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Pasteurizing the Conclusions of an Anti-Vaxxer – Article by Zach Richardson

Pasteurizing the Conclusions of an Anti-Vaxxer – Article by Zach Richardson

Zach Richardson


I had an unfortunate encounter with a friend of a U.S. Transhumanist Party member who was conducting on his page what I call an “anti-vaxxer drive-by”: shooting out some quick chart with poorly interpreted data that seemingly supports the idea that vaccines make you sick / don’t work / are Bill Gates microchips, etc.

The graphic in question was this one:

The chart in question shows a rise in infection at equal rates from those who got both vaccines, and those who did not receive a vaccine at all. The green bar shows amount of cases where no vaccine was received, and the blue bar amount of cases who again tested positive two weeks after the vaccine. What is the implied conclusion, then? The creator of this graphic wants to convey the message: “Why even get the vaccine, if the rates of infection are just as high 20 days after getting it as they are if you don’t get one at all?”

This post is about why his conclusion is wrong, why his analysis is wrong, and why his ilk are not to be trusted.

I was very lucky to find myself with several free hours of time today, as digging into this took some time. I had to type the source link into the browser a few characters at a time, since it was from an image, and the site itself was in Hebrew. I was pleased to find though, that the site did have the data available for download in a CSV format, which is easily importable into Google Sheets.

The data showed weekly stats on 9 age groups, and how many cases there were in three time periods: one to six days from vaccination, seven to thirteen days from vaccination, thirteen to twenty days from vaccination, and cases from vaccinations more than twenty days ago. This sequence is repeated for cases after dose two of the vaccine. Here is the spreadsheet:

I’ve included the last two weeks in this screenshot, and would like to direct the reader to notice a few things that should stick out sorely after a few moments’ study.

1. For the age range 0-19, the number of youths who reported cases was forty times as high as those who did not.

– Were children perhaps just 40 times as susceptible to infection? This would have been interesting for the person looking at the chart to know.

2. The age range 0-19 actually makes up one-half of the total amount of cases reported.

– Maybe it was just that those who signed up for this study all happened to be children who needed pocket money? That can’t be right…

3. For week the week of June 27 (2021-06-27), excepting the youth group for vaccine 1, not a single case was reported during the weeks 1-20 for any group. The next week never had more than five cases for an age group.

– Ah, good news! Perhaps the vaccine was super effective, if only for 20 weeks.

4. It is not reported how many people total got the vaccine who were NOT sick after 20 days.

-Perhaps the data account for all cases, and all those in the study eventually got reinfected?

There are some big problems with this chart, and the first is that this is a HUGE instance of what we call “self-selection bias”.

Unlike lab rats who have no choice in the matter, humans get to choose whether to participate in studies or not. Adults can easily choose to not report when they are sick; people had to voluntarily “select” themselves to be included in this dataset. Children have less choice. Children are in school, and vaccine testing can be conducted just the same way standardized knowledge testing is: get all the students in the same building, line them up, assign each a number, and have every single one tested. I think this is why youth aged 0-19 outnumber those aged 20-90 combined.

Even more important than that, we do not know how many people got the vaccine who did NOT get sick vs those who did not get the vaccine and did not get sick. Assuming Israel gives out 9,000 inoculations a day, the 30-39 year olds in week 07/04 could have been 248 vaccinated people infected out of tens of thousands who received the vaccine. We don’t have a way of knowing and don’t have that data.

The real plot twist though, comes after one digs into the “README” file attached to the study data right next to the CSV file. Here is the relevant excerpt Google translated:

vaccination_without_positive_Sum – number of verified people detected per week and age group Relevant, and who did not receive any vaccine dose. It should be noted that vaccinated who received the vaccine dose The first on the same day that a positive result was obtained are included in this column.”

What does this mean? It means that the “unvaccinated” group were those who ran to the doctor after they got sick, got the vaccine themselves, and were only THEN added into the dataset. They got the vaccine too!

The charlatan that made that chart was trying to make it seem like he was comparing data from two groups in a randomized controlled trial, and concluding that the data showed you were equally as likely to get sick when taking the vaccine as not. What the data really showed is that it is very easy to test children who are stuck doing what their teachers tell them for eight hours a day, and also that when the chips are down and the unvaccinated finally do get sick, they change their mind and run to the doctor to get the vaccine anyway.

As Director of Publication for the USTP, I would like to reaffirm the Transhumanist Party’s strongly-held pro-vaccine stance. There is far too much of this junk science flying around, and I certainly can’t spend the better part of the afternoon each day playing “debunker”, but you can be sure to expect a series of pro-vaccine material to be republished under the Infinity Banner.

Zach Richardson is Director of Publication for the U.S. Transhumanist Party. 

To the FDA: Approve Leronlimab Now for Critically Ill COVID-19 Patients – Article by Dan Elton

To the FDA: Approve Leronlimab Now for Critically Ill COVID-19 Patients – Article by Dan Elton

Daniel C. Elton, Ph.D.


Author’s Note: This article is cross-posted from my Substack.

How does Leronlimab work?

Leronlimab is a humanized monoclonal antibody that antagonistically binds to the CCR5 receptor to block activation of immune cells and lower the release of cytokines. The development of Leronlimab started with mouse antibodies that bind to CCR5. Unfortunately, mouse antibodies can’t be directly imported into humans since they are attacked by the immune system as foreign invaders. That’s where next-level genetic engineering comes in. Researchers looked at the genes for human antibodies, identifying ones that were closest to the genes for the antibody that the mice produce. They then took the segment of DNA from the mouse antibody that coded for the antigen binding site and stitched that into the human antibody gene. (The antigen binding site is the key part of the antibody allows it bind to the CCR5 receptor). The result is a chimeric or humanized antibody which can be mass-produced in bacteria.

As alluded to, the specific place where these antibodies bind is the CCR5 (Chemokine Receptor Type 5) receptor, a “G Protein coupled” receptor that resides on the surface of cells, in particular immune cells such as macrophages. When the receptor is stimulated, calcium channels open up and Ca++ ions move into the cell, causing activation (movement) of the macrophages.

Leronlimab was originally developed to treat HIV, because the HIV virus uses the CCR5 receptor to get into cells. (By blocking the receptors, the HIV virus could be blocked.) Despite being under study since 2007, Leronlimab is still not FDA-approved for HIV, although it appears to be getting close. To treat HIV, it is given as a once-weekly at-home injection. Researchers have found many other uses, however. For instance, when Leronlimab blocks the CCR5 receptors on breast-cancer cells, it prevents them from moving around so that the cancer can’t move to other parts of the body, which makes the cancer easier to treat. Note that Leronlimab is not yet FDA-approved for any of these possible applications, so off-label use for COVID-19 is impossible.

In the case of COVID-19, infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus induces stressed endothelial cells to produce CCL5. When CCL5 reaches T-cell and macrophage cells in lymph nodes and binds to their CCR5 receptors, it induces those cells to become activated and then move towards the source of the infection along the CCL5 gradient. Unfortunately, in severe COVID-19, the immune response can be so strong that it leads to tissue damage. CCL5 also induces the production of inflammatory cytokines including TNF and IL-6.

What do we know about the efficacy of Leronlimab?

CytoDyn Inc. published a press release on January 28th, 2020, announcing that it was beginning to evaluate Leronlimab’s use for COVID-19. In that press release, CytoDyn clearly explained the mechanism of action described above, noting that clinical experience in China found that many patients who died from COVID-19 did not die from the virus but from an overactive immune response causing inflammation and the infamous “cytokine storm”.

