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Texas A&M study verifies the importance of wearing masks
The politicalization of mask-wearing doesn't help stop the spread of infections.
- A new research article concludes face masks reduced the number of infections by 78,000 in Italy and 66,000 in New York City.
- The team writes that social distancing, isolation, and quarantining are not enough to stop the spread of COVID-19.
- Making face masks part of the partisan culture war is not helping educate the public on virus transmission.
Pascal's wager has been on my mind.
At the risk of infuriating decision theorists, let's simplify the French mathematician's wager from the perspective of the faithful: it's better to believe in God and be wrong than to not believe and be wrong. No harm comes to believers that discover there is no afterlife (well, don't discover). Nonbelievers have some explaining to do if there is.
Let's reframe Pascal's wager in light of the pandemic. If you wear a mask and you're wrong that it protects against the virus, you're still going to get sick. The upside: if you're right, you prevent disease transmission. On the other side, refusing masks certainly does not prevent transmission. If masks are useless, no foul. But if you're wrong, well, welcome to America.
I've been wrong, many times. Here's one example: before this year, I didn't think a pandemic could be so heavily politicized. Sure, there's precedent. I falsely assumed we'd evolved as a culture. Yet wearing a mask has become a symbol of fear and submission, regardless of how many times medical experts tell us masks are a protective measure that slows transmission so we don't overwhelm hospitals.
Dr. Vin Gupta: 'We Need Mandatory Masks' To Reopen | MTP Daily | MSNBC
Conflicting messages aren't helping. The toxic combination of researchers and institutions sharing unvetted findings and media outlets more concerned with breaking headlines than honoring the slow process of clinical research is adding fuel to this rampant fire.
A recent research article, led by Texas A&M University professor Renyi Zhang and published in PNAS, focuses on three COVID-19 epicenters: China, Italy, and New York City. The team concludes face masks reduced the number of infections by 78,000 in Italy and 66,000 in New York City.
"This inexpensive practice, in conjunction with social distancing and other procedures, is the most likely opportunity to stop the COVID-19 pandemic. Our work also highlights that sound science is essential in decision-making for the current and future public health pandemics."
Contributing author Mario Molina, a co-recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, says wearing a mask prevents droplets from reaching uninfected persons. He notes that droplets aren't confined to a six-foot radius; they can last in the atmosphere for tens of minutes and travel tens of feet.
Indoor conditions appear to increase the likelihood of transmission. Here in Los Angeles, gyms are reopening during the worst week of infections to date. As two mechanical engineers that specialize in HVAC systems write, while wearing PPE can be helpful, the best means for avoiding transmission is staying out of environments without natural ventilation. Being in a closed environment for more than 15 minutes with other people greatly increases the risk of infection. They conclude,
"The evidence is strong that for the foreseeable future, substituting parks, backyards or even gym driveways will be a reasonably safe way to enjoy exercise with others, while indoor workouts will remain high risk until either the risk of exposure to infection can be eliminated, or effective engineering controls can be implemented."
Customers, some wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), of a face mask or covering as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, stand in the queue to enter the Apple store, re-opened after being made to close due to the COVID-19 lockdown, at Covent Garden in London on June 15, 2020 as some non-essential retailers reopen from their coronavirus shutdown.
Photo by Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images
Of course, indoor congregation is sometimes unavoidable. In such situations, Zhang feels that mitigations such as social distancing, isolation, and quarantine are not enough to stop the rate of infection.
"We conclude that wearing of face masks in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent interhuman transmission, and this inexpensive practice, in conjunction with extensive testing, quarantine, and contact tracking, poses the most probable fighting opportunity to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, prior to the development of a vaccine."
With nine states reporting record highs yesterday—the day Mike Pence published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal congratulating the administration for "winning the fight" against the virus—Dr. Sanjay Gupta pushed back against the many falsities in Pence's editorial. We might think we're over with this virus, but it's nowhere near through with us.
Sadly, due to lack of national leadership, wearing a mask is a wager each one of us must make on our own. As Zhang and team point out, the data are clear. The time has come to go all-in or fold.
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Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.
- If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
- Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
- In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
It's not the act of buying but how you spend money that improves happiness and life satisfaction.
- To prove money can't buy happiness, people point to millionaires and lottery winners who ruined their lives.
- Psychological studies have shown that learning how to spend your money can improve overall happiness.
- We explore eight money-spending principles that research suggests can bolster life satisfaction.
