S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. Enjoy.
S2: Hello and welcome to the Slate political gabfest for April 30th, 2020. Come on, man. I heard you like me. Oh, God. Great. Get the reference. He got that reference. I’m David Plotz. Joining me, of course, from their particular lock down Quarantine’s John Dickerson of CBS 60 Minutes from New York. Hello, John. Hi.
S3: And Emily Bazelon of the New York Times Magazine and Yale University Law School from her home in New Haven. Hello, Emily. Hello. On today’s gabfest, we will talk about terror, Reid’s accusation that Joe Biden sexually assaulted her in the early 1990s and how that could shake up the presidential race. Then, should colleges and elementary schools reopen in the fall? Can they reopen? Must they reopen? We will discuss that and we will talk to astronaut Scott Kelly. He lived a year on the International Space Station. He is here with wisdom about how to live well in tight spaces.
S4: Plus, of course, we’re going to have cocktail chatter.
S3: According to terror read in 1993, when she was a Senate aide, Joe Biden accosted her in a hall, pushed up against a wall and penetrated her with his fingers.
S4: Reid story, which she is told in different forms, in different ways over time, had not been getting too much attention in this campaign until the last few days when two bits of corroborating evidence came out to different people. But notably, a former friend of hers, a Democrat named Linda La Cass, confirmed to Business Insider that Reid had told her the assault story back in the 1990s.
S3: Shortly after a couple of years after it allegedly happened and then a tape surfaced from Larry King, the Larry King Show from more than 20 years ago in which a woman who’s been identified as Reid’s now dead mother called in to discuss problems her daughter had experienced with a prominent lawmaker. Set against this are Biden’s denials, which had been made through a spokesperson that Reid’s account was true. Insistence by other Biden staffers at the time that Reid never raised the issue or complained officially or unofficially the lack of evidence of any complaints by Reid, although she said she had filed them and kind of less attractive claims that Reid is an unreliable narrator and isn’t just an eccentric person.
S4: So, Emily, where you, me, where do you stand now on where we are with this allegation and what we as voters and what Joe Biden as a as a candidate need to do about it?
S1: I think we as voters need to probably wait longer because this story is like simmering in a way that it’s changing. And so the only thing I find surprising is when people profess great certainty, like they’re absolutely sure that Reid is telling the truth, that they’re absolutely sure that Joe Biden would never do such a thing or they’re sure he would. There’s just a lot of uncertainty here. I mean, this story falls into the trickiest category of sexual assault allegations. It’s from a really long time ago. The person who is making it has some facts that line up on her side and then others that really seem to question it. There’s a piece by a prosecutor in USA Today kind of outlining why, if he was looking at this case, either as a defense lawyer or as a prosecutor, he would be worried about it and see a lot of holes. And then it’s just from a really long time ago, which makes it just hard to evaluate. We have had other cases like this in the public realm since the Metoo movement. I’m not talking about the cases with a real pattern of women coming forward, which I think are in an easier category. So Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby. By the time those people all line up, we get a lot of certainty. But then there are other cases where it’s it it just is hard to recover the past. And I think the Metoo movement in some ways has been too quick to assume that women are always telling the truth in these circumstances. And because these are cases in which, like there can’t be any legal recourse, the question of what standards to adhere to in deciding how to weigh the evidence or what kind of due process to have, all of that is just sort of swirling around in the court of public opinion. So I worry about all of that.
S4: Emily, I just want to kind of argue with your with your one of your opening premises, which is that we had a prosecutor saying, you know, he would worry. Of course, the prosecutor worry about there is no criminal case against Joe Biden. There’s no purpose. It’s preposterous to think about it. Do you? You wouldn’t even look at this as a is is there a potential criminal case against Joe Biden? The question is, is there a bunch? Is the heart kind of persuasive evidence that this or something similar to what has been described did happen? Not. Is this a provable case? We’re never going to a provable case. And that and the evidence that’s come forward, which is I mean, the prosecutor in that article you pointed us to said, well, this this phone call that was made to Larry King show is as a prosecutor, I’d be leery of it because she doesn’t specify what was done and to that makes this claim weaker. To me, it makes the claim vastly stronger, which is just that there was 20 years ago we have contemporary, roughly contemporaneous evidence that this woman had said something bad happened to her. She had no reason at that time to lie. There was no plan to disrupt a future Joe Biden presidential campaign. It’s like she it’s something had upset her enough that her mother was calling into Larry King show, or at least that there’s there’s there’s some evidence that that is the case. And that was what would concern me not. Is there a prosecution that’s possible? Is there like evidence that suggests that something like this happened and. Recently, there does seem to be evidence of that.
S1: Well, two things. I mean, one is that her mother’s used the word problem and didn’t specify further. And Reid’s own story has changed. This went from being an inappropriate touching story, the kind of which we are familiar with about Joe Biden to being a really disturbing story about sexual assault. And it changed over the course of the last several months. So that’s a real issue. And the phone call to Larry King does not in at all resolve that question. I think the second thing I was trying to say is not that every sexual assault allegation has to be proved in court to be something that, you know, we reckoned with, but that in this realm of these long ago cases that, as you say, would never at this point be able to rise to that level of proof. We are scrambling around and fumbling to figure out what to do with them. You know, in some cases, we’ve had people who’ve seemed incredibly durable as witnesses in terms of their credibility coming forward. I’m thinking of Anita Hill. I’m thinking of Christine Blousy Ford. And I don’t see Tara Reid in that category. Now, I realize in saying that I’m basically showing my own bias against people who are alleged victims, who also have a lot of, like, questionable actions in their past. I mean, reading about Reid’s activities with this horse rescue operation, she was involved with where the owner and employees are saying, like, you stole stuff from us. And it just looks really like not credible. And I guess my own basic bias is that if you are going to bring a really long ago serious allegation against a public official and you can line up some pieces of corroboration, but not real proof, your reliability is going to be on the line. And we should not error in the direction of deciding to let people destroy the careers of the men they accuse in those settings without some real sense that we are sure, because otherwise we are in a world in which the too Mubin has turned into a place where we’re perilously close to letting people who who lie or who have problems destroy other people. And like that cannot be the end result here.
S5: So I think one of the challenges of this moment, though, is that everything you just said, Emily. People would say that’s what Brett Kavanaugh’s defenders were saying, which was don’t read. Don’t rush to judgment. Let it develop. And don’t immediately assume that everything Christine Blousy Ford says is 100 percent true. And and and then anybody who said, just as you just did, it’s for the purposes of of establishing veracity of claims, it’s worthwhile to look into other things outside the scope of the immediate allegation. There were plenty of people who said, don’t you dare raise anything about Christine blousy fraud that has about her life or her other claims in life for her veracity and other kinds of stories because you’re attacking the victim. So the the challenge in these instances is you have a question is what’s the right venue to adjudicate this? You know, the Senate Judiciary Committee is the wrong venue. The presidential campaign is certainly the wrong venue. And so but that’s the venue we have. So then we’re in these venues, which are pretty much the worst possible place in the world to adjudicate claims. So we pull in where we can, which is why I thought, you know, it was useful to bring in the prosecutor, not because he would prosecute the case today, but because you’ve got to grab a standard from somewhere in the court of law is not a crazy place to draw it from. But the minute you do that, you pull in things that that get you into this. But wait, if the standard was this for your guy, why wasn’t it for my guy? And then the final question is, what are we trying? What’s the ultimate question here? Is it. Yes. Whether it happened, the level of what happened, was there workplace retaliation for her bringing the claim forward? And then is what does it say or not say about a person who’s asking to be president? And what was the standard for Donald Trump and the claims that have been made against him, credible, multiple sexual assault allegations, him being on tape, bragging to the kind of behavior that people are alleging. What was the standard for him and should that be applied then to Joe Biden? So it’s a lot of venue and standard questions which shift depending on where you stood beforehand.