A study published in preprint form on May 5th, 2020, looked at 10 terminally ill COVID-19 patients on ventilators at the Montefiore Medical Center in Manhattan. The experimenters administered 700 mg of Leronlimab to each patient. Within three days they found that found that IL-6 had decreased in all of the patients, reaching healthy levels in two weeks. After two weeks six patients had recovered while four died (a 40% mortality rate). At that time the mortality rate for ventilated patients was said to be “as high as 88%” in New York City. So, while there was no control group in this study, one can argue there was an observed reduction in mortality here. While the results on reduced mortality are weak due to a lack of a suitable control, the biomarkers studied all showed a reduction of immune response. The researchers found a reduction of new immune cells manufactured in the bone marrow and a return of platelet cell counts towards normal levels. The researchers also found that the concentration of virus in the blood (viremia) decreased. In a TEDx talk, one of the authors, Dr. Bruce Patterson, claims that Leronlimab was responsible for the drop in blood virus concentration. He said this:

“Leronlimab restored CD8 T-cells and increased Granzyme A to better clear virally infected cells. It also inhibits Treg cells and repolarizes macrophages which both enhance the immune response against infected cells.”

I honestly do not understand these details or know how well they are empirically supported by this or other studies.

CytoDyn initiated two Phase IIb/Phase III clinical trials in mid-April 2020 to study mild-to-moderate COVID-19 and severe or critical COVID-19. To their credit in 2020 the FDA did provide about 60 emergency IND (eIND) authorizations that allowed patients to receive Leronlimab. However the company had to defer seeking eIND authorizations to accelerate the pace of enrollment in their clinical trials.

The mild-to-moderate trial did not meet its primary efficacy endpoint, but in a post hoc analysis in the subset of subjects with more severe disease, a higher proportion of Leronlimab-treated subjects (50%; 24/48) versus placebo-treated subjects (21%; 5/24) showed improvement in National Early Warning Score 2 – a risk score for “rapid clinical deterioration requiring critical care intervention” (p ​= ​0.0223).

The severe-to-critical trial also did not meet its primary endpoint — considering all patients, the difference in Day 28 mortality between Leronlimab and placebo was not statistically significant (N=384, 2:1 split, p > 0.05). (Update: a commentor pointed out that the placebo group ended up being younger and was small, so unfortunately they missed statistical significance. You can see all the details here.).

However, the researchers then analyzed patients on invasive mechanical ventilation or ECMO. They found that if Leronlimab was added to the standard of care, then on the 14th day there was a reduction in mortality of 82% (p=0.0233, N=62) and an average reduction in the length of stay of 5.5 days (p=0.005, N=62). They also found a 400% improvement on a 7-point ordinal scale for COVID-19 severity when compared with standard of care.

There have been several clinical reports and anecdotes about patients on ventilators or ECMO who rapidly recovered after receiving a single dose of Leronlimab (see here (N=1), here (N=4), here (N=1), and here (N=1)). A somewhat larger observational study with N=23 patients reported that after 30 days, 74% no longer required hospitalization. Six out of the seven patients that required ventilation survived. The biomarker results were somewhat mixed – while the researchers found evidence of reduced immune activation in the patients who received Leronlimab, they also found that the inflammatory marker CRP didn’t decrease until after two doses were given. Another small study on N=3 lung transplant patients with COVID-19 found a decrease in CRP after one week.

On March 29th, 2021, the Phillippines’ FDA began issuing compassionate use authorizations on a per-patient basis and for up to one year. Incidentally, one of first two patients was a former President of the Phillippines. In April compassionate use authorizations were given to 28 critically ill patients.

Why hasn’t the FDA acted?

CytoDyn’s failure to reach either their primary or secondary endpoints in their Phase II/III trial on critically ill patients is undoubtedly a major blow. The company has not yet applied for an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), and it seems this failure is the reason why. (News reports from August 2020 saying that company had applied for an EUA turned out to be incorrect.) CytoDyn is moving forward, however, and has filed a new protocol with the FDA that will study four doses given over four weeks to critically ill COVID-19 patients.

The use of any immunomodulator like Leronlimab is clearly a double-edged sword. It makes sense that it would only be helpful in the most severe cases. This is what the two clinical trials showed – they showed a significant effect on mortality for patients on ventilators and no statistically significant effect on other patients. Unfortunately the analysis of the patients on ventilators was a post-hoc analysis, which is frowned upon in science due to the possibility of data dredging. So clearly the science is not settled here.

Let’s consider this from an ethical point of view. Patients who are in ICUs and on ventilators have a high chance of dying. Inflammation macrophage activity, and excess cytokines are implicated in many COVID-19 deaths. There is strong evidence, going back over a decade, showing that Leronlimab decreases inflammation, macrophages, and cytokines. Leronlimab is known to be a very safe drug (prior to 2020 no serious side effects have been found in nine clinical trials with more than 800 patients). Even if Leronlimab only saves 20% of those to whom it is given, then one can argue we have an ethical obligation to do so. It is a somewhat expensive drug (for HIV patients getting weekly therapy, it costs about $2000 per dose; another source suggests it would cost about $1100). However, keeping someone in the ICU costs around $3,000-$10,000 per day. So in addition to saving lives, Leronlimab could also save money as well by reducing the amount of time patients need to spend in the ICU. This could lead to second-order life-saving effects in places where ICU beds are in short supply.

Medical educator Dr. Mobeen Syed has said this:

“I believe that if there is a drug that can help someone who is on a ventilator or ECMO and it can save them, then whatever small population that is, it is useful — that is my opinion. I have no financial interest or commercial interest or any other interest of any sort with them (CytoDyn).”

I agree. While the evidence is not conclusive, we have good reason to believe Leronlimab can help very critically ill COVID-19 patients such as those on ventilators or ECMO. There are likely gains from receiving Leronlimab for such patients and very little downside, especially if the patient is considered terminally ill. So not allowing doctors access to Leronlimab risks many unnecessary deaths. The drug should be an especially impactful tool in places like Brazil and India, where there are currently shortages of ICU beds and ventilators.

Dan Elton, Ph. D., is Director of Scholarship for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.  You can find him on Twitter at @moreisdifferent, where he accepts direct messages. If you like his content, check out his website and subscribe to his newsletter on Substack.

For an overview of the possibilities of Leronlimab to save the lives of critically ill COVID-19 patients, watch this brief video by Random Ryman. 

To Maryland Governor Larry Hogan: Liberate Vaccine Doses from the FDA! – Article by Dan Elton and Edward Hudgins

To Maryland Governor Larry Hogan: Liberate Vaccine Doses from the FDA! – Article by Dan Elton and Edward Hudgins

Daniel C. Elton, Ph.D.
Edward Hudgins, Ph.D.


Note from the Authors: This was an op-ed we wrote in the first week of February 2021. Unfortunately, no newspaper wanted to publish it. We first submitted it to the Baltimore Sun, which promptly turned it down. We then submitted it to the Capitol Gazette, The Washington Times, and The Washington Examiner but never heard back from any of them. Sadly, this op-ed is just as relevant today as when we first wrote it almost two months ago. Since it was written, the evidence for the safety and efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine has only gotten stronger. An observational study of millions of people in Scotland published in early March found that a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine offers ~94% protection against hospitalization, outperforming Pfizer’s vaccine, which offered ~85% protection. Last week AstraZeneca reached an endpoint in the Phase III trial in the United States that the FDA requested, finding an efficacy of 76%, very similar to the previous Phase III trial result (70%). Despite all this, there has been no action from the FDA,and millions of AstraZeneca doses remain languishing in factories in Baltimore, Maryland and West Chester, Ohio as thousands of American taxpayers that are desperate for them die every day.

~ Daniel C. Elton and Edward Hudgins, March 31, 2021


If Maryland Governor Larry Hogan acts immediately and decisively, he can save thousands of Marylanders from suffering and death from COVID-19. A facility in Baltimore produces the very effective AstraZeneca vaccine and has stockpiled millions of doses. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, headquartered in suburban Maryland, which must certify all vaccines and medical treatments before patients can reap their benefits, is holding those doses hostage to its antiquated, bureaucratic red tape. Hogan should act now to liberate the vaccine to save the lives of Marylanders.

