit less cruel and devious than it was a month ago!

The healthcare “system” of the United States is so deeply, unforgivably fucked up that it’s hard to put into words.

Literally.

There is so much wrong with the system that even a layman like me could probably write several books on it, and barely scratch the surface. This is the result of running healthcare – or any other necessity for survival – for profit. There’s always going to be a fairly constant demand relative to the population, and people will do or pay everything they can to keep living. I’ll add that it’s even more fucked up when you consider that the corporate interests responsible for the massive amounts of pollution to which we’re exposed on a daily basis are also spending lots of money to keep people in power who will fight tooth and nail against the efforts to bring universal healthcare to the United States.

Until healthcare is treated as a right that can’t be used to extort money from people, the U.S. is going to keep having a system that profits off of death and misery.

That said, I’m a firm believer in the notion that the best way to get the people to empower themselves and bring about real democracy, is to do what we can to ensure their basic needs are met to the greatest degree possible, and to give them as much control over their limited time as possible. As the pandemic showed us, when people get a taste of what life could be like, they’re reluctant to go back to something worse. That means that while I think we absolutely should have universal healthcare that’s free at the point of service, I was glad to hear about the “No Surprises Act”, which goes a long way (though not all the way, as we’ll see) towards fixing one small part of what’s wrong with healthcare in the U.S.

For those unfamiliar with the complex array of bureaucracy and blood sacrifice that makes up what’s called a “healthcare system” in the United States, let me explain the need for this bill. Basically, if you’re not old enough to have Medicare (the kinda-universal healthcare that’s available to old people), you need some form of private insurance to make healthcare affordable. Most of the time, this insurance will not cover all the doctors or hospitals near where you live. It might not even cover most of them. Part of choosing a health insurance plan is looking through their lists of “in-network” healthcare providers to make sure that they’ll actually cover the costs of healthcare at a place near to you. Incidentally, it’s on you to actively look for the ways in which health insurance companies will try to force you to pay for your healthcare, despite sending them hundreds or thousands of dollars per month precisely to avoid those bills.

The problem is, even if you do get health insurance that covers your favorite hospital, that’s not a guarantee that everything in that hospital will be covered. Some of the individual doctors might be “out of network”, which means you are stuck with the bill. Again, it’s your responsibility, as the patient, to look out for that trap. The example scenario I hear a lot is one of surgery – you need an operation, and you know that your surgeon is covered by your insurance, but…

Is your anesthesiologist? Or are they out of network? Do you have a chance to check?

Or what if the entire operating room team is covered, but someone calls out sick, and their replacement isn’t covered?

So, it’s pretty common for Americans to get unexpected medical bills that can range from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars, even for things they didn’t even know they had a say in.

This law, which went into effect on the first of January, fixes most of that (From the New York Times via Commondreams because paywall):

If you are having a medical emergency and go to an urgent care center or emergency room, you can’t be charged more than the cost-sharing you are accustomed to for in-network services. This is where the law’s protections are the simplest and the most clear for people with health insurance.

You will still be responsible for things like a deductible or a co-payment. But once patients make that normal payment, they should expect no more bills.

[…]

For scheduled services, like knee operations, C-sections, or colonoscopies, it’s important you choose a facility and a main doctor that is in your insurance plan’s network. If you do that, the law bars anyone else who treats you from sending you a surprise bill. This also addresses a large problem. Surprise bills from anesthesiologists, radiologists, pathologists, assistant surgeons, and laboratories were common before.

If, for some reason, you are having such a service and you really want an out-of-network doctor to be part of your care, that doctor typically needs to notify you at least three days before your procedure, and offer a “good faith estimate” of how much you will be charged. If you sign a form agreeing to pay extra, you could get additional bills. But the hospital or clinic can’t force you to sign such a form as a condition of your care, and the form should include other choices of doctors who will accept your insurance.

This is not the end. The entirety of the United States is set up to encourage people to find ways to make money, with no real concern for the harm done in the process. Even so, this is a legitimate win for the American people, against their corporate overlords. That said, as MSN reports, this bill does nothing to change the problem of Americans risking their safety to avoid ambulance bills:

The No Surprises Act, health care legislation targeted at preventing surprise medical bills, officially went into effect on Jan. 1, albeit with one major exclusion: ambulance bills.

A 2021 survey found that ambulance bills account for 8% of all medical debt. A big reason why is because 51% of emergency and 39% of non-emergency ground ambulance rides include an “out of network” charge from insurers, according to the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker.

“I think part of the issue is that a lot of ambulances are run by the states, which makes it more complicated for them,” Matthew Rae, associate director at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Yahoo Finance.

Furthermore, Rae added, you can “absolutely not” request a specific ambulance provider to ensure it’s in-network. Just 10 states have laws in place protecting consumers from being balance-billed by a ground ambulance provider.

“Most places you may not have a choice over who’s the ambulance that shows up,” Rae said. “This is absolutely a place where someone who is having an emergency has to make a call and they don’t have control picking their provider and then they are potentially subjected to a surprise bill.”

According to the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker, citing data from seven states, “more than two-thirds of emergency ground ambulance rides had an out-of-network charge for ambulance-related services.”

Loren Adler, associate director of the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy, told Yahoo Finance that there is “only one [provider] who has a monopoly contract for the region you live in. There’s literally no choice. Not that you really have a choice of emergency physicians, barely have any choice over an anesthesiologist, but it’s even more extreme. We think of ground ambulance services as if it should be like a municipal fire department type of service.”

Adler noted that “something like 80%” of ground ambulances are out-of-network.

“It’s fundamentally broken … it’s not like the ambulance has as much power because they don’t get to choose who they pick up,” he said. “Neither side has a lot to stand on here. And then you’re getting a lot of one-off fights between the insurers and the ground ambulances which is not great for the patients stuck in the middle.”

And those who are without any health insurance and in need of an ambulance are responsible for footing the entire bill, though Rae noted that they do have the ability to negotiate.

“This is a place where people can incur big expenses,” he said.

