Zoom classes are a disaster for colleges. It's time to bring all students back into the classroom.

When the Covid-19 pandemic first hit, in March of 2020, colleges everywhere (including Johns Hopkins University, where I teach and conduct research) shut down and sent everyone home. Within two weeks, we switched all of our classes to Zoom.

It was a remarkable pivot, and necessary at the time. But we’re now more than two years into the pandemic, and many colleges and universities are still holding classes on Zoom, or offering a Zoom option for students who want it.

This has become, to put it bluntly, a disaster for students.

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a lengthy article in April that surveyed faculty all over the country. It paints a grim picture: students are reporting mental health problems in record numbers, grades are low, and attendance is even lower. Depression is widespread. College life, it seems, is not good.

Most universities returned to in-person classes this past fall, and some returned in person as early as the fall of 2020. All of them instituted systems to prevent Covid-19 outbreaks, including regular PCR testing, required quarantines for anyone who was positive, and (most important of all) required vaccinations.

These precautions generally worked: we saw very few serious outbreaks of Covid-19 on college campuses, and even fewer serious illnesses. College students, I should note, are at very low risk for serious illness, based on their age.

Unfortunately, all of these precautions sent a loud message to students: you’re in danger! Quarantine, hibernate, stay away from other people!

And now some of them don’t want to come back.

At many universities, the strategy for returning to campus has included a combination of hybrid and in-person classes. Some schools had students return and held all classes over Zoom, at least for the first semester or two. Others held smaller classes in person, and large lectures were delivered by Zoom. Many colleges (mine included) required professors to record all lectures, even if students were there in person.

These strategies continued right through the current semester. Zoom recordings were available to anyone, in part to ensure that students who caught the virus would still be able to keep up with classes.

That sounded fair enough, but it hasn’t worked out well at all. It turns out that – surprise! – 19-year-olds don’t always make the wisest decisions about how to manage their time.

For example, if you give them the choice between (A) get dressed, walk across campus, and sit in a classroom for an hour to listen to a professor’s lecture, or (B) stay in your dorm room and veg out, and (maybe) watch the Zoom recording of the lecture later–they usually choose B!

Attendance at in-person classes is shocking low, across the country. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reported, in one large biology class of 120 students, only 20-30 showed up in person, and only one or two watched the video. According to the Chronicle’s survey, “far fewer students show up to class. Those who do avoid speaking when possible. Many skip the readings or the homework. They struggle on tests.

Not only that, but students almost never watch those Zoom recordings. They think they will go back and watch the video, but the little data that we have shows that they don’t. Remember, these are 19- and 20-year olds.

Fortunately, there’s a way to fix this. Universities need to remember that we’re in the business of educating students, and we can’t just ask the students what they want and then give it to them. They need guidance on how to get educated.

We need to tell our students what to do. That means we need to stop offering them recordings that they can “catch up on later,” because they just won’t do that. Sure, they will grumble if they have to get out of bed and go to class, but what teenager doesn’t?

And here’s one of the things we need to tell them: if you’re a student, you are required to attend class, in person. But what if they are sick? Well, we’ve had ways to deal with that forever, and we simply need to return to those ways. Students can miss a class, maybe two, and get notes from others or meet one-on-one with the professor to find out what they missed. This happens occasionally, and we can manage it.

One thing I’ve realized during these pandemic classes is that no combination of homework and tests will ensure that a student has learned everything in the classes and in the readings for a course. So to those students who say “look, I did well on all the assignments and passed the final, so isn’t that enough?” I answer no, it’s not.

A college class is more than just the sum of the grades on the assignments. Being in class with other students is a critical part of the educational experience: it enables countless unplanned interactions, both social and intellectual, that make college much, much more than just watching a bunch of lectures on Zoom and doing the assignments.

And, as many of my fellow professors have pointed out, it affects us too: lecturing to a room full of young people is a far different experience from lecturing to screen, no matter how many people are on the other side of that screen. “Teaching to me is like a live performance,” one of my colleagues told me, “and the audience interaction (even non-verbal feedback) affects that.”

Of course traditional lectures aren’t the perfect way to deliver an education. I know that college classes could benefit from all sorts of innovations, such as “flipped” classrooms and more hands-on experiences. But classes as we’ve been teaching them are pretty darned good, and they’re a heckuva lot better than staring at a screen in the loneliness of a dorm room. For their own good, and for ours, we need to bring all our students back to class.