S6: Yeah, I mean, I think those are great points. I mean, I don’t know what to do about the taboo, about questioning the victims and their credibility in a situation like this, because in the end, that’s what it all comes down to. And I mean, I’m not a real lawyer, but as somebody who went to law school and thinks about legal standards, like, I just don’t know how you get away from that. If we have to have some kind of faith that people are telling the truth and that we haven’t created a situation in which, you know, the, quote, idea of believe women, which I have never ascribed to, is something that journalists or people determining consequences can can can run with. Like if your friend comes to you, should you believe her? Sure. But like the notion that that is going to carry us through all these tricky questions when people’s careers and reputations are at stake. Like, no, I’m sorry. Sometimes people lie and we have examples of that, that it has been very rare. It’s really important not to damage all credibility of sexual assault victims by saying that something occasionally happens. But you also can’t rule it out. So.
S4: But I don’t know. I mean, look at that. I think you’re John’s blousy Ford point, which I was stumbling towards and failing to get to. But John got to eloquently, I think really puts it on the mark. I mean, many of us were believe that Brett Cabinet should not have gotten a Supreme Court seat, in part because of what Christine Blousy Ford said about him and what Christine Blousy Ford. I’m not going to say that the way that her allegations are exactly the same as what, Joe, the allegations against Joe Biden after reader that she is she is a less credible person than Terry Reed. But it it’s in the same family. And like, how do we how can we be consistent if we’re willing to sort of allow that circus and that kind of that public thing to happen at the Judiciary Committee two years ago? How can we not look at what’s happening with Joe Biden in the same sense of of of sorrow and despair and and confusion and and accept that like these pieces of corroborating evidence, which I do think that the Larry King call and I do think that the Linda Lacaze piece are very deep, very strongly indicate that at least at the time Terry Reid said something happened with Joe Biden that made her very uncomfortable and was it really difficult.
S6: So I guess what I would say about for it is that I think that it at first glance has more similarities than it actually has for a few reason. So one of them is that, you know, Cavenagh is being accused of something in high school. And so I think one question at the outset was like, well, should this be something that ruined someone’s career, something someone does as a teenager? And I think I remember us talking about at the time and feeling like, look, you know, if he is honest about the fact that it seems like he was. Doing a lot of drinking that, you know, he might not remember this. Maybe he had blacked out, but like that, it seems as if he had contact with this woman. She is saying this. She is actually like does not seem to have the kind of red flags about reliability that Reid has that like that is something that he could grapple with instead of just like denying the whole thing and acting like it was crazy. Now, obviously, if it didn’t happen, then he shouldn’t be doing that. But for me, it was much more about his way of handling it than it was about the idea that one teenage transgression should keep him off the Supreme Court. Then we had the fact that there was a woman from his experience in college who came forward. And so there was that sort of like question of patterns. And then there was just the due process problems where there was an FBI investigation that was supposed to be happening, but it was totally cut off. And so we never really got to the bottom of other kinds of behavior. And it was it was like left is a big question mark. And so for at least to me, those circumstances make this different enough. But I also think that, you know, there are these other cases and problems where it’s like so think about Keith Ellison, who is accused of domestic abuse in some way, which then seemed like it pretty much fell apart, if I remember those details correctly and like it seemed as if his whole career was going to be gone. Perhaps we’re at a point in which the questions of how we judge these cases like were we need to be more careful rather than more in the stance of letting them have really serious repercussions for people who are being up accused. And I don’t say that lightly. I mean, I’ve been report I have reported on these stories starting like in the late 90s or around 2000. And when I started doing that work, it was so much because women were not being believed or nobody really wanted to think about it. And so it was all just sort of shunted to the side. But I do worry about the due process gaps we’ve kind of created and and what that means in terms of verifying and making sure that, you know, we are not just like having people presumed guilty when there’s really no way for them to prove themselves innocent.
S4: I absolutely agree that worrying about due process gaps is is it really important? And the destruction of someone’s career by a false accusation or by an exaggerated accusation is wrong. I just think it is I it makes me very uncomfortable that so much of the concern about due process comes out when it’s somebody who is is on your team. Now, I’m not saying this to you, Emily, and this is on one’s own team that and then one gets concerned about due process and much less so like the due process concerns didn’t come out around Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones. Or they I should say the the the people have such a strong tendency to look at this with motivated thinking and when their own guy is accused. Look for the extenuating circumstances. Be very concerned about due process and much less so when it’s the other team and don’t really leave. Ran really concerns me, I think, and I think totally fair.
S3: But I think that I don’t think I don’t know. I don’t know anything about Joe Biden. But there are a lot of people who came forward and said he made them physically uncomfortable with the way he behaved. And so it’s not that there’s no other evidence of Biden being somebody who is a it makes women physically uncomfortable.
S1: There’s evidence that allegation is in a different category.
S4: It’s a totally different category. But it is a totally different category. But I also think that the blousy for the allegation within a pretty different category than the other accusations about Kapinos behavior.
S1: So anything I’ll say is like I completely hear you about the selectivity. I think the whole that, you know, it’s important that John raise the dozen allegations against President Trump because we’re not judging Joe Biden in a vacuum right now. We’re judging him as the person who is running against Donald Trump.
S6: And so, you know, the notion that, like feminists or women are going to benefit if Donald Trump is re-elected versus Joe Biden given a totally different point. But it’s related because this is not look, I mean, for me, the really deeply frustrating thing about all of this is the timing, because if Tara tarried had come forward months ago when this race was still really on, we could have evaluated in the context of Joe Biden versus the other people running against him, including people like Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar, who presumably don’t have such baggage in their closets, or Bernie Sanders, for that matter. Now, we’re in a totally different situation. And there’s a way in which like that I mean, that has to affect your judgment, not necessarily about what you think happened, but how you’re going to weigh it. And women and feminists are allowed to be pragmatists just like everybody else. We are allowed to think about how we vote and the choices we make and weigh. Gravity of accusations in that context.
S4: Absolutely. But then don’t couch it then then that then framed the argument around that, not around. Oh, this is a different standard. Oh, we have to look at this differently. I think it is completely legitimate. And I think and I absolutely believe this, like presented with Joe Biden and Donald Trump on every frame of analysis, I would pick Joe Biden for a variety of reasons. But but I don’t think that you should then frame the discussion around sexual assault and allegations of sexual assault as being about that, the sort of make it about sort of minimizing this accusation. Make it about you can make it about the pragmatic choice we’re having. And that’s that’s perfect. That’s fine. But but I would frame it that way. Not about this allegation. Shouldn’t be looked at carefully or given given given serious consideration.
S6: Yeah. Like, don’t put words in my mouth. That’s not fair. Yeah.
S5: Yeah. No. Yeah. No you weren’t. You weren’t saying that. I mean I think you have two standards problems. One is what is the standard for adjudicating this? Evidence and there’s specific actual single claim here, and in this case, it does seem like there’s more corroborating evidence, contemporaneous corroborating evidence than in the Ford case. But then there’s a second standard question, which is, are we talking about a single case here or a pattern of behavior? There was more of the pattern of behavior question with Cavanaugh, although as David quite rightly says, there were lots of the first time we heard about Joe Biden in this in his neighborhood of of issues was the pattern of behavior issue, which gets us to the political question, which is what does he do? Because he didn’t quite answer the pattern of behavior on the kind of hand Xena’s front with with great alacrity and great lawn. And so to the extent that he has to manage this now, it’s a huge political challenge for him, obviously, because of the facts of the case, but also because he’s not so good at this. And then we have a third kind of standard question, which is the one you guys are saying talking about, which is related, but obviously quite separate, which is what I was trying to get out when I was saying, what’s the goal of this inquiry? Their goal in the inquiry is to figure out what the truth of the matter is. But then with that truth, what are what are we saying about Biden’s character, about the job? And are we doing it as a standard by itself or is it a comparative standard because I’m a big fan of standards on their own. But the reason I’m lonely in that fight is campaigns in presidential elections don’t happen on their own. There’s always an other person. It’s not to quote Joe Biden. It’s not compared to the Almighty. It’s compared to the opponent. And the problem with these kinds of discussions is that is that when you move to make that other converts and you have that other conversation and leave the first two standards questions unresolved, people can accuse you of shifting the goalposts because or fleeing the argument, even though you’re just trying to kind of deal with all its component parts. And I’m not sure how we I think we’re in the worst possible moment. As Emily was saying, to adjudicate this right now because of because of the politics of the moment.
