Will the Armchair Coronavirus Experts Please Sit Down

An article by Noah FeldmanOne of the noteworthy aspects of our current coronavirus moment is the rapid proliferation of self-appointed data analysts. These armchair epidemiologists seem to believe they can project the trajectory of Covid-19 better than actual epidemiologists who have spent their whole careers studying the spread of disease. You know who I’m talking about: It’s not just the guy on Medium whose post gets 35 million pageviews. It’s your uncle and your co-worker (funnily enough, many of them are men) who are trying their hand at beating the pros. And of course, it includes our president. Donald Trump has said in his daily press conferences that he’s “a smart guy” who “feel[s] good about” his own predictions and has “been right a lot.” There are several possible explanations for why so many of us are trying to make our own predictions. What they all have in common is that they are based on conceptual errors. As anyone with any kind of subject matter expertise — whether in construction or constitutional law — knows, there’s a difference between actually knowing what you’re talking about and winging it.

Aggregated mobility data could help fight COVID-19

An article by Urs Gasser: As the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) epidemic worsens, understanding the effectiveness of public messaging and large-scale social distancing interventions is critical. The research and public health response communities can and should use population mobility data collected by private companies, with appropriate legal, organizational, and computational safeguards in place. When aggregated, these data can help refine interventions by providing near real-time information about changes in patterns of human movement. Research groups and nonprofit humanitarian agencies have refined data use agreements to stipulate clear guidelines that ensure responsible data practices (1). Tools for specifying different levels of privacy for different users, such as the OpenDP platform (2), can effectively manage data access, and aggregation steps have been carefully reviewed on a legal and methodological basis to ensure that the analyses follow ethical guidelines for human participants (3). To monitor social distancing interventions, for example, rather than showing individual travel or behavior patterns, information from multiple devices is aggregated in space and time, so that the data reflects an approximation of population-level mobility (4).

Get ready for the $4.5tn takeover

One of the most moving responses to coronavirus has come from home-quarantined Italians singing together from their balconies. They were belting out Il Canto della Verbena or Volare. The subtext was that interdependence is the only defence humans have against their own fragility. For postwar individualist philosophers like Ayn Rand — cheerleader for the primacy of private capital — the jig is well and truly up. Witness the extraordinary efforts by governments to stabilise their economies and forestall the collapse of business. The US signed off on a $2tn aid package in the early hours of Wednesday morning and the global bailout — central bank liquidity support included — will have a sticker price of more than $4.5tn. That is a big number, even by the standards of recommended takeovers…Whole sectors — notably airlines, hotels and cruise lines — will lack a raison d’être for months. For many companies, revenues will fall short of overheads. But state support, and the quid pro quos that go with it, are preferable to going bust. “This is analogous to a war we have to mobilise to deal with,” says Jesse Fried, an economist and Harvard law professor. “It is not part of the normal boom and bust cycle.”

International Humanitarian Law Should Have Been Part of the Taliban Deal

An article by Todd Carney ’21In February, the US and the Taliban reached an agreement to put the two sides on a path to ending the Afghan War. Despite concerns over the feasibility of the deal, some praised it as a new way to finally bring an end to almost two decades of violence. One component missing from the agreement was any discussion of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) In the past, the Taliban has disregarded IHL. The ability to incorporate IHL could have spared Afghan citizens from terror, even if the fighting did not cease. This piece evaluates how IHL could have been a part of the deal.

‘Coughing while Asian’: living in fear as racism feeds off coronavirus panic

When Rosalind Chou was on a flight at the end of February, she saw a woman in front of her raise her phone up high, as if taking a selfie. The woman snapped a picture and sent it to a friend, whose reply showed up in big font on the woman’s phone: “Oh no, is he Chinese?” Across the aisle from Chou was a man she later learned is Korean American and a woman sitting next to him, also of Asian descent. The woman quickly replied to her friend: “There’s a lot of them. Pray for me.” Chou knows her experience was not an anomaly. Across the US, Chinese Americans, and other Asians, are increasingly living in fear as the coronavirus spreads across the country amid racial prejudice that the outbreak is somehow the fault of China. It is a fear grounded in racism, but also promoted from the White House as Donald Trump – and his close advisers – insist on calling it “the Chinese virus” …There is also a history of leaders painting those in an outsider group as diseased, evoking fear and often violence in their followers toward that group of people, said Susan Benesch, a faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Security at Harvard. Benesch coined the term “dangerous speech”: rhetoric that is used to turn one group of people violently against another… “It’s not really hatred that is the most operative in motion regarding [dangerous speech], it’s fear. Fear is what makes people turn violently against another group of people more than hatred,” Benesch said. “The level of fear is so great around this epidemic.”