The dangerous math that Florida doesn't want its children to learn

Well, this is curious. The state of Florida has rejected a bunch of math textbooks because they contain forbidden subjects, including things like "Critical Race Theory" and "Social Emotional Learning." What on earth, one wonders, could be so offensive in a math textbook for children? The Florida Education Department didn't provide any specific examples. 

By the way, most of the rejected books are for elementary school kids.

Fortunately, I've dug deeper and discovered what the offending math concepts are, so that I could share them with you, dear reader. Here, then, are the six math topics that apparently drove the Florida Education Department to issue its ban:

1. The offending math texts call π an "irrational" number. As everyone knows, pi (π) describes the ratio between the circumference of a circle and its radius, a value that is approximately 3.1416. 

Florida's government knows that math cannot be irrational! This seems to be an attempt to insert Social Emotional Learning into math. 

Incidentally, Florida is in good company here: back in 1897, the Indiana State House passed a bill that declared that π equals 3.2. (It doesn't.) Luckily, when the bill reached the Indiana Senate, a Purdue University professor was in the audience, and he helped the senators realize they shouldn't pass it. They didn't.

2. Many of the textbooks refer to "binary" numbers. Of course, if there are binary numbers, there must be non-binary numbers. Are these mathematics textbooks trying to sneak in references to sex and gender? Florida's Education Department can't allow that.

3. Some of the texts describe "magic squares." Magic, of course, is the work of the devil. Florida wisely decided to keep such offensive terms out of its math curriculum. 

(Aside: a magic square is a square filled with numbers from 1 to N, where the numbers are arranged so that every row, column, and diagonal sums to the same value. These can be fun puzzles for children and adults.)

4. A number of texts introduce the idea of the "golden ratio" and "golden rectangles." Clearly this is a reference to worshipping the golden calf, from the Old Testament, which everyone knows is a false god. What are those math textbooks trying to do here?

Making matters worse, the golden ratio is another irrational number! See my discussion of π above. 

(Aside: two quantities a and b are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities; in other words, if (a+b)/a = a/b.)

5. Most of the offending math texts use the expression "higher power" to refer to exponents rather than to a deity. Obviously this cannot be permitted.

6. Let's not forget the Pythagorean theorem. All the math texts describe this creation of a pagan mathematician from ancient Greece, whose philosophy resembled modern socialism. Why are math books promoting pagan ideology?

The right-wing governor of Florida (and presidential wannabe) Ron DeSantis enthusiastically endorsed the rejection of these textbooks, saying in a press release, "I’m grateful that Commissioner Corcoran and his team at the Department have conducted such a thorough vetting of these textbooks."

Yes, the governor of Florida is deeply concerned about protecting the children of his state. (That's why he's been such an ardent opponent of vaccines.) 

Now if only those math textbook publishers can just make π a nice, rational number, and get rid of any references to binary numbers, I'm sure Florida will forgive them.

(Note: this is satire. Second note: the copy of this article that appeared at Forbes, where I cross-post all my blog articles, had over 40,000 views in just its first few hours, but the editors there took it down because they were afraid (as they informed me) that the satire would confuse readers. I requested that Forbes put it back up, but so far they haven't.)

How accurate are the rapid at-home COVID tests?

Now that 15-minute home tests are available, millions of people can get a quick reading on whether their symptoms are due to Covid-19 or something else.

The at-home tests, although very fast and convenient, are less sensitive than the tests available at most Covid-19 testing centers. The home tests are “antigen” tests, while the gold-standard tests available at medical facilities use another technology, RT-PCR. (I’ll explain a bit more about the technical differences at the end of this article.)

An at-home test is far preferable to leaving your home, possibly exposing others to the virus, and then waiting hours or overnight for test results. The question is, how accurate is it?

Very accurate, for the most part. The chance that you’ll get an incorrect reading from a rapid antigen test is less than 1%. But (there’s always a “but”) it depends on what you mean by accurate. By another measure, they are not quite so reliable.

Let’s dig into the numbers from two new studies, which looked at thousands of cases, and see what they tell us.