Why doesn't more money guarantee more happiness?<p>"Because people don't spend it right. Most people don't know the basic scientific facts about happiness — about what brings it and what sustains it — and so they don't know how to use their money to acquire it."</p><p>That quote is from <a href="http://www.danielgilbert.com/DUNN%20GILBERT%20&%20WILSON%20%282011%29.pdf" target="_blank">a research paper published in the <em>Journal of Consumer Psychology</em></a>, written by Elizabeth Dunn (University of British Columbia), Daniel Gilbert (Harvard University), and Timothy Wilson (University of Virginia). These three psychologists reviewed the literature on <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/affective-forecasting" target="_blank">affective forecasting</a>, the ability to predict how you will feel in the future, to discover why people habitually mis-predict sources of happiness.</p><p>It seems our ignorance stems from two scuffs in our cognitive crystal balls. First, we inaccurately anticipate how quickly we adapt to new experiences, both positive and negative. Second, we don't consider context, often failing to recognize that the context in which we make a financial decision will not be the same as the one that decision affects.</p><p>"Money is an opportunity for happiness, but it is an opportunity that people routinely squander because the things they think will make them happy often don't," the study authors write.</p><p>They analogize this to collecting wine. No amount of wealth can help you stock a superior cellar if you are ignorant of wine. Similarly, wealthy people can have all the happiness advantages yet never capitalize on them if they know nothing about what brings happiness. (Recall our lucky yet ill-fated lottery winners.)</p><p>To help us stockpile life satisfaction, the authors offer eight principles for how to spend money wisely. </p>
1) Buy more experiences, fewer material goods<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="77c47d7222c34bb5f04459ac98bddfdd"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/urlENGUlKfM?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>We adapt to material goods quickly. Consider the Blu-ray you had to have but then watched once. Last year's fall fashion that hangs in the closet. Or those cabinet doors that were part of your dream kitchen but barely register as background now.</p><p>Experiences, on the other hand, stay with you. Our experiences become a central part of our identities, and we reminisce more on them than our material purchases. As a result, we develop a stronger emotional connection to experiences, one that remains intense long after the experience has passed.</p><p>Michael Norton, an associate professor of marketing at Harvard who <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15803098-happy-money" target="_blank">co-wrote a book on the subject with Dunn</a>, told us in an interview that experiences come with an additional benefit: </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">[W]hen we buy stuff for ourselves, we end up by ourselves with our stuff. Think of yourself on your phone playing a video game or whatever else it might be, you're often alone with your stuff. Whereas experiences, yes, we do some experiences solo, but many, many experiences have built into them that they're social.</p>
2) Use money to benefit others<p>Because of our social nature, another principle is to benefit others with our money. Studies performed by Dunn and others have shown that participants who spend money pro-socially disclose a higher level of satisfaction. While personal spending did not diminish participants' happiness, it did not increase it either. The results were flat.</p><p>"It seems that on average when people give to others — which can be giving to charity, it can be treating a friend to lunch, it can be buying people gifts — that those actions of giving rather than keeping seem to be associated with more happiness," Norton said.</p>
3) It's the small things that count<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA1MjQzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDU2NTk5MX0.cBLNGwh5FKx7kcn7mFOwChfCv0gkNiCk_1P4TbZvv3k/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C49%2C0%2C50&height=700" id="d9c7f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="92134d4af740b42059b26943664d4822" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Smaller purchases like grabbing a coffee stave off our experiential adaptation thanks to inherent novelty.
