Manipulating Scientific Conclusions

There’s an old saying that statistics don’t lie, but you can lie with statistics. The same can be said about scientific research. If you have predetermined conclusions, you can manipulate the study results to confirm those conclusions.

A perfect example of this is a study done recently by Duke University’s ABC Science Collaborative. Jay Bhattacharya and Tom Nicholson explain in an article published recently in The Wall Street Journal. They say the study was conducted in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Researchers examined the effect of a “test to stay” approach to schoolchildren identified as “close contacts” of Covid-positive people.

Test-to-stay excuses these children from quarantining if they test negative for the virus. The study’s primary conclusion was that test-to-stay is a good way to move away from lengthy quarantine. So far so good.

But the researchers also filled their report with rhetorical sleights of hand aimed at misleading readers into other, less well-founded conclusions that were mostly inevitable products of their own study design. One of their primary conclusions is that “in schools with universal masking, test-to-stay is an effective strategy.” The assumption from that conclusion is that test-to-stay fails without universal masking. But since they studied no unmasked schools, this conclusion is baseless. The authors say “An honest report would either have said so or not mentioned masking at all.”

To make matters worse, Duke’s Press office amplified the unfounded conclusion in its January 4, 2022 summary of the study: “Children and staff who repeatedly test negative for Covid-19 after contact with someone who has the illness can safely remain in school if universal masking programs are in place.” (emphasis mine) This statement is not supported by the research design.

The media took this press release and added a further falsehood. Raleigh’s WRAL characterized the study as a defense of forced masking while pitching the study as documenting the danger of youth sports: “Athletics were the source of 50% of all Covid-19 school transmission found in the study.” This statement is demonstrably false.

It is true that the ABC researchers found a higher rate of transmission during sports. But that was entirely a product of how the researchers defined Covid “exposure.” Students were counted as exposed only if they were unmasked during the interaction with an infected person. In mask-mandatory schools, that happened only during lunch and sports. If a transmission occurred in a masked classroom, the definition didn’t count it as a close contact. And the study found only three sports-related positives out of 352 tests. When combined with the three lunch-related positives, the six total positives resulted in a mere 1.7% of maskless exposures ending up with a Covid-19 positive contact.

Dr. Bhattacharya says, “An honest summary of the study might have said: “There is a low transmission rate of the virus among students, even when unmasked at lunch or during sports.” But a summary like that wouldn’t have reinforced the politically acceptable message of public-health authorities today, and so unfounded points had to be fashioned to fit the narrative.”

It is clear these researchers were looking to reinforce their predetermined conclusions and therefore they summarized their study results to be sure they fit. Apparently, this isn’t the first time for the same ABC collaborative. In July, they made a series of bold claims about the efficacy of masking children in schools based on a study that didn’t include an unmasked control group. This is clearly a faulty study design by people who are more interested in political persuasion than science. The authors of this article conclude: “Scientific communication should limit itself to the communication of science, rather than to the manipulation of human behavior.”

School Choice Saves Money and Children

School choice opponents are running out of excuses. For years they have tried to persuade us that school choice wasted tax-payers’ money, dismantled public schools, and skimmed the cream of the crop of students. How else to explain, in their words, why the private and charter school students were doing better than public school students?

But these arguments are crumbling in the wake of mounting evidence. The “skimming the cream of the crop” argument is destroyed by the fact that New York, and many other cities, use lotteries to determine who gets the coveted spots in the charter schools. Since the number of students in the lottery greatly exceeds the number of available spots, the public schools continue to benefit from those good students not chosen.

The latest information destroys the argument that school choice wastes taxpayers’ money. The truth is the opposite. Martin F. Lueken, writing in The Wall Street Journal, reports his recent fiscal analysis of 40 educational choice programs from their inceptions through fiscal 2018 found the programs cumulatively saved taxpayers up to $28.3 billion on net, or $7,500 per student. In other words, for every dollar spent on expanding educational opportunities for families via school choice programs, taxpayers saved about $2.80.

