TV review: Death to 2020 (2020)

A good way to spend New Year’s Eve or start 2021 would be to watch Death to 2020 on Netflix that gives a humorous review of the year’s events with a biting sardonic tone. One of the creators of the show is Charlie Brooker, a well-known British TV personality known for his sarcastic wit, who along with Annabel Jones also created the dark futuristic series Black Mirror.

Here’s a clip from the show.

Here’s another clip.

Here’s the trailer.

Subdued New Year’s Eve celebrations

My idea of a great New Year’s eve is to spend it at home and go to bed at the usual time. On a few occasions I have been invited to a friend’s house for a party and everyone was given a pointy hat and noisemaker and all watched the TV and waited for the clock to run down and the ball to drop before letting out a cheer and then going around wishing everyone. I took part in these because the people are nice and I did not want to be a grouch but it all seemed so strained and artificial.

This year it looks like much of the world will be cutting back on such celebrations. France has banned gatherings and has assigned 100,000 police to break up parties and enforce a curfew. New York City has announced that Times Square, where revelers usually gather, has been closed and the traditional ball drop has been canceled.
[Read more…]

Wrong predictions in 2020

This is the time of year when people make lists, most of which I ignore. A common sport is to look at the predictions that people made for the year and to see how they panned out. Making predictions is always a tricky business, especially when it comes to politics so we should not be surprised when many of them turn out to be wrong.

This article compiles a list of predictions that went wrong during this year. While it makes for amusing reading, I think it lumps together two different categories.

One category are those predictions that were mistaken but defensible based on the best available knowledge at the time. In this category, I include the prediction by a public health analyst back in May that “We’re not going to see an effective [coronavirus] vaccine proven safe until well into 2021, if then”. Based on the fact that the record for the shortest time for all previous vaccines was four years, this was not an unreasonable prediction.

The people who deserve to be ridiculed are those whose predictions are not based on evidence or even reality but are driven by an ideological agenda or as part of a propaganda effort or are simply wishful thinking about what people hope will happen. In this category is Kayleigh McEnany’s prediction that Trump will keep the coronavirus from coming to the U.S. and Trump’s multiple predictions that the virus would go away ‘soon’.

Get ready for fun and games on January 6th!

We know that January 6th is the day when Congress is scheduled to meet to ratify the Electoral College votes and declare Joe Biden the winner. At his first post-election news conference held just before Thanksgiving, when asked if he would leave the White House if the Electoral College declares Joe Biden the winner, Trump replied, “Of course I will. Of course I will. You know that.” However that was his only concession to reality and since then he has continued to deny the fact that he lost.
[Read more…]

My talk on the myths surrounding Copernicus

There are a lot of false beliefs surrounding the response to Copernicus’s ideas about the universe being heliocentric rather than geocentric, one of the most prominent being that his ideas were strongly opposed because they demoted the Earth and human beings from the privileged position of being at the center of the universe.

I have written on this topic before, including in my book The Great Paradox of Science, and will be giving a short talk on this from 3:45pm-4:15pm (Pacific Time in the US) on Saturday, January 2, 2021.

The talk is part of the annual one-day Skepticamp conference held in Monterey, though this year it will be virtual on Zoom and free and open to anyone. To see the full program and the link to join, go here.

Why this desire to humiliate by the police?

We have seen so many stories this year of deadly violence perpetrated by police on unarmed people, mostly people of color. But there are other kinds of police abuse that, while not ending in the death or injury of the person at the receiving end, also end up being traumatic. Many of these are due to the police barging into people’s homes with no warning, such as this case where a perfectly innocent woman was kept naked in her own home. This happened two years ago but the city tried to block release body-cam video that supported the woman’s version of what happened.
[Read more…]

The dark side of randomized double-blind studies

While randomized double-blind tests have become the gold standard for testing of various hypotheses, they also raise some ethical questions for which there are no easy answers. In the case of the covid-19 vaccine trials, there were discussions as to when the study should be unblinded so that those in the placebo group could also be vaccinated. Commenter Bethany said that a co-worker was in the Pfizer study and told her that it has been unblinded.
[Read more…]

The greatest scientist ever?

The world has marveled at the speed with which the vaccines for covid-19 were developed. The time of less than one year is the quickest on record. What was the previous record holder? It was the vaccine for mumps, which took four years. But that vaccine was developed in 1967 by a scientist named Maurice Hilleman working with just two assistants, without all the technology that is now available to quickly sequence the virus genome and the problem attacked by large international teams with huge amounts of funding.
[Read more…]

Ignorance of statistics can kill you

An evangelical pastor in Fort Worth, Texas mocked and dismissed the covid-19 safety guidelines and said that he was going to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family with no restrictions.

Pastor Todd Dunn had been urging “Faith over fear!” since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March. Just before Thanksgiving, he posted a message on Facebook dismissing precautionary measures advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to keep wearing masks and avoid gatherings with family members who don’t live in the same house.

“I’m not wearing a mask when around my family like the CDC requests and we are traveling so we’ll take our chances,” Dunn’s Facebook post read. “And to top it off we are huggers so there you go! There will be no social distancing CDC. Faith over fear!!”

[Read more…]