Off the top of my head, I can think of two times when I should have taken an ambulance ride to get checked out, and opted not to because of the cost. The first was a simple bike accident. I hit a curb too hard, and went over sideways. I hit my head hard enough on the pavement to crack my helmet, and my neck hurt. The abysmal insurance I had at the time (this was before the Affordable Care Act, when it was even worse) didn’t cover any of the nearby urgent care clinics, and I didn’t want the cost of an ambulance ride, so I put an ice pack on my neck and tried not to move much for a couple days. I was fortunate that I could afford to do that, rather than having to go to work. I was also fortunate in that there seemed to be no serious damage done.

The other time, I was biking back from work, had the right of way, and a woman turning left hit me. We were both going fairly slowly, but her car destroyed my bike, and I skinned a knee and badly jarred my wrists. It was outside a CVS pharmacy, so I hobbled in and bought myself some medical supplies rather than availing myself of the ambulance that showed up.

In hindsight, I probably should have taken the ambulance ride and gotten checked out, but I would have had trouble affording it. My wrists never fully recovered from that.

It was, as I’ve said before, damned near miraculous how much our quality of life improved when we got to Scotland, and just simply… knew that our costs would be covered. If we felt sick, we could just call the doctor. If we needed medicine, we just got the medicine. When Tegan got shingles in the United States, we thought it was poison ivy at first, and didn’t even consider going to the doctor, because of the cost. The result of that was she went untreated for the first week or two, and suffered a lot for it.

When I got shingles in Scotland, I called the doctor as soon as I noticed the rash, because why wouldn’t I? It was a short walk away, and no matter what it was covered by the money we had already sent to the NHS (it was £600 for each of us for a full year of coverage). I got an appointment the same day, stopped by the pharmacy on my way back, and started taking antiviral medication immediately. I had a much easier time with it than Tegan did.

Here in Ireland, the healthcare situation is worse than Scotland, but better than the United States, at least from our perspective. Irish citizens have universal coverage, as I understand it, but immigrants like Tegan and I do not. That said, our private insurance covers most hospital costs, with the highest single charge for something that’s not covered being €80. For example, it’s possible that a set of x-rays, multiple blood tests, and specialist visits, the bill could climb to hundreds of Euros, but it’s capped at €970 per year. That costs us €80 per month, compared to $300 per month with MUCH worse coverage, back in Massachusetts.  We pay out of pocket for GP visits and prescriptions, but that is also far cheaper than the deal we had in the US. I should also mention that this is literally the cheapest plan we could get and still be allowed to live in this country – if you want frills like a private hospital room, pregnancy coverage (which seems like it shouldn’t be extra), and so on, you can get a more expensive plan for better service.

I will probably never stop being angry about the cruelty and injustice of the U.S. health insurance system, for as long as it exists in anything close to its current form. Even so, I am overjoyed that my friends and family will now be a bit better protected from the greed that ravages that country. It’s a real step in the right direction that will materially improve a lot of people’s lives.


Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

Examining the makeup of a healthy ecosystem: Predators can help with climate resilience

I think ecosystems are really neat. The cumulative effects of multiple organisms just going about their lives and interacting with each other results in these complex, multi-dimensional webs of relationships that can have fascinating and unexpected results. Some of my enthusiasm is very much about aesthetic and entertainment. Diversity is the spice of life, and it just makes me happy knowing some of the weird shit that’s out there for no other reason than nothing stopped it from existing. The other big reason the topic fascinates me is that – as I repeat fairly often – we’re part of the global ecosystem, and play at least some role in every regional and local ecosystem. Our activities have touched every portion of the surface of this planet, and the results, while often horrific, have been fascinating.

It’s often hard to see exactly what role a given organism plays, but every once in a while, we’re able to do large-scale experiments, like re-introducing wolves to Yellowstone.

In 1995, Yellowstone brought the wolves back to the park. After 70 years without wolves, the reintroduction caused unanticipated change in Yellowstone’s ecosystem and even its physical geography. The process of change starting from the top of the food chain and flowing through to the bottom is called trophic cascades.  According to Yellowstone National Park, here are a few ways the wolves have reshaped the park:

Deer: It’s true that wolves kill deer, diminishing their population, but wolves also change the deer’s behavior. When threatened by wolves, deer don’t graze as much and move around more, aerating the soil.

Grass and Trees: As a result of the deer’s changed eating habits, the grassy valleys regenerated. Trees in the park grew to as much as five times their previous height in only six years!

Birds and Bears: These new and bigger trees provide a place for songbirds to live and grew berries for bears to eat. The healthier bear population then killed more elk, contributing to the cycle the wolves started.

Beavers and other animals: Trees and vegetation also allowed beaver populations to flourish. Their dam building habits provided habitats for muskrats, amphibians, ducks, fish, reptiles, and otters.

Mammals: Wolves also kill coyotes, thereby increasing the populations of rabbits and mice. This creates a larger food source for hawks, weasels, foxes, and badgers.

Scavengers: Ravens and bald eagles fed off of larger mammal’s kills.

Most surprisingly, the land: Soil erosion had caused much more variation in the path of the river. But with elk on the run and more vegetation growing next to rivers, the river banks stabilized. Now, the wolves have changed Yellowstone’s physical geography.

Unfortunately, I have a confession to make. In learning about ecosystems, I’ve mostly focused on ones where I don’t need special equipment to breath. I certainly learn about aquatic species, and about aspects of the aquatic “landscape”, both in oceans and in fresh water, but I don’t think I’ve really studied them as systems in their own right. Even when I was doing water quality and invertebrate analysis for a river near my high school, I wasn’t really thinking about it as a system, so much as a way to gauge pollution levels. Even so, it’s obvious that climate change is messing with our watery brethren just as much as life on land, and a research team from Trinity College Dublin and Hokkaido University have made an interesting discovery about how the presence of predators can influence the way heat waves affect life in streams:

The scientists assembled communities of freshwater organisms in experimental streams at the Tomakomai Experimental Forest in Northern Japan. The stream communities were exposed to realistic heatwaves, and some included a dominant predator (a sculpin fish), while others did not.

They found that heatwaves destabilised algal (plant) communities in the streams such that the differences normally found among them disappeared and they resembled each other much more closely—equating to a loss of biodiversity—but this only happened when the predator was absent from the community.

Algal communities are important in streams because they form the energy base for all other organisms, so loss of algal biodiversity can propagate to impact the entire ecosystem.

Additionally, the scientists discovered that important heatwave effects—such as shifts in total algal biomass—only emerged after the heatwave had passed, underlining that even catastrophic impacts may not be immediately obvious.