Over a year into the pandemic, over 8,200 Marylanders have died, and some 410,000 have suffered from COVID-19. Marylanders have suffered from a chronic shortage of the FDA-approved Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. AstraZeneca is approved in the E.U. and 19 other countries. So as our morgues fill up, what’s the FDA’s excuse for delay?

The AstraZeneca vaccine has passed Phase I and Phase II efficacy trials, which were published in the medical journal The Lancet in July and November 2020. A Phase III peer-reviewed study that was conducted in three other countries indicates the vaccine has an efficacy of 70 percent, ranging from 62 percent to 90 percent with different dosages. Most importantly, the vaccine showed a 100-percent efficacy at preventing COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. The AstraZeneca vaccine was also the first shown in a scientific study to reduce transmission. And unlike the two already-approved vaccines, it requires only regular rather than ultra-cold refrigeration. It has been given to over one million people in the U.K. without safety issues detected, yet FDA has requested that AstraZeneca redo most of their Phase III trials using patients from the U.S.

Some media outlets have reported that AstraZeneca’s vaccine “may not work” in the elderly. Unfortunately, AstraZeneca’s Phase III data published so far does not allow for efficacy to be determined for those older than 65. However, Phase I & II trials showed a similar immune response after the second dose across all age groups, including those over 65, so there are good reasons to believe the efficacy should be similar for the elderly. Even if the efficacy is much lower, because the elderly are at such high risk it still makes sense to give them the vaccine in order to save lives. This was shown clearly by Oxford bioethicists Jonathan Pugh and Julian Savulescu, who ran some numbers to show the grave consequences of denying the vaccine to the elderly. It is also true that recent results show the AstraZeneca vaccine is not very effective against the South African variant at preventing mild forms of COVID-19. However, the current study only addressed mild illness and AstraZeneca’s vaccine gives a similar immune response to Pfizer’s vaccine, which has been shown to protect strongly against hospitalization from the South African variant. The World Health Organization recently released guidance recommending the rollout of the vaccine not be halted due to this finding and that the vaccine be given to all age groups. 

The U.S. government has already contracted for 300 million doses of the vaccine, costing taxpayers over $1 billion. Yet with thousands dying daily and many more suffering from COVID-19 across the county, the FDA projects they won’t approve the vaccine until late April.  

Since FDA won’t certify the AstraZeneca vaccine immediately, Governor Hogan should act. He might invoke emergency authority to simply take possession of enough of the AstraZeneca vaccine supply in the Baltimore factory producing it to meet Maryland’s needs. But this would likely be unnecessary. He should request that the facility release the vaccine and inform them that the state will likely be able to guarantee no adverse repercussions from the FDA. After all, during the past decade over 40 states passed “Right To Try” laws that allowed terminally ill patients to access safe treatments not certified by FDA for efficacy. The only “repercussion”: in 2018 Congress passed bipartisan legislation, signed by President Trump, recognizing the state’s authority to do so. 

But in parallel, Hogan should call on President Biden to issue an executive order suspending the need for final FDA certification in this exceptional case.

Or Biden, backed strongly by the Maryland Congressional delegation, could request Congress pass emergency legislation creating a Free To Choose Medicine track parallel to FDA’s normal, slow certification process, on which COVID vaccines, tested safe and promising in Phase II or III trials, could be accessed by individuals, with informed consent. Such a track was created in 1992 for AIDS treatments, saving the lives of thousands of sufferers.

Or Biden could request Congress pass a reciprocity law certifying for the use of Americans any COVID treatment approved  in other advanced countries. Rep. Chip Roy (TX-21) and Sen. Ted Cruz, (R-TX) have introduced legislation allowing for reciprocal approval of drugs approved in other trusted countries. This proposal could be focused to allow access to COVID vaccines.

Since AstraZeneca is produced in Maryland and the FDA headquarters is also in Maryland, Hogan is in an ideal position to be the hero, shake things up, and break the bureaucratic walls separating citizens from a lifesaving medication.

If you agree that Hogan should act now, please sign this petition on Change.org:
Larry Hogan : Liberate the AstraZeneca vaccine from the FDA!

Ed Hudgins is founder of the Human Achievement Alliance and a science policy researcher.  He can be reached at ehudgins@humanachievementalliance.org. Dan Elton is  Director of Scholarship at the US Transhumanist Party.  You can reach him via direct message on Twitter (@moreisdifferent).

A Polite List of Requests to the FDA – Article by Dan Elton

A Polite List of Requests to the FDA – Article by Dan Elton

Daniel C. Elton, Ph.D.


A List of Requests to President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.,
HHS, FDA, and Congress: 

Approve the following vaccines for emergency use immediately: 


Give people the right to try the following vaccines: 

Seriously study and consider these actions: 

  • Allow hospitals and pharmacies to start stockpiling unapproved vaccines so they can be rapidly disseminated upon approval. 
  • Allow Moderna to give fractional doses. Data from Moderna’s clinical trials have illustrated that people between ages of 18 and 55 who received two 50-microgram doses showed an identical immune response to the standard of two 100-microgram doses.
  • Allow all age groups to get the vaccine. Research published in the journal Science indicates that as of October 2020, “individuals aged 20-49 are the only age groups sustaining resurgent SARS-CoV-2 transmission with reproduction numbers well above one”. Thus, targeting vaccines at these groups may accelerate the end of the pandemic and save more lives than continuing to restrict the vaccines to the elderly and vulnerable.
  • Consider making “First Doses First” national policy.


The FDA has not moved fast enough given the gravity of the situation we face. Consider the following: 

  • Pfizer sent its paperwork to the FDA on November 22, 2020, but rather than immediately convening its panel of experts, the FDA scheduled a review meeting for December 10. During that three-week wait, 27,000 Americans died of COVID-19. According to Dr. Marty Makary, a professor of public health policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who has conducted over a hundred clinical studies during his career, the FDA “could have done the approval in 24-48 hours without cutting any corners”.  The slow rollout that followed after the FDA approved the vaccine on December 11 was not due to delays in production – Pfizer had millions of doses produced and sitting in cold storage at the time of the approval. 
  • While Americans were waiting for the Pfizer vaccine that millions of their taxpayer dollars had been invested in, the FDA went dark for 4 days during the Thanksgiving holiday, with almost all of its 17,000 employees taking that time off, including those working on critical COVID-19-related work. 
  • Moderna sent its paperwork to the FDA on November 30, 2020. As with the Pfizer vaccine, the FDA needlessly delayed the approval by scheduling the review meeting for December 17. 
  • The FDA’s equivalents in the EU, Canada, Switzerland, UK, Israel, and Singapore all use rolling reviews, evaluating data as it becomes available for the sake of efficiency. The FDA does not. 
  • The Sputnik V vaccine was approved September 4, 2020, over 150 days ago. In a paper in The Lancet, phase III results indicate it has an effectiveness of 91.6% and excellent safety profile. 
  • China began administering the CanSino Biologica vaccine to its military in June after Phase I and Phase II clinical trials established safety and immune response. (The phase II results were published in The Lancet on July 20th, 2020). China approved the vaccine for their public on December 24, 2020. 


Here’s what public-health experts are saying:
 


“The F.D.A. needs to catch up to the science… They are inadvertently killing people by not following the science.” – Michael Mina, Epidemiologist, Immunologist, Physician, Harvard Medical School.

“We’ve gone from ‘Operation Warp Speed’ to develop a vaccine to ‘Operation Turtle Speed’ to review it… The FDA needs to stop playing games and authorize the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.  It’s safe, cheap ($2-$3 a dose), and is the easiest vaccine to distribute.”Marty Makary, M.D., a professor of health policy at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. 

