Zhang lab has yet another article published online. It can be found here:
On initial inspection, it appears to have a similar format, and problems that another recent paper from the same lab has. I suspect this story will continue to develop.
Zhang lab has yet another article published online. It can be found here:
On initial inspection, it appears to have a similar format, and problems that another recent paper from the same lab has. I suspect this story will continue to develop.
This year seems to be the year that I end up publishing encyclopedic entries. Two from the Wiley Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences were ones I had expected to be published in 2019. Regrettably, the untimely death of Bernie Carducci put the publishing process on hold for a while. The other entry is in the International Encyclopedia of Media Psychology. All chapters have been published online. Both encyclopedias should be available for sale by the end of the year.
From the Wiley Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences:
From the International Encyclopedia of Media Psychology:
The first two chapters are ones where I have either some direct research experience - a meta-analysis I was involved in during graduate school included Type A/B Behavioral Pattern among potential individual differences that might moderate the influence of provocation on aggression. There is reason for skepticism, as it turns out. I sometimes have discussed implicit motives and their assessment when I have had the opportunity to teach Personality or Tests and Measurement, although it has been a while since I have had the pleasure to teach either of those courses. The third chapter is one that allowed me to further clarify some thoughts on the evidence surrounding the weapons effect as a phenomenon, and I tried to find some means of being fair and balanced, while making sure that the skeptical side was given its due.
I still have some empirical data sets I need to work on. Regrettably, I have not had much opportunity to work on those this year, as other priorities, such as flipping classes online, took precedence. Hopefully will get back to some semblance of normality in the next year or two.
One of my favorite narratives as I follow any election is one of how the polls "got it right" or more often how the "polls got it wrong". My impression, from speaking with friends and family is that most people look at the top line numbers, but don't really bother to look at the margin or error in each poll, or any information about the sample. Even when folks rely on polling aggregators, such as FiveThirtyEight, I suspect that there is a tendency to look at the averages (what I usually refer to as means) without looking at the probability of any of a number of reasonable outcomes.
Nate Silver spends a good deal of time discussing what is okay and what is not okay with the polls at this moment in time. The short version is that the polls are generally a good marker of outcome in broad brushstrokes but are likely to be off if we went to be more specific. Nate Silver minces no words about the problems with non-response rates in current polling efforts (they're awful) and the challenges that pollsters will face in the future, assuming that the US population becomes more and more polarized. And yet, he's able to provide evidence that 2020 polling numbers were arguably no worse than 2016. State polling is worse than national polling, but that seems to be typical. The numbers, thus far, are about where we'd expect them, on average.
I tend to rely on polling aggregators much more than individual polls. Although I highly doubt that Silvers's FiveThirtyEight site is anywhere near perfect, it does a reasonable job. What I look at in particular are the range of probable outcomes based on the site's simulations, with regard to Presidential, Senatorial, and House outcomes. The challenge for readers is to understand that probabilities are just that - probabilities. A Presidential candidate who has a low probability for winning is not destined to lose. We saw how that worked out in 2016, and Silver was more than willing to alert his readers that Trump had a realistic probability of winning the Electoral College. This year, even with a lower probability of re-election, the polling data and simulations Silver's team ran were ones that urged caution against writing Trump off from winning a second term. The apparent electoral vote for Biden is well within the bounds of possibility, based on those simulations.
From what I recall of the simulations on Nate Silver's site, the Democratic and Republican parties performed within their expected margins. Outside the Presidency, the House was likely going to remain controlled by the Democratic Party. The only question was whether it would be a narrower or wider majority. There was no evidence I am aware of to suggest another 2018 style Blue Wave, given the strategy of focusing on suburban areas that had been, until recently held by Republicans. If anything, this year may have been something of a regression toward the mean. The most probable outcomes for the Senate were for the Democratic Party to hold between 48 and 55 seats. The latter would have required the Democratic Party to run the table in nominally competitive races in otherwise heavily red states. As it turns out, the worst case scenario is that the Democratic Party gains a seat, but still remains in the minority, with all that entails. We will know more once the Georgia run-off elections are held January 5th. Runoff elections, like special elections, tend to be low-turnout. So, whichever side manages to get their base motivated to go back to the polls is the one that wins. In Georgia, that has typically favored the Republicans. We are in unusual times, so nothing is a given, and polls indicate contests that are essentially dead heats.
At the end of the day, I'd probably tell my Democractic friends that they had an okay 2020. They won the White House back, held the House, and have something of a shot at breaking even in the Senate (though that is probably a long shot bet). I'd tell my Republican friends that they probably held the Senate, and were able to more than cut their losses in the House (although I'd warn them that some of their new House members may not help them nationally going forward). Those paying attention to the data analyses from this election are probably not particularly surprised.
I am not in the