I keep saying that we need to start actively managing our ecosystems, to control how we affect them, as simply not affecting them seems to be both beyond our ability, and a denial of our nature as one organism among many. If we’re going to become the kind of stewards I’d like us to be, we will also need as great an understanding of our ecosystems as we can attain.

“Western” society has operated under the belief that the natural world exists for our convenience, and so it can be reshaped to suit our short-term interests. That led to extermination and genocide, and ultimately the total destabilization of our planet’s climate. That said, ecosystems are very resilient – we’ve been doing vast amounts of damage for generations, but while the scars from that area easy to see, life still, uh, finds a way.

Taking steps to stop adding to the harm is more than just a gesture of goodwill to the rest of the planet’s residents – simply making sure they’re able to go about their lives, in turn, makes it possible for us to do the same. In a lot of ways, it’s as simple as making sure you don’t eat everything in the forest, so that you know there will be more to eat next year.

If we take care of creatures like these grumpy-looking sculpin, they will help take care of us, without even trying.


Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

Heroic Leader Braves the Gates of Hell to Defend the Environment (not really)

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan, is doing us all a favor and closing the gates to hell!

Well, not really.

For those who are unfamiliar, the “Gates of Hell” (also known as the Darvazagas crater) is a huge sinkhole in Turkmenistan that is thought to be the result of Soviet oil exploration, which collapsed a natural gas cavity, creating a sinkhole. The gases coming out of it were lit on fire to keep them from spreading at ground level and poisoning people.

In a lot of ways, that was probably a good call. While the smoke from the crater isn’t great for either local life or for the climate, it’s almost certainly better for both than the unburnt gas would have been. That said, they expected the fire to last for a couple weeks, not half a century, and the fumes from the fire have been causing problems. So, when I first heard that there are new plans to extinguish the fire and seal it off, I had one brief, happy moment where I forgot what world I live in, and thought that it was because of the harm being done to the environment (a category in which I include humanity). There are actually a number of underground fires (many of them in coal seams) that are emitting CO2 and other dangerous chemicals, and are obviously are dangerous to any structures or infrastructure above them. To be sure, Berdimuhamedow does seem to be trying to gain whatever “green” points he can, but…

Berdimuhamedow said that the burning crater “negatively affects both the environment and the health of the people living nearby” and that Turkmenistan is “losing valuable natural resources for which we could get significant profits.”

Turkmenistan possesses the world’s fourth largest reserves of natural gas in its underground, intending to significantly increase its export of gas to many countries such as Pakistan, China, India, Iran, Russia and also Western Europe by 2030.

Yeah…

Turkmenistan isn’t exactly the worst offender when it comes to the climate or other environmental issues, but this is very much part of an ongoing trend – world leaders pay lip service to the climate crisis, while continuing to expand fossil fuel extraction.  The story very much brings to mind the oh-so subtle satire of Doom Eternal, with capitalists reacting to the discovery of Hell by looking for ways to directly profit off of it.

Unfortunately, this goes beyond increasing the already monumental task of ending fossil fuel use, because while the industry has developed ingenious high-tech methods for accessing and extracting fossil fuel deposits, the wealth that has come from that has been used to shield them from ever having to figure out how to clean up after themselves. One part of this is the criminal laziness was probably best highlighted by the pathetic industry response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, and the demonstration that there had been no advances in oil cleanup in the decades since the Exxon-Valdez disaster, and BP’s oil spill response plan for the Gulf of Mexico included species like walruses and sea otters. The other part tends to be less dramatic, but could end up being as destructive as the more attention-grabbing spills and leaks – abandoned extraction sites:

How many of them are there, and where are they located?

A recent investigation by Reuters estimates that the United States could have more than 3.2 million orphaned and abandoned wells. Some states have a few hundred; others have a few thousand. And some have a staggering number of them: Pennsylvania reportedly has more than 330,000 of these wells within its borders.

“Orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells are located everywhere,” says NRDC senior advocate Joshua Axelrod. “They can be in the middle of a forest, in backyards, in farm fields, even under sidewalks and houses.” Basically, they are anywhere that oil and gas development has taken place—at sites of large-scale operation spread out over many acres as well as single-well outfits on tiny parcels of land.

Why are they so dangerous?

Simple: Because they leak. Among the chemicals that can seep out and contaminate air, soil, or groundwater are hydrogen sulfide, benzene, and arsenic. Even the smallest leaks can adversely affect the local environment if they go unaddressed or undetected for many years.

Most alarmingly, though, these wells emit a lot of methane, an odorless gas that can seep into nearby buildings (a home, school, or office, for example) and pose major health hazards. When concentrated in enclosed spaces—such as a basement or a bedroom, for instance—methane will take the place of oxygen in the lungs and can cause weakness, nausea, vomiting, and convulsions. Long-term methane poisoning can even be fatal. And methane, of course, doesn’t just make people sick: It’s also highly explosive. In 2017, two men were killed while installing a hot water heater in the basement of a home in Firestone, Colorado, that had been built adjacent to an oil and gas field. When the neighboring petroleum corporation restarted a well that had been dormant for a year, a damaged flowline filled the basement with gas, which ignited into a fireball that destroyed the house in an instant.

I suppose it’s a good thing that we’re aware of this problem, and know where all of these abandoned wells are. It’s also helpful that many of them are on dry land, which reduces the resources required to actually seal them off. There’s another problem that, while probably less severe, is also less well-mapped, and is pretty much all under water – sunken ships.

The image is an infographic titled

I’ve long believed that the climate will continue warming for generations to come. If we’re going to survive, we’re going to have to find a way to exist as a part of global ecosystem that is, at least to some degree, actively managed. It’s not that I think nature needs us to “fix” it, but rather than we desperately need a healthy and diverse ecosystem for us to survive and thrive. That means that we can’t just stop doing the bad things – we also have to clean up after ourselves and our predecessors. This is work that is vital to our future, and it’s work that will take at least as long to do as it took to make the mess.

I also don’t think it will be profitable. The closest we could get to dealing with this problem in a capitalist society would be to provide government incentives. There will be some forms of cleanup that could be directly profitable, like “mining” raw materials from various kinds of trash, but that won’t be the case for everything that needs cleaning up, and the history of that economic model makes clear that the people forced to engage in that dangerous work will be treated horrifically.