I do think we’ve been too conservative… companies that potentially make public health diagnostic tests did not feel that there was, for example, a pathway to get those approved at the F.D.A.”Vivek Murphy, President Biden’s nominee for Surgeon General.

“We’ve already bought 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. We’ve paid for it — over a billion dollars — so let’s use it… I know we have some of that vaccine stockpiled.”Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and the lead developer of a COVID-19 vaccine being produced in India.


More quotes from notable public figures: 

“For years the FDA was focused on, don’t repeat thalidomide. Drugs must be safe. AIDS forced a hard reckoning. The people who are dying while you wait matter. But this is a third, even harder conceptual change. Stopping the spread of the disease matters. And the FDA does not have the years it took to make the AIDS change of mindset.”John Cochrane, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. 

The new strains spread quickly. The speed of our countermeasures will decide our fate. What feels like reasonable delays in our normal experience of time — a few weeks here for Congress to debate a bill, a few weeks there for the F.D.A. to hold meetings — could lead to the kind of explosive infections that overwhelm our hospitals and fill our morgues.”Ezra Klein, co-founder of Vox.

“The US failure to authorize the AstraZeneca vaccine in the midst of a pandemic when thousands are dying daily and a factory in Baltimore is warmed up and ready to run is a tragedy and dereliction of duty of epic proportions. 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, Bartley J. Madden Chair in Economics, George Mason University. 

“It’s amazing that not only is this vaccine (AstraZeneca) not approved, there’s no political pressure to approve it.”Matthew Yglesias, author of One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger.

“The UK has authorized #AstraZeneca vaccine for #CV19 but #FDA won’t “because of questions about its efficacy among older people.”
Then authorize its use for younger people!
Dear FDA: Get out of the way!
Over 7,000 Americans died of CV19 in the past two days!
You are murdering us!”
– @Robert Zubrin on Twitter, author of The Case for Mars and The Case for Space.

Further reading: 

Dan Elton, Ph. D., is Director of Scholarship for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.  You can find him on Twitter at @moreisdifferent, where he accepts direct messages. 

How We Can Judge the Safety and Efficacy of New Vaccines Prior to Phase III Data and Why We Must – Article by Dan Elton

How We Can Judge the Safety and Efficacy of New Vaccines Prior to Phase III Data and Why We Must – Article by Dan Elton

Daniel C. Elton, Ph.D.


A common refrain we hear from public intellectuals about vaccines prior to Phase III data is “we don’t know anything about the safety or efficacy of vaccine X”. This attitude is both false and misleading to the public, instilling uncertainty and fear about vaccines. To see why it is false, consider if a normal vaccine safety study was done, but by coincidence all of the vaccines were given in hospital rooms that were painted blue. Could we conclude on the basis of such a study whether the vaccine would be safe if administered in rooms painted red? Yes, we can, and we should. We can utilize two forms of reasoning to conclude that the vaccine is safe if given in red rooms, even though we have no data on the matter.

The first form of reasoning roughly approximates the way an ideal Bayesian statistical reasoner would function to compute what is called a “prior probability distribution”. Under this form of reasoning, we consider the millions of doses of similar vaccines (called the “reference class”) that have been administered. For instance, we might consider the vaccines developed for very similar coronaviruses like SARS and MERS.  We note that if the color of paint did affect the safety of those vaccines, this would have likely been detected over the course of prior studies and over the course of millions of doses given previously. Of course, there is a chance the correlation might have been missed. To figure out how big that is, we can go a level deeper and consider a reference class of “things people might notice or fail to notice in medical studies”. We can conclude that for prior vaccines, if such correlations existed they would generally be picked up. On the basis of this and the fact that no such correlation was ever discovered in the reference class of prior vaccines we can conclude that the probability of vaccines like the COVID-19 vaccine being dependent on the color of paint is very small. 

The second type of reasoning, which happens to be much more straightforward in this situation, is what the physicist David Deutsch calls “reasoning from our best explanation of the world”. According to the philosopher of science Karl Popper, we should reason using our explanatory theories of the world which have survived the most rounds of attempted falsification, and which have the highest degree of falsifiability (this rules out non-testable explanations like “vaccines work via invisible ghosts”). In more prosaic terms, this simply means reasoning using the best scientific theories which make predictions in the domain under consideration. We note that our best theories of vaccine function do not anywhere depend on the color of paint in the room. Instead they depend on things like T-cells, binding affinities of molecules, the concentrations of certain molecules in the body, etc. So, we decide that the vaccine is safe regardless of the color of paint in the room where it is administered. 

Both of these forms of reasoning are valid and both are foundational to science, rationality, and human progress. Both of these types of reasoning can be used to say that vaccines under development are likely to be safe and effective before any data comes in. It’s why a reporter who interviewed numerous top scientists reported that they all told him that “they expected the vaccines were safe and effective all along.” Yet instead of proudly sharing this important knowledge with the public, we rarely hear scientists say publicly that they expect the vaccines are safe and efficacious. Instead, they hedge, saying “we have to wait until the data comes in”. This is unethical both on Kantian grounds (they are lying) and on consequentialist grounds, because it leads to undue caution and the public being afraid of vaccines. 

Unfortunately, there is little incentive for scientists to tell the truth about what the likely risks and benefits are with new vaccines before full Phase III data is published. If, for instance, one or two people suffer severe side effects in a Phase III trial (which is rare, but has happened) a scientist who said they suspected it was “very safe” might receive harsh criticism for making a premature assessment. On the other hand, the same scientist will get no pushback for saying “we need to wait for data to make a judgement”. Indeed, they are likely to even be praised for exhibiting the virtues of “caution, prudence, and scientific skepticism”. Moreover, under no scenario should someone be allowed to get a vaccine until the full data comes in, even though it’s fine to allow people to sign up for studies where they have a 50-50 chance of getting the vaccine. Not very consistent, eh?

As US Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II has described in detail in an an earlier publication on this site, all of this is the result of a deeply flawed and deadly ethical principle called the precautionary principle, which unfortunately many people have fallen under the sway of. The principle originates in the environmentalist movement but is widely applied in medicine, and was instrumental in decisions such as the Bush administration’s ban on stem-cell research and decisions to ban life-saving GMO technologies such as golden rice. It has been formulated to varying degrees in several different ways. The United Nations World Charter for Nature (1982) issued one version of the principle, stating: 

Activities which are likely to pose a significant risk to nature shall be preceded by an exhaustive examination; their proponents shall demonstrate that expected benefits outweigh potential damage to nature, and where potential adverse effects are not fully understood, the activities should not proceed. 

The principle starts off OK but dives into serious error in the last line. The issue is that the precautionary principle only focuses on the potential adverse effects of proceeding and ignores the potential adverse effects of not proceeding, i.e., the effects of delay. As should now be clear in the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, not proceeding can sometimes be much more deadly than proceeding! There is often a high but unclear risk to not proceeding, and a low but unclear risk to not proceeding. (Picture two probability distributions, both wide (unclear) but one with a mean that is distinctly higher than the other). That’s where the precautionary principle throws expected utility theory (cost-benefit analysis) out and says we cannot proceed. The Nobel Prize-winning physicist Freeman Dyson stated the issue as follows: 

The Precautionary Principle says that if some course of action carries even a remote chance of irreparable damage to the ecology, then you shouldn’t do it, no matter how great the possible advantages of the action may be. You are not allowed to balance costs against benefits when deciding what to do.” — Freeman Dyson, Report from the 2001 World Economic Forum

Imagine an alternative world in which our society and government was not under the sway of the precautionary principle. In this alternative world, scientists would give their truthful assessment of new vaccines to the public, stating that they are likely safe and effective, using one or both of the reasoning methods mentioned above. In such a world, given the clear potential harms of inaction, the public would be allowed to purchase new vaccines if they wanted, if the companies manufacturing them were comfortable doing so, and if they were fully informed prior to their decision that they were taking an unapproved product that carries potential risks but also potential benefits. Initially, only a few people would purchase the vaccines, perhaps on the basis of Phase I results. These would be folks like those who injected themselves with a DIY vaccine over the summer, and the tens of thousands who were willing to participate in clinical trials as early as last spring. Companies would be incentivized to survey those who took the vaccine and collect self-reported data on their outcomes, which is very cheap and easy to do. After a few months going by without any of those people keeling over and dying, and with very few (likely none) of those people getting hospitalized for COVID-19, more people would feel comfortable getting the vaccine. Things would quickly snowball, with more and more people becoming willing to get the vaccine. During this time the distribution system would have been stood up and become operational, with on-site stockpiles building up ahead of the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization (currently, the FDA does not allow hospitals to stockpile unapproved vaccines ahead of their EUA). To present this case in its strongest form, in a future post I plan to estimate how many lives would have been saved, assuming many vaccines had become available to those who wanted them last March or August. However, I hope it’s easy to see that thousands of lives would have been saved in this alternative world.  