(Photo: WarnerMedia)<p>As we mentioned, people adapt to gains and losses quickly. We loved that rug because it tied the room together, but eventually it became another rug. We were devastated when a loan shark soiled it, but we abide.</p><p>One way to impede adaption to positive sensations is to purchase smaller, more frequent pleasures in lieu of grand, expensive ones. The authors cite several reasons for this. Smaller events and purchases tend to have more novelty (think bar-side trivia night) and so stave off adjustment. And <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/psychology/diminishing-marginal-utility" target="_blank">the diminishing marginal utility principle</a> tells us that for each additional gain we receive less subjective value. By breaking up our gains, we increase the pleasure we derive from them.</p><p>"Thus, by treating themselves to frequent, fleeting pleasures (rather than more sporadic but prolonged experiences), consumers can capitalize on the burst of delight that accompanies the first minute of massage, the first bite of chocolate cake, and the first sight of the sea," the study authors write.</p>
4) Avoid overpriced protection you don't need<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="qgOSRM7N" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="06d74a0b248abc099c2bb16aefa14b86"> <div id="botr_qgOSRM7N_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/qgOSRM7N-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/qgOSRM7N-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/qgOSRM7N-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>We want to protect ourselves from the pain of loss, and <a href="https://bigthink.com/risk-reason-and-reality/optimism-bias-and-loss-aversion-risk-perception-and-the-fiscal-cliff" target="_self">this risk aversion</a> makes us marks to statistically bad bets. Think of extended warranties. In theory, extended warranties protect you should your expensive purchase break. In practice, they are often just a way to spend more money on the same product.</p><p><a href="https://www.consumerreports.org/car-repair/get-an-extended-warranty-for-your-car/" target="_blank">A Consumer Report survey from 2013</a> found that car owners paid more in extended warranties than they reaped in direct benefits. The organization found <a href="https://www.consumerreports.org/extended-warranties/steer-clear-extended-warranties/" target="_blank">a similar disparity with electronic warranties</a>. While the electronics report mentions some exceptions—such as smartphones, which are expensive, breakable, and travel everywhere—it notes that manufacturer's warranties will cover much the same and repair costs are often comparable to the extended warranties.</p>
5) Delay gratification<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA1MjQ2NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDUxMDE5N30.OUftjo8UUOlm--v7MKN5rZ0RWc2ERQpS_I9Gx6UIkU0/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=59%2C0%2C52%2C0&height=700" id="36069" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="87bf37df1ae01e38cba6c5d75152f01d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Sometimes anticipation proves more enjoyable than the experience itself.
(Photo: MGM)<p><span>Delayed gratification improves life satisfaction in several ways. The most obvious is that we make better decisions when we don't act immediately. We curb our interest-infested debt when we pass up a pleasure today for greater rewards tomorrow. And we stay healthier by not purchasing fast food during a frenzied lunch, but prepare a meal the night before.</span></p><p>Less obvious is the role anticipation plays in pleasure. As the study authors put it, anticipation is basically "free happiness." The items you purchase or receive provide a measurement of happiness, but add in some anticipation and you get to enjoy the item and the anticipation. It's a net benefit.</p><p>The authors note studies that suggest people can enjoy anticipation of an event, such as a trip or concert, even if the event itself is lackluster. A potential reason for this is that anticipation is "unsullied by reality." It's why younger you enjoyed the anticipation of a holiday gift more than the socks you unwrap.</p>
6) Consider how purchases may affect daily life<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA1MjQ0Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTI2NTk2OX0.XEV5Zo262aLdFy7Ti_6fAcZcbs422lMFRndci9eir1U/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C108%2C0%2C2&height=700" id="ea17e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aef20c77b2e2e032be3e51007a7b4991" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
When making big purchases, it's best to consider how they will affect your daily life, not their far-flung future potential.
(Photo: Universal Pictures)<p>Another blemish in our cognitive crystal balls is our tendency to view the future abstractly. The further the future under consideration, the more abstract our estimate. Because of this, the study authors recommend always considering how purchases will affect your daily life.</p><p>They give the example of a homebuyer choosing between a small yet maintained cottage or a large fixer-upper for the same price. Looking far into the future, the homebuyer can imagine their life after the repairs have been completed. This makes the large home seem the better deal</p><p>But if the homebuyer thinks about weekends lost to projects, evening trips to Home Depot, and the time spent in consultations with contractors, they may decide the distribution to their day-to-day life will ultimately diminish their life satisfaction.</p><p>"On any given day, affective experience is shaped largely by local features of one's current situation—such as experiencing time pressure at work or having a leisurely dinner with friends," the authors write. "Over time, psychological distress is predicted better by the hassles and 'uplifts' of daily life than by more major life events.</p><p>"This suggests that consumers who expect a single purchase to have a lasting impact on their happiness might make more realistic predictions if they simply thought about a typical day in their life."</p>
7) Beware comparison shopping<p>Comparison shopping appears a healthy habit. You shop around, compare features and attributes, and rationally choose the best option for your price range. What could make you happier? That situation makes sense so long as humans are truly rational actors. But we aren't (see entries 1–6 on this list).</p><p>Comparison shopping sabotages our happiness by subtly shifting our attention. When we engage, we don't look for the features and attributes that would make us happy; instead, we focus on the differences of the available options. As a result, we buy more than we need or select for the best deal — not the item that we want or that better fits our circumstances.</p><p>Additionally, the more choices we have to compare, the less happy we are with our choice. As psychologist Barry Schwartz, author of the <em>Paradox of Choice</em>, explains in his <a href="https://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice/transcript?language=en" target="_blank"><em>TED Talk</em></a>:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">All of this choice has two effects, two negative effects on people. One effect, paradoxically, is that it produces paralysis rather than liberation. With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all. [Second,] when there are lots of alternatives to consider, it's easy to imagine the attractive features of alternatives that you reject that make you less satisfied with the alternative you've chosen.</p><p>Ever waste an evening scrolling through your Netflix list to ultimately watch nothing? Then you've experienced Schwartz's paradox. </p>
8) Follow the crowd (occasionally)<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA1MjQ3Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDczOTU4NH0.2P4Oi7ibTuIRu3kcfbAYyhgQ5Sg7AJdy_1vRqv5uDPI/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=30%2C0%2C33%2C0&height=700" id="031f1" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="34280d8ea13fe7deab19c6e2a0f27e55" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Sometimes it pays to follow the crowd.