Colleges deny using facial recognition technology after high-profile academics shame them

More than 150 academics, scholars and tenured faculty from colleges across the country have signed an open letter that names and shames colleges for using facial recognition technology on campus. They include a renowned cryptographer, prominent gender theorist and the popularizer of intersectionality. There’s just one problem: Some of those colleges told The College Fix they aren’t using the technology. Another college, meanwhile, passed the buck to its students, saying they choose to use it…Cryptographer and author Bruce Schneier, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, told The Fix in a phone call that there is a difference between “campus security” and “social control.” The first name on the open letter noted that facial recognition technology is used by “authoritarian governments” such as the Chinese Communist Party, and it gives them “awesome” power over their citizens. Schneier also warned that universities are “unprepared” to handle high levels of biometric data, leaving their students’ personal information vulnerable to cyber-penetration by ill-intended actors…Cryptographer Schneier, who also lectures at Harvard, says that the technology has “no place” in an American college campus. He told The Fix that China’s use of facial recognition works in conjunction with video surveillance and artificial intelligence to evaluate citizens in the Communist Party’s “social credit” systems. More often than not, this kind of technology is used “without consent.”

Trump wants to scale back coronavirus restrictions by Easter to help economy. Is it all up to him?

President Donald Trump has said he wants to curtail the strict social distancing guidelines his administration put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic because of the potential impact on the U.S. economy. But Trump is not the only executive to take action in the hope of “flattening the curve,” the term medical experts use to describe a slow and steady rise in the number of cases of COVID-19 rather than a sharp spike that could overwhelm the nation’s healthcare system. As the president weighs loosening the federal guidance, he does so against a backdrop of governors who have implemented their own statewide – and independent – restrictions, from curfews to lockdowns to sweeping school and business closures…The country’s public health law is a patchwork of responsibilities divided up between the federal and state governments, but typically states are in control of “police powers,” according to Professor Glenn Cohen, faculty director for the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology & Bioethics at Harvard Law School. Some states even delegate those powers to individual localities. But if Trump decides to lift the federal guidance, states like California or New York that have issued stay-at-home orders “may decide to follow suit or not, but typically have significant discretion as to what to do,” he said.

U.S. Semi-Shutdown Is Mostly Voluntary, and Uniquely American

An article by Noah FeldmanAs more U.S. states roll out stay-at-home orders to combat the spread of coronavirus, it’s now possible to identify an emerging American model of such restrictions. The approach is notably less strict than Covid-19 measures adopted in other affected countries, not only autocratic China, but even democratic Italy. And although the model is sufficiently restrictive that it will have massive effects on the economy, it does not come close to a complete shutdown of economic activity. The emerging American model has several distinctive elements. The first is that, while its contours are being specified in emergency orders issued first by local governments and now by state governments, it isn’t particularly coercive. Indeed, at least in this first iteration, the American model depends mostly on voluntary compliance. To be sure, governors are issuing what they are calling “orders,” not mere recommendations. Some governors, like New York’s Andrew Cuomo, have made a point of saying that the orders are meant to be taken seriously, and hinted that police could issue fines to violators. Yet even if police enforcement is mentioned, there is little practical possibility of systematically implementing it. There just aren’t enough law enforcement officers. The legal basis for such enforcements would be shaky given the language of the orders thus far drafted.

Cigarette Warnings Are About to Get Really Scary

An article by Cass SunsteinDire as the coronavirus pandemic has become, it’s worth remembering that there are other severe public health threats that can’t be ignored. That’s a reason to applaud the Food and Drug Administration for issuing, even in this period, a tough new tobacco regulation that should save lives: It has required graphic warnings on cigarette packages. Whenever customers buy a pack of cigarettes, or stop to contemplate buying one, they will see one of 11 gruesome images, accompanied by a grim verbal message. The image might be a woman with a large neck tumor, alongside these words: “Smoking causes head and neck cancer.” Or it might be a diseased lung, with these words: “Tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in nonsmokers.” Or it might be an obviously diseased body of a patient, with these words: “Smoking can cause heart disease and strokes by clogging arteries.” The images cannot be small: “The new required warnings must appear prominently on cigarette packages and in cigarette advertisements, occupying the top 50 percent of the front and rear panels of cigarette packages and at least 20 percent of the area at the top of advertisements,” the FDA states.

Fighting Coronavirus with Data

A podcast by Noah FeldmanFarzad Mostashari, the former National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at the Department of Health and Human Services, says we need to collect better data to effectively fight the spread of the virus.