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Restoration and Other Revivals
In which tracking next generation Covid vaccines makes a comeback.
These brass bath feet are out here representing my house restoration. I think they’re doing a good job – “before” and “after,” hinting at the effort in between.
It’s a timber house, a worker’s cottage from the end of the 19th century. There was still a gold rush around here then, and at one point, this little country town had ten times as many people as it does now. Once, in a flood, they say gold floated down our main street. There are still enough old buildings here that it’s not hard to imagine those times.
My house was dragged here by horses from its original home in a village that was dismantled to make way for a huge inland lake. There’s a faded black-and-white photo of horses helping construct the basin: I can picture them slogging their way here, with this house creaking along behind them.
I’m so lucky to have this home, but the restoration has been a long time coming. It was a steep mountain, made infinitely harder to climb after I lost my son. He got it started, and I thought he’d be here to finish it with me. I so wish he was. Now that I’ve finally started to make progress, bittersweet as it is, it feels like the house’s repair and revival and my own are entwined.
The work is time-consuming, and physically tiring for someone who’s used to tapping on a keyboard, not heaving a sander around the floor. This newsletter was an early casualty as the hammering and grappling with a crooked old house’s surprises ramped up.
The unexpected pause gave me time to think about the renovation Living With Evidence needs, too. When I started it in the aftermath of Adam’s death, Substack was a super-effortless path to a free, advertising-free, and portable newsletter. I knew it wasn’t a longterm proposition for me. Sooner or later, given its ownership and commercial imperatives, I figured advertising in some form or other would propel me to up stakes.
The unintended break coincided with a flurry of critique of Substack around the launch of Notes. That finally got me reading more about it. Did I really want to be on a platform that’s making millions from anti-vaccine and other misinformation activists?
A one-two punch hit home via Mastodon, and I knew my move from Substack had to be far sooner than I’d anticipated. Mike Masnick wrote an article with its argument summed up by its title: Substack CEO Chris Best Doesn’t Realize He’s Just Become the Nazi Bar. Oof.
And Annaleen Newitz’s thread hit really hard: “…let's not pretend it offers freedom, or that readers of one newsletter are somehow shielded from another newsletter's misinformation, racism, and transphobia. If you are an author, Substack is selling its network to you. If you are a consumer, you are being sold to authors.”
Sure, me and you aren’t making Substack money directly here. And right now, no algorithm’s pushing anti-vax cross-promotion when I write about vaccines. But while I’m fixer-upper-ing up to my eyeballs, I decided I might as well add a better home for Living With Evidence to the to-do list.
So sometime soon, I hope to have what I need up and running: A place with probable digital longevity that’s advertising-free, that aligns as closely as possible with my values, portable and with user statistics but without commercial surveillance, free and effortless to you – and that doesn’t saddle my other son with bother and costs if I go under the proverbial bus. Um yeah … that’s a lot to ask. At least I don’t expect it to be easy to set up!
I hope the transition when it comes will be seamless for you, though, dear subscribers. However, as a Substack reader who likes the setup, I totally get it if you unsubscribe after I move.
Which brings me to the vaccines. Some of you will know that when the pandemic began, I launched into a full-on effort tracking the development of Covid vaccines. Keeping up with those searches also fell by the wayside, and that whole business was due a re-think as well. Other Covid vaccine trackers were going down like dominoes last year, which was fully understandable. It was tempting to join them and just let it go.
However, in the spirit of renovate all the things, I decided to re-focus and streamline the process instead. The new focus is next generation Covid vaccines, though I’ll still be doing a less intensive version of tracking and curating the others. For example, to reduce the workload of searching the PubMed literature, I’ve added terms to exclude the flood of articles on Covid vaccine hesitancy – that’s been about 20% of the results since 2022. I’ve written a short post on the “before” and “after” of this at Absolutely Maybe.
I’m tracking a couple of types of next generation vaccines very carefully, and I’ve done update posts on both in April:
Intranasal and other mucosal vaccines that hope to create a first-line of defense against getting infected – there are 24 of them in clinical trials in this post, and over 100 with preclinical results in my collection; and
Pancoronavirus vaccines, targeting other potentially deadly coronaviruses as well as SARS-CoV-2 – there are preclinical results for 17 of these so far, with 3 in clinical trials.
And I’ll be keeping an eye out for news on vaccines that aim to be variant-proof for SARS-CoV-2.
Below my sign-off is what else I’ve written since my last newsletter, and some other things that caught my eye. I hope you have a good week!
As well as the trio of posts on Covid vaccines I already mentioned, I’ve written another couple of posts at Absolutely Maybe. The first relates to literature on improving critical thinking and scientific literacy, which these days I find kind of depressing. A systematic review on teaching philosophy to children was an exception, adding a vitally important point to the things we need strengthened stronger immunity against: flattery. I hadn’t appreciated its critical role in spreading misinformation before. My post: Philosophy, Scientific Literacy … and Flattery.
It’s been nearly 6 months since Musk’s takeover of Twitter, and I dug into the data on what happened at Mastodon: Mastodon’s Growth, and Communities Branching. I’ve included recommendations on some recent articles that I think capture this moment in digital and social media.
I missed this back in 2019, but I’m sure it would be fascinating to you too if you love books and libraries: Book of lost books discovered in Danish archive – “The index is part of the Libro de los Epítomes, an effort by Christopher Columbus’ illegitimate son to create a searchable index of the world’s knowledge.” Oh my!
In an interesting rumination on Ben Smith’s take on digital media history, Traffic, Jeff Jarvis called Upworthy a “well-intentioned but ultimately corrupting startup … which ruined the internet and all of media with its invention, the you-won’t-believe-what-happened-next headline. The experience of being bombarded with manipulative ploys for attention was bad for users and the social networks had to downgrade it.”
Talk about unintended consequences! Amazingly, the science of clickbait at Upworthy has been made easy to study. A few weeks ago Nathan Matias uploaded the Upworthy Research Archive, “an open dataset of thousands of A/B tests of headlines”. What a whopping trove of randomized behavioral media data for research and education! Some results are reported here. (Matias is active on Mastodon @email@example.com, and so is Jarvis, @firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Back to Mastodon. Big development news: “Quote boosts, search, and groups are on their way.” Mozilla’s Mastodon instance is here, though it’s still a closed beta. Medium got on board, too, and so did Flipboard. WordPress is dropping Twitter social sharing and adding Mastodon.
One thing I haven’t caught up on is my usual searching for articles on metascience. But here’s an interesting one from a while ago: What’s the difference between scoping and mapping reviews? Fiona Campbell and colleagues dig into the similarities and differences of “the Big Picture review family,” including evidence and gap maps. In part, the differences stem from their origins. Scoping is more narrative, it began in social sciences; mapping is more structured, and originated in the natural sciences.
This is pretty awesome – a website where you can enter your town (or one nearby if yours is as tiny as mine), and see the spot on a map hundreds of millions years ago (mine was under the ocean). With links to the flora and dinosaurs at different periods. Wow. That’s a helluva perspective.