In the first study, published recently in JAMA, Joshua Gans and colleagues from the University of Toronto looked at over 900,000 rapid-antigen test results. As expected, the vast majority of the tests were negative, and only 1,322 (0.15% of the total) were positive. They collected results using more-sensitive PCR testing for 1,103 of the positive tests, which allowed them to check whether or not the rapid antigen tests were correct. (This assumes the PCR test is always right, which isn’t quite true either, but it’s a good approximation.)

Surprisingly, 462 (42%) of the positive results were negative when double-checked with PCR. In other words, these were false positives. The investigators tracked these tests back to the source, and they discovered that about 60% of the false positives all came from a single batch of the Abbott Panbio Covid-19 rapid tests. So apparently there was a lower-quality batch that yielded more false positives.

However, another way to look at this data is that the overall rate of false positives was still very low. Out of more than 900,000 tests, only 462 were false positives, which yields a false positive rate of just 0.05%.

Another way to explain this is: if you just walked in off the street, your chance of getting a false positive test was about half of 1%. But once you saw that your results were positive, the chance that the positive result was correct was only about 60%, at least in that study.

One thing lacking in the Toronto study is that the investigators didn’t test everyone with PCR. They only used PCR to double-check the positive tests, so that study doesn’t answer the question of how many infections might have been missed.

Fortunately, the second study answers that question.

In this study, released in late January as a preprint on medRxiv by a group of my Hopkins colleagues led by Zishan Siddiqui, the investigators looked at 1054 participants, and tested all of them with both a rapid antigen test and RT-PCR.

Even though this study looked at far fewer subjects (1000 versus 900,000), they checked everyone with PCR, which allowed them to measure both sensitivity and specificity; i.e., they could count how many infections the antigen test missed.

So how good was the rapid antigen test in this study? First, its sensitivity was 92.7%, meaning that it correctly identified 92.7% of people who had Covid-19, whether or not they had symptoms.

What about those false positives? Here the news was better than the Toronto study, but still far from perfect: about 28% of the positive results from the antigen test were false. That’s better than the 42% found in the Toronto study, but it still means that many positive results from the rapid tests turn out to be incorrect.

What’s the take-home message from these studies? Well, I’d summarize it in three points:

  1. The rapid antigen test is generally very accurate, and certainly worth taking if you have any reason to think you might have Covid-19. The chance that you’ll have an incorrect reading, either positive or negative, is very small, less than 1%.
  2. If you get a negative test, you can relax: over 99.5% of negative results are correct, meaning you truly don’t have Covid-19.
  3. If you do get a positive test, you probably have Covid-19, but there’s still a roughly 30% chance that you don’t. If possible, you should immediately get a followup test using RT-PCR, which is more accurate.

Addendum: for those who want to understand the difference between the rapid antigen test and RT-PCR, here’s a bit more on those.

The rapid antigen test contains molecules called antibodies that bind to a specific molecule, the nucleoprotein, which is present on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The antibodies in the test kit are designed to bind to other molecules that create a small band of color on a test strip, so you can see the results as a colored band in just 15 minutes. The main drawback of these tests is that they sometimes fail to detect the virus. For more details, a good description can be found here.

The RT-PCR test detects the RNA that is the genetic code of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Every virus particle contains this RNA, which is a sequence of about 30,000 “letters” or nucleotides. In RT-PCR tests, we first convert the virus’s RNA to DNA, and then amplify it to make millions of copies. Because this test uses an amplification step, it can detect tiny amounts of virus, which is why it is more sensitive than rapid antigen tests. However, it takes at least a few hours to run this test, so it’s not as fast as the antigen test. For more details about how these tests work, check out the NIH explanation here.

COVID-19 probably started in a live animal market rather than a lab. That's still a huge problem.

A couple of weeks ago, three scientific studies were released on preprint servers (meaning they haven’t yet been peer-reviewed), all with the same conclusion: Covid-19 started in the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, in Wuhan, China.

I looked at the papers, and I’ll summarize them at the end of this article, but let’s start with the implications. For two years now, the world has speculated on whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus leaked from a lab. As I wrote in this space last June, and as many others have observed, the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) was a possible source of the virus. WIV was doing research on coronaviruses in bats, including “gain-of-function” research that aimed to give viruses new capabilities.

