Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

A Clinical Trial for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia is the most common kind of leukemia in adults. Current therapy is extremely unpleasant and often (usually) fails. There is a very large number of clinical trials of new therapies mostly immunotherapies. They are based on the fact that CLL cells are B-cells which express CD20.

One such trial is NCT03759184 Human IL-15 (rhIL-15) and Obinutuzumab for Relapsed and Refractory Chronic Lymphocyte Leukemia

This is a therapy which isn’t too horrible. The doctors are having some trouble recruiting patients (as noted above there are many trials attempting to treat people with relapsed and refractory CLL).

Complete disclosure: one of those doctors is my dad.

People with relapsed and refractory CLL who are interested in considering whether to enrol in the trial can

Contact: NCI Medical Oncology Referral Office (240) 760-6050 ncimo_referrals@mail.nih.gov

Comments (0) | |

Calling Pennsylvania

I promised myself not to forecast. I promised you that I would call Pennsylvania when I could. I get Trump ahead by about 700,000 and 2,000,000 absentee ballots to be counted. Assuming independents split (generous to Trump) Dem-Rep on absentees is about 50% so … I call Pennsylvania for Biden.

(I may delete this post tomorrow).

But I promised.

Networks finally call Pennsylvania more than 3 days and 8 hours after I did

told ya so.

Comments (5) | |

Calling Pennsylvania On November 3rd

It is very likely that the candidate who wins Pennsylvania will become president. A problem is that the election officials are not allowed to look at absentee ballots before November 3rd. It is likely that Trump will lead the in person vote and try to declare victory.

However, the party registration of absentee voters is public.
The US Elections Project 2020 General Election Early Voting Statistics webpage is fascinating.

It shows the amazing early voting turnout. One fault is that it has a list of states with detailed data and a map of states showing early votes cast so far as a fraction of total votes in 2016. This currently shows Pennsylvania with a relatively low ratio of early votes = 27.8 % of the 2016 vote.

The page for Pennsylvania shows that (so far) 69.7% of those early votes have been cast by registered Democrats and 20.8% by registered Republicans. This is an extraordinary imbalance. Assuming voters with no party affiliation split equally (which is generous to Trump given polls) this suggests a 49.7% of all early votes lead already booked by Biden. So about 13.3% of the 2016 turnout. Even with very high 2020 turnout that has to be over 10% of 2020 votes.

It will also be possible to do this election night.

I hope that this calculation will make it possible to call the election before the absentee votes are counted. I also hope TV networks do this (no reason not too — the call is always a forecast based on exit polls and models).

Comments (6) | |

Sincere Advice For Donald Trump

Last I heard (6:52 PM EST October 10 2020) Donald Trump wants to sign a huge new stimulus bill. I don’t try to read his mind, but I think he is sincere. It is the only way he can win re-election. On the other hand, Mtich McConnell does not want the Senate to pass a huge stimulus bill. I assume that he assumes that Trump will lose and has already switched to the worse it is the better it is. What is a poor President to do ?

1) Mitch McConnell is not President of the Senate. The President of the Senate is named Michael Pence. Michael Pence can actually preside. Then if a Senator (say Charles Schumer) introduces a Mnuchin/Pelosi compromise bill, it can be debated (Pence need show no more respect for regular order than McConnell ever has). Then there will be a filibuster. VP Pence can declare the debate over and call a vote. This would be a lie about Senate rules. McConnell would object and the Senate would vote on the objection. The Democrats, independents and 3 Republicans would make a tie so Pence’s decision would stand. This is how filibusters are nuked. McConnell doesn’t have to be involved. He can be outvoted if there are three Republican Senators who do not want to break with Trump, go against public opinion, and lose their seats. Then there would be a vote. The Democrats, independents, 3 Republican Senators and Pence could send the bill to Donald Trump to sign.

I think it all works fine. Pence can say no to Trump (it is a tradition that Vice Presidents are servants of Presidents not a provision of the Constitution (as Jefferson and Adams might explain). It is possible that no Republican Senators would see any gain in breaking with Trump. It is almost certain that Trump won’t do this.

But I think it is his only chance of re-election.

Comments (18) | |

Questions for Amy Coney Barrett

I would like to propose a set of questions for the Amy Coney Barrett confirmation hearings.

I would ask about her interview with Donald Trump.

1) in the interview, did the president talk about himself at all ?

Both answers are costly. We all know he did (he always does) so to answer no is to blatantly like.
A yes answer leads to following questions (which I would ask in any case).

Barrett will refuse to answer, saying the conversation should be private.

2. I’m not asking if he said he had a headache, My concern is whether he said anything about the upcoming Presidential election aand whether it might be contested.

Again the answer no is an obvious lie. Also refusing to answer suggests that the answer is damaging to her (as the true answer certainly is).
She will refuse to answer

3. So you refuse to say that he didn’t suggest that he wants you confirmed so you can side with Trump in a possible upcoming Trump V Biden case ?