S4: Emily, just I would just want to apologize. I did not mean to imply that you were saying that.
S6: Look, I think like there are people would probably prefer to see this not investigated. I’m not one of them. Like, I’m all for reporters asking questions. I think Joe Biden is going to have to answer to this. And look, I’m not a Joe Biden supporter. I mean, from my point of view, six months ago, if this had come forward, like, I would have cared much less about the truth or not truth of that, I would have just thought, like, well, this is someone who already has things against him that I don’t like. So, like, let’s move on to someone who doesn’t have these problems. It’s just that we’re in a different universe now, obviously. And I do think that there have been these questions about how we judge veracity, what standard of evidence and due process we have that our extend beyond this case that I mean, I have been raising some questions about for a while. So I don’t feel personally like I have to, you know, like answer for some previous set of stances, you know, anyway.
S5: And one thing I can say is I think I do remember from the blousy Ford era, Emily, making the case or or supporting the notion, which I thought was, you know, that of course, you should investigate her claims and be able to ask questions if for no other reason than to affirm the durability of the of the claims being raised. I mean, that’s the reason you investigate the background of the person making the claims is because if you don’t. If if. Well, as a journalist, your job. But but also if you’re trying to get to the bottom of things, the claim has to be able to withstand the scrutiny or else it doesn’t. You know, you’re hanging a whole person’s reputation on on something you’re choosing not to investigate. And but but during the Ford period, there was definitely a pretty significant number of people who sat on the sidelines ready to throttle anyone who suggested pushing against her claims. Emily was not one of them. Yes.
S4: Thanks, John. Let’s go to that. Let’s finish up with kind of the tactical piece of this, which is Biden has so far really not responded to this. It is not clear how this might play in a general election campaign, whether Trump can weaponize it or whether it just makes it just inoculates Trump. It doesn’t really give him a weapon against Biden. It just prevents Biden from using a weapon against him. Biden hasn’t picked a running mate yet. So it is not clear how the running mate might have to deal with this or play defense for it or might again inoculate Biden. But what’s your if you were if you were a tactician, looking at this from Biden’s perspective, what are the things that he needs to do right now we’re thinking about right now?
S5: The Biden campaign has said that the allegations are false and that they need to be vetted, which is already something that’s kind of shrinks the room that he’s got.
S7: If it’s not false, a hundred percent.
S5: And he ultimately has to come out and say something that’s kind of fuzzy, if he has to say something that short of this is 100 percent not true. The fact that they originally claimed false and then he’s not there ultimately is a problem because then it looks like they’re shillyshallying with this important and crucial subject. A, b. It affirms all the shillyshallying that Donald Trump has done. Even though one should not lose for a second. A sense proportion here. Biden has been accused of one kind of event. And then there’s this pattern that was he was also accused. But Donald Trump has been accused of something much more serious by multiple people over a long period of time. So you don’t want to lose that sense of proportion. But the even having to say that kind of helps Donald Trump more than it does Joe Biden. Certainly. So that’s the one problem then what like what does it mean to vet her claims that they’re they’re inviting kind of a thorough examination of the accuser here in a way, again. You know, if if Lindsey Graham and he maybe he did say this, you know, we need to vet Christine Blousy Ford. I think people would have reacted strongly. So that’s just a challenge for the campaign that already exists. I think then, you know, one of the things that was powerful and a and a sign of one of his skills with President Obama is when he was a candidate and the and the sermons of his pastor came out that he had to and he had to give a speech on race. He did it. He wrote the speech himself in an incredibly short period of time. And it was eloquent and reflected, deep and considered thought over a lifetime of wrestling and understanding that issue. So he met the moment with something more than just a short press release or a short statement. And it actually ended up, I think, probably helping him in terms of showing his stuff in a way in a moment of crisis. So this is a test for Biden, a test that turns out is like a, you know, kind of test still received as president. Now, what does he actually say? No idea. So I’m not in that business. I mean, he has to say something that’s plausible enough. But that also doesn’t alienate his supporters who believe that women should be believed. You know, 100 percent. So but then he’s also got an that’s not self incriminate. And he’s also got to furnish all of his surrogates with an answer. His surrogates, both the people who pound the yard signs and are going to have this debate over the back fence to put in some political cliches. And he’s got to help give an answer to Amy Klobuchar when she goes out there campaigning for him and Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren and all kinds of other people who are and men as well. But who they have to basically everybody has to agree on one response, because the final thing is you don’t want to have to be answering this at every single stop from now until the end of time, because when you’re an incumbent who’s on the ropes the way Donald Trump is, your job basically politically is to savage your opponent. You’re not going to be able to rebuild your side. So you have to basically tear down the other side. So the answer from Biden has to be durable enough to to live through that. And that’s a super tall order.
S4: Slate plus members get bonus segments on the Gabfest and other Slate podcasts. And as we’ve talked about, month, few weeks, Slate is going through some hard times in the way that a lot of great journalistic outlets are going through hard times. And we know you support Slate. You listen to this podcast and we would ask you if you are not a slate plus member to consider becoming a member today. You get lots of bonus podcasts. Do you get extra content that Slate creates for you? The whole slow burn series came out as a as a slate plus product. The one of the great podcasts the last couple of years with a slate plus product and Slate really needs needs the help. And so if you want to support great journalism and you want to give Slate a fighting chance and give them the chance to really cover the pandemic world, the election, the post pandemic world, please consider becoming a slate plus member today. Go to Slate dot com slash gabfests plus. Also, I should mention. What are we talking about on Slate plus today? I didn’t even mention that. What are we talking about? We’re talking about human challenge trials. Should people be infected with Cauvin, 19, as part of a vaccine trial to speed up the development of vaccine? That’s what to talk about. Plus, it’s like dot com slugfest.
S3: Plus, Emily, should colleges and grade schools reopen in the fall?
S1: This is like the most heartbreaking question for me. I’m just going to put my cards on the table. I desperately want schools and universities to open, partly just because my own children need to go back to school selfishly. But really, just because I’m so concerned about all of the lost learning and the uptick in child abuse reports we see. And just the fallout from disrupting young people’s lives. Like, I just am deeply concerned about that. And the other thing is that it’s not really clear that the fall is going to be any different from the winter or the spring next year if the vaccine timetable is what we expect. And so we’re not just making a kind of temporary decision. We’re making one that’s more medium term. A lot of institutions, especially the ones that don’t have like big endowments and lots of wealth, are going to go under if they have to stay shuttered for a medium to long term period. And I really, really worry about that. And just the enormous fallout from it. So I guess what I would say is this. I don’t think we know the answers right now, but there are some things that make me feel like it’s super worth thinking really hard about how this could happen, possibly. It’s seeming to become clear that inside is more dangerous than outside. Now, school mostly like or has lots of inside setting. So it’s not exactly clear how to use that. But I feel like if we could figure out some way in which to have air circulating better in indoor spaces or just spread people out more inside. That’s already part of social distancing. And then just to use the outside, that could help.
S8: And then the other thing is the New Haven, New Haven in November. Is that right? I really want to go to class. I know it doesn’t like the English class and the New Haven Common on November 5th. Yeah.
S6: This is actually a better argument about the summer, like figuring out how to have or some summer kind of sessions where you use the outdoors. I haven’t really thought through my outdoor argument for November yet.
S1: On the East Coast or most the country. But then the other thing is kids. And they are just at less risk, kids and young people. And so can we figure out how to use that to the advantages of schools and universities opening up? I think the biggest problem is that there obviously are older people’s staff and faculty who work at these places who are at higher risk. And so are we going to have to shift from the current situation in which we’re all kind of in this together to one in which it’s on? Some people are at higher risk to isolate and un other people get to resume more normal activity. And that is going to be really wrenching. And it’s an especially wrenching for school and universities, communities which like should be places in which in a normal situation, we are all in this together. Those values are really going to be in tension and and that’s hard. What do you guys think?