It’s easy to imagine that an employee of WIV accidentally got infected, and unknowingly started a worldwide pandemic.

This “lab leak hypothesis” was fiercely denied by China, and initially denied by many independent scientists as well, who published statements that the virus almost certainly originated in the wild, probably in bats. Unfortunately, China shut down nearly all access to WIV, and probably destroyed all samples of coronaviruses there (we may never know), so it was impossible for the World Health Organization (WHO) or anyone else to conduct an independent investigation.

A year or so into the pandemic, as China continued to stonewall any investigation, scientists started to re-consider the lab leak hypothesis. It seemed highly plausible, for a number of reasons, that a lab leak could have occurred, even if no gain-of-function research was going on.

The three new studies, though, all point their fingers to the same place: the Huanan Seafood Market. All of them conclude that the virus probably first infected people directly from animals being sold, either for food or for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine, in the live animal market. Despite its name, incidentally, the market sold a wide variety of live animals, including raccoon dogs, bats, chickens, ducks, snakes, badgers, giant salamanders, and crocodiles.

Let’s suppose the new studies are right. Does this absolve China of responsibility for the Covid-19 pandemic?

Not at all.

China’s huge, open-air live animal markets have been implicated for decades in outbreaks of new infectious diseases, and China has known about it all along. The original SARS outbreak in 2002, which started in Guangdong province, was one prominent example. We were able to contain that outbreak because infected people were highly symptomatic, allowing public health experts to identify and quarantine them. At the time, the Chinese government suppressed reports of the disease and was slow to cooperate with the WHO.

Since at least the late 1990s, influenza experts have warned that new strains of bird flu could jump from birds to humans, and that China’s live animal markets were the most likely source. Many cases of bird flu were reported in the period from 1997 through 2005, often associated with live poultry markets, and yet China did nothing to regulate or shut down those markets.

Studies published in the early 2000’s showed that multiple animals, not just birds, were carrying the original SARS virus, and that these animals were being traded in China’s live animal markets. Yet China ignored the risks.

One reason these markets are especially dangerous to the public is that traders often sell unusual wild animals there, not for food, but for Traditional Chinese Medicine, as I’ve written before. Bats are among the many animals used (or abused) in TCM, and scientists reported as early as May 2020 that bats being sold in the Huanan Seafood Market were the most likely source of the Covid-19 virus.

China should have shut down these markets years ago. They represent an enormous public health threat, and yet the Chinese government ignored the warnings for years. Now that Covid-19 is winding down, or at least moving to an endemic phase, China has a new opportunity to show the world that it takes this threat seriously, by ending all trade in exotic live animals, and by shutting down its live animal markets. (Some live animals, such as fish, are not a threat and might be sold safely, but almost all mammals and birds carry viruses that could jump to humans.)

And lest anyone think otherwise, we still need to impose a ban on gain-of-function research in deadly viruses, as I’ve been arguing for years. All the way back in 2014, I asked the question, “should scientists be artificially mutating viruses so that they have the potential to become a worldwide pandemic?” I thought the answer was obvious, and yet the NIH (in the US) allowed the research to continue, after “pausing” it for a few years in the mid-2010’s.

When NIH initially paused its support for gain-of-function work, many virologists pushed back, arguing that they had plenty of safeguards in place, and no virus would ever leak out. Plus, they argued, their work was important in helping us prevent pandemics. Right.

We now know, definitively, that those virologists were wrong. We know that leaks are at least a possibility, even from the most secure biological labs, which is why multiple scientists, including some virologists, called for a fuller investigation into the lab leak hypothesis back in May 2021.

We also know that gain-of-function research did nothing to prevent the Covid-19 pandemic. Nothing, Zip. Nada.

We can take at least two lessons from this pandemic: first, that live-animal food markets should be shut down, especially those that sell wild animals rather than farm-raised ones; and second, that gain-of-function research on deadly viruses should be shut down as well.

Finally, for those who want to know about those three new papers I referenced at the beginning, here’s a brief summary.

The first paper, by George Gao et al., is a summary of extensive virus testing at the Huanan Seafood Market, on samples collected in early 2020. They found SARS-CoV-2 in 73 environmental samples (collected from locations in the market but not in people or animals), and yet “no virus was detected in the animal swabs covering 18 species of animals in the market.” In other words, the virus was found at the marketplace, but not in any of the animals, suggesting that infected people walking through the market were the source of those positive samples. Where did those people get the virus? This paper doesn’t answer that question.

