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What is this post about?

Disclaimer: this is my first attempt at 'Building my Scout Mindset,' so it's not polished, the format isn't finalized, and I need to do some actual 'analysis.'

Upon First Glance

This section excerpts my stream-of-consciousness upon first reading the article.

Headline: 'Biden is putting politics ahead of stopping the COVID spread' (July 15, 2021)

  • Huh? I think Biden's doing a fairly okay job at trying to stop COVID from spreading ... This is the New York Post so I bet it's something conservative they're pushing.
  • Wonder what policy they're against now.

Note: I definitely only clicked on this article because of that 'drama-stirring' headline.


This subsection annotates the article with my immediate thoughts in italic.

Shots in arms, not shutdowns, are the answer. Good, I'm glad we agree! Among the big risks to Americans right now are unvaccinated health-care workers and unvaccinated illegal immigrants fanning out across the country. Ah, so this is about immigration. Great. (Sarcasm, particularly as I am an immigrant) But President Joe Biden is putting politics ahead of tackling these two politically toxic problems. Oh? Also, politically toxic?

Feeling: Defensive

Team Biden is banning foreign travelers from many countries, including the United Kingdom, even if they’re fully vaccinated. Sounds like he's being cautious, which doesn't jive with the headline. Yet the prez is OK with letting hundreds of thousands of unvaccinated foreigners wade across the Rio Grande to enter the United States via the southern border. Ah. Of course.

Feeling: Resigned

  • "Hundreds of thousands of unvaccinated foreigners" is clearly meant to raise a scary image, and it's kind of impressive that I can immediately imagine that scenario.
  • Rio Grande - so, Mexico. Of course.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement data, more than 80 percent of these migrants are unvaccinated. Oh, that's high! Some come from countries such as Brazil and Peru that have high infection rates and worrisome variants. That does sound worrying. But every country is facing worrisome variants, including the U.S., wherein the Delta variant has become dominant. The vaccination rates in Honduras and Guatemala, the countries of origin for most border crossers, are less than 1 percent. Okay. That sounds bad. But it's not their fault - it really sucks that their countries probably don't have the infrastructure, or even the vaccines, to vaccinate everyone. And hang on, didn't I recently read an article about people crossing the border to get vaccinated here?

Feeling: Mildly surprised.

I'm still trying to find that article but in the mean time, here's a similar piece in The New York Times.

The Border Patrol doesn’t routinely test or vaccinate migrants when they’re apprehended, so data on infection rates are generally lacking. Sounds like TBP should do better. But when testing is done, the results are alarming. During a one-week period in California, a staggering 15 percent of migrants released into the community by the Border Patrol were found to be COVID-infected. Well, that sounds high. I have no idea about stats honestly - my only frame of reference is NYS, where the positivity rate is ~1% (as of Wednesday, if I recall correctly), so this sounds bad?

Some of these migrants brought the disease from their home country or picked it up en route, while others caught it in crowded border detention facilities. Either way, once they’re processed by border authorities and board buses to far-away destinations such as New York and Chicago, they pose a national danger. Yeah but they pose a danger to everyone, you know. Don't you dare try to pull 'national security' here when the U.S. health system would be better equipped to manage a COVID-19 infection. Biden and Harris need to slam shut the border for health reasons. Okay, that simply does not follow.

  • I actually have low confidence in my claim that "the U.S. health system would be better equipped ..." just because I have no knowledge of the health systems in Honduras, Guatemala, etc. so it seems disingenuous to claim even average certainty. However, I feel like my claim is pretty weak so I think some confidence is warranted.
  • I don't think the second paragraph's conclusion follows from the preceding points because they note that some "caught it [COVID-19] in crowded border detention facilities," suggesting that part of the problem lies in the U.S. government's handling of things rather than the literal migration flow. I mean, potato potahto but having recently taken a Public Policy class where 50% of the grade was about correctly defining the problem, I feel like this is at least partly misdiagnosing the problem (and hence reaching a spurious conclusion).