S5: Yeah. You know, the problem, too, is that you could imagine a wonderful experiment in which you found a couple of schools that had some of the right idiosyncrasies that you’d want. In other words, a relatively closed campus. He could test everybody and keep the bubble relatively clean from outside interference so that you could quickly identify people who were sick, isolate them, check for contact tracing within the other people and kind of do a slow turn up of how to get this right in a few places and then scale that once you figured out how to get it right. Problem is, all these schools have to plan. All these families have to plan. Everybody’s got the fall to think about. And so you don’t necessarily have time to work all that out in one or two places, which opens you to the problem that Emily is talking about. You know, one of the goals, obviously, as we all know, one of the goals here is to get to a position not necessarily where there are obviously zero cases. The reason I feel like I have to say this out loud is because it’s irritating in a lot of the conversations that you have people, you know, stereotyping the various sides and arguing basically that anybody who wants to slowly get back to a more functioning life is is in the camp of not what you know, of wanting to get to zero before doing anything, which is obviously not the case. So the point here is that is to not overload the hospitals. So if you if you had a place where basically you would have to make a bet that you would do everything you possibly could, but you would recognize that you’re going to have some cases. And those cases are going to hopefully be whatever number is comfortable enough underneath the capacity of the hospitals, and hopefully you have you know, there’s this one drug trial that turns like looks like it might shorten by 30 percent. The recovery period, maybe you have some of that making hospital stays less gruesome than they are now. And you basically heard somebody say you have to roll the dice. And implicit in rolling the dice is that you’re going to basically be saying some number of people are going to get sick because they’re older and therefore more immunocompromised or or maybe that’s not what they are, but they tend to be the victims more. You’re going to be putting some older faculty members in a tougher spot. Final point is this. I wonder if you could arrange a way to do classes in a way that somebody who was in a vulnerable population could participate in?
S1: You know, now I don’t know how you would do it, but I actually think that stuff is relatively possible. Like, you know, you could have faculty who feel like they’re at older risk who continue to teach on Zoome or who you figure out to how to be in like huge auditoriums, far separated from other people. I actually think the hard part is the staff. Right. So when I think about like my university and how it runs and like the people who are custodians or are serving food or, you know, the people who live in New Haven and my city, like a lot of them are older. Some of them are going to be in this higher risk category and they can’t teach by Zoome or like clean up or serve food by Zoome. And so I’m much more concerned about them and how to figure out how to not force them back to work, but also not fire them so that they don’t have any money. And so I wonder if, like, you can create categories where there are people who are paid some of their salary but don’t have to work or people whose jobs can be changed to accommodate the higher level of risk.
S4: The. I have so many thoughts on this. First of all, and I welcome if you guys know the answer to this, I would like the answer now. But if I don’t, I’d like to hear the answer from. If you don’t, I’d like to hear the answer from our listeners. The military is a an institution which is mostly staffed with a lot of young people and the military is operating. I assume the United States has not turned off our self-defense during this crisis. They probably are. Dial it down. Not everyone’s on alert. And we all know that the case of the aircraft carrier where there was a huge spike in infections, but there are hundreds of thousands of people who work for the U.S. military who have to protect the country and who are continuing to do that. So how is that happening? And are there any models for how that might then play out if you did it? And similarly, slightly, somewhat cloistered institutions like schools and universities. So that’s number one question. And I think it is it it is a necessity for schools and sort of a necessity for universities to reopen is a necessity for schools to open because the economy literally depends on schools existing the whole way the economy functions in this society. If you especially if you don’t have places where you can. Is it we have places where you stash children during the day and those children can be taken care of. And where parents do not have to think about it and don’t have to worry about it. And you can get groups of children altogether. And so that parents can then go to work and that is it. That is a fundamental necessity. The most productive people in our economy are people who have children from the ages of zero to 20.
S3: That’s their in their prime working age. They need to be able to do that. And unless schools are open and daycare centers are open and to a certain extent less, universities are up and people’s working lives are impossible. So it actually is it it’s a necessity. It is the most important thing for reopening the economy if whatever that expression means.
S1: So just interrupt you to say that one of the things I find so frustrating about the federal government’s phases is that it doesn’t recognize that. So like phase one is people go back to work and phase two is kids go back to school. How is that supposed to happen? Go ahead. Sorry.
S4: Yes, OK, that is it. I 100 percent agree. It’s always seemed weird going to the how they reopen. I think Mitch Daniels, the president of Purdue, has laid out in theory an interesting model. So Purdue, which is a famously great school for engineering, practical problem solving, has said we’re going to reopen to students in the fall and we’re going to do some kind of segregation whereby people who are under 35 are going to be in one category. People are over 35 or under 35. And in that risk category going to be another and we’re going to triple as much as possible allow normal life. There will be testing, contact tracing, presumably be more physical segregation of people there. And there’s going to have to it’s not it’s obviously not going to function exactly as it did, but there is a goal to try to reopen with this these kinds of two classes of people. I think it’s a super interesting test. I think John’s point, though, that you can’t just rely on a couple of universities to test this is really important also for peer pressure reasons, which is that once one university in your peer group decides to open, every university in that group is going to have an enormous pressure to open because no one wants to be the school, which isn’t allowing its students back, students desperate to get back. And if you’re the one school in your state, in your conference, in your your block of schools that says no, no, no, it’s not safe for us, your students, they may be avoiding infection, but they’re gonna be really pissed and disappointed. So I think there’s a there’s a first mover thing which is going to cause lots of other schools to follow. And once it’s once one or two schools are reopening in the fall, everyone’s going to reopen because no one wants to be. The school isn’t open when their peers are up and they can’t afford it. Most of them will not have the resources and capacity to do as much testing as the best schools and the richest schools are to be able to. And that means that it’s going to be they’re going to be hotspots and clusters in schools and in universities.
S7: And that’s an issue. If I were running the world. I think that, you know, schools also have.
S5: Just if you’re trying to goose the economy, if you’re trying to change the psychological makeup of the country and you’re thinking that in the fall, we surely will be further along down the road or wish we would want to be further along down the road and being able to find ways to get back to something approximating something approximating normal police schools. Yeah. Right, exactly. I mean, the the well, just been spending some time looking at the Great Depression and just the kind of flaccid lack of creation, creativity in terms of the testing question from from the quarters of leadership is a kind of extraordinary. But you want schools open because it’s fresh faced sense of hope and possibility. And so if you were purely looking at this from a kind of what’s a shot in the arm for the country and proved that there will be a better day, you could imagine it’s a better it’s a great investment to solve this problem, to help schools solve this problem. This isn’t to say that there aren’t other huge problems and that the people who’ve been disproportionately slammed by this, you know, are going to be helped by seeing a bunch of privileged kids go to college. But while you’re working on that set of problems, which is real and dire and important, there is a symbolic benefit to doing something which might actually not require and it might not be as hard a problem to solve. And therefore, you might say put two people on just solving helping schools solve this problem, whereas you put 100 people on the other issue. The country’s going to need a variety of different kinds of lifts. And this seems a relatively low cost one that could have a potentially slightly larger impact, particularly with the poor. Because one of the things you’re trying to do is build confidence in the country so people go out and spend money again in a consumer driven economy. As David pointed out a million years ago, you can say you’ve opened up the economy again. But until people feel that the that that life is getting a little more normal, they’re not going to go spend in the way that the economy needs to get going again.
S1: Can I just say that the worst possible outcome will be if it’s the privileged kids going to the rich colleges and the rich private schools K through 12 and everyone else like that is my biggest fear, I think, because that cannot be. Like many, many unprivileged people go to college university and of course, go to K through 12 and whatever we do, it has to be for them. And that’s a matter of resources, right? Like, we’re not stuck. It’s not like think of these trillions of dollars our government is spending right now. We do not have to be stuck in a world in which, like the colleges with less money don’t can’t open and everyone else.
