On COVID Research…

Over the past day, I’ve seen multiple articles (three, four, five?) from different people posted on COVID. Generally, posted with an agenda of either orange-man-bad or lizard-people-left-wing-libral-conspiracy. I’m not gonna get into specifics of these debates. I try VERY hard to keep my life positive and mostly non-political. Personally, I’m trying to wear a mask out in public, keep hand sanitizer in the car, and am actively avoiding any/all social situations. Biggest risk I’m taking these days is occasional to-go food and potentially get a beard trim from my barber after the 18th – which I’m only considering because I know how fastidious he is.

Instead, I’d like to talk about basic “Scientific” literacy. Long standing crisis like COVID move too slow for the media to cover on a 24-hour basis. Research takes months or years if done right. Building a simulation or model isn’t like an episode of CSI or Numb3rs. If you see an article talking about “new study says” or “study claims” or generally anything “study” related – take it with a grain of salt. A number of researches are rushing to publish “findings” right now, and the news will happily take those that match THEIR viewpoint, dress them up, and push them as some sort of huge revelation. They aren’t. Don’t confuse the media’s search for content as in-the-field development.

Coming from the standpoint as someone that’s actively developed forecasting models and lately done lots of cloud processing with spatial data: models are hard. They are also limited. I’ve seen multiple recent posts on conflicting models saying conflicting things from preprint papers waiting to be peer reviewed and published. Without thorough review of the collected data, methodology, and analysis these “reports” are near worthless. In data science, epidemiology has had something of a gnarly reputation as a weak science: poor documentation of method, lack of reproducible results, significant examples of p-hacking, poorly documented data sources, “studies” consisting of largely anecdotal data or retrospective with significant bias, etc… Once we get out of today’s weeds, I’m hopeful that we’ll see some better development with increased interest and more realization of the importance of the field. But – if I’m objective, at this point, the “models” have been mediocre at best.

TL;DR – Please, please, PLEASE, stop shouting at each-other over SCIENTIST SAYS THING. We all have our own risk tolerance and concern over relatives or the economy. Chill, sit down, and don’t be a douche. Realize that personal space is now 6′ for a lot of us. You’re gonna see people wearing masks – they may even be Orange-Man voters. If someone isn’t wearing a mask – maybe they have a respiratory issue or some reason they can’t / aren’t. If you favor the shutdown or reopen – realize there are some REALLY good points on both sides and that it’s OK to disagree.

Social Networks are Hard

I’ve decided to start writing a bit about various theories I have on social networks, Facebook, twitter, and the blogosphere. I fear that attempting to start an “Open Source” social network, or join an “Open Source” network is a cause doomed for failure. But, I’m not sure why. Back when I started blogging, I was amazed to find a network of real-world people brought together over blogging. The years haven’t been kind to blogging. Facebook and Twitter have slowly pulled users into their clutches.

My early days online were during the time of AOL disks and TV news hours advising against meeting people you talked to online. Meeting an open source contributor or two was as far as I dared advance. Certainly no online dating. I enjoyed reading BBS articles on graphics programming and tinkering with MS-DOS games and utilities. My access was limited and supervised as I was in middle school, and Linux wasn’t happening due to my PC being an old 286.

It took a few years, but I finally managed to scavenge a 486 from trash parts and with the help of NetZero (and a little sneaking around my parents), scored a net connection. Geocities gave me my first web home, and I started my first blog. I wrote posts in a text file and published by running ‘make install’. Staticgen before it was cool.

Key things I remember liking about ‘social networking’ in the days of Geocities and later MySpace:

  • Webrings formed small networks of people with similar interests and cool information.
  • Newsgroups provided amazing access to experts and connections with similar interests.
  • E-Mail was used for more than verifying acconts.

Things I remember sucking:

  • Connecting with real-world friends was generally e-mail only
  • Newsgroups were full of self-styled experts and many weren’t kind to n00bs.
  • Technical barriers were significantly higher than before.
  • Slowwwwwwwww.

I recently took the effort of joining Mastodon. I don’t see it replacing Facebook or Twitter for anyone I know. I had hoped to maybe find a viable alternative to Voxer – not so much there either. Indeed, I don’t see much of use for me as an English speaker except maybe meeting some interesting folk around. But, mostly I’m seeing a bunch of young left wingers, and I don’t have much patience for the college crew today. Indeed, I’d venture a significant number of people I’ve interacted with weren’t even born when I first got to drive on the internet. Not much more to say, because someone else already wrote my experience with the problems clearly highlighted.

I don’t care for where Facebook is going these days – and I’d love to see the “next” big thing be something that fulfills some of the early promises of the internet. To me, that means choice of service provider and the ability to contact people from other providers.

I find the underlying technology interesting, and there’s a lot of awesome research potential and algorithmic stuff possible in this space. I thought I’d try to cover my exploration here on this blog. It’s as good a place for any for these brain dumps, and maybe some Zuckerburg character somewhere can use it to help build something. If you’re that person, cut me in after you make the money please.