The paper by Michael Worobey et al. shows more, however: not only do they show that all of the early cases were clustered in or very near the Huanan Seafood Market, but also that “positive environmental samples were strongly associated with vendors selling live animals.” In other words, even though we haven’t found the original animal source of the virus, the locations are all centered on live animal vendors. They conclude that the Huanan market was “the unambiguous epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The third paper, by Jonathan Pekar et al., reports that there were actually two distinct events where the original SARS-CoV-2 virus jumped from animals to humans, both at the very beginning of the pandemic, probably in late November 2019. These authors also point the finger at the Huanan Seafood Market, and they implicate another animal, raccoon dogs, as a likely source. Raccoon dogs are closely related to foxes (not raccoons, despite the name), and were being sold as food in the Huanan market. Scientists have known since at least 2003 that raccoon dogs can carry SARS coronaviruses. This paper illustrates yet again why live-animal markets represent a threat to human health.

You're being duped. Here's how to spot it.

It struck me recently that anti-vaxxers, quacks, dictators, populists, and other would-be autocrats all follow the same playbook. They all want to sell you something for their own personal gain, and all of them are willing to lie to get what they want.

These lies have a purpose, and it’s rarely good.

Let's look at a few of the most damaging lies from recent events, starting with medicine and then moving on to politics. (Lies are in italics.)

If you believe that vaccines don't work, you've been duped.

If you believe that vaccines cause autism, you've been duped.

Vaccines are the greatest invention in the history of medicine. They've saved billions of lives, dramatically increased human life expectancy, and in many ways enabled the growth of civilization itself. The Covid-19 vaccines are more than 90% effective, and without them we'd have no chance to end the pandemic.

And yet many anti-vaxxers claim that vaccines don't work. They also claim there's a massive conspiracy to hide the (extremely rare) harms caused by vaccines. 

The anti-vax movement is led by people like Andrew Wakefield, Robert F. Kennedy Jr, Joe Mercola (whom I wrote about  in 2010, in 2014, and last year), and other members of the Disinformation Dozen who use social media to spread vaccine misinformation. They make a great deal of money selling books, seminars, and (in the case of Mercola) bogus treatments for the diseases that vaccines prevent. These people simply make stuff up and then demand that scientists devote time to disproving it. 

Science doesn’t work that way. If you make a claim, you first have to prove it, by producing evidence and rigorously-done studies that go through peer review. You can't just throw out garbage claims and insist that other people do the work of disproving them. Nope.

If you believe that ivermectin is a cure for Covid-19, you've been duped. 

As I’ve explained in this column, ivermectin doesn’t help at all in treating Covid-19, and it’s dangerous if you take too much of it. But if you prefer to get medical advice from right-wing zealots like Tucker Carlson, go ahead.

If you believe that hydroxychloroquine is a cure for Covid-19, you've been duped.

The misinformation about hydroxychloroquine started with an egocentric French microbiologist, who posted an over-the-top video claiming he had the solution to Covid-19, a claim that was quickly debunked. That didn’t stop politicians and right-wing television pundits from promoting it, even as evidence emerged that it was nonsense.

Hawkers of ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, and other fake Covid-19 cures have profited by claiming, first, that the government is lying and that vaccines don't work, and second, that they have a truly effective treatment that they can sell you. This is a double lie, but a necessary one, because if they can't convince you that vaccines don't work, then they won't be able to sell your their snake oil. 

For instance, a sketchy right-wing group called America’s Frontline Doctors (which is not, despite the name, a group of doctors working on the front lines of any disease) was selling $90 online “consultations” where they provided prescriptions for ivermectin. The $90 didn’t include the cost of the drug: it’s just a fee that went straight into their pockets.

By the way, if you've been duped about a Covid-19 cure, you’re in good company. Early in the pandemic, doctors at Yale Medical School were duped into believing that hydroxychloroquine was an effective Covid-19 treatment, as I explained at the time. They figured out their error eventually, but not before they boldly advertised their treatment protocol on their website and via Twitter.

Now let’s look at a few examples in the political realm.

If you believe that Trump won the 2020 election, you've been duped.