S8: And then I’ve never gone more eager to interrupt. And I know nobody has it so animated.
S5: Well, no, because it’s that that has to if you’re doing that, you like you know, we run the world part of this.
S9: You would if you were smart, teach me as a politician, you would go right at that because you you need the sense of hope in quarters where, you know, I mean, you need sense of hope in quarters that have been particularly hard hit. And so, yes, you would do exactly that.
S1: I was on the phone last week with a friend of mine who lives in L.A. whose kids in private school, and she was describing the plan that they were already, you know, basically marketing to the parents and like they’re in a position where they can spread the kids out more and take a lot of precautions. There’s a lot of money. And I thought, oh, my God, they’re going to open and the public schools are going to really, really struggle like that is going to be these kinds of steps that she’s describing, like how are public schools going to pull this off? And I got so angry. Now, obviously, if we decide that there’s no safe way to do the schools at all, that’s one thing. But this does feel to me like it’s a solvable problem. And then it needs to be one in which we put more care and attention into the institutions that need more resources.
S4: I want to make a slightly separate point in closing here, which is just that one of the outcomes of this, I suspect, is a huge bloodletting in the middle tier of colleges and universities. So the top tier top universities are going to have the resources to survive. There’s going to have they’re still going to be huge demand for their services. They’re still going to be people wanting to come to those University of Chicago and Yale from all over the world and from the United States and people who are going to want to make donations. And they have tons of research funding and they are going to do well. And I think at the bottom tier community colleges, technical schools there will continue to be demand because people need practical educations. I think what is going to happen is that if colleges and universities are not able to reopen quickly and more or less in the same way that they have always existed, these middle schools are going to be in deep, deep trouble because they won’t be able getting the tuition they need to survive. They don’t have the endowments to buttress them. They are not going to be able to get the foreigns. Students in. And I think we’re gonna see a real loss of the kind of small cut, small and medium colleges and medium universities that are tuition dependent are gonna get wiped out. And the shape of higher education, the country is going to get worse. Those schools, which serve a kind of middle middle, are going to not exist. And so it’s going to be the elite schools and the kind of more practical schools are going to dominate. And that’s a bad situation. Scott Kelly is an American astronaut who spent a year on the International Space Station. He also wrote a fantastic book about that, which came out in Twenty Seventeen Endurance a year in Space. A Lifetime of Discovery is a genuinely fascinating, useful book about what it is like to spend a year in a very, very small space. Scott Kelly, welcome to the gabfests where you’re joining us from.
S10: I’m in Texas.
S3: And so you are in lockdown, the same as the rest of us. Do you complain less because you’ve been through this before or not? You complain as much as everyone else does.
S10: I actually try not to complain because I recognize that it doesn’t help and it makes the people around you more irritable. So but having said that, I should probably ask my wife and I will probably say, oh, you complain all the time when the what are you talking about?
S6: Let’s get to have the illusion that one is behaving well.
S10: I probably don’t complain about the situation of living in quarantine. I probably complain about other things that’s going on.
S1: Do you think that the kind of sense of purpose and clarity that you had, which I think for a lot of people is lacking right now, is that something we could actually attain as a country? I mean, obviously, being an astronaut is like like a million times cooler than being in quarantine. But I just imagine that that is such a key part of the job and the mission. And I wonder what you think about that.
S10: Having a mission and the purpose is very important. When I I’ve flown in space four times and my my third flight, which was my first long duration flight, it was just under six months. And, you know, towards the end of that six months, the last third, I would say I kind of felt like this is time to be over, you know, climbing the walls a little bit. And then I came home, had the opportunity to fly in space again for a year, initially wasn’t really that interested. But I wanted to fly again. I wanted to be more challenging. And I knew that something being that long would be challenging psychologically. So I had a plan going into it and some things I thought about. One thing that really, really helped was the mission. And part of my mission was to be there for a long time. So the idea that that was my purpose made that duration easier. I think people finding a mission in this is very, very important.
S5: And Scott, you from your time in the Navy and as when you were commanding the space station as a as a leader, take it from the other end of the telescope. If if. What’s the leaders role, wherever they may come from, whether it’s in the community or the governor or the president, the role of the leader to help people find a mission in a time when they may not have signed up for this?
S10: Well, you know, there are two types of leaders. You know, there is those that are appointed and those that kind of rise to the occasion. You know, that might be the head of the household. It might be someone else. It might be someone that’s just more capable and adept.
S11: I mean, there are times when the leader needs to be the dictator on the space station. That was a very, very rare where you need to be the if there are authoritarian. You know, if there’s an emergency, you need to act immediately.
S10: But then there are times where the leaders, you know, sometimes the coach, sometimes a cheerleader, sometimes a counselor. Sometimes just a teammate. And just one of the team.
S3: So, Scott, going back to to your piece for The New York Times about this and then to guidance, you offered in your book, you have as much experience as almost anyone on Earth about what it’s like to be isolated and claustrophobic. Give us a couple of your most important principles of how to thrive through this and why you think they matter to us now.
S10: Well, I have probably as much experience short of people that have been in prison. Good point. And I’m not just talking about people that were sentenced to prison. I’m also talking about like political prisoners. You know, one of which is Guy Alan Gross, actually, who was a political prisoner in Cuba, released in 2015. I met before I flew in space. One thing he said to me was like, hey, whatever you do, don’t count the days because it’ll drive you crazy. Now, it turned out I kind of had do a little I was kind of forced into it because I. Told a beeton this person’s record, that person’s record. So I counted up. But I tried not to count down. And one thing I found is focusing on things that you have no control over, you know, is the things that generate anxiety, generates fear. I remember my first spaceflight being you know, I’d say you’re a little scared, right? You realize that this is the last thing you might ever do. But at some point, you’ve made the decision. But regardless of being scared, you’re going to get on that rocket and being scared is not going to help you. And focusing on the things you have control over allows you to make better decisions, make better choices. And a lot of other things actually exercise. Very, very important in space. One thing that we can’t do very well is get sunlight, but that’s also important. So I encourage people to get exercise and sunlight because that affects our mental health. It affects. As a result, our physical health and our immune systems, other things in my schedule is taken care of. The environment itself, the space station, viruses and bacteria grow much quicker in space for some reason. And I kind of treat my front door like an airlock on the space station. So bad stuff outside. Good stuff inside. And having a schedule that is not just about work is important. So hobbies, things that you could do, that’s a complete distraction. Art, music. If you can do neither of those, you can read a book, not your eye pad or your phone, maybe your real book that doesn’t have notifications when something weird happens out inside your house. You know, I kept a journal in space. Now, the reason I did it was because I thought I might want to write a book. But you can do that for other purposes as well. You know, especially if you’re feeling alone, if you are physically alone or maybe you’re mentally alone in this situation. I think having this journal is a cathartic thing. You know, when you’re writing down your thoughts, at least you’re kind of admitting that this is a challenge. And I think it’s important for people to admit when things are tough and then you’ll have something when this is over for probably what might be one of the most historic events of your lifetime.
S1: One of the things you write about is the importance of relying on experts, which in space I can imagine that at this point we know a lot and the experts can give you sound advice based on experience and a kind of long run of thinking through the problems and issues you’re confronting. In some ways, this pandemic is different because it is changing and kind of confounding the experts to some degree and some of their advice over time. I think, you know, not the basics, but some of it has changed as we figure out more. And I wonder how your feeling about the level of expertise in the way they’ve been communicating with us, the public.
S11: When I talk about experts, I’m talking about scientists that work for governments or or universities that are scientifically minded people that have spent their careers on these type of issues.
S10: And, yes, this is an evolving situation.
S11: They will not be right all the time, but they will be right more often than the people that have no experience or background or, you know, in some cases any basic level of intelligence.