At the same time, public schools are also flush with cash as the federal government has directed $190 billion in pandemic relief funding – about $3,500 per student – making it hard to argue that public schools are suffering. Nevertheless, wherever school choice programs are introduced, opponents inevitably argue they harm public schools and students who remain in them by “draining” much-needed resources.

Lueken gives us some important statistics to consider. Despite these claims, the truth is only 2% of all publicly funded K-12 students in states where school choice programs operate participate in them, and these programs receive only 1 % of the funding for public K-12 education. It appears that private school choice programs are educating kids at half the cost of public schools.

There also seems to be a benefit for public school students in communities where school choice programs exist. A 2019 meta-analysis conducted by scholars at the University of Texas and elsewhere, concluded: “The lack of an overall negative impact on student outcomes might ease critics’ concerns that competition will hurt those students ‘left behind’ due to school choice policies.”

This destroys yet another argument of school choice opponents – that those students remaining in public schools are somehow harmed by these choice programs. The truth is that competition always leads to improved quality and lower costs – no matter what industry you are considering. Education is no exception.

Lueken says, “No one is siphoning resources, and the kids in both public and private schools wind up better off than before. If anything, public schools operating alongside private schools in a choice environment have more of an incentive to use their resources wisely and center their efforts on student retention.”

As a political issue, school choice is gaining ground. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased interest in school choice programs in many states and legislatures are expanding opportunities for these programs. Parental support in the U.S. for various school-choice policies ranged between 74% and 84%, according to a 2021 EdChoice poll.

Lueken concludes, “Whether it’s financial objections or philosophical ones, choice opponents are running out of reasons to object to these policies. As this legislative season shapes up to become a busier one than we typically see during an election year, state lawmakers have an opportunity to implement educational choice programs that put families first and save public dollars.”

With this new information, there is no good reason to oppose school choice unless you’re trying to protect bad teachers – as the teachers unions do. But now we can see that school choice programs not only help kids get ahead in this world with a better education, they also save the taxpayers’ money. What’s not to like?

Boosters Effective Against Omicron

Some good news for a change – booster shots work against Omicron. Even the CDC admits this is true!

Three new studies released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledge the effectiveness of booster shots even against the Covid-19 variant known as Omicron. In one of the studies, a CDC analysis found that a third dose of either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine was at least 90% effective against preventing hospitalization from Covid-19 during both the Delta and Omicron periods, reported The Wall Street Journal.

During the Delta period, vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization from Covid-19 was 90% from two weeks until about 6 months after dose two, 81% from at least six months after dose two and 94% at least two weeks after a booster dose. When Omicron was dominant, vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization for the same periods were 81%, 57%, and 90% respectively.

An additional study published in Nature also supports booster doses and backs up previous findings from Pfizer and BioNTech showing that a third dose of their vaccine neutralizes Omicron, but that its two-dose regimen is significantly less effective at blocking the virus. According to a more recent study, two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine provided little neutralizing antibody immunity against Omicron infection even at one month after vaccination, but a third dose offered more than 50% protection.

In a separate study published recently by the CDC, research showed that among patients in California and New York during the Delta wave, prior infection provided more protection against Covid-19 than vaccination, though both offered significant defense from the virus. In other words, natural immunity from prior infection may be even more protective than mandated vaccines. I’ll bet the White House cringed when the CDC released that information!

The data for that study was collected before Omicron’s emergence and the widespread booster campaign, so many people were likely experiencing some waning immunity from vaccination. The CDC said the findings couldn’t be applied to the Omicron wave.

The Omicron wave appears to be losing steam already, just as it did in South Africa, where it originated in November. Hospitalization numbers are declining in the U.S., as well as in Europe, where France became the second big European economy after the U.K. to begin lifting Covid-19 restrictions. British prime minister Boris Johnson has actually lifted all masking mandates – to the widespread applause of the House of Commons!

Many hospitals in places like New York and Washington, D.C. are reporting fewer Covid-19 patients and smaller numbers of staff absent with infection. Seven-day averages in states like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are showing sharp declines from recent Omicron-fueled peaks, Johns Hopkins data show. Better get your booster shot now before it’s too late!