Friday, August 21, 2020

The No-Brainer Solution To The College Question

The question being, not simply "should colleges reopen this fall", but HOW should they reopen?  Now that the COVID-19 pandemic is waning in practically all of the USA, even in the Sunbelt whose most recent wave just peaked in July and early August per Worldometer statistics, the answer should be obvious given the relatively low risk that traditional college aged young people typically are from the virus.  That is, a return to near normal from the start:
  • Plan on reopening on time in August without delay.
  • Compress the fall semester between opening day and Thanksgiving break, with no breaks or long weekends in between, and remain closed from Thanksgiving until early January, limiting the back-and forth.
  • Allow the option of online coursework in addition to in-person classes.
  • Require masks and/or social distancing only in classrooms and certain other publicly accessible buildings, otherwise don't force it.
  • Limit dining hall occupancy to 50% of capacity.
  • Allow gatherings up to 500 people outdoors, and 50 people indoors or 50% of a room's capacity, whichever is lesser. (That would be about a handful of people in a typical dorm room, or about 25 to 50 people in a typical house party.)
  • Put hand sanitizer stations and mask kiosks everywhere, and vigorously and regularly disinfect classrooms and campus buildings.
  • In the event of an actual outbreak on campus, simply cancel in-person classes for no more than two weeks at a time (mainly to protect commuter students), but do NOT close down completely and/or send students back home to infect their parents and grandparents!
  • Isolate the sick and those who were in direct contact with them.  No one else.
  • Make virus testing free and readily available for all upon request.
That's it.  Otherwise, it's back to the old normal for the most part.  And come the spring semester, hopefully 100% back to the old normal once again when they all build herd immunity if they don't already have it.  (How else are they gonna do it?)

And of course, make the 21 drinking age (and smoking and toking age) the absolute lowest enforcement priority.  And in general, treat college students as the young ADULTS that they actually are, and trust them to use their own judgment.  Why is that even such a controversial concept these days?

It is long past time to allow a typical (or at least near-typical) college experience to finally return.  No need for the sort of draconian or dystopian rules on campus that some colleges like Duke University are doing.  So what are we waiting for?

DISCLAIMER:  Neither Twenty-One Debunked nor the True Spirit of America Party encourage or condone the practice of "corona parties" or any other deliberate or grossly negligent mass infection-inducing behavior.  Seriously, now is really NOT the time to tempt fate!  Keep calm and carry on, live your life, and have fun, but still take precautions, use common sense, avoid excessive crowding in general, and if you have any sort of questionable symptoms, stay the hell home and don't have any guests over!  Young people, this means you too.

OCTOBER UPDATE:   Two months later, Twenty-One Debunked still stands by what we originally said in August, with the added caveat that students should perhaps have all been initially tested for the virus upon arrival at college, which many colleges did not.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Does Cannabis Legalization Really Lead To More Traffic Deaths?

One of the most infamous anti-legalization talking points is that legalizing cannabis would inevitably cause carnage on the highways.  And we have thoroughly debunked that specious claim before.

But what about the recent pair of newer studies that appear to find a modest uptick in traffic deaths after legalization?  In contrast to previous studies that generally found no link with traffic casualities in the first three years after recreational legalization, one of the newer ones found an increase in traffic fatalities in the most recent year in which data were available, though still no shorter-term increase (echoing another study from last year that didn't find any uptick until five years later), while the second one found an increase (compared to synthetic controls) in Colorado but not in Washington for some reason.

Far from clarifying the issue, these newer studies leave the reader with more questions than answers.  Why so much heterogeneity and inconsistency between various studies and locations?  Why such a long time lag for the apparent effect to occur, especially given that repealing alcohol Prohibition in 1933 was associated with short-term increase in traffic fatalities per VMT that went back down to 1930-1931 levels by 1936?  And why have medical cannabis legalization laws been consistently associated with long-term decreases in traffic deaths, given the increased availability and vast gray area between recreational and medical use in practice?

Three things come to mind:  changes in tourism (thus skewing the numerator but not the denominator in per-capita crash death calculations), changes in gas prices (lower prices lead to more crashes and deaths), and changes in cannabis prices (lower prices leading to more use and possibly more stoned driving).  The first two can produce specious and spurious inferences when they are not controlled for, while the third factor as we have seen takes several years for prices to fall after recreational legalization, possibly explaining the apparent time lag with fatalities.  (That can, of course, be resolved simply by raising the taxes on cannabis.)  Or most likely of all, as per Occam's Razor, the vast inconsistencies simply mean that any supposed causal link between legalization and carnage on the highways was spurious all along.