S10: So even though sometimes the experts are wrong, that that’s the best you have. You know, what I found at NASA is everything was not rocket science, but when it was, it was better to consult the rocket scientist than, you know, no offense to the people in H.R. just came to my mind.
S11: But you don’t call, you know, the head of H.R. for a science problem. Right. So trusted sources and media, you know, get your information from the right places, not your Facebook friends. I mean, they might be smart, but they don’t work for the CDC. They don’t work for the national. And they I mean, they might, but unlikely. So, you know, find your information, get your information from the right places when things got.
S9: When there was an emergency or or attacked, you know, a situation that required focus of everybody on the team, you had to kind of follow very strict procedures that were laid out beforehand, but also adapt.
S5: I wonder if you could just talk about that mix, because one of the things that’s been frustrating to a lot of people is watching the kind of pell mell rush to to handle this and that. Nobody’s kind of following the rules that are there now and then anyway. So I just want your sort of assessment of the crisis response here.
S10: You know, two quotes come to mind about the plan and you know, how things are always changing. There’s a I don’t know what military person said this. I got to look it up. But there’s that quote, No plan survives. First contact with the enemy. You develop the best plan you can, understanding that that plan is probably going to change as the situation warrants. And then the other one I like better is a quote from Mike Tyson. That is, everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the face. It’s like one of my favorite quotes of all time.
S11: Not only does life evolve, this virus evolves and how it behaves in our society. So we need to understand that we’re going to change.
S5: And then secondly, when I interviewed you were for Face the Nation when you were up there and you talked about how you had one of the best views out your window. What do you look at now that you’re down on the earth that gives you the same sense of wonder that you used to be able to look at when you’d watch two sunrises a day or how many you could watch.
S10: We’re building a home. We’re building a house in Colorado, and we’re probably going to move there like in the beginning of June. So our neighbors take some pictures now and then. I just look at that. And, you know, it’s kind of I live in downtown Houston now and and this is kind of out in nature. So that’s what I look at, pictures of our places. It’s being built for my personal inspiration.
S6: Sounds like a good move right now. Yeah.
S4: Scott Kelly is the author of Endurance A Year in Space A Lifetime of Discovery. Scott, thank you for joining us. I hope you and your family stay safe and healthy.
S10: Thanks for coming. My pleasure. Thanks. Thanks for having me. Good seeing you guys again.
S3: Let us go to cocktail chatter.
S4: I have been reduced. Two to having beer, which I don’t really like to have as my cocktail, but there’s just for some reason I have beer and I don’t have anything else. So my cocktails, a beer. What is your cocktail, Emily? And what are you going to chatter about?
S1: Well, you have it sort of related to what we’re just talking about, but there is amazing I thought story by Linda Villarosa in the Times magazine. Yes, I know my home team, but it’s about the racial disparities of covered in America. And it just really I mean, this has become a kind of, I hope, well known aspect of the virus. But it really brings to life what that means and how hard it is to deal with in this moment. So I really recommend that. Linda Villarosa, the Times magazine online, it’s called A Terrible Price.
S7: John, what’s your jetter?
S9: Yeah, which is important because there was a there was a there was a sliver of a moment where people were saying the Kove. It is the great leveler. You know, it hits rich and poor alike, which is just basically the totally opposite. I guess two things. My first was a chatter about what Governor Gretchen Whitmer is doing in Michigan, which is we were just basically talking about it. So I’m going to downplay it a little bit. But she is introduced. She is basically introducing a G.I. bill for frontline workers, helping them prepare for their futures by giving them. And the details are a little murky here. But basically, by giving free college and vocational school, making tuition free for those who are on the frontlines of responding for two COGAT, 19 people staffing the hospitals, nursing homes, the people stocking the shelves at grocery stores or even people providing child care. I think it’s somewhat fuzzy at the moment. But what I, of course, liked about it is that it represents sort of at least creative thinking in Washington as people are talking about whether to give sort of hazardous duty pay to people who are on the frontlines and whether you support what what Witmer is thinking about. The idea is like at least more, much more creative than most of the other ideas we’re hearing. Okay, enough for that. So it’s worth paying. Keeping an eye on that. The other thing is this crazy story in BuzzFeed about this dude who you basically have to read it, but basically he tweets at the president about how he can build ventilator’s.
S1: I’m so glad you asked. Oh, my God. This. Yeah. It’s such a Hair-Raising story.
S9: I’m so glad you said so. So President Trump posted on Twitter that he was urging Ford and General Motors to, you know, all caps start making ventilator’s now. So there are thousands of replies. One of them is from a guy named Yarran or an Pynes who was an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley who makes mobile phone technology. And he tweeted and said, we can supply ICU ventilators, invasive and noninvasive, have someone call me urgent. So that’s a single tweet response. And according to BuzzFeed, this fellow then got sixty nine point one million dollars from New York State to make fourteen hundred ventilators. According to the story. They and a state official gives them this, that it was basically directed from the White House coronavirus task force. So you know how this story ends. But let’s just button it up. Nearly a month later, New York closed the contract. The state is trying to get back its money because it turns out that there were no ventilators. Couldn’t do it. The BuzzFeed reached the Oren Pynes fellow and he said, I’m not talking and hung up. So it’s not just we knew there was gonna be waste, fraud and abuse. In fact, Don. Jonathan Alter told me recently that the word boondoggle actually comes from the waste, fraud and abuse that was perpetrated during the New Deal as they were throwing out money. And so we knew there was going to be abuse. But this is just sort of at the moment, has first position in one of those tales of the pell mell kind of nutty management of this moment. And it’s why people who Argott, who argue for a systematic way of doing things, argue for a systematic way of doing things.
S4: My chapter two chapters, first, a personal news, which is that I’m have a new thing that I’m doing. So I am writing a newsletter for Business Insider with Henry Blodget, the CEO and founder, Business Insider, the publication that broke some of the terror read news this week. And Henry and I are writing a daily newsletter about the news, and I would urge you to check it out. We are just getting the hang of it. It’s a Monday to Friday newsletter. Go to read dot B.I Slash Plotz, read dot B.I slash plots. It’s fun. It’s interesting. And Henry’s really smart. And those of you who listen to the show over the years know whether or not you want to hear takes for me or not.
S7: But I’m used to be back terribly too. Yes, definitely. I’m excited to be back to regular writing, so please check it out. Hey, Dave Titre. Yes. Hey, David. How do I check it out if I want to? I just said, John, go to read dot RBI slash plot. I literally said it twelve seconds ago when you were dying.
S6: Know it’s good to know you did. But do I mean why a looked away for a second.
S9: You want to repeat it because people who are on their jog then we’re perambulate ing up.
S7: Yeah. True. And thought hey this sounds like a good idea. Read dot b.i slash plots. Read. You see some people might have written down a period and so now they’ve got it right in the. Right. Right in the beginning of the brain. You’re absolutely right.
S4: And then quickly, just a real chatter. I just want to call attention to in fact, I wrote about this for this newsletter Insider today that Henry and I are writing an amazing statistic that I saw this week, which is that cities across this country, across the world, have now closed more than a thousand miles of streets to cars.
S3: This includes new bike lanes in cities all over the world.
S4: It’s it’s urban walking streets, pedestrian streets, but car free streets that people never imagined could happen. And of course, some of this is obviously gonna be temporary. When you don’t have commuters, you don’t need to have as many streets that cars are on. But some of it could be permanent. And let us encourage those cities that have tried this to think about making some of these shifts permanent, making some of those parkways, in fact, just bike and pedestrian parkways ways, because the evidence that I’ve seen is that everyone hates it in advance. They hate the idea of giving up parking or giving up a street. But once you put in a bike lane, once you close a street to traffic, people tend to be very happy and the quality of life in that area tends to go up rapidly. So I hope this this change, which is basically this is policy by tragedy, but I hope that it it is a small good thing that continues. And you can follow this at the hashtag Kov at 19 Streets is tracking a lot of these changes. Listeners, have you guys discovered this is a totally. This is actually this is not a chatter. But I discovered the most amazing function on my computer this week. What do you know? Tell paste and match style. You know what that is? No. So often if you’re like, oh, you want to mass destination formatting.