She has to refuse.

4. Did he ask you to assure him that you would vote in his favor if there were such a case ?

Here she has to answer no. It is very costly to refuse. If she answers yes (almost certainly the honest answer) then she can’t refuse to answer when asked how she replied.

5. Here under the extremely unlikely hypothesis that she answers yes, she would have to claim she told him she can’t make that promise about a purely speculative case for which the facts haven’t even occurred yet. That would be an obvious lie. If she had been asked and gave that answer, she would not have been nominated.

So she will answer no, but then argue that the conversation is confidential and she shouldn’t answer other questions about it. I think the questions lead her to contradicting herself.

She could stick to refusal to answer, but if she refuses to answer “did you promise to President Trump that you will favor him in an upcoming Trump V Biden case ?”

Then she has some trouble.

Then ask if she promises to recuse herself if there is a Trump V Biden case (she has to answer that one).

This doesn’t distract from the gross impropriety of blocking Garland then rushing Barrett.

The questions are not polite or normal, but the situation is clearly not normal either.

Comments (13) | |

Election Forecasting

Polls vs Polls plus.
Rule number 1 of forecasting is do not quarrel with fivethirtyeight.com
Rule number 538 is not ever.

So here I go. I am going to start with the fivethirtyeight Senate forecast(s). (s) because there are three and an “pick a model” icon to toggle them. I like the “lite” just polls forecast. I like it because it estimates a 70% probability of a Democratic majority, while the “Classic” “polls, fundraising, past voting patterns and more” model gives them only a 67% chance and the “Deluxe” “we add experts’ ratings to the classic” gives them only 62%.

Which model is optimal ? The Deluxe model gives the best fit with past elections — this must be true because it nests the other two. It would be true also if the deluxe model gave worse forecasts. Generally, the problem is over-fitting if one estimates many parameters. The Deluxe model adds few new parameters (I guess only one but I won’t check). An argument against it has to be not the standard watch out for overfitting argument (It will also outperform using the Akaike Information Criterion).

So how can I argue against it (and then go on to argue against the classic model)) ? Basically, I will argue that things have changed, so past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Some changes are obvious — many more polls are conducted than used to be. Everyone, even experts, knows about averaging polls and how much better it works than looking at them and trying to judge. There is extreme turmoil.

OK now something along the line of evidence. I am going to present data with states in alphabetical order (and below selected so the figure is almost legible).

Here are deluxe forecasts

Here are lite (polls only) forecasts

You can see (if you have excellent eyes — fewer but larger numbers after the jump) that the deluxe forecasts are systematically more favorable to Republicans than the lite forecasts. This would be very unlikely if all of polls, money raised, past voting, and experts’ ratings gave unbiased estimates. The logic of addiing more useful variables is that it increases the precision of the estimates not that it eliminates bias. If there has been a shift of support from Republicans to Democrats, then forecasts based on past voting will be biased in favor of Republicans. It still often makes sense to include data on past voting, because it reduces the variance due to random sampling of the forecast. There are two arguments against — one is that the error in polls has low (not zero) correlation from state to state (one part of it is the change in true public opinion from polling day to election day) so, while each state forecast’s mean squared error is reduced by adding past voting patters as an explanatory variable, the nationwide calculations are worseened.

Another argument is (see above) there are many more polls than their used to be. This makes polling averages better forecasts (not as much as it would if each poll had an genuine independent sampling error but still a lot). If one decided on weights optimizing using data on old elections, one would put too low a weigh on the polling average. I think this happened.

The big change comes when experts’ ratings are added. Here one thing is that experts’ ratings are given by category
Solid R, Likely R, leans R, tossup, Leans D, likely D, Solid D. Now lets pretend that the “experts” have learned that the best strategy is to average polls, do a “lite” calculation then classify based on estimated probabilities. Such “experts” would add no useful information and would remove information. Also they would outperform the other “experts” just as Nate Silver systematically outperformed the previously recognized experts.

The key word here is “learned”. I speculated about a change over time from experts trying to infer without relying totally on polls to experts presenting polling averages as judgment calls.

This is a kind of herding. There is a difference between the strategy which enables me to give my best forecast (lowest mean squared error) and that whic make my forecast the most useful contribution to an average. The best strategy for Robert Waldmann would be to just cut and past fivethirtyeight (see above). My effort to improve on their three forecasts by emphasizing one which they don’t headline above the one which they present as the default is an effort to add something useful. Just following them is probably the best strategy to avoid embarrassment. But challenging them might be useful.

My wild guess is that experts have learned to average polls, then use the average to assign races to categories (eliminating useful information) then change a few of the ratings so it isn’t obvious what they did (and so their ratings aren’t identical to those of another expert). If that’s true, then their ratings used to contain useful information and don’t anymore.