We have a very long way to go before we can consider ourselves responsible residents of the planet. The cleanup will take generations. It will take far longer if it’s still limited by obsession with profit and disdain for human life, but no matter how we go about it, it will be the work of multiple lifetimes. In my lifetime, I’ll be content if I see us change to the point where those doing this necessary work are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve – it’ll be a good sign that we’re on the right track.


Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

Possible progress on identifying the causes of “Long Covid”

A scientist in South Africa, Resia Pretorius, believes that she and her colleagues may have found at least one causal factor for “Long Covid.” The term is used to describe those with effects that extend beyond four weeks time, according to the most current information by the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms of long Covid may vary from person to person, but the primary symptoms include fatigue, brain fog, muscle or joint pain, shortness of breath, sleep difficulties, and depression or anxiety. It’s been cause for real concern as the pandemic has unfolded, and until now, it’s seemed like we had no leads on what mechanism was actually causing it.

“A recent study in my lab revealed that there is significant microclot formation in the blood of both acute COVID-19 and long COVID patients,” Resia Pretorius, head of the science department at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, wrote Wednesday in an op-ed.

Pretorius writes that healthy bodies are typically able to efficiently break down blood clots through a process called fibrinolysis. But, when looking at blood from long COVID-19 patients, “persistent microclots are resistant to the body’s own fibrinolytic processes.”

Pretorius’ team in an analysis over the summer found high levels of inflammatory molecules “trapped” in the persistent microclots observed in long COVID-19 patients, which may be preventing the breakdown of clots. Because of that, cells in the body’s tissues may not be getting enough oxygen to sustain regular bodily functions, a condition known as cellular hypoxia.

“Widespread hypoxia may be central to the numerous reported debilitating symptoms” of long COVID-19, Pretorius writes.

Given all the misinformation surrounding the current pandemic, I think it’s worth mentioning that the idea of a disease having lasting effects even after it’s “cured” is nowhere close to new. The example that immediately sprang to my mind was Ebola, and specifically this interview from last year, which covers, among other important topics, how the focus is too often on ending the epidemic to the exclusion of all else. This means that far less attention is paid to the after-effects of the disease.  Going forward, I think it’s worth remembering that sometimes curing the infection is just the first step.

That said, it should be fairly clear that this is extremely hopeful news. The effects of Long Covid have made it the newest disease to be included under the ADA and many disability activists have voiced concerns that this could be a “great disabling” of our generation. If this research proves to be fruitful, it is possible that not only could long Covid be either eliminated or greatly diminished, but that other chronic diseases with similar effects may also be helped by this treatment.


Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

What kind of world could we build?

One of the reasons why I write science fiction, is that it’s a way for me to think about what the world could look like, and how it could be different from what I’ve always known. It can be hard to imagine how such a society might work, but fortunately a lot of people over the years have put a lot of thought into societal structures and forms of governance that lack the incentives for injustice and inequality that currently exist. I don’t think I or any other person is capable of giving the “right” answer, but as a collective, we can build on each other’s ideas and strengths, and create things that are better than any one of us could achieve.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what society is all about? Anyway, here’s Thought Slime on that very topic:

Scifi Saturday: Cary starts a hunt, part two.

It’s still Saturday somewhere, right?

This is the second half of this story. You can read the first half here.


Cary reached up and grabbed a handful of vegetation as he dug his right foot into a gap between stones. He pulled himself up, already looking for the next handhold, only to have the tendrils in his left hand give way. He slid back, scraping his hands as he flailed to keep himself from falling back onto his canoe. He caught a woody section of vine, and paused, palms burning. He could hear Greg crying, and the other kids shouting..

Pay attention. No time to rush things.

Looking up, he chose his grip, and tried again. One handhold at a time, ignoring the bugs and grime, making sure every grip would hold him to the next one. As he drew parallel with the upside-down child, he could hear an approaching siren. Greg’s brown skin was taking on a darker purple hue as the blood pooled in his head. Cary made sure his right hand and feet were well planted, then carefully slid his left arm under Greg’s shoulders, taking a little weight off the ankle. Greg let out a short scream, but he grabbed Cary’s shoulder, and braced as Cary heaved upward. He brought Greg to a sitting position, his back to the canal below, and braced himself again.

“Greg, do you think you can grab ahold of something, for just a moment?”

“Cuh-cann’t”

“I’ve got you, kid. Give it a second.”

Cary craned his head to look around. He hear the siren getting closer, and see the flashing green light of the emergency response team.

“Help’s almost here, Greg.”

The kid nodded, and took a deep, shuddering breath. Cary checked his footing.

“Greg, Do you think you can reach forward and grab a vine? I’ll help.”

Greg nodded again, and Cary pushed upward, his left arm and shoulder burning with the effort. Greg caught hold of a vine with his left hand, and fumbled with his left foot till he found a solid ledge.

“Great job,” said Cary. “Now we just need to hold here.”

He heard a chorus of whining motors as the fleet of emergency drones arrived. They hovered around the two humans, then three of the drones backed off as one of the two remaining ones spoke.

“Greg, we’ve pulled up your records, and there’s an ambulance right behind us. You’re gonna be OK. Do you think you can lift your ankle out of where it’s caught?”

Greg pressed against Cary’s supporting arm, and pulled his right foot free. The shoe remained behind.

“Great job, Greg.” The drone turned to Cary and a light flickered as it looked him up. “Cary, if you can just support him a little longer?”

“Yep.”

“Greg, we’re going to give you a temporary splint and an anti-inflammatory patch.”

Greg nodded. Cary looked down and watched as a drone sprayed the ankle, washing off grime and blood, then inflated a splint around it. That drone moved away, and another one replaced it, reaching out to gently place a patch on Greg’s leg just above the new splint.

“Greg, would you please hold out your right hand?”

Greg did as he was asked, and the drone sprayed it with something that foamed, causing Greg to wince. The foam was rinsed off, and the drone sprayed something else onto his palm that solidified into a transparent bandage.

“That should take care of you till you reach the hospital.

“Oh!”

Cary craned his head to look at the boy’s face. “You OK, Greg?”

“Yeah, the pain just went away. In my ankle, too.”

“These people know their stuff.”

“Thank you, Cary. The human crew has arrived, and they’ll have a stretcher up here momentarily.”