(Photo: WarnerMedia)<p>The authors' final principle is that the best way to predict your enjoyment is other people's experiences. Particular movie genres, for example, tend to be popular among <a href="https://www.statista.com/statistics/949810/favorite-movie-genres-in-the-us-by-age/" target="_blank">certain demographics</a>. Young people share a love for comedies and horror, while the 65+ crowd prefers dramas and thrillers. But you don't have to follow your demographic's normative tastes. Men who adore romantic comedies can still gauge their enjoyment by weighing a movie's reception among other rom-com aficionados.</p><p>We can also make better decisions by listening to what others can tell us about our own desires. The authors cite a study in which participants are served two snacks. They were asked to predict their enjoyment before eating and rate their enjoyment after partaking. </p><p>Observers watched the participants' facial reactions when presented the snacks and guessed at how they would enjoy of the food. The observers made more accurate forecasts of the participants' enjoyment than the participants themselves.</p><p>"This suggests that an attentive dining companion may be able to tell whether we would enjoy the fish or the chicken simply by watching our reactions when these options are presented. More broadly, other people may provide a useful source of information about the products that will bring us joy because they can see the nonverbal reactions that may escape our own notice," the authors write.</p>
The root of some happiness<p>The reason devastation of lottery winners makes the news is because these events are rare — and, let's be honest, a dash of <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/psychology-of-schadenfreude" target="_self">schadenfreude</a>. In truth, <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/does-winning-lottery-ruin-your-life?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1" target="_self">research suggests the Lottery Curse</a> is an invention of <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/computer-science/availability-heuristic" target="_blank">the availability heuristic</a>. Most winners don't burn through their earnings or even quit their jobs. They simply spend their money more wisely.</p><p>"It seems like a simple relationship, which is: we want more money and we want more happiness, so maybe if we get more money, we'll get more happiness. And it turns out that the relationship is really a lot more complicated than that," Norton said in our interview.</p><p>We may not all have lottery winnings, or even the <a href="https://bigthink.com/news/money-cant-buy-you-love-well-perhaps-happiness-up-to-a-certain-point" target="_self">$95,000 per year research equates with optimal life satisfaction</a>. But if we learn how to spend our money toward the things that truly make us happy, we may all be, at least a little bit, happier.</p>
Placing science and religion at opposite ends of the belief spectrum is to ignore their unique purposes.
- Science and religion (fact versus faith) are often seen as two incongruous groups. When you consider the purpose of each and the questions that they seek to answer, the comparison becomes less black and white.
- This video features religious scholars, a primatologist, a neuroendocrinologist, a comedian, and other brilliant minds considering, among other things, the evolutionary function that religion serves, the power of symbols, and the human need to learn, explore, and know the world around us so that it becomes a less scary place.
- "I think most people are actually kind of comfortable with the idea that science is a reliable way to learn about nature, but it's not the whole story and there's a place also for religion, for faith, for theology, for philosophy," says Francis Collins, American geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). "But that harmony perspective doesn't get as much attention. Nobody is as interested in harmony as they are in conflict."
Studying voice recordings of infected but asymptomatic people reveals potential indicators of Covid-19.
A study finds people are more influenced by what the other party says than their own. What gives?