Thursday, April 23, 2020

Does the Corona Virus Have Meaning?

Environmental & Science Education
Nature of Science
Edward Hessler

To satisfy our gut when we seek the meaning to draw from a high impact event, blame is often convenient. It may be a failure on our part and we are being warned, the behavior of others (HIV-AIDS, nations, provinces, cities etc.), a behavior we should change. We want to know its "meaning."

In the most recent column of The Intelligencer, Andrew Sullivan writes about the COVID19 pandemic and the search for its meaning.

"The truth, of course, is that plagues like this have no meaning. All they are is a virus perpetuating itself inside and alongside us. Period. We know this now — unlike many of our ancestors — because of science. Many epidemics will appear to target certain groups or spare others, but that is a function, in most cases, of biology, or behavior, or a relevant social structure. There is no viral intention. There are merely viral effects. And they are explicable."

Sullivan notes that men are more susceptible than woman to Covid19, more than twice as much. Smoking has been suggested but there is little if any evidence to support this. It is much more likely as Sullivan points out that "the most plausible explanation is chromosomal: Women have an extra X chromosome that adds another layer to their ability to hold off infections of various kinds."

The reason Sullivan explains, quoting Dr. Sharon Moalem: "'A specific gene on the X often used to recognize single-stranded RAN viruses like the novel coronavirus. Having two versions gives women an advantage in recognizing the virus.'"

Sullivan notes that "Sex is not a social construction," citing an expert quoted in The Wall Street Journal, "'There are profound sex differences in immune systems, and this pandemic is revealing them.'"

Yes, Sullivan includes behavioral factors: perhaps men are "more likely to postpone going to the hospital...or they're less hygienic...or more risk-oriented," etc. And there are differences between and within groups, e.g., Asian Americans, Latinos, Whites.  And obesity likely plays a large role in terms of behavioral factors, too.

Sullivan asks what are we to make of the largest discrepancy between groups of all: African Americans?  "The legacy of segregation, poverty, and discrimination has made African-Americans more vulnerable to many diseases — and it is sadly no huge surprise that this is true of this virus, as well. Class, which is related to but not identical to race, also looms large."

He closes this section of his column with these important lessons courtesy of the Age of Reason.  "This is not about blame; it’s about explanation, and it’s about prevention. ... " In an epidemic, we are humans first. No one is to blame. Everyone is at risk. And only relentless, pragmatic empiricism offers a sane path forward."

Mr. Sullivan's column should be read in its entirety and if you click on this link, it includes two other sections on different topic. His practice is to write a three-part column. If  you are unfamiliar with Sullivan, the Wiki entry has an informative entry. He has, by the way, an underlying condition.

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