Cary looked down. The ambulance below had already extended its outriggers, and the crew was attaching stabilizers to the wall as a stretcher platform rose up from its deck, carrying two medics. When they drew level, they eased Greg onto the stretcher, then one of them looked up.

“Cary, was it?” She tapped her glasses. “We get a live feed of what the first responders find. Are you OK? Do you need a lift back to your boat?”

Cary could see his canoe a little ways down the canal. He reached into the vines and grabbed Greg’s shoe. He offered it to the medic.

“Greg will want this. If I could get a patch on my hands, that’d be great, but I’ll just jump down when you leave – I need to wash all the leaves and stuff off and then get back to work.”

“Sure thing. Brak, could you do his hand?”

Cary held out his hand, and the drone bobbed over to spray the scrapes on his palm. The foam stung, but the rinse made the pain start to fade almost immediately. The bandage solidified, tightening a little and pulling at his skin. He carefully gripped a vine and held out his other hand.

“Don’t do anything too rough with this,” said the drone, “but it should hold for a while. If you want to take it off when you get home, put a little alcohol on it, and it’ll peel right off. It would be good to let the abrasions air when you can do so safely.”

“Thanks, uh, Brak.”

“It’s a pleasure to help. Take care!”

With Greg safely aboard the ambulance, it turned around and sped into Turtle Bay, lights flashing.

“Hey mister, is Greg gonna be OK?”

Cary waved at the kids who’d been waiting under the bridge.

“He’ll be fine. Probably just a sprained ankle and a few scrapes. I bet he’ll be home later today.”

“Should we tell his parents?”

“Nah, the hospital will call them, if they haven’t already. He’s in good hands, just make sure you’re careful climbing around here. I know a kid who lost an eye that way!”

“Oh shit! Really?”

“He’s got a replacement that works pretty well, but it was a bad time – not something I’d want to go through.”

“I dunno, a robot eye sounds pretty cool.”

“Janice!”

“What? It does?”

Cary laughed.

“It might sound cool, but last time I saw the kid he said it wouldn’t stop itching. Better to hold on to the eyes you’ve got for now.”

“I guess…”

Cary looked down to make sure the water was clear, and then jumped away from the wall, holding his nose and taking a big breath. He plunged into the canal, and swam back to the surface. When he wiped the water from his eyes, he saw the canoe right in front of him. The Fae drones had dragged it over.

Cary submerged, then lunged out of the water, throwing his weight over the near gunwale, and grabbing the opposite one to keep the canoe from capsizing. He rolled into the canoe, and clambered into his seat, dripping. He looked around at the Fae drones.

“Thanks for bringing the boat over. Sorry for the delay.”

One of the drones flew over and landed next to him.

“Don’t be. Helping the child was the more important thing.”

The voice in his earpiece was deep and resonant. Cary blinked, then looked down at the drone.

“Is that- I take it you’ve decided to talk to me?”

“You helped the child, and even injured yourself doing so.”

“I’d hardly call this an injury. The bandage might as well be a layer of skin, and I can’t feel any pain in my hands.”

“Still. I liked that you did that. You can call me Youngest.”

“I’m Cary. Pleased to meet you.”

“And you. The others still have the scent, so we may resume our hunt when you are ready. ”

“Right.” He turned in his seat and swiveled the outboard motor into the water. “You reminded me of my hands – I probably shouldn’t paddle right now. Could you tell the Houndmaster I’m sorry for the delay?”

He flexed his hands a couple times. They felt a little strange and tingly, but not painful. He powered on the motor, and gently squeezed the throttle as he turned the canoe.

“I’ll relay the sentiment,” said Youngest, “but it’s not needed. Fae would have helped, but none of the pack is equipped for that, so calling the ambulance was the best we could do.”

They glided under the bridge, and Cary waved at the kids above.

“I’m glad you did. I didn’t even think of it.”

“Those of us who aren’t human are rarely disconnected from the network, so it’s as easy as shouting would be for you.”

“I guess that makes sense.”

He sat in silence for a time, watching reflection of the darkening sky in the canal, disturbed by the trail of bubbles from the Houndmaster, and the occasional splash of a fish nabbing one of the flies that danced just above the surface. The sky turned from dark gray to a dull golden as the city lit the clouds. The water’s surface now sparkled with lights from the surrounding buildings, and in the dark patches, fish laid glowing trails, and the Houndmaster’s bubbles shimmered blue as they rose to the surface.

“Stop.”

The voice startled him out of his trance-like state.

“What?” He looked down. Youngest was speaking.

“There’s been a change in plans.”

Cary released the throttle, allowing the canoe to slow down and drift.

“What’s going on?”

“The Houndmaster sent sniffers ahead, down into the tunnels. It’s not a leak. It’s an outlet.”

“But that’s not- They can’t do that!”

“Indeed. It seems there is an incursion of some sort.”

“A what?”

“Outsiders.”

The drone nearest the bow popped into the air and swooped over to them.

“Maybe outsiders. We can’t assume that.” Faer voice was higher, and thinner in Cary’s ear.

Cary looked back and forth between the two. Faen were shaped rather like spheres that had been squashed into a thick, rounded disk, about ten centimeters across. Four turbines held faen afloat, with stripes made of what looked patterns of gold wire forming an “X” between them. The quarters had a variety of markings and instruments on them, the latter of which Cary assumed were for sampling the air. The one that had just approached had a great deal more decorative metal patterns on faer outer casing than Youngest.

“Youngest here jumps to conclusions.”

“I’m just giving the most likely conclusion.”

Cary blinked. The more decorated one spoke again, still hovering in front of Cary.

“I am Eldest. Youngest is correct that it is most likely outsiders. It’s unlikely someone from here would have any reason for whatever is going on down there. Moreover, they are within Fae jurisdiction. In fact, we owe you a debt for bringing this to our attention.”

“You do not,” said Cary. “I’m doing my part, same as anyone.”

“I value that sentiment. Are you willing to provide more help, before your part in this hunt is concluded?”

“Of course.”

“Good. Look in the water to your right.”

Cary looked down, and then jerked back, rocking the canoe, as the giant hound’s head that had ridden on the Houndmaster’s shoulder surfaced, eyes still glowing. Looking again, Cary could see two of the under water sniffers holding it up.