For more on the transhumanist alternative to the precautionary principle, the proactionary principle, see Max More’s excellent book chapter as well as the Wikipedia article and references therein.

Dan Elton, Ph. D., is Director of Scholarship for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.  You can find him on Twitter at @moreisdifferent, where he accepts direct messages. 

Reject the Deadly Precautionary Principle: Approve All COVID-19 Vaccines Immediately! – Article by Gennady Stolyarov II

Reject the Deadly Precautionary Principle: Approve All COVID-19 Vaccines Immediately! – Article by Gennady Stolyarov II

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Gennady Stolyarov II


It should be a mild relief that vaccination efforts against COVID-19 are finally beginning in the United States, but they are beginning eleven months too late, while the pandemic surrounds us and most of us must wait months longer to receive vaccinations. Over 300,000 Americans have already died needlessly and preventably from COVID-19; hundreds of thousands more are likely to die in the coming months, even though the exact same vaccine from Moderna that is even today still undergoing Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review already existed in its current form by January 13, 2020. As David Wallace-Wells writes in New York Magzine, in an article entitled “We Had the Vaccine the Whole Time” (dated December 7, 2020):

You may be surprised to learn that of the trio of long-awaited coronavirus vaccines, the most promising, Moderna’s mRNA-1273, which reported a 94.5 percent efficacy rate on November 16, had been designed by January 13. This was just two days after the genetic sequence had been made public in an act of scientific and humanitarian generosity that resulted in China’s Yong-Zhen Zhang’s being temporarily forced out of his lab. In Massachusetts, the Moderna vaccine design took all of one weekend. It was completed before China had even acknowledged that the disease could be transmitted from human to human, more than a week before the first confirmed coronavirus case in the United States. By the time the first American death was announced a month later, the vaccine had already been manufactured and shipped to the National Institutes of Health for the beginning of its Phase I clinical trial. This is — as the country and the world are rightly celebrating — the fastest timeline of development in the history of vaccines. It also means that for the entire span of the pandemic in this country, which has already killed more than 250,000 Americans, we had the tools we needed to prevent it.

As has been demonstrated time and again during this pandemic, scientists and doctors have been the true heroes in their rapid and immensely creative responses, whereas institutions and their processes have failed massively, and our egregiously broken society and culture have precipitated abysmal mass-scale reactions and behaviors as well. But the major reason why now almost 300,000 Americans died who did not need to die at all, is the Precautionary Principle – a cornerstone of contemporary “bioethics” which is, in fact, deeply unethical. The Precautionary Principle is the fundamental reason why new medical treatments, including vaccines, are required in the United States to undergo extensive safety and efficacy testing before they are allowed to be provided to patients, even willing patients who may knowingly accept the risks of experimental medicines. Essentially, unless safety and efficacy can be rigorously demonstrated first, along with a sufficient lack of adverse consequences, adherents of the Precautionary Principle believe that no action should be taken to implement an innovation. Those who espouse the Precautionary Principle completely ignore, of course, the costs and risks of inaction – which, in the case of a global pandemic, can be measured in more than 1.62 million lives worldwide, but which have also resulted in far greater numbers of deaths from more “routine” otherwise terminal illnesses, whose victims might have been saved by new treatments whose approval the FDA delayed, sometimes for a decade or more while billions of dollars were spent on hyper-expensive efficacy testing.

While laudable efforts were made in the United States to greatly accelerate the review timeframe for COVID-19 vaccines – hence the now well-known “Operation Warp Speed” – those efforts did not come in time for the hundreds of thousands who died and the hundreds of millions who now live in fear of death every day as the pandemic’s spread has become all-encompassing. Cutting the approval timeline from the typical unconscionable 4-5 years to 9 months is an improvement, but not nearly enough. Much more should have been done right away. Approval for the vaccines should have been granted as soon as they were developed, and instead of putting review roadblocks in the way, governments should have actively aided in vaccine production and distribution of all serious candidate vaccines from day one.

While New York Magazine’s David Wallace-Wells made the seemingly obligatory (during this tragically precautionary era) disclaimer that “To be clear, I don’t want to suggest that Moderna should have been allowed to roll out its vaccine in February or even in May, when interim results from its Phase I trial demonstrated its basic safety” (and Wallace-Wells still faced considerable vitriol for the quite modest observations he sought to make) – I do want to suggest exactly that. Indeed, I would go further and insist that it was a moral imperative to approve and facilitate the mass production and distribution of vaccines such as Moderna’s mRNA-1273 to willing members of the general population as soon as those vaccines were available.

Transhumanists reject the Precautionary Principle and instead follow the Proactionary Principle, which, per the description of Max More (Extropy Institute, 2004), “urges all parties to actively take into account all the consequences of an activity – good as well as bad – while apportioning precautionary measures to the real threats we face, in the context of an appreciation of the crucial role played by technological innovation and humanity’s evolving ability to adapt to and remedy any undesirable side-effects.” The Proactionary Principle does not ignore the potential for adverse consequences of an activity, but recognizes that there are situations when the benefits can greatly outweigh any potential adverse effects.

Imagine how, in an alternate history, a Transhumanist administration would have dealt with the COVID-19 crisis. Suppose, for instance, that Zoltan Istvan had been elected President in 2016 and thus was the President who faced the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Or suppose that Charlie Kam, the U.S. Transhumanist Party (USTP) Presidential nominee in 2020, had held the country’s highest executive office. The U.S. Transhumanist Party Platform contains 21 sections specifically addressing COVID-19 responses – proposals that were adopted by USTP members in late March 2020, and would have saved most of the lives of the COVID-19 victims had they been expeditiously implemented by governments. These proposals, indeed, are applications of the Proactionary Principle to the COVID-19 pandemic. Section CIII of the USTP Platform specifically states that “The United States Transhumanist Party supports the rapid research into effective cures and vaccines for COVID-19 and the harnessing of synergies from this research to also develop a cure for the common cold and more effective vaccination against influenza. Such research should proceed with no barriers, subject to the researchers’ expression of ethical intentions, and any regulations or processes that would delay the progress of such research should be immediately waived or repealed. In the effort to accelerate progress in this field, the United States Transhumanist Party advocates for an immediate $100 billion funding package for the rapid development of a COVID-19 vaccine, with all volunteers being accepted into human trials as soon as practicable.”