The president also needs to use his bully pulpit to encourage health-care workers here in the United States to get vaccinated. Bully pulpit? What would that involve? I feel like the U.S. gov is running quite the marketing campaign - now, could they be doing things besides bringing Olivia Rodrigo to the White House? Yeah, probably. Should they be? Yeah, probably. Imagine you’re a hospital patient worrying that the nurse treating you or the attendant bringing your lunch has COVID. Nearly one in four hospital workers who has direct patient contact hasn’t received a single dose of vaccine, according to incomplete data from the Department of Health and Human Services. Incomplete because neither HHS nor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made it a priority to get that information from all hospitals. Hmm. I know how awful medical information systems and communication is, so I have little to argue with here except that it's really everybody's fault.

Some hospitals have mandated vaccines. NewYork-Presbyterian is giving all employees until Sept. 1 to get at least the first shot in order to keep their jobs. But the 1199SEIU health-care workers union plans to fight against the mandate, and the New York State Nurses Association also opposes it. Hmm, I wonder why? I want to look that up to understand their reasoning. ... No one has a constitutional right to be an unvaccinated health-care worker. Get the jab or get another job. Oooh I actually think I agree. 

  • It's interesting that I instinctively feel a twinge of ... Protectiveness, or even belief-shifting, once I read about healthcare worker unions. Because unions tend to be coded as progressive in the U.S. (besides armed officer unions), I immediately Did The Thing that Julia talked about: I asked, "Must I believe it?"

The United Kingdom took the radical step of mandating vaccinations for all nursing-home workers and is considering a requirement for all health-care workers. It’s no wonder. Data from earlier in the year show that 20 percent of patients hospitalized with COVID there contracted it in the hospital. Yikes. ... But Democrats, including Biden and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, apparently are so worried about offending union bigwigs that they won’t take sides on the urgency of vaccinating health-care workers. The president has said nothing, literally zip, about this serious health danger. Okay, really? Just because he's not only addressing health workers when he tells people to get vaccinated doesn't mean that he's not talking about the "serious health danger" of getting vaccinated.

  • This supports the reflection I outlined above!
  • Now that I have shifted into, "Oh, I agree that mandating vaccines would be nice theoretically," I feel less hostile.
  • However, I also instinctively feel like there are many reasons that actually mandating vaccinations would be bad. This instinct is in part drawn from knowledge that Biden has not mandated vaccinations (and so there must be a good reason not to make that public policy), and in part because I am confident there is some racial equity reason. There's always an equity reason.

As a candidate, Biden promised to “follow the science.” But no surprise, he’s putting politics first. These aren't mutually exclusive ... ? I don't know, this is just falling flat as a critique to me. Biden is promising to go door-to-door to get people vaccinated. Going door-to-door works for getting out the vote, but it’s not enough to solve this public-health crisis. I mean that's fair. I don't think going door-to-door will eliminate COVID-19 in the U.S., or anywhere in the world really.

  • What does this have to do with immigration??? Why the immigration point???
  • Well, I'm really glad it didn't attack immigration policy but in a way I'm kind of upset she chose to use that frame.

Some brief thoughts on my reflections:

  • Really scary(? Fascinating? Not sure what word to use honestly) how much of my thinking is driven by identity (e.g. "How would a left-leaning person react?") and how utterly instinctual that is.
  • Also interesting how this kind of reaction can really obscure common ground and/or completely shut down a potentially productive conversation.
    • Had I followed my gut reaction of, "Oh this is wack [because this conclusion about immigration is nonsensical]," I probably would not have realized that I kind of agree with this article.

Betsy McCaughey is the author of “The Next Pandemic” and chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths.

This was very interesting to me. 'The Next Pandemic' seems potentially EA-aligned because while I get the sense I'll also disagree with it a lot (e.g., "many more Americans will likely die from getting laid off than from the virus"), it supports a conclusion I could easily see myself coming to agree with: "The shutdown wasn’t caused by the virus. It was a frantic response to America’s unpreparedness."

  • This is likely because I already believe America is insufficiently prepared for biorisks, and that it handled COVID-19 very poorly.
  • Finding out that she authored a book like that somehow makes me more amenable to her and her arguments.

edit: Added the rest of my reflections below! Please note that I'm writing these a few weeks after this article was published, and recent developments have provided evidence to support my existing beliefs.