Comments (1) | |

The Cold Warriors

I have no expertise in this field. This post will not be cluttered with links, because I will write from memory and not link to anything. I suppose in a way, this post is a slap in the face of Tom Nichols, who is a subset of the topic, is supposed to be an expert on the topic, and is the author of “The Death of Expertise“. I will attempt to explain how his errors are due to envy and neurosis.

Honestly, my trigger was lest nasty (and less based on envy). Someone asked in a Tweet what is the consensus on the old domino theory which lead to US involvement in the war in Vietnam (which is also called “the American war” by the Vietnamese). I will put my anti Nichols spite after the jump (note I advertised his book). His alleged field of expertise is preventive war. There, that’s another advertisement. Actually I think I will just post a separate post sniping at him.

OK so the Domino theory.

The logic was as follows. In 1938, France, the British Empire, and Czechoslovakia could have stopped Hitler. But all he demanded was the Sudetenland which was predominately inhabited by ethnic Germans. Neville Chamberlain insisted on reaching an agreement. Benes and Daladier had to go along, so the chance to defeat Nazism with heavy but not immense losses was lost.

Heeeyyy wait a minute, wasn’t I supposed to be talking about the 1960s not 1938 ? Yes, but the first problem is that there are influential people in the USA for whom all years are 1938 (note I use the present tense — they are still around and are very dangerous).

The first key methodological assumption of the Domino theory is that all years are 1938 and all negotiations are held in Munich. The second is that Neville Chamberlain made every possible error, so, as long as one did the opposite of what he would have done, everything will be fine. The rest is commentary.

I now invite historians, experts in international relations and political scientists to contest my analysis (knowing that not very many read Angry Bear).

The domino theory maintained that the USA had to stop the Communists in Vietnam or else they would move on to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma, East Pakistan, and India. The logic was exactly (and only) that it would have been better to fight Hitler at the old fortified border between Germany and Czechoslovakia than to let him take the Sudetenland, then the rest of Czechoslovakia, and then fight him in Poland. Notably, Hitler was surprised when France and Britain declared war on September 1 1939. The theory was that, restraint, compromise, or the most dreaded retreat would be perceived as weakness and make further aggression inevitable. One detail was overlooked. Hitler was one person, Khrushchev, Mao and Ho Chi Minh were three different people. The USSR had advanced weapons, the PRC had huge armies, North Vietnam had no fear of either and knew how to play one off the other.

Then Khrushchev was overthrown by the Red Army. The communist Soviet Union had not reached the advanced stage of Communist development which made a Communist military dictatorship possible later in Poland, so the generals gave power to a troika (sleigh pulled by 3 horses). The first among equals was Leonid Brezhnev. The USA still faced 3 adversaries lead by men incapable of pity. Brezhnev was incapable of pity or any other higher mental functioning. He liked clowns. The one key qualification for being Khrushchev’s second in command was being a total idiot (preferably lacking in ambition) and therefore being no threat. From then on, the analogy should have been negotiating with Rudolf Hesse in Munich (Hesse was similarly chosen for his total idiocy).

Notably one of the challenges for the US war effort in South Vietnam was the fact that the Communist Pathet Lao effectively controlled Laos and Communist friendly (and superhumanly vain) Prince Norodom Sihanouk) controlled Cambodia. Notably this is a problem for the domino theory. The dominoes which were supposed to be knocked down by the fall of South Vietnam had it already fallen. Their impact on Thailand was fairly minor (it might not have seemed that way to the Thai communists who fought and died in the jungle, but there were never many of them and almost no one noticed when they gave up and made peace (I forget the date)).

In contrast, US firm resoluteness in Vietnam made a large fraction of the world (and a substantial minority in the USA) hate the US government. It is also estimated to have caused 3 million deaths (from surveys decades later asking people if they had lost relatives).

During the resolute effort against the Hitler like world Communist movement, the USSR and the PRC fought a border war. They became each others’ most bitter enemies — the USA was not even number one on their enemies list. Soon after the final victory of the Vietnamese Communists, there was a brief war between Vietnam and the PRC. The enemy was the enemy of the enemy. The Soviet Chinese war occurred some time during the US war in Vietnam. It should have changed everything. But to completely reverse US policy, US policymakers would have to admit that they had made a mistake, and that is not possible.

The after aftermath is that Communist China became more capitalist than the USA and the USSR collapsed. Impressively right up to the collapse, US hawks insisted that there was a high risk of Soviet conquest of the world. Also impressively the people who clearly demonstrated that they were clueless gained status from the collapse, because it (coincidentally) occurred while Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Oddly, some sincere people including Max Boot and Anne Applebaum took seriously Reagan’s claim to be a principled supporter of freedom around the world. I am not much older than they are and remember the distinction between acceptable authoritarians and unacceptable totalitarians (in other words our sons of bitches and sons of bitches who weren’t ours). I remember the mockery of Carter’s human rights campaign. I remember the US alliance with Argentine fascist mass murderers in opposition to the fascists non mass murdering Sandinistas (currently in power to remind us of the utter worthlessness of the domino theory).