“Take it, if you will. It is fairly heavy.”

He braced himself to steady the boat and leaned over, heaving the large hunk of metal into his lap. It was surprisingly warm for something that had been under water for the last hour or so.

“You may put it on the floor of the boat. If you’re willing, we’d like to get back to Otherworld as quickly as we can. Will you take us?”

“Of course.” He set the head on the floor and scooted it forward to put its weight nearer to the front. “Seeing this through is part of my own responsibility to my guild. That, and Jo would be disappointed if I wasn’t thorough.”

“That she would be.”

“You know her, Eldest?”

“Yes, but can we get moving?”

“Oh, right. One moment!”

Cary knelt forward and flipped a switch on the canoe’s yoke. The rim of the gunwales extended out and down on telescoping arms, runners inflating out of them. Cary shifted back to his seat and slowly turned the boat around. By the time he was facing back the way they had come, the inflatable outriggers were in the water. Eldest settled on the hound’s head, and Cary squeezed the throttle. The prow lifted up as the boat gained speed, and two of the other Fae sniffer drones lifted off to fly ahead of him. He blinked in surprise as they began flashing green and gold lights. It hadn’t occurred to him until this moment, but he was officially working as a public servant right now, which meant he had the right to announce a right of way.

Eldest spoke in his ear again.

“To answer your earlier question, yes – I know Jo. She has a lot of friends in Otherworld, and in other parts of the city. I think if you did quit at first opportunity, she would never let you live it down.”

“That sounds like Jo.”

“She has a remarkable memory for that sort of thing, and it all comes out when she gets drunk.”

“Huh. Never seen her drunk.”

“Maybe she doesn’t drink around apprentices?” Cary slowed as they reached the bridge that had had children on it before, but everything was quiet. He picked up speed again, turning to go along the northwest boundary of Turtle Bay on his way back to Central Park.

“Yeah, that sounds about right. I guess that’s something to look forward to. Have you gone drinking with her? I- I’m sorry, is there something that’s like drinking for you?”

“There is not, but we tend to enjoy socializing with our human friends. The effects that drugs have on you are often very entertaining.”

“So I hear. It’s not something I’ve explored much.”

“As I understand it, there’s no hurry, and it’s important to feel safe. Speaking of which, there’s some traffic ahead.”

Cary slowed the boat as they drew closer to the park. More vessels were in the canal, and while there was a clear path thanks to the flashing drones, it was crowded enough to make him nervous. The traffic grew thicker as they reached the entrance, and Cary could hear music and laughter ringing out across the water from the myriad of food and entertainment vessels around them. He felt his stomach growl as they cruised by an aromatic curry boat, followed almost immediately by the smell of grilling meat.

“I’m gonna have to find a good place to eat after this.”

“Celebratory meals are customary for humans when marking important occasions.”

“I- Yes. Well said, Youngest.”

As he navigated through the crowd of brightly-lit boats, Cary could see people pausing their conversations and craning to get a look at him and his Fae companions. He felt his cheeks heating a little, and tried to keep his eyes focused on the water ahead of him.

After passing into Central Park, things opened up a bit, and Cary sped across the last kilometer to the Floating Market. A new wave of smells and sounds hit him as he guided the boat around to the northwest, where he could dock right next to the entrance to Manhattan’s Otherworld. He leaned forward and flipped the switch to pull in the outriggers, then scooped his paddle off the bottom as the Fae all flew over to gather on the dock. The abrasions on his palms were starting to itch, but he dipped the paddle in the water and feathered the canoe up to a mooring. He hoisted the Fae hound’s head out onto the dock, and then climbed out himself, kneeling to tie the painter to the mooring.

“Ok. Let’s get this head back to its body, yes?” Cary looked around at his electronic companions. “I hope you can get me there?”

“Of course”, said Eldest. “Let’s be on our way.”

“Yup. Yup.” Cary stood with a groan, then bent to scoop up the head. “Let’s be on our way.”

The elevator door opened as he approached it, and instead of a glowing point of light, a string of bobbing drones guided him through the dimly lit tunnels. The hall-like room was brightly lit as he entered, and he quickly crossed to place the head back on the shoulders of the great metal hound. It clicked into place, and the eyes turned black. He stepped back and watched as the drones entered its mouth one at a time. There was a moment of silence, then the eyes lit up again, and the hound rose smoothly to its feet.

“Thank you for your help,” Eldest’s voice now came from the hound’s motionless mouth. “Now. We have a hunt to finish, and your part in it is done.”

“Just you?” Cary frowned. “If there is an incursion, shouldn’t you have more help?”

“Faen will,” said a nasal voice behind him.

Cary stifled a yelp of surprise and spun around. Two more Fae were standing behind him, one carrying a large duffle, and the other a black, rectangular case of some sort.

“We’ll guide you back to the surface, and then take our own boat to meet The Houndmaster.”

There was a sound of rushing water, and Cary turned to see the hound vanishing into the lake just as the Houndmaster had before. Youngest’s deep voice rang in his ear.

“We’ll let you know how this turns out, once it’s all dealt with.”

“Thanks!” He shouted it, before realizing there was no way fae could have heard him. “Oh well.” He turned to his new companions.

“I’m Cary.”

“Dornan.” The nasal voice belonged to the one carrying the dufflebag, who nodded a greeting. Fae was a little taller than Cary, with a ruddy face, pale blonde hair, and artificial eyes with glowing purple irises.

“Weaver”.” The other was the same height as Cary, but stockier, with dark brown skin, large dark eyes, and black hair in tight braids against faer scalp. Both of faen were dressed in black diving suits.

“Pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise, but there’s work to do. Shall we go?”

“Uh. Yeah. Yeah, lead the way.”

Faen turned and left the room, with Cary trotting after. Faen led him back to the surface in silence, bid him a curt farewell, and disappeared into the floating market, presumably going to their boat. Cary stood looking after them, then turned and stared out across the park.

I guess that’s it. I’m a full member now!

He unzipped a pocket in his shorts and pulled out his tablet. He wrote a note to Jo, letting her know that the Fae had told him his part in it was done. He sighed, and walked over to sit on the dock, his feet in his canoe as he looked out over the water. All that excitement, but he didn’t know what the actual cause of the problem was, he’d just been told that his part in it had come to an end. He lay back on the cool, flat surface of the dock, and looked up to see Jo standing over him, her hands on her hips and a smirk on her face.