This is utterly false, of course: Biden won by over 7 million votes, and he won the Electoral College 306-232. Trump is a loser, and his Big Lie is possibly the worst case of being a sore loser in the history of politics. And yet, according to some polls, 60% of Republicans believe his latest lie (or at least that's what they tell pollsters). They’ve been duped.

Trump lied over 30,000 times during the course of his presidency, as was documented, painfully, by the Washington Post, and he's still doing it. This frequent lying is part of a strategy to "flood the zone with shit," as Trump minion Steve Bannon openly boasted a couple of years ago. The idea is to make up lies far faster than the opposition can shoot them down. After all, it's easy to make up a claim when you don't have to produce any evidence, and it takes much longer to disprove it. If you take these people seriously and try to play their game, they will always win–because by the time you debunk one lie, they've produced ten more.

If you believe that Ukraine is threatening war against Russia, you've been duped. 

As I write this, Vladimir Putin is flooding his own citizens with a huge lie, trying to convince them that Ukraine is threatening war against Russia, when just the opposite is true: Russia has sent over 100,000 troops to its border with Ukraine, while Ukraine has done nothing of the sort.

If you don't believe that Russians helped shoot down Malaysia Air flight MH17 in 2010, you've been duped.

A few years ago, after Putin's soldiers near the Ukrainian border shot down a civilian Malaysian Airlines plane, killing hundreds of innocent civilians, he used the Russian media to publish multiple confusing theories, all of them simply made up, to convince his audience that Russian soldiers had nothing to do with it. An independent investigation concluded that a Russian missile, shot from a base in Russia, downed the plane. And yet many Russians today are still unaware of this.

If you believe any of Putin’s claims about Ukraine, you've been duped. 

And yet because Putin controls all the media in Russia, it is likely that many Russians do believe him. He's also claiming, falsely, that many Ukrainians actually want Russia to take over their country.

Politicians, quacks, and pseudoscientists are all con artists. They lie to gain money, power, and fame. Some of them lie without any sign of discomfort whatsoever, a trait that is characteristic of sociopaths. To people who find lying uncomfortable–which is most people–the boldness of these lies in itself is convincing.

In skeptical circles, this strategy is called the "Gish gallop," named after a creationist who used this strategy in debates where he challenged the theory of evolution. His idea was to put out so many lies and half-truths that his opponent would simply be overwhelmed. In a live debate, this tactic can be particularly effective when the audience doesn't know the topic well. 

One way to combat con artists is to expose how much they’ve gained at other people’s expense. Vladimir Putin is not only powerful, but he’s also incredibly wealthy, as a result of stealing many of his own country's assets. Putin’s biggest political foe, Alexey Navalny, released a video that showed a $1.35 billion palace that Putin built for himself, paid for with money that Putin had stolen from his own people:

Navalny got very popular in Russia. Putin first poisoned and nearly killed him, and now is holding Navalny in prison. It’s not likely Navalny will survive.

Here in the U.S., Donald Trump profited in countless ways, documented in excruciating detail by the Washington Post and the New York Times, by using the tools of government to direct business to his hotels and resorts. As just one example, hundreds of companies and foreign officials stayed at the Trump Hotel in D.C. during Trump’s presidency, in what was essentially an open bribe to the sitting President.

How can one avoid being duped?

First, always ask what the person has to gain. If they’re making money or gaining power from their claims, we should be skeptical.

Second, look at the reliability of the source. When someone lies constantly, we really can’t believe anything they say. At this point, virtually nothing claimed by some of the people I’ve highlighted in this column (Trump, Putin, Wakefield, Mercola) can be trusted.

Third, question the expertise of the source. When Tucker Carlson spews out claims about ivermectin, you shouldn't believe a word of it. When politicians make claims about science and medicine, they rarely know what they're talking about. (There are exceptions, but they are infrequent.) 

Even when the claims come from a scientists, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. Modern science has thousands of specializations, for good reason: biology, medicine, physics, chemistry, and other disciplines are amazingly complex. So if you want to know about global warming, don't ask a doctor. If you want to know about vaccines, don’t ask a biophysicist, even if he has a Nobel Prize, and certainly don’t ask a surgeon who’s running for political office. And for answers to any of these questions, don't ask a politician.