This is exactly what would have been done by a Transhumanist administration with the Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and any other vaccines, including do-it-yourself experiments such as that undertaken by Josiah Zayner. The Transhumanist administration would have asked the vaccine developer one question: “Do you intend to apply this candidate vaccine in an ethical manner when offering it to the general public?” After giving an affirmative answer to that question, the vaccine developer would have the full legal right to test, give away, or sell its product to any volunteers capable of giving informed consent – provided that the recipients understood that the vaccine was experimental and had not passed the typical safety and/or efficacy tests. Receiving any vaccine would always remain entirely voluntary. Individuals who were uncertain or concerned about side effects – or even motivated by pseudoscientific, anti-scientific, or religious objections – would maintain the right not to get vaccinated. However, those who chose to get vaccinated would be shown clearly and quickly to have far lower incidence of COVID-19, and the statistical disparity in infection rates between the vaccinated and the un-vaccinated would grow too large in just a few months for reasonable people to ignore. Those who become vaccinated would be free to lead their everyday lives and participate in economic activities as usual, and massive disruptions to the economy and to people’s livelihoods would have been completely avoidable. The multifaceted advantages of vaccination under this approach would become abundantly clear in a relatively short time.

Testing would not be eliminated by the Transhumanist administration. Indeed, it would be accelerated and fully funded via the $100 billion emergency package (and likely via other resources as well), so that vaccine developers would need to pay absolutely nothing out of pocket for any compliance with testing protocols. However, testing would occur in parallel with mass distribution of the vaccines, and as much data as possible would be collected from vaccine recipients in the general population, to greatly augment the samples of tested patients. If any specific side effects manifested themselves in a statistically significant portion of the population, protocols for administering the vaccine would be adjusted in real time. For example, if a specific group of people were found to be particularly vulnerable to certain side effects, members of that group would quickly receive additional disclosures and warnings and would be able to make informed decisions in light of this information.

Could there conceivably be adverse side effects or even deaths of certain patients under this approach of mass distribution in parallel with testing? Of course, that is a possibility. However, the scale of such side effects and deaths would surely be orders of magnitude less than the all-encompassing devastation that the current sequential review-and-approval process has allowed to happen. So far nobody has died specifically from any COVID-19 vaccine. At least 1.62 million people in the world have died from COVID-19. Numerous others have died because of the fallout of the restrictive measures taken to contain the spread of COVID-19. Even if the vaccines had been far more dangerous than they actually are, it is absolutely impossible for them to have caused anywhere near the death toll inflicted by the disease itself and the societal havoc that it and responses to it have wreaked. This basic insight, whose evidence is all around us, is precisely what the Precautionary Principle misses. By placing all of the burden of proof on the innovation, the Precautionary Principle gives a free pass to the wantonly murderous status quo. Inaction is not safety. Inaction is quite frequently the greatest danger – and at no time is that truer than during a global pandemic. If we do nothing, any of a vast array of perils will befall us rather quickly.

The United States has already lost more people to COVID-19 than it had to all but one of its historical wars. The novel coronavirus is the enemy here to be sure, but the Precautionary Principle is an even more pernicious and insidious foe. The Precautionary Principle is responsible for the hundreds of thousands of American dead just as much as the novel coronavirus itself, since it prevented an implementation of an existing off-the-shelf solution that could have saved the vast majority of their lives. Every war in history has resulted in unacceptable death tolls because of fundamentally flawed premises – ideas and practices that brought about the war because people accepted them as commonplace and justified. Slavery, religious intolerance, jingoistic nationalism, and totalitarianism have all stemmed from deep moral errors that caused colossal loss of life – and fortunately most of humanity has recognized the great evil that these notions entail and has resoundingly rejected them. The Precautionary Principle, when implemented in institutions that have the power to make life-or-death decisions, is in that same league of moral errors; it will be remembered decades and centuries hence as the greatest destroyer of lives in our epoch.

How much senseless loss of life needs to occur before we recognize that our institutions, based on the Precautionary Principle, are wantonly negligent in allowing our fellow humans to die and are still withholding life-saving solutions from them? It is time to reject the Precautionary Principle once and for all and to institute the truly humane policy of allowing all rationally capable individuals to assess the risks and benefits of emerging medical treatments for themselves. This would not only save colossal numbers of lives in the immediate term, but also greatly accelerate medical discovery and technological progress – since innovators would be able to obtain data rapidly and iterate upon their approaches. The arrival of cures for cancer, dementia, diabetes, and biological aging itself will depend on how free medical innovators are to offer their treatments and how free patients are to accept them. Extensive and expensive pre-distribution review processes kill many more people than they save. End them now!

Gennady Stolyarov II is the Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party. 

State of AI 2020 – Article by Pavel Ilin

State of AI 2020 – Article by Pavel Ilin

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Pavel Ilin


This summary is prepared based on the State of AI Report 2020, which was crafted by Nathan Benaich and Ian Hogarth.

The AI industry is very diverse in its application, and it’s going through a transformation from the magical-wand stage to the plateau of adequate development. Let’s take a look at what is happening in the AI industry.

Research

We haven’t come up with new super-smart algorithms. Progress in model performance keeps being driven by big computational budgets and huge data sets. Training of the GPT-3 language model, with its 175 billion parameters, cost approximately $10 million. At the same time larger models require less data to achieve the same level of performance. With a deep-learning approach we are getting close to the point when the cost of training will grow outrageous with incrementally smaller improvements of the model.

An important fact is that the code base of most artificial intelligence systems remains closed. Only 15% of papers publish their code. This raises a lot of concerns about reproducibility and AI safety. AI explainability remains a critical issue for AI safety research; there are promising avenues of exploration such as Asymmetric Shapley Values, but so far it’s unknown how AI systems make decisions. 

Natural language processing (NLP) models successfully simulate common scenes and linguistics, but they fail dramatically with understanding problems and context and forming knowledge. 

Talent

Talented people with skills in math and computer science are the drivers of the progress in the AI field. More and more US professors are being recruited by tech companies. This affects the quality of education that US universities can provide. We already can see a decline in the level of entrepreneurship among recent graduates. At the same time Universities are creating AI-related degree programs.

The US keeps its position as the main attractor of talented individuals. For example China contributes to the talent pool of AI developers, but after publication of their first results, talented people are most likely to move to the US. 90% of international PhD graduates stay and work in US universities and corporations. Demand for AI talent remains much higher than supply, even despite COVID-19’s impact on market growth.  

Industry

AI keeps progressing not only on a theoretical and research level. Many real world applications are already in use, and they are affecting the industries in various ways.

New drugs are being designed by AI, and they are already in clinical trials. For example AI-designed drugs for OCD treatment are out for testing in Japan. AI drug-discovery startups keep raising funds. Also big pharma is teaming up with startups around preserving privacy during drug discovery. For example OpenMined uses federated learning to preserve privacy with medical data. Viz.ai presented the first product which was approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the US. Their product analyzes tomography scans and alerts specialists who can treat patients before they receive damage that leads to the long-term disability. 

Progress in self-driving cars stays limited. Only 3 companies in California have permission to conduct testing of self-driving cars without a safety driver. Self-driving mileage remains microscopic compared to human drivers (2,874,950 miles for self-driving cars versus 390,313,739,000 miles for humans). The research and development process for self-driving cars remains very expensive. The major companies in this field raised around $7 billion since July 2019. Tesla chose to approach gradually adding self-driving features to its cars, but human drivers still remain in the loop. Recent approaches such as supervised learning do not perform well enough. To make dramatic breakthroughs, new approaches are required.

Computer vision unlocks faster accident and disaster recovery intervention. It also reduces the amount of human hours spent using a microscope, which could lead to acceleration of development processes and reduction of product costs.

AI drives sales and at the same time reduces costs in supply chains and manufacturing. Robotic process automation and computer vision are the most commonly deployed techniques in the enterprise. Speech, natural language generation, and physical robots are the least common. Recently IBM partnered with health insurance company Humana. IBM implemented natural language understanding (NLU) software which is already live and handles calls. It not only redirects calls to the different queues; it’s able to answer basic questions, such as “How much will the copay be to visit a specific specialist?” without human intervention.