Ideological Turing Test

I think a fair summary of the author's position is,

The Biden-Harris Administration is being inconsistent in their COVID-19 policymaking, contrary to their claim that they "follow the science." Instead, they prioritize what is politically attractive. This is evidenced in two ways:

  1. Despite imposing travel bans from countries such as the U.K., which has comparable vaccination rates, they allow in unvaccinated immigrants from South America. These immigrants come from countries with especially high infection rates and could spread dangerous variants. For public health reasons, the Biden-Harris Administration must impose an immigration ban.
  2. The Biden-Harris Administration doesn't encourage health care workers to get vaccinated, even though they deal directly with patients and affect the safety of public health infrastructure. This is because some healthcare worker unions are against vaccine mandates and the Biden-Harris administration doesn't want to appear anti-union.

Inspired by Julia Galef's suggestion:

Pick a belief you hold strongly and attempt an ideological Turing test of the other side. (Bonus points if you can actually find someone from the other side to judge your attempt.)

Do let me know if you happen to be (or know) "someone from the other side" and would be interested in judging my attempt!


Main points of conflict

  1. Defining the (solution to the) problem created by unvaccinated immigrants—is the problem that they are able to enter the United States or is the problem that they are able to infect Americans? If the latter, then the point of contention is about the best solution: for example, I believe that testing and vaccinating immigrants would be at least as effective while being less costly overall.
    1. Of course, this might change if we value American welfare over non-American welfare, since I am considering the cost to immigrants in my decisionmaking. Indeed, the bigger conflict here might be the scope of goals (saving as many lives as possible from COVID? Preventing the spread of COVID domestically? Creating the most utility overall?)
  2. The motivation behind the Biden-Harris Administration not encouraging union workers to get vaccinated—The author believes that the Biden-Harris Administration is motivated by political deference to unions whereas I believe the Biden-Harris Administration doesn't target specific populations in their remarks, excepting those they have some responsibility over (i.e. Federal employees).

Belief(s) Changed?

I think the main belief I can analyze here is "the motivation behind the Biden-Harris Administration not encouraging union workers to get vaccinated." 

Going by Bayes' Rule, I feel like the probability that we would see the Biden-Harris Administration not encourage any workers excepting Federal staff to get vaccinated is more likely if they generally didn't want to target specific populations rather than because they are worried about seeming anti-union.

This seems especially the case given that a Federal union exists and other, more specific unions (e.g. American Postal Workers Union), have pushed back against a mandate.

However, I did learn that there is a heartbreakingly low proportion of vaccinated people in Honduras and Guatemala, which makes me feel like immigration centers could definitely be sources of outbreak. I don't think my belief has updated to thinking that shutting borders would be a better way of achieving what I value (which is not 'preventing COVID-19 spread among Americans') though.

Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

Miranda,  (stumbled on these 3 posts of yours, when searching up a different post. )

Big props for putting an important idea to practice in real life. You rock !!!

Haha aw, thanks! I would love to keep doing these some day.

Thanks for making this public, found it really interesting to follow your train of thought. Also, despite hearing about it in the past, I had completely forgotten about Julia's book. Added it to my reading list now. :)

Seconded, I‘d really like to read more of stream of thought inspections like this. Seems like a great practice and also like a cool way to understand other people‘s thought processes around difficult topics.

Glad it was interesting! I did hope that others might be motivated to take up a scout habit if they read this, so I'm happy to hear that you might be one step closer to that. : )

Also, thank you for commenting because I am now realising I didn't include the article that this post is on...

I think this might be appearing on the front page despite me unchecking the 'Frontpage' box - which seems like a recurring issue for me.

I am sorry if this is on the front page; I don't think it should be and I intended for this to live on my personal blog...

Keep in mind that some people choose not to apply our default filter (which removes "personal blog" posts from the front page). The only way to completely hide a post from the front page for everyone is to make it a Shortform post or leave it "unlisted" (only available via link).

However, anyone who chooses not to use the filter is by definition interested in personal-blog-type posts, so I think you're fine!

Oh, I didn't know that! Appreciate the clarification of how the Forum works.

By the way, I thought this post was excellent, and that future posts of this kind (if you write them) would be good for the frontpage (if you wanted to put them there).

Aw, thank you! Just published my next post onto the frontpage (I think), so I suppose we'll see if that sentiment holds!

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