“Your part with the Fae might be done, but the guild isn’t done with you yet, apprentice.”

He scrambled to his feet.

“What do you mean? Did I mess up?”

Jo cackled. “What? No. We’ve gotta welcome you into the guild. We hired a party boat, come on!”

“My canoe-”

“Will be there in the morning. I’ll make sure you get home OK.”

“Wait I can’t just leave it-”

“Well, sure you can. In the unlikely event there’s a thief about, think someone’s gonna steal a boat tied to a Fae mooring? Nope. No excuses.”

She grabbed him by the arm and marched him towards the market.

“You know,” he said. “Eldest said you tell stories when you start drinking.”

“Ha! Well, you’re a full member of the guild now, so I guess you’ll stick around long enough to find out!”


Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

Capitalism ruins science

One of the most persistent and annoying claims of those who support capitalism, is that without a profit motive, we’d see no innovation or advancement. This is false. The incentives of capitalism do drive some innovation, but only where one can expect profits in the short term. Often, this means companies finding ways to make changes to existing products or technologies that are big enough to count as a “new product”, while still being almost entirely superficial. Another big area of capitalist innovation is finding ways to force people to pay for something they used to get for free. The “innovation” that made Bill Gates so rich was primarily about figuring out how to force people to pay for software – something that had been in many ways an open-source commons. Information technology in general has been subjected to a series of enclosures to increase profits by forcing people to pay for things that they could be getting for free, or for much more reasonable prices.

Science is a collective endeavor, and always have been. There are individuals who make big discoveries, but they’re always building on the work of both their contemporaries, and those who came before. Many of the advances that have come out of the development of science have made life better for countless people around the globe, and that is as it should be. Unfortunately, capitalism cannot abide a commons, and at the publication end, a small number of corporations have managed to create a captive market for themselves, as Rebecca Watson explains:

So at this point, some of you are thinking “Well I guess they’re stealing, which is usually wrong, but it’s not really immoral because those poor students have no legitimate way to access scientific knowledge that they need to advance their career in the sciences.” And others are thinking, “Stealing is wrong no matter what the case, and so Sci-Hub and the people who use it are, in essence, immoral. If you can’t afford the science, you can’t be a scientist. I hear Burger King is hiring.”

But as always on this channel, it’s a bit more complicated than either of those takes. It’s so complicated that we can even question whether or not reading a paper on Sci-Hub is truly “stealing.” Allow me to explain.

Actually, allow me to, um, completely steal a metaphor I read a few years ago in a Vox article written by Brian Resnick and Julia Belluz, because it’s so good I think everyone should hear it (and as always, you can find a full transcript of this video with links to everything on my Patreon, which is linked in the dooblydoo below):

“Imagine your tax dollars have gone to build a new road in your neighborhood.

“Now imagine that the company overseeing the road work charged its workers a fee rather than paying them a salary.

“The overseers in charge of making sure the road was up to standard also weren’t paid. And if you, the taxpayer, want to access the road today, you need to buy a seven-figure annual subscription or pay high fees for one-off trips.”

Ridiculous, right? But it is, in fact, a direct metaphor for scientific publishing.

According to the Congressional Research Service, here in the United States our tax dollars pay for about 43% of basic scientific research, defined as “Experimental or theoretical work undertaken primarily to acquire new knowledge of the underlying foundations of phenomena and observable facts, without any particular application or use in view.” About 26% is covered by universities and nonprofits, and the remaining 31% is handled by corporations.

When it comes to applied research, which is “Original investigation undertaken to acquire new knowledge; directed primarily, however, toward a specific, practical aim or objective,” our tax dollars cover about 35%, with 11% covered by universities and nonprofits and 55% funded by corporations.

So overall, our tax dollars pay for a huge chunk of the papers that are being published, but we, the people who paid for those studies, cannot view the results of those studies without paying again, to the journal that published them.

I strongly feel that the concept of “pirating science” is very similar to that of “jaywalking” – it was deliberately manufactured to force the general public to limit our own freedom, for the sake of enriching a tiny minority. It is an injustice on many levels, but perhaps the worst part is that a democratic society requires the general public to be informed, and this directly interferes in that for the sole purpose of making profit. It’s another example of how capitalism is incompatible with democracy.

We are increasingly forced to live our lives on the terms of large corporations, who limit our access to everything we need to survive and thrive, solely to benefit themselves. This is unacceptable, and as the ongoing climate chaos demonstrates, it’s beyond unsustainable. I strongly recommend you watch the video and/or read the linked transcript. Part of the revolutionary change we pursue must be to ensure that these barriers to knowledge are destroyed.

Some thoughts from Beau on whether it was a coup attempt

It’s been one revolution around the sun since Trump and part of the Republican Party enacted the coup attempt they’d been working on since well before the 2020 election. A lot of folks have a lot to say about it for a lot of reasons. My attention was particularly caught by this take from corrupt scumbag Lindsey Graham:

For those who are unclear, what happened on January 6, 2020 was an explicitly political event, no matter what label you apply to it. You cannot politicize something that is entirely political, anymore than you can make the ocean more wet.

That said, the question of what label we should be using for those events still seems to be a matter of discussion, and I think Beau’s response is better than anything I have to say on the topic:

Confessions of a former snake wrangler: FOIA, privacy, and vaccine misinformation.

In 2009, I was working as a contractor ecologist for the Endangered Resources division of the Wisconsin Department of Natural resources. Specifically, I was part of a team that was doing a population survey for several kinds of snake, including two species of garter snake that are currently listed as “special concern”.

The image shows a Butler's gartersnake loosely coiled on some grass. The snake is black on top, with a yellow-white stripe down the center of its spine, and two more on its sides.

Butler’s garter snake Photo by Rori Paloski, WDNR

Part of the work we were doing was to just get a feel for the overall snake community in southern Wisconsin. In addition to the five garter snake species in Wisconsin (though we didn’t catch all of them, if memory serves), there were hognoses, brown snakes, ringneck snakes, and so on. We also recorded metadata – when and where each snake was caught, what the weather was doing, etc.

The primary goal of the work was to determine whether the Plains and Butler’s garter snakes should be reclassified as “endangered” in Wisconsin.

