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SCIENCE SALON PODCAST # 143

Michael Shermer with Nicholas Christakis — Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live

Apollo’s Arrow offers a riveting account of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic as it swept through American society in 2020, and of how the recovery will unfold in the coming years. Drawing on momentous (yet dimly remembered) historical epidemics, contemporary analyses, and cutting-edge research from a range of scientific disciplines, bestselling author, physician, sociologist, and public health expert Nicholas A. Christakis explores what it means to live in a time of plague — an experience that is paradoxically uncommon to the vast majority of humans who are alive, yet deeply fundamental to our species. Featuring new, provocative arguments and vivid examples ranging across medicine, history, sociology, epidemiology, data science, and genetics, Apollo’s Arrow envisions what happens when the great force of a deadly germ meets the enduring reality of our evolved social nature.

Shermer and Christakis discuss:

  • the replication crisis in social science and medicine,
  • determining causality in science and medicine,
  • how we know smoking causes cancer and HIV causes AIDS, but vaccines do not cause autism and cell phones do not cause cancer,
  • randomized controlled trials and why they can’t be done to answer many medical questions,
  • natural experiments and the comparative method of testing hypotheses (e.g., comparing different countries differing responses to Covid-19),
  • the hindsight bias and the curse of knowledge in judging responses to pandemics after the fact,
  • looking back to January 2020, what should we have done?,
  • comparing Covid-19 to the Black Death, the Spanish Flu, and other pandemics,
  • bacteria vs. viruses, coronaviruses and their effects, and why viruses are so much harder to treat than bacteria,
  • Bill Gates’ TED talk warning in 2015 and why we didn’t heed it,
  • treatments: hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir, Vitamin D.

How civilization will change:

  • medical: coronavirus is here to stay — herd immunity naturally and through vaccines,
  • personal and public health: handshakes, hugs, and other human contact; masks, social distancing, hygiene,
  • long run healthier society (e.g., body temperatures have decreased from 98.6 to 97.9),
  • economics and business,
  • travel, conferences, meetings,
  • marriage, dating, sex, and home life,
  • entertainment, vacations, bars, and restaurants,
  • education and schools,
  • politics and society (and a better understanding of freedom and why it is restricted),
  • from pandemic to endemic.

Nicholas A. Christakis is a physician and sociologist who explores the ancient origins and modern implications of human nature. He directs the Human Nature Lab at Yale University, where he is the Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science, in the Departments of Sociology, Medicine, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Statistics and Data Science, and Biomedical Engineering. He is the Co-Director of the Yale Institute for Network Science, the co-author of Connected, and the author of Blueprint.

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