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Recently, five Singapore doctors cautioned against inoculating younger males with mRNA-based vaccines because of a small chance of myocarditis, i.e., heart inflammation [source].

Their view was informed more by “heart inflammation” than by “small chance”. How small? According to this CNA article, there were 1,226 cases of myocarditis out of almost 400 million vaccine doses in the USA. This works out to a 0.0003% chance of getting myocarditis.

The same article reported that Singapore reported 6 cases out of about 5 million doses. This is an almost one in a million chance. You might be more likely to win a lottery than to get myocarditis.

The doctors also cited a USA report of the “death of a 13-year-old boy after being vaccinated with the second dose of an mRNA vaccine”. However, an expert committee here countered that by stating that “the news report cited by the doctors did not state death from heart failure as alleged”.

The small group of doctors might be well-meaning, but they have chosen to write a fear-based headline, speculated a causal link between vaccine and death, and ignored the statistical part of the narrative.

The group of five doctors overlaps with the 12 doctors who wrote an earlier letter, which like the latest one, was roundly debunked by the expert committee. Eleven of the 12 doctors who wrote that letter retracted what they said [CNA] [Today].

What damage both letters caused is difficult to determine. We might get some inference by measuring vaccine hesitancy and queues outside private clinics that offer non-mRNA-based vaccines, i.e., Sinovac in our case [source].

We have vaccines as a class of weapons against the current pandemic. We are less well-equipped with the infodemic. We need to learn to read, think, and act beyond a headline. If we do not, infected minds will lead to infected bodies.


Video source

The video above provides insights into what graphs about COVID-19 tell us and what they do not. It is a lesson on critical analysis.

One takeaway from the video might be this: The numbers do not lie, but people do. You can use numbers to tell the story you want. So it is important for all of us to learn to read in between the lines.

Consider another aspect of COVID-19 — the search for a therapy. The latest drug to emerge with potential for treating patients is remdesivir.

Remdesivir is an experimental anti-viral drug manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Gilead. The drug interferes with the replication of corona viruses by mimicking an RNA nucleotide (a building block for the virus).

Remdesivir was initially used on a compassionate case basis. So what is there to read in between the lines? The first line is an initial study and the second is another study.

Remdesivir did not provide statistically significant therapy in the first study. The sample size of patients was also too low, but it hinted that those who were treated earlier seemed to benefit.

The second study was larger and claimed that “… more than 1,000 patients showed those given remdesivir improved after an average of 11 days, compared with an average of 15 days for those not given the treatment”.

So we have found a cure, have we not? Remdesivir is not our trump card yet. We have several unknowns:

It might highly depend on when and at what stage of the infection patients receive the drug. We can say it is currently not clear who is benefitting from remdesivir. Is it helping patients who would have recovered anyway, recover quicker? Is remdesivir more beneficial for younger compared [with] older patients? At what stage of the infection does treatment yield the best outcomes?

A layperson needs to read these in between the lines.

  • The two studies cannot be compared because they do not have the same designs.
  • When the drug is administered might be important in speeding up recovery (earlier is better)
  • The confounding variables are not accounted for, i.e., people may recover for reasons other than the treatment.
  • The drug might help people recover faster but it does not prevent people from dying.

A brutal way of thinking about the last point is that the people who recover will do so faster with the help of remdesivir; the ones who will die will do so even if they receive the drug.

So a graph can show or it can hide. It does so at the will and whim of those who illustrate with numbers. Scientific studies are typically written not to hide, but they can be hard to understand in terms of language and interpretation of results. This is why we need basic science literacy — so we can read in between the lines of a graph or a paragraph.

The tweet below would like you know that kids (also) read books while adults (also) read from screens.

This is news if you live under a rock or choose not to observe people around you.

The tweet also claims that “the tides have turned”, meaning that adults are doing what kids do and vice versa. No, the tides have not. They ebb and flow, and you see what you see depending where and when you are.

It is not unusual for adults to use their mobile devices as much as, or more than kids. If you live in the modern world, your daily commute on public transport will confirm this. There is also research to back this up.

Kids are still made to complete books lists as part of school or homework, regardless of whether such reading is meaningful or not. They are held to the standards of the past and prepared for their teacher’s history instead of their own futures.

Kids also still go to libraries to borrow books. They do so because they have inculcated good reading habits and do so for pleasure.

So back to the tweet: An anecdote is not data; a snapshot is not representative. It is meant to be funny, but it sends the wrong message. The tides have not turned. Instead they ebb and flow, and dynamic change is what matters.

This is a continuation of my rant against uncritical articles about limiting screen time. In the previous part, I suggested that adults not spare the ROD — reading, observing, demonstrating — or they will spoil the child.

Screen time is not singular phenomenon. Concerns about the possible effects of screens started in the television (TV) era and only recently included desktop computers, laptop computers, and mobile computing devices like slates, phones, and other handhelds. There has been decades of TV viewing to generate at least two generations of research. However, research on the smaller, mobile screen is more recent and not as comprehensive.