Modern AI, in order to perform well, requires a lot of computing resources. Specialized AI hardware keeps progressing, and companies are now presenting second generations of their products. Graphcore M2000 offers faster training time to drop the cost of state-of-the-art models. Google’s new TPU v4 delivers up to a 3.7x training speedup over their TPU v3. NVIDIA will not rest either; it has achieved up to 2.5x training speedups with the new A100 GPU vs V100. Increasing interest towards machine learning devOps is a signal that the industry shifting its focus from how to build models to how to run them.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, investments keep coming into the industry. Private funding rounds of greater than $15 million for the AI-first companies remain strong.

Politics

Usage of AI for facial recognition tasks is extremely common around the world. Around half of the world allows facial recognition. This has become a recognizable political and ethical problem, especially when use of this technology leads to the wrong arrests. There were two highly publicized cases of wrong arrest in the US (which is probably just a tip of the iceberg). In May 2019, Detroit police arrested Michael Oliver who was wrongly accused of a felony for supposedly reaching into a teacher’s vehicle, grabbing a cellphone and throwing it, cracking the screen, and breaking the case. In January 2020, Detroit police arrested Robert Williams as a shoplifter who allegedly stole five watches from Midtown’s trendy Shinola store in October 2018. In both cases charges were dismissed but harm was done. 

Industry took a more thoughtful approach as a reaction to the AI mistakes. Microsoft deleted its database of 10 million faces, Amazon announced a one-year pause on letting the police use its facial recognition tool Rekognition. IBM announced it would sunset its general purpose facial recognition products. Washington State in the US introduced requirements to acquire warrants to run facial recognition scans. The ImageNet, a popular image database, is making an effort toward reduction of the biases in its image collections.

As Deep Fake technology produces more and more realistic media, it becomes illegal to use in certain states in the US. California passed a law, AB 730, aimed at deep fakes, which criminalizes distributing audio or video that gives a false, damaging impression of a politician’s words or action. Many other US state bills have been passed, addressing different risks. For example Virginia law amends current criminal law on revenge porn to include computer-generated pornography.

The US government keeps pursuing implementation of the military AI systems. DARPA organised a virtual dogfighting tournament where various AI systems would compete with each other and a human fighter pilot from the US military.

AI nationalism is on the rise. Countries tend to pursue protectionist policies to scrutinize acquisitions of AI companies by the players from other countries.

Every year AI plays a more and more noticeable part in our lives. It becomes cheaper, and you learn how to do new things. But we have to remember that at the moment AI is still a tool. And there are some philosophical and methodological difficulties which we have to overcome before it will be possible to deliberate about the potential sentience of the AI. It’s very important for the policy makers to make informed decisions based on how technology actually works and not on magical understanding formed based on popular sci-fi.

Pavel Ilin is Secretary of the United States Transhumanist Party. 

 

Why I Hope to Be Alive at 75 – Article by Steve Hill

Why I Hope to Be Alive at 75 – Article by Steve Hill

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Steve Hill


Editor’s Note: In this article, originally published on November 13, 2020, by our allies at the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF), Steve Hill explains why the attitude of Joe Biden’s new advisor on COVID-19 strategy, Ezekiel Emanuel, is supremely counterproductive. Emanuel infamously wrote in 2014 that he hopes to die at age 75. Given that COVID-19 is a disease whose toll is greatly amplified by biological aging, Emanuel’s statements render him uniquely ill-suited  to remedy the ravages of the ongoing pandemic. Moreover, his pessimism toward what life is like at age 75 is no longer justified, in light of emerging medical advances that could enable rejuvenation and biological youthfulness for those who are in late middle age today. Perhaps, if he sees these advances become a reality in the not-too-distant future, Emanuel might change his mind regarding the desirability of longer lifespans.

~ Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman, United States Transhumanist Party, November 17, 2020


2020 has been a strange year for a variety of reasons, but the societal changes that the COVID-19 pandemic has created are probably the strangest. However, it is perhaps even stranger that Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel has been appointed to advise Joe Biden on COVID strategy.

Emanuel is best known for writing a controversial article in the October 2014 edition of The Atlantic, headlined “Why I Hope to Die at 75”, in which he strongly rejects the desire to live beyond the age of 75 and expresses his opinion that continuing to live after such an age is meaningless.

Living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived.

Needless to say, I strongly disagree with this baffling point of view and am somewhat concerned that someone who thinks this way of his own life, and presumably the lives of others, may be appointed to a position of influence for a disease whose primary risk group is the elderly. This seems almost as foolhardy as spending a vacation weekend in a caravan with Hannibal Lecter.

Emanuel listed quite a few methods by which people extend their lives and stated that they were a “valiant effort to cheat death and prolong life as long as possible,” but his response to them was, “I reject this aspiration. I think this manic desperation to endlessly extend life is misguided and potentially destructive.”

Age is the #1 risk factor for COVID

The scientific evidence clearly shows that the primary risk factor for contracting and dying from COVID-19 is age, with people over the age of 75 at particularly high risk. This is due to the decline of the immune system, which becomes increasingly weak and dysfunctional with age in a process known as immunosenescence.

Globally, the strategy has been to try to shield these vulnerable people as best as possible due to their weakened immune systems and limit their exposure to the disease while vaccines are developed.

Needless to say, I find Biden’s nomination of him to address a disease that mostly affects seniors ironic in itself, given that he thinks the lives of most people beyond 75 are pointless and that they don’t live meaningful lives and would be better off embracing death rather than desperately trying to extend them. Therefore, I hope for the sake of the older people in our society that he has rethought his priorities.

Why I hope to be alive at 75

Predictably, there is already a storm raging on social media around his appointment, so there is no purpose to adding more fuel to that fire. Instead, I am going to talk about why the future of aging could be very different to the grim picture that Emanuel paints.

At age 63, he is getting closer to the age at which he thinks life is pointless, and I believe that a large reason why he is so pessimistic about life beyond 75, whether he realizes it or not, is based on the current state of medicine. This line of reasoning does not take into account how medicine, and in particular how we treat aging could change in the next decade or two.

Current medicine does a great job at keeping people alive for longer, but they often have to live with one or more chronic diseases. Given that, I am not surprised that Emanuel is not enamored with living a long life, especially as that could entail being disabled, bed-bound, or otherwise suffering a poor quality of life as the result of debilitating age-related diseases.

Thankfully, the world healthcare strategy is slowly starting to shift to one of prevention over cure, but right now, the typical approach is to play whack-a-mole with diseases. As one pops up, it is treated, then the next, and the next, and so on. This strategy works great for infectious diseases, but it is an exercise in futility and diminishing returns when applied to the chronic diseases of aging.

However, things could be different in the not so distant future, and being 75 could see the majority of people far more fit, healthy, and vibrant than ever before in human history thanks to advances in aging research. Therapies that directly target aging could potentially make people biologically younger (in particular their immune systems) and much more able to withstand COVID-19 and other diseases.

As explained on LEAF’s What is Aging? page, aging consists of multiple processes (“hallmarks”) that gradually cause damage to organs and tissues and lead to age-related diseases. Rejuvenation biotechnology is advanced medical technology that directly addresses any of the various aging processes in order to restore tissue and organ function to a more youthful state, thereby ameliorating, delaying, or preventing age-related diseases. Let’s take a brief look at some of the promising near-future research that could bear fruit by the time Emanuel reaches 75 and perhaps change his mind.

Rejuvenating the immune system

The decline of the immune system is a key reason why the elderly are most susceptible to infectious diseases such as COVID, and there has been considerable interest in the rejuvenation of the immune system in recent years.

Dr. Greg Fahy from intervene immune has had some early success with thymus rejuvenation in a small human pilot study and demonstrated that it is possible to cause the thymus, which shrinks and loses its capacity to produce immune T cells during aging, to regrow and resume production of those cells. Dr. Fahy is now moving forward into a larger-scale study, and if the results continue to be positive, it is not hard to imagine that thymus regrowth could become a staple of helping the elderly stay healthy.