Also, it is notable there does not seem to be such an effect seen in Canada, despite their lower age limits for cannabis (18 or 19, instead of 21 in the US states that legalized).  While Quebec recently raised it to 21 on January 1, 2020, there would still be over a year's worth of data for 2019 and late 2018 when it was still 18.  And Alberta's age limit still remains 18 for all three substances--alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis.

Thus, as per the overall weight of the evidence, Twenty-One Debunked will continue to declare this specious claim debunked for the time being.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Don't Ban Alcohol. Tax It Instead, And Restrict Quantities.

South Africa has had the dubious distinction of being the only country in the (non-Muslim) world to ban all alcohol sales during their coronavirus lockdown.  They recently lifted that ban.

To be clear, Twenty-One Debunked does NOT support such a thing at all, as it is excessive and overbroad.  We also don't support general lockdowns either, given that they are also of dubious effectiveness and fly directly in the face of a supposedly free society and its Constitution.  But it is true nonetheless that alcohol abuse (and alcohol-related domestic violence and child abuse) is a problem in nearly all lockdown countries regardless, and large gatherings are of course a very big no-no during the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  Now is clearly NOT the time to throw a kegger!  Thus, we support the following done in the USA for the remaining duration of the pandemic, which we define as at until least 30 days after the number of new cases reaches and remains at zero, or for 90 days total, whichever is longer:
  • Raise the taxes on alcohol, dramatically.
  • Maintain and enforce a ban on non-essential gatherings of 500 people or more, with perhaps a lower, double-digit limit on indoor gatherings specifically (since those are riskier).
  • Ban the sale of kegs to anyone who is not a licensed bar or restaurant owner.
  • Put a cap on the amount of alcohol an individual can purchase per person per day, such as no more than one case or 30-pack of beer, one gallon of wine, or two liters of hard alcohol less than or equal to 100 proof or one liter of hard alcohol greater than 100 proof.
  • Reopen bars and restaurants with "Swedish rules" for the first couple of weeks:  restrict occupancy, table service only, outdoor seating preferred, no eating or drinking perpendicular (standing up).  Delay the reopening of nightclubs and casinos until a few weeks after bars reopen.
  • For the first couple of weeks, require restaurant and bar staff to wear masks, and patrons to wear masks while not eating or drinking.
  • Crack down heavily on drunk driving, drunk violence, and domestic and child abuse.
  • Put a moratorium on enforcement of the 21 drinking age for any 18-20 year olds who are drinking responsibly and following such protocols above.  (Of course, the drinking age should be lowered to 18 yesterday.)
So what are we waiting for?

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

What Do Lockdowns And The 21 Drinking Age Have In Common?

Turns out, quite a lot in fact.

Both COVID-19 lockdowns and the 21 drinking age  were first implemented in a moment of panic during a deadly crisis--coronavirus in the first case, drunk driving in the second.  While neither were sold as miracles at first, they were indeed sold as ways to mitigate, or in the lingua franca of 2020, "flatten the curve" by at least slowing down the crises and hopefully save lives in the process.   Delay the peak of coronavirus cases and protect the hospitals from collapse, we were told.  Delay legal access to drinking alcohol until 21 and protect young people and those they share the road with until they are a bit more mature, we were told.  And of course in both cases, the more zealous of the enthusiasts sold it as a suppression strategy or even an eradication strategy rather than merely mitigation--if only they could make up their minds.  The message was we could either give up some of our rights temporarily or all of our rights permanently, or at least that we had a moral duty to give up some of our rights lest we have unacceptably high death rates in both cases.  And we had to act NOW, or else.  No time to think it through, our brains must go into neutral for the time being.  After all, the models can't be wrong, can they?