S1: That’s what it’s called. N word.
S4: Maybe that’s what it is. Oh, my God.
S6: What? It’s your life. I know passives. It’s the best thing ever. I totally agree. You mean when you copy and paste another document and send some other font and then.
S4: Yeah. Yeah.
S6: It’s like a seventy two point and like it comic stands out that little like briefcase that hovers if you click on it has the thing called that match destination. I think that’s what it’s called anyway.
S4: Oh and in, in Chrome which is what I mostly do things with its paste in match style. I think it’s control shift the wolf. So good.
S9: You know what else you can do. Or maybe this is your point. I missed the beginning.
S4: You’re talking command shift. Yeah, well.
S9: Well, because the control backslash two, which takes. What if you drop it in. You can just it immediately formats it to whatever the underlying format was on Google Docs.
S7: Really. Yeah. Whoa.
S5: So it actually strike that it. Yeah. No, I think that’s what it removes formatting. It removes the whatever format.
S9: Yeah but the match destination formatting is great though if you want to highlight inside Google documents because once you load old control, see you can load like a certain color highlighting. And then when you highlight text and Hidell control V, it will highlight whatever you’ve selected in that particular highlighting. So if you want to, instead of having to mouseover the part you want to select, then call down from the menu and click the right highlighter. You can just do it with a hotkey.
S6: This is like advanced word processing.
S4: This is this is like our slate plus. This should just be a slate plus segment. Yeah. Helpful. Yeah. Anyway, listeners, you also have submitted Chatter’s none as useful as paste and match style. But a lot that are more diverting. So many nice ones again this week. Please continue tweeting them to us at Slate. Fest and this week’s listener chatter comes from at Universal Fiend. I love your Twitter handle, by the way. And it’s about. Have you heard about this fantastic, insane, beautiful and completely unplanned adventure? And it points to a New York Post story about a group of Dutch students who were on a cruise in the Caribbean on a sailing cruise in the Caribbean on a on a sailboat, 60 foot, 60 metre long schooner called the Wild Swan. And they were supposed to dock in Cuba and then fly back from Cuba. But covered 19 being what it is, these 25 high school students could not dock in Cuba and fly home. So they sailed this boat five weeks across the Atlantic Ocean, 5000 miles with a crew, with a crew. Not just the students, but it’s an amazing story of adventure that these kids will be able to tell. And they made it back safely and. And have. A great tale to tell.
S2: That is our show for today. If you enjoyed it, please subscribe. You’ll get new episodes. The second they’re published, whatever app you’re listening to us on. You can subscribe on the political gap that is produced by Jocelyn Frank. Researchers Brigitte Dunlap man those to work really hard and do such a good job for us. Thank you, guys. So true. I did every week. But man, so good. All the e-mails, Josh, were whining about batteries. Gabe Roth is the editorial director of the podcast. John Thomas is the managing producer. You should follow us on Twitter at Slate. Gabb Vestine, please tweet chatter to us. They are for Emily Bazelon and John Dickerson. I’m David Plotz. Thank you for listening. We hope you are healthy. We hope you’re safe and look forward to talking to you next week.
S4: Hello. Slate plus. How are you? Thank you for being a slate plus member. As we said during the show, it’s so important. It’s such a great way to support Slate and make it possible for us to continue doing podcasts and the extra segments and for Slate to continue doing the great journalism that it does today. We want to talk about human challenge studies, human challenge trials for the Corona vaccine. So, Emily, do you want to talk about what those are or do you want me to describe what they are?
S6: You describe you’ll do a better job. Think so.
S4: You do it in the normal course of vaccine research. You will give a perspective after a bunch of safety testing, initial safety testing, you will give a vaccine to a population and then wait to see if that population gets infected with the disease and a placebo. You also give a placebo vaccine to another group of people and you’ll give it to, let’s say, thousands of people and you’ll wait to see over months and months. Will they get infected with the disease? Will they get infected with measles or mumps? And hopefully you will discover that the vaccine, the people who are given the vaccine, either do not get infected at all or get infected, vastly lower rates. And the people who were given the placebo and at the end of many months, you’ll notice that, oh, 10 percent of the people who were given a placebo have gotten the mumps and zero percent of people who are given the mumps vaccine have got the mumps. This looks like it’s a pretty good vaccine. But the key point is you just wait to see whether people get the disease. The idea of a human challenge trial, which people are talking about for covered 19 is that you don’t wait. You just give people. The disease you exposed that you give him the vaccine and then you expose them to the disease to see what happens. And the idea of this is that you will find out very, very quickly if this vaccine works. B, you don’t need to wait for the ambient possible exposure to take place. It is an ethically questionable thing to do. It has been done with influenza. It’s been done with malaria. But the idea of doing it covered 19 is very alarming because there are no current therapies for cover 19 and because cover 19 kills a lot of people. And so you would if the vaccine doesn’t work, you are exposing people to a disease that they cannot be treated and that they could die from. So. Is it ethical for us to conduct human challenge vaccine trials?
S1: Emily Bazelon, so I am in favor of this with some limits. I mean, I think you want to have a really well-designed, carefully monitored trial to make the risk as minimal as possible for people. And you want to make sure that this is really necessary to speed up the development of the vaccine. One reason why that may be the case is actually the declining rates of infection in at least some parts of the world. So last week when I was reading about the Oxford team that’s developing a vaccine and seems to have a head start there, I think pretty close to being ready or will soon go to the normal kind of vaccine trial, as you described, where you give some people the vaccine and then just see what happens in their normal course of life. And they were saying, well, and then there was actually a quote in the piece that was like, we’re the only people who hoped the pandemic continues for a few more weeks because we’re worried we’re gonna have to go chase it to another part of the world, because there won’t be a high enough level of infection in normal community to really be able to show whether this works. Now, of course, like the pen, we do not want the pandemic to continue, but that shows the difficulty of the longer, more standard means of doing these kinds of vaccine trials. And I guess for me, what’s particularly eye-catching about this idea is that because we know that young people are at almost zero risk for mortality, at least if they’re not immunocompromised. That seems really promising. Now, it doesn’t mean that the vaccine couldn’t be lethal, I suppose. But I think that once you test a vaccine in monkeys, you get pretty reassured, right. That like, it’s probably not going to kill people. And then that helps you with this kind of. No. Is that not right?
S4: I think there’s this this this phenomenon, which I’m now going to name. But something vaccine enhancement, where in some cases a vaccine actually makes you more susceptible to a disease and the disease hits you harder.
S6: And the Monzo heart doesn’t help that. I don’t they don’t count. I don’t. Not necessarily. OK, so then there is a bigger risk here. Maybe I’m minimizing the risk in a way that I will regret later.
S7: This seems to me like just such. Sorry, John Dick saga, no brainer.
S4: Such a no brainer. I mean, the amount of human misery that is being caused by this vaccine, not just the deaths of people from the vaccine, but the human misery that’s been caused by, ah, the frozen ness of the world, the lack of education, the poverty. It’s imposing that there’s a a an organization which has such a wonderful name one day sooner and getting a vaccine one day sooner literally will save thousands of lives and just enormous amounts of human wealth. And we’ll reduce the stock of human misery in the future enormously. And what a day sooner does it? A month sooner? Is it just a vastly even more three months sooner is more. And so if you can have a trial that is even slightly gives a slightly better chance of getting a vaccine sooner. By all means.
S3: And there are already I looked on one day sooner yesterday there were already nine thousand or eight thousand people who had volunteered to participate in these human challenge trials. People who are willing themselves, who are saying, I am happy to be infected with this disease, take the risk because I believe it. You have a core, a core of volunteers who want to do it, who are eager to do it. Are you happy to be useful? And just the the the idea that this would if this is a thing that people think could possibly speed up the development of the vaccine, the idea that we wouldn’t pursue it with all vigor seems to me and saying it is a it is a net loss to the world right now is so enormous. And if people die because of the vaccine trial, that will be a tragedy and it will be terrible. And the pharma companies need to be shielded from liability suits from those deaths. But, you know, they will have died in a cause that will be helping humanity enormously and saving lives in the future. So it’s the easiest question I’ve looked at during this whole crisis.