Another example of immune rejuvenation is currently being developed by Samumed, a biotechnology company that is developing drugs that target the Wnt pathway to restore it to youthful function. The Wnt pathway is a key pathway that regulates the function of our stem cells and ensures that they supply our tissues and organs with new cells to replace losses from injury, disease, and wear and tear.

If successful, this approach would allow the body to resume efficient repair of tissues, and it would replenish aged and failing tissues and organs with fresh, healthy cells supplied by the rejuvenated stem cells.

Therapeutic plasma exchange

Researchers Irina and Mike Conboy at UC Berkeley have been researching blood factors and their role in aging for over two decades. During that time, they have identified a number of factors present in aged blood that appear to regulate aging.

These factors are also present in younger people, but in typically far lower amounts, and tend to serve useful functions. However, during aging, the levels of these proteins become deregulated, and they often rise to detrimental levels and cause damage to the body, which typically involves preventing stem cells from working and tissue from regenerating.

Decades’ worth of research from the Conboy lab has shown that, in mice at least, it is possible to filter out these harmful pro-aging blood factors and bring them back down to a level similar to younger animals. When this happens, the result is rejuvenation of tissues and the reversal of some of the aspects of aging, making the mice more youthful.

This approach uses an already approved technique known as therapeutic plasma exchange to filter and calibrate these key factors and could be readily modified for human use. Should the results seen in animals translate to humans using this approach, it would have a profound effect on our health as we age and potentially delay, prevent, or even reverse some age-related diseases.

Conclusion

These are only some of the examples of why healthy life expectancy could rise significantly in the near future, and there are plenty of reasons to remain future positive. This is the future direction of medicine and healthcare that we support at Lifespan.io, a world where being 75 does not mean you are thrown on the scrap heap and where people like Emanuel will no longer feel that life has no meaning. I am confident that in such a world, being 75 would not be the burden he thinks it will be, and this is why I hope to be alive at 75.

Steve Hill serves on the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF) Board of Directors and is the Editor-in-Chief, coordinating the daily news articles and social media content of the organization. He is an active journalist in the aging research and biotechnology field and has to date written over 500 articles on the topic, interviewed over 100 of the leading researchers in the field, hosted livestream events focused on aging, along with attending various medical industry conferences. His work has been featured in H+ Magazine, Psychology Today, Singularity Weblog, Standpoint Magazine, Swiss Monthly, Keep Me Prime, and New Economy Magazine. Steve has a background in project management and administration, which has helped him to build a united team for effective fundraising and content creation, while his additional knowledge of biology and statistical data analysis allows him to carefully assess and coordinate the scientific groups involved in the project.

U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II’s Update Interview on the Archer Report – July 24, 2020

U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II’s Update Interview on the Archer Report – July 24, 2020

Gennady Stolyarov II
Steele Archer


U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II’s July 24, 2020, appearance on the Archer Report with Steele Archer, was an opportunity for a fascinating 130-minute conversation about the forthcoming U.S. Transhumanist Party Virtual Enlightenment Salon with Dr. David Hanson of Hanson Robotics, Charlie Kam’s 2020 U.S. Presidential campaign, concerns about public reactions to the pandemic, and major issues with the contemporary media ecosystem, both with legacy and social media.

References

Trump challenged by radical presidential candidate hoping to REVERSE ageing” by James Bickerton. Daily Express. July 6, 2020.

Free U.S. Transhumanist Party Membership

Near-Term Improvements to Cities to Combat COVID-19 – Article by Pavel Ilin

Near-Term Improvements to Cities to Combat COVID-19 – Article by Pavel Ilin

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Pavel Ilin


While we are still on lockdown and there is no certainty about when we can safely reopen everything, it is worth reflecting on how we organize our living spaces. COVID-19 is not the first and not the last virus-caused pandemic humanity will have to encounter, and we should be prepared.

Especially we should focus on what improvements can be implemented right away. But first, let’s analyze how the novel coronavirus is spreading.

Virus transmission

It appears that viruses travel inside of droplets. Virus particles can’t travel far just in the air. If that were the case, and the virus could be distributed by the ventilation system within the buildings or in public transportation, then the infection rate would be much higher. We don’t see that yet, and therefore we can conclude it is not happening, and we are very fortunate in that case.

It seems that the virus can be transmitted through close contact (3-4 feet, 1-2 meters away) from person to person. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions. Spread.) Also it can be transmitted through surfaces. It has been observed that the virus can live on surfaces in some cases between a few hours and few days. (Source: CDC updates COVID-19 transmission webpage to clarify information about types of spread.)

The challenge is that in a lot of cases, people carry the virus asymptomatically, and they have no idea that they carry a potential threat to the lives of others.

How can we reduce spread?

I can identify 4 levels of control where we can intervene and stop or reduce spread of the virus:

1. Eliminating the source of infection

Efforts could be devoted toward implementing automated virus checks while people come into buildings. We can do automated temperature screens, measure oxygen level in the blood, and implement more potential technologies powered with artificial intelligence (AI) systems to come, which can help with automated and non-invasive testing.

Of course this raises big questions about surveillance, collecting data without people’s consent, and potential discriminatory practices. This is another big conversation we should have.

2. Administrative control

Social distancing – it’s what we are doing right now. And it’s not only a stay-at-home solution. We can also make public spaces less dense. We can put fewer chairs from conference rooms, fewer desks in the offices. Most of the office jobs do not require physical presence. And many manual-labor jobs can be automated.

Of course if we ask people to stay at home, they have to be able to stay at home. First, people should have a home to stay in. To ensure that everyone has a place to stay, we can use rapid 3D printing of the houses and give them to the people who cannot afford to take out a house loan or make a rent payment. 

We can see how job markets have shrunk during recent the pandemic, and many people simply cannot afford to stay at home. Pandemic or not, you have basic needs such as food, hygiene, communication, and healthcare. And these needs must be met in order to keep people in a good physical and mental state. I believe that introduction of some form of basic income would be a good solution.

3. Engineering controls

Through engineering tools we can upgrade our spaces without fundamental rebuilding of the infrastructure.

Increasing ventilation rates in the rooms allows one to bring in more outdoor air,  and the implementation of personalized ventilation and a personalized exhaust system for airborne infection control can reduce the risk of airborne infection significantly. (Source: Ventilation control for airborne transmission of human exhaled bio-aerosols in buildings. Hua Qian, Xiaohong Zheng. J Thorac Dis. 2018 Jul; 10(Suppl 19): S2295–S2304. doi: 10.21037/jtd.2018.01.24)

Installation of the UV-C light within the ventilation system can clear the airflow from any germs and viruses. (Source: Aerosol Susceptibility of Influenza Virus to UV-C Light. James J. McDevitt, Stephen N. Rudnick, Lewis J. Radonovich, Appl Environ Microbiol. 2012 Mar; 78(6): 1666–1669. doi: 10.1128/AEM.06960-11)

As was mentioned before, viruses can survive on the surfaces for some time and can be transmitted while people touch the surface. Through remote-control technologies we reduce interaction with surfaces to minimum. Light switches, elevator buttons, doors, and other aspects of a building can be controlled through the phone or other devices without direct interaction.

4. Personal protective equipment

This level is especially important during an active pandemic situation. Masks, gloves, and face-protection shields, should be produced in advance, stockpiled so they can be available for the people, especially for essential workers when they need this equipment.

Conclusion

To implement all these preventive measures, we don’t have to invent anything and completely rebuild cities’ infrastructure. All technologies are there; we just need to use them rationally and be willing to invest some time and effort into implementation. In the next article we will look into the future and talk about more radical city planning approaches,  such as 3D cities and Arcologies.

Pavel Ilin is Secretary of the United States Transhumanist Party.