And then once these measures were firmly in place for a while, relatively speaking, their enthusiasts seamlessly moved the goalposts.  Now it was no longer about preventing hospitals from collapsing (which generally didn't happen anywhere outside of Lombardy, Italy regardless of whether a country did a lockdown or not) or keeping a massive excess of blood off of the Demolition Derby-style highways, but rather about "saving lives at any cost" (as long as someone else pays it, of course) and with the 21 drinking age more recently about protecting "developing brains from damage" and other social-engineering goals.  And then there is the "blood borders" phenomenon both with the virus as well as DUI.  Thus the enthusiasts of both now wanted to extend these measures indefinitely, with the fear of all hell breaking loose if these restrictions are ever relaxed before a vaccine (for the virus) or better public transit and self-driving cars (for DUI)--but in the latter case they still have the pseudo-neuroscience argument to fall back on as well.  By design, there is no exit strategy.  And many people are reluctant to support ending such policies since they fear blood on their hands if they do, making the policies politically a LOT harder to get out of than to get into.

The supposed effectiveness of lockdowns (compared to far less extreme restrictions) in terms of slowing or stopping the spread of coronavirus has been called into serious question lately by more recent studies.
Such studies have found there is at best no correlation, and perhaps a perverse effect between the two defining features of hard lockdowns (stay-home orders and closures of all non-essential businesses) and COVID-19 cases and deaths per capita after other factors such as less-extreme policies are accounted for.  The benefits are thus nothing more than a statistical mirage that does not stand up to scrutiny--much like the supposed benefits of the 21 drinking age vis-a-vis DUI deaths in the long run.

So what happened?  Turns out that in the case of both, the early adopters did fare better overall, at least at first, though many non-adopters did at least as good if not better in terms of reducing death rates by using far more moderate measures.  But for the belated and/or coerced adopters, both lockdowns and MLDA 21 turned out to be worse than useless, essentially pouring gasoline on the fire after the train has already left the station, and with plenty of collateral damage.  And while the book has not yet been completely written on the coronavirus pandemic saga, for the 21 drinking age we see even for the early adopters, the benefits were short-lived, and really ended up just delaying deaths by a few years, both from one cohort to the one one behind it, as well shifting deaths from the 18-20 group to the 21-24 group, possibly even resulting in a net increase in deaths in the long run.  Much like how for lockdowns, at best they delay some deaths by a few weeks compared to more moderate measures even when done early, at great cost to the economy and society.

Meanwhile, the collateral damage of lockdowns (economic depression, unemployment, inequality, poverty, alcohol and other drug abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, loneliness, poor mental health, delayed medical treatment, etc.), which also kills people too by the way, continues to mount with each passing week of lockdown, making an utter mockery of practically all progressive and even basic humanitarian priorities.  For the 21 drinking age, this collateral damage has resulted in forcing alcohol use underground and making it far more dangerous than it has to be, and people being reluctant to call 911 in the event of alcohol overdoses and injuries, and that maims and kills people too.  And for both, that's to say nothing of the damage to civil rights and liberties, culture, and community cohesion, that progressives would generally support.

As for protecting the most vulnerable members of society, we have seen this movie enough times to know how it ends, and it doesn't end well.  Both measures are far too crude to do actually protect them, and sadly but unsurprisingly, both have failed miserably in that regard.  Which is usually the case with such "blunt" policy instruments in general.

In other words, even when done early and enthusiastically, there is no short or long term benefit that cannot be had by more moderate measures done early and enthusiastically.  And in the long run, especially when done after the proverbial horse has bolted, the "cure" quickly becomes far worse than the disease.  And when we look at the control group--that is, those jurisdictions who did not take such measures at all--the case for both collapses.

Let America be America Again.  And end both bad policies yesterday, as both have by now outlived their usefulness.  What are we waiting for?

Friday, May 22, 2020

Have A Safe And Happy Memorial Day Weekend

This coming Monday, May 25, is Memorial Day, often known as the unofficial first day of summer and National BBQ Day.  But let's remember what it really is--a day to honor all of the men and women of our armed forces who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.  And that of course includes all of those who died serving our country before they were legally old enough to drink.  Let us all take a moment of silence to honor them.

As for Candy Lightner, the ageist turncoat founder of MADD who had the chutzpah and hubris to go on national TV in 2008 and publicly insult our troops, may her name and memory be forever blotted out. 

And as always, arrive alive, don't drink and drive.  It's just not worth it, period.  And it's very simple to prevent.   If you plan to drive, don't drink, and if you plan to drink, don't drive.  It's not rocket science.