S7: I feel.
S5: Do they? The argument. Is there an argument against doing it that is outside of specific context?
S9: In other words, it’s my guess it’s the slippery slope argument, which is if you open it up for here, then then it provides a pathway for somebody to make the case why you should do it in some other instance where, you know, let’s say more people die from X or some similar number people die from X when it’s not a big national moment of focus and the deaths aren’t happening maybe as quickly, but they’re still, in the aggregate, pretty much the same amount. And as some drug company or some. In other words, is there. What’s the argument against doing it? And is it because you don’t want to set the precedent not or is there a specific argument against doing it that’s related to the particularities of Kobe 19?
S4: Well, I think the arguments with Cover 19 are there is no therapy. So the other the other, as I understand it, other diseases where they have tried things like challenge trials, there are reasonable therapies and also they tend not to be fatal. And so so it is a different kind of disease than other diseases which have gotten challenge trials. There’s also such a terrible precedent. I mean, this is this is Nazi kind of shit. This is not that dissimilar from what was done at Tuskegee. I mean, Tuskegee was people had not opted in. It was not they had not volunteered and there was not given therapy, not given treatment. But, you know, doing in injecting people with disease has a very bad history. And so I think that’s the precedent people want to avoid.
S1: Right. And we worry that, like, about coercion. Right. We worry that this is something that like you inflict on an unsuspecting population that is marginalized and vulnerable. The idea of people signing up voluntarily on one day sooner should correct that. But you have to make sure that, you know, the people that you choose are like people who are really making a choice with full informed consent and are not people who were preying on in some way. Yeah, I mean, I think, John, your point about precedent is important, because when you think about the review boards that normally have to approve trials and experiments, they have a hard line on this. Like you’re not allowed to go inject drugs into people. You don’t know how they’re going to work, et cetera, like they’re very clear about this. And I think it is because of the slippery slope and precedent setting problems. I think, obviously there is an argument that this is just like a worldwide catastrophe and that the benefits David was describing of getting the vaccines in are so huge that we should be able to think of this in a different category. I mean, just the fact that they have nine thousand people signing up shows that there is this appetite to be part of the solution. One of the most like moving things to me that I’ve read in all of this terrible mess are people who have recovered from covered 19. Now, we don’t know they’re immune, but we’re gonna have hopefully some decent antibody tests soon. And already they’re being asked to donate blood and plasma because it could be helpful and. Sounds like so many people in that category are like eager to do those things, they realize they have this special quality right now and they actually want to daily contribute to society.
S4: I also think one day sooner that that 8000 people are there, but almost no one knows about it. And if they, you know, get gabfests listeners, I’d love to see how many of you will go sign up at one day sooner to be part of this challenge trial cohort. Now, I don’t think you are legally binding yourself. This is not written in blood. It’s just a it’s a theoretical.
S1: You can put yourself on a list.
S5: Can I ask a question that for which I would like a preliminary response, but which is something that either one shows should be devoted to or every show from now until the 2024 election should be devoted to, devoted to, which is mankind. Stepping up or being totally awful, because obviously when you spend time on social media and in the political charnel house, you are driven immediately to the conclusion that people are basically not stepping up, their reverting to stupidity and all of the worst forms of motivated reasoning. And what about ism? But then you look at people volunteering for one day sooner for plasma trials, doing things in their community. Obviously, we know about what first responders and nurses and doctors are doing, and the evidence seems rather test to pile up that people outside of the hobbyists are, you know, doing the kinds of things that you would hope that they would do in a tough situation. So I don’t know, maybe you don’t even have to answer now. But it is an interesting question.
S4: It’s a totally 100 percent. People are stepping up and people want to step up. People want to do more.
S6: And they know that it’s clear how they can step up. Yeah. They really can see the purpose of it like that.
S4: Yeah. I want I want that Scott Kelly did not really give I think of answer that that flesh it out for me. But you asked about Emily and I. And that’s what I want. I long for someone to tell me. Here are four useful things you can do, David. And that would really make you feel like your you’re helping because sitting on your ass in your house is not does not is the opposite of that.
S8: I mean, even though that is how it is healthy, it doesn’t feel like it though.
S5: But that’s why. Exactly. Exactly. I loved his idea, though, that just getting through one more day was a part of his mission when he was up in the space station. And so if a Latin national leader had said your mission today, at least at the very least, but you’re right. Do you know where everybody is dying to be led in a way here and would be would love to be given even makework for the purposes of feeling like we are actually all in this together if the first step was just staying home? Now, it’s not a lot of governors have done this. And now Ohio, you know, Mike DeWine said fly your flag, because that’s a way of being, you know, showing the solidarity of staying home is a part of the mission, but obviously undermining the idea of staying home, being part of the mission is is also not what you want to do.
S6: I mean, the Victory Gardens in World War two or this. Right. Right.
S4: The I actually in fact, I wrote an item for my newsletter with read dot the I’s Blotz today about this. And actually what I harkened back to was something which I know I made fun of at the time, which was after 9/11 when President Bush said, go shopping, get down to Disney World. And I think there was a there was a kind of like, oh, he’s not taking it seriously. And I think actually undergirding that was this idea that the most important thing in that crisis that Americans could do was to late live a normal life, to not let terror stop them from leading a life of activity and and joy and connection and economic activity and work. And that’s what he was getting at. And he you know, that’s a shorthand for it. But I think he’s right. And that is a different crisis, a different kind of catastrophe. And you could go shopping after 9/11. It was a thing you were supposed to you know, you could do easily. You can’t do it today. But I, I, I did feel retrospective anger at myself for mocking that, because actually that was the thing that you could go do and you could feel like, oh, yeah, I’m helping us, helping Americans live a better life now by doing that. And I want the same thing today. And I don’t feel I. I do feel like the sitting on the couch piece of it is part of it. But but I would like more if more other things. All right. That was an interesting discussion and a lot of different directions.
S1: Hey, before we go, if you want to think more about the case for human challenge trials and even very elation, which is when people are infected with a small dose of a virus that’s more controversial. But interesting topic. Peter Singer and Richard Yet or Capelle, perhaps I’m saying that wrong. Have an interesting op ed about it in The Washington Post.
S4: My brother on his podcast recalled this book is interviewing one of the authors of the Human Challenge Trial. Big article near IAL. So that’s another place to hear more about it. The I also realized. Sorry. We’re really going to go now. But Slate plus listeners, if you are still listening, man, you’re a real guy.
S7: Yeah. I forgot. I forgot. Left me admiring how far you’re running.
S4: We were doing our cannon. I forgot one of my favorite books. Maybe my favorite book. And I just I was out for a walk and talking about our CNN. I realized as I was doing it, I realized, oh, my God, I forgot. Eminent Victorians. Yeah. The Litten. Strache e-book. That is where my favorite book. So that’s that would be on my canon.
S9: F. Why there’s a Linton’s streaky cameo in a. Great New Yorker piece about the man who thought too fast, which is in. I think it’s I guess it’s in this week’s it’s hard to know, but it’s about Frank Ramsey, a mathematician. And Litton’s Drinky said the world will never, never know what has happened. What a light has gone out. So I thought of you, David.
S6: My God, you have that right. Your fingertips. That’s great.
S8: Well, that’s amazing. That’s done. Didn’t even. That was in real time. That’s crazy.
S6: That’s backslash three four x q. But here’s the problem.
S9: That’s only because I read it literally this morning. If you if by tomorrow I won’t even know what a Frank Ramsey is.
S6: If he woke up and bonked me on the head, which you pulled the whole quote out, that I can’t do that one second later.
S4: That was very impressive. All right. Slate plus, no more parlor trick by.