Most media and screen time reports refer to research and recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). This year (2016) might have been the first time the AAP took back its limits on screen time. It recognised that its blanket rules did not consider ages, contents, and contexts. For a layperson’s read on the AAP’s recent turnaround, read this Gizmodo article.

The context of use is particularly important. Consider the different possibilities when the user’s screen changes from YouTube to FaceTime to Google Docs to WhatsApp to Pokémon Go. Adults need to take a step back, reserve judgement, and consider the breadth and depth of activity that can happen in different contexts.

I return to the TODAYonline article. There is one sentence that I troubles me the most: “There is so much more for children to see and do in the world than stare at a screen.” If we bother to read and observe, we will learn that kids do more than just “stare at a screen”; they are also watching, learning, laughing, creating, communicating, collaborating, and more.

Media effects are not binary, i.e., the impact of screen is not just bad and no-screen just good. Good or bad behaviours can happen in either context. Whether enabled face-to-face or via a screen proxy, a child can bully (or be bullied), or s/he can build community. Articles that describe the false dichotomy of if-screen-then-bad and if-no-screen-then-good tend to oversimplify and mislead.
 
Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.
 
Articles like No screens, please create unnecessary divides. There is the false division of the effects of screen and no-screen activities. It also adds to the generational divide by fuelling ignorance about screen-based activities.

Adults might try to straddle divides that are complex and possibly wider with technology. While adults have experience, this same experience is double-edged: It can hold back or it can push forward. We should seek first to understand, not judge.

The mobile technology experience of adults might actually be similar to that of their kids. If adults cannot model behaviours and outcomes, I say we learn from our kids how to first adopt a mindset of growth, modify our expectations, and change our actions.

Who else should be teaching our kids? Certainly not some newspaper writers.

Readings news articles like No screens, please make me uneasy. Why?

  • Newspapers like that one still have considerable reach.
  • Some people still consider what newspapers publish more valid than other sources (check Pew Research, comScore, or other data crunchers if you do not believe me).
  • The authors of such articles like to use “research says…” or “studies have shown…”, but not actually cite the sources.
  • Such newspapers pander to what is popular instead of what is progressive.
  • Some views, particularly this one about screen time, suffer from cherry picking.

Consider the opening salvo of unoriginal statements:

  • At the dining table “no one speaks to each other”
  • “21st century parenting dilemma”
  • Kids are “addicted to gadgets”

The piece seemed to be written from a template shaped by anti-TV and mobile screen articles before it.

It also tried to look balanced, but it is not. It cannot when its leading question was “How do we get children away from the various screens in our lives?”

The article avoided strike-a-balance from the template. It was clearly about rationales, rules, limits, varied activities with family and friends, and being a role model for kids.

Taken outside the context of an anti-screen time article, there is nothing wrong with those guidelines. These should be part of parenting tests if there are any. But the adults who wrote them conveniently forgot how they might have tried to read books or comics under the blanket with a torchlight.

The screen is not the issue. Choosing to do something more interesting, not knowing how to prioritise, or just plain bad manners is.
 

 
So let us not spoil the child by sparing this ROD:

  • Read widely and openly about the issue of “screen time” (I share my findings here).
  • Observe your kids with eyes, ears, and empathy. They are simply using the media and technology available to them just as you did with yours.
  • Demonstrate with care and by example. Model expected behaviour and timeless values. Offer wisdoms, not judgement.

I spotted this on Google+ recently.

I agree that it is important to read. But why does it have to be a book?

Insisting that reading be from a book ignores other media and other current forms of reading.

I also think that it is important to “read”. By this I mean activities like reading videos and reading people. This goes beyond consumption and moves to interpretation.

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what am i reading? by jamelah, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  jamelah 

I liked reading How We Will Read, an interview with Clay Shirky. There are lots of takeaways, but my favourite quote was: Institutions will try to preserve the problem for which they are the solution. Anyone who is an agent for change will  relate to that statement.

If a newspaper publisher wants to keep selling papers, it will not encourage citizen journalism or cannibalize its sales with iPad versions of its paper. If a university wants to promote only its on-campus experience, it will not venture into the online realm.

But back to changes to the way we read and write…

Shirky made a good point that publishing had already changed (you can do it at the click of a button). My thinking out loud here is evidence of that for crying out loud! And that is just one way writing has changed: It can be more public.

Reading has changed to include the processing of images, sounds, and videos. I think Shirky hinted at that. But he made a more obvious statement about reading being more social. Not social as in book club, but as in shared bookmarks, highlights, annotations, and comments. I had similar thoughts when I wrote about the levels or evolution of e-books.

So the reader is not just a consumer but a participant, a critic, a consultant, and a producer. What’s not to love about reading in the early 21st century? But again I have to ask: Are we teaching kids to read this way?

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I follow Michael Ree’s twitters. Every now and then he will point to something in his blog.

I found one of his latest blog entries, “Teaching Professors How to Read”, amusing and revealing. I’d argue that some teachers nowadays need to learn how to “read” too!

Addendum (15 Aug 08): The blog entry concludes with (and reinforces) the belief that teachers need to experience the technologies first, something I wrote about as part of my reflections on the podcast interview of O’Reilly.


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