The history of endangered species is a grim one, and there’s a long-standing problem of people seeking out the last survivors, to collect them as exotic pets, or as trophies, or to kill them as obstructions to development. There’s also the problem of people wanting their “last chance to see” something that may soon cease to exist, which can hasten that extinction. All that being the case, researchers have to take some precautions. It’s bad for the general public to know exactly where they can find an endangered species, because the odds are very good that will result in the species going extinct, at least in that area.

For that reason, and because there’s rarely a public need to know, that information is generally exempt from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

So, what would have happened if someone had asked for all documents relating to our research on garter snakes?

With such a general request, the first thing to note is that the person asking would be getting a lot of information about things that aren’t garter snakes, because those data were collected as part of the garter snake research. Because FOIA requests are legally binding (which is a good thing!), such a general request would mean that we’d have to turn over information that everyone knows would not be relevant to the Garter Snake Transparency Coalition (who I just made up), because everyone knows they don’t care about ringneck snakes. If they narrowed the request to information specific to garter snakes that would help, because it would mean we could automatically set aside documents on other species.

Even with that narrower request, however, we’d need to go through our documents to make sure that there is no way they could be used to pinpoint the location of an endangered population. We would also need to go through and remove people’s names. A lot of the sites where we caught snakes were on private property (including people’s basements!), which means we’d need to make sure those people’s names aren’t included in the released documents, as they have nothing to do with the GSTC’s request, and they have a right to privacy. Snakes, alas, have no individual right to privacy under U.S. law, so the best we can do is to give them collective privacy, when their numbers are small enough.

And remember – every snake had its location recorded, so we’d have to go through and make sure that the locations people ARE allowed to know were present, but the locations that have to be redacted aren’t.

In other words, complying with a request like that can be pretty labor-intensive, and absent a directive to stop doing our normal work, we’d have had to fit that process in around it all.

So, let’s talk about the Pfizer vaccine:

I’m bringing this up because the prediction in the video was accurate, and I’m starting to see the “75 years” line going around on Twitter. I agree with Beau that it’s a good idea for this information to be released. I agree that it would be good to expedite it. That said, it’s not something that can be done without a big shift in resources and personnel for the duration of the project.

This is not a small snake study, this is a massive amount of stuff on the creation and testing of a vaccine, which means that instead of the few hundred pages I might have had to process about snakes, there are estimated to be over 400,000 pages to go through. For example, the FDA will need to both include as much relevant information as possible about the people on whom the vaccine was tested, without violating their privacy – a consideration not afforded to the snakes.

That’s not just about finding people know what to redact and what to release, it’s about finding people who can do the work and who can also handle confidential information, which is often its own set of training and requirements.

As Beau said, the plaintiffs seeking the release of these documents do have the power to narrow the scope of their request to specific areas of concern, like adverse reactions, side effects, and efficacy. That would cut down on the number of papers the FDA team would have to go through. To me it seems a little suspect that they’ve apparently been unwilling to do so. Holding out for the whole thing seems almost designed to stir up outrage and controversy, and such a broad request does make me wonder if some of the people involved are hoping to comb through everything stuff that can be used out of context to support a talking point. This comment from a Reuters article on the subject does little to quell that worry:

Indeed, several of the plaintiffs – a group that now includes more than 200 doctors, scientists, professors, public health professionals and journalists from around the world – have publicly questioned the efficacy of lockdown policies, mask mandates and the vaccine itself.

While some members may have their own agendas, the group as a whole has pledged to publish all the information it receives from the FDA on its website and says it “takes no position on the data other than that it should be made publicly available to allow independent experts to conduct their own review and analyses.”

It also doesn’t help to have a Republican politician proudly displaying his ignorance of the scale of the request of the work that needs to be done to comply with it.

Earlier this month, Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., introduced legislation that could force the FDA to release all documents relating to the vaccine within the next 100 days.

The legislation is a direct response to a request made last month by the federal agency to prolong releasing data on COVID vaccines for up to 55 years.

“How does a vaccine that receives approval in 108 days now require 55 years just to release information?” Norman said to Fox News. “It sounds like the beginning of a very bad joke.”

You’ll forgive me if I find the assessment of a conservative real estate investor to be less than useful in this case. I expect that there are people involved who do have legitimate interest in this, but it also seems that at least some folks are doing it for more political and self-serving reasons.

In case it needs to be said, the vaccine approval process is very different from the process of processing the documents generated BY that process. I also think that the urgency of getting a vaccine out during a raging pandemic is somewhat different from the urgency of getting every scrap of paper associated with vaccine approval out to the public.

I agree with Beau that they should do what they need to – bringing folks in from other departments, putting other projects on hold for a few months, and so on – to get this dealt with as soon as possible. That said, doing all of that isn’t going to happen overnight. It was never going to happen overnight. To me it seems entirely reasonable to say “this is how we normally do things, and this is how long this request will take, without changes at one or both ends of this process.” If there is a law passed or a court ruling mandating a faster turnaround, that will probably make it easier for the agency to get help and reassign resources, so I have no problem with the plaintiffs continuing to push. From what I can tell, this is just the beginning of a process, and the U.S. is set up in a way that requires an adversarial approach to things like this.

My problem is with the insistence that the scale of the request, and the response to it, are evidence of a coverup, rather than the first stages of a big task. I obviously can’t  say for certain that some of the people involved are bad-faith actors, but it wouldn’t be the first time freedom of information laws have been used for nefarious purposes. The time it takes to work out the logistics of this is being used to bolster anti-vax conspiracy talk, and that is a big problem. I think the only way to disarm that particular trap is to actually expedite the process. It’s likely that for some folks, it won’t be enough no matter how much is released. They’ll use any redactions as proof that “they’re hiding something”, and any delays as the same.

The reality is that things take work, and the public’s right to know – which again, I do think exists here – has to be balanced with rights to privacy, and (which I think is less legitimate) trade secrets. I want a very different world from the one we have now. I want things like vaccines to be open-source, and available to all without concern for profit. In case it’s not clear to my readers, “Big Pharma” is part of the capitalist structure I want to dismantle.

But we’re not there yet, and while we’re doing that work, we are also stuck with the work generated by the system we’re trying to replace.

Keep pushing for transparency, just don’t use the lack of instant gratification as an excuse to spread conspiracy theories.


Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.