So how can we assess the scientific standing of the domino theory ? How does it compare with the Ptolemaic model of the solar system, the phlogiston theory of burning, the caloric theory of heat, and the four humors theory of health and disease ? Digressions after the jump.

Comments (30) | |

Naming Forts

It appears possible that the US military will cease to honor traitors and will change the names of bases named after Confederate generals. This raises the question of what new names to give them. This is one of the topics on which I have the very least expertise, so I will make my suggestions.

1) Fort York. Named after Sergeant Alvin York who, when he was corporal York during World War I, personally captured 132 German soldiers. I like the idea of naming a fort after a sergeant. Also I just learned that, when drafted, York initially was a conscientious objector before being convinced to the distinct advantage of the 132 German soldiers and ot the disadvantage of the 25 he killed when leading the attack on the German machine gun nest.

Only risk. Gaffe prone President Biden might slip up in the decidation ceremony and inadvertently plagiarize “Now is the Winter of our discontent maid glorious Summer by this noble son of York” *I still remember when Neil Kinnock’s ancestors mysteriously became Biden’s ancestors back in 1988).

2) Fort Bradley
Come on, station GIs in a fort named after the GI’s general.

3) Fort Howard, named after General Oliver Otis Howard head of the Freedman’s bureau and founder of Howard University. NO compromise with treason.

4) Fort Walker named after the only female Medal of Honore recipient Mary Edwards Walker MD. I’ll drink to that.

5) Fort Anderson named after James Anderson Jr who threw himself on a hand grenade in Cam Lo in 1967

They also served who died in pointless wars. We owe them gratitude along with infinite apologies. Infinite.

6) Fort Baldonado named after Jose Rodriguez Baldonado who doesn’t even have a Wikipedia article.

7) Fort Montgomery. Clearly there might be some need for disambiguation. I am writing as someone raised in Montgomery County Maryland hearing stories about the Montgomery Bus Boycot. I am thinking of lieutenant Jack C Montgomery, more or less the sergeant York of World War II.

I propose renaming Fort Rucker Alabama Fort Montgomery.

As a gesture at national unity play “Sweet Home Alabama” when dedicating it (hoping that people notice the closing line “My, Montgomery’s got the answer” which should have been completely clear in the context of the 1960s also “the governor boo boo boo” should have been fairly clear.

8) Fort Hayashi. I am thinking of Joe Hayashi, but it is OK if people think of Shizuya Hayashi. The name can honor two Medal of Honor recipients with one fort.

Comments (10) | |

Hydroxychloroquine After Action Report

I was a vehement advocate of prescribing hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) off label while waiting for the results of clinical trials. I wasn’t all that much embarrassed to agree with Donald Trump for once. Now I feel obliged to note that my guess was totally wrong. I thought that the (uncertain) expected benefits were greater than the (relatively well known) costs.

The cost is that HCQ affects the heart beat prolonging the QT period (from when the atrium begins to contract to when the ventrical repolarizes and is read to go again). This can cause arrhythmia especially in people who already have heart problems. I understood that one might argue that all people with Covid 19 have heart problems but didn’t consider that argument decisive (I probably should have).

The positive expected value of the uncertain benefits was based on strong in vitro evidence that HCQ blocks SARS Cov2 infection of human cells in culture. (this is a publication in the world’s top general science journal).

Already in early May, there was evidence that any effect of HCQ on the rate of elimination of the virus must be small. In this controlled trial conducted in China, the null of no effect is not rejected. Much more importantly, the point estimates of the effects over time are all almost exactly zero. I considered the matter settled (although the painfully disappointed authors tried to argue for HCQ and that their study was not conclusive).

There are now four large retrospective studies all of which suggest no benefit from HCQ and two of which suggest it causes increased risk of death. I am going to discuss the two studies most recently reported.

One is a very large study (fairly big data goes to the hospital) published yesterday in The Lancet. In this study patients who received HCQ had a significantly higher death rate with a hazard of dying 1.335 times as high. The estimate comes from a proportional hazard model with a non parametric baseline probability and takes into account many risk factors including crucially initial disease severity. It is also important that only patients who were treated within 48 hours of diagnosis were considered.

I am, of course, dismayed by this result. I am also puzzled, because it is quite different from the result obtained in a smaller retrospective study published in JAMA

I think the practical lessons are that it seems unwise to give Covid 19 patients HCQ. Also maybe Robert Waldmann should be more humble. After the jump, I will discuss the two studies in some detail and propose an explanation of the difference in results.

Comments (14) | |