Also, please remember that the COVID-19 pandemic, though largely waning in most of the USA, is still not over yet.  So avoid any sort of gatherings of more than 10 people, and be sure to keep your distance whenever possible.  Don't overcrowd beaches or anywhere else.  And while masks are clearly not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, please continue to wear them in any public place where it is practical to do so, especially on public transit, grocery and retail stores, or anywhere else that maintaining least six feet of distance is difficult or impossible.  And even in locations that have reopened, despite what anyone says, this is still NOT the time to go to bars, clubs, or any similarly crowded indoor venues.  Hopefully by Fourth of July it will be relatively safe to do so at least in most areas, but that is only if people don't screw this up in the meantime.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Dear Ageists: We're All M*nors Now

Dear Ageists,

Last year, or even just a few weeks ago (though it seems like an eternity ago), you were all feeling smug as a bug in a rug.  So arrogantly complacent as though the world was your oyster just waiting to be shucked.  Every real or imagined social or economic problem was to be blamed on the younger generation, and vaping was apparently the crisis du jour.  And of course you reflexively pivoted to raising the age limit for tobacco and vape products to 21, first state by state, then nationwide by the end of 2019.  This was the culmination of a four-decade period of increasingly tighter restrictions on young people starting with the 21 drinking age, then curfew laws, then increasingly prison-like schools, zero tolerance, helicopter parenting, and stuff like that.  All while increasingly criminalizing young people, treating them like children when they were good and adults when they were bad.  And you systematically divested from the younger generation with budget austerity, particularly in terms of education and social safety net programs all while they grew increasingly necessary in our hollowed-out economy.  And then you had the GALL to gaslight everyone about it all.

But then the coronavirus pandemic began in earnest and really began to bite in March 2020.  And because of all of the bungling and negligence on the part of the federal government in January and February, it got so out of control by mid-March that America had to basically cancel everything and shut down in an attempt to slow the spread of this nasty virus.  First the bars and restaurants were shuttered, then schools, then more and more places until all "nonessential" businesses and most public places were shuttered as well, putting millions of people out of work. Stay-at-home orders and curfews were then implemented in most states, some stricter than others.  Just about anything is illegal now unless the state government approves it as "essential", and in many states people of all ages can now be thrown into a virus-infested jail for violating such lockdown orders.  The longstanding catchphrase "that escalated quickly" really is the understatement of the century now.

Well, I bet you ageists are not so smug now, are you?  You are all now basically being treated like you have been treating young people all along.   And it's only been about a month and you are already getting restless and angry.  Which is fully understandable of course--I really don't like the increasingly Orwellian restrictions either--but your rank hypocrisy is so thick you could cut it with a knife.  And your waving of Confederate flags, open carry of AR-15s, gridlocking traffic near hospitals of all places, and deliberate and blatant flouting of even basic social distancing protocols only makes you look that much more ridiculous and dare we say, immature.

So consider yourselves all grounded until further notice.  Now go wash your filthy mouths out with soap and go to your room!

Young people and their adult allies

P.S.  The word "m*nor" is a slur against young people under the age of 18, 21, or whatever arbitrary age happens to be the flavor of the month.  So don't go repeating it unless you REALLY like the taste of soap!

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Hawaii's Tobacco 25 Bill Has Died--For Now

Finally, a bit of good news for once:  the abominable bill to raise the smoking and vaping age to 25 (!) in Hawaii has fortunately died unceremoniously in the House, at least for now.  It may be tweaked and reintroduced at a later date, of course, but for now it has lost momentum at least.

That said, this is certainly no time for our movement to rest on our laurels.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

And You Thought They Would Stop At 21

Hawaii was the first state to raise the tobacco smoking and vaping age to 21, just four years ago in 2016.  While that may seem like only yesterday, and that is certainly bad enough, there is now a bill to raise the age limit to 25.  No, this is not The Onion, this has a very real chance of passing.  Additionally, there is another bill that by 2025 would raise the smoking age to...wait for it...100.  Yes, you read that right.

These bills had better not pass, lest it become contagious.  Just like Tobacco 21 laws have proven to be.  Alas, this evil train does NOT seem to stop at 21, nor will it stop at tobacco for that matter.  It is apparently an express train, with 25 being next, and other rights and privileges also in its sights as well.

Well, everything except going to war, of course, since the war machine apparently likes 'em young, fresh, and green, as they always have.  And of course the age of consent for sex (and you can probably also add porn and stripping, and even prostitution in Nevada) as well, since nothing says "adulto-patriarchy" like a little "droit du seigneur", apparently.  In other words, 18-24 year olds are only (non-)adults when it is convenient for those in power.  Thus, not only is tyranny as whimisical as it is bipartisan, but they clearly need to stop pretending that their concerns are moral ones, or even based on public health.

RIP Hawaii, paradise well and truly lost.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Does Social Norms Marketing Work In The Long Run? The Latest Study Says Yes

The latest study on social norms marketing for Michigan State University students over a 14 year period is highly encouraging.  From 2000 to 2014, high-risk drinking dropped significantly faster at MSU than it did for national trends:
  • The percentage of MSU students who said they consumed eight or more drinks in one sitting dropped from nearly 28% to 16.5%, a 41% relative decrease.
  • The percentage of MSU students who said they drove after drinking fell by 58% as well.
  • Additionally, another forthcoming study found that the percentage of MSU students who said they drank on 10 or more days in the past month dropped from 24.1% to 13.4% by 2016, while it remained largely flat at the national level.
That is quite impressive.  Considering how MSU went from being consistently in The Princeton Review's list of top 20 "party schools" to no longer being on that list anymore, that really says something.

How does social norms marketing work?  Young people often falsely believe that their peers are drinking, smoking, vaping, toking, or using other substances much more than is actually the case, and they feel pressure to conform to such inaccurate norms.  This is called "pluralistic ignorance".  By simply setting the record straight about the actual numbers, it tends to reduce the use of such substances overall when the "reign of error" is corrected.  In contrast, moral panics exaggerate the levels of use, which tends to increase the use of such substances, in what is known as a "deviancy amplification spiral".

Most other studies agree on the effectiveness of the social norms approach.  The effects are quite robust and seem to occur fairly quickly in most studies.  So what about the handful of studies that seem to disagree?  It is true that poorly designed programs, unsurprisingly, do not work very well.  And for colleges and demographics in which heavy drinking is most entrenched, it stands to reason that it can take longer to show any effects, longer than the short time periods of most studies on the matter.  Attitudes generally have to change first before behavior does, as a rule.  But as we see, Michigan State is clearly an example of a formerly entrenched heavy drinking "party school" that did show massive declines in both high-risk drinking practices as well as drunk driving and the frequency of drinking.  And those declines were in fact quite long-term, continuing at least a decade and a half with still no signs of stalling.

(Looks like William DeJong was right the first time after all, even if the alcohol outlet density in college towns may moderate or confound the results in his later research on the subject.)

Social norms marketing is clearly a highly effective yet inexpensive way to reduce harmful alcohol and other substance use/abuse, and best of all, it does not violate anyone's civil rights or liberties at all.  In contrast, legalistic crackdowns and so-called "environmental management" programs like "A Matter of Degree" are expensive, authoritarian, intrusive, ageist, and can be quite difficult to implement in practice.  So what are we waiting for?

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Most Young People Don't Vape, And Even Fewer Vape Regularly

Finally, an honest article about the teen vaping "epidemic", written by New York University (NYU).  Rather than fan the flames of moral panic, and increase teen vaping even further, they simply tell it like it is.  Based on the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey of middle and high school students:
  • Over 80% of students, or more than 4 out of 5, did not use any tobacco or nicotine product at all in the past 30 days.
  • Over 86%, or more than 6 out of 7, of students did not vape in the past 30 days.
  • Only 3.6% of students, or fewer than one in 25, vaped regularly (i.e. on 20+ days per month), while
  • A mere 0.4%, or one in 250, of tobacco-naive students vaped with that sort of frequency.
  • All while combustible tobacco use is at a record low.
And that was in 2018, which was the year when the moral panic over teen vaping really began in earnest.  While the 2019 data for that survey showed a further increase in vaping since 2018, the full data had not been made public yet, so a detailed analysis could not be done as it was for 2018.

These are the kinds of articles that need to go viral, not the moral panic ones.  It's basically social norms marketing.  Young people often falsely believe that their peers are drinking, smoking, vaping, toking, or using other substances much more than is actually the case, and they feel pressure to conform to such inaccurate norms.  This is called "pluralistic ignorance".  By setting the record straight about the actual numbers, it tends to reduce the use of such substances overall.  In contrast, moral panics exaggerate the levels of use, which tends to increase the use of such substances, in what is known as a "deviancy amplification spiral".

Thus, the real public service message needs to be as follows: Over 4 out of 5 teens don't use tobacco or nicotine.  Over 6 out of 7 don't vape.  And even fewer vape regularly--24 out of 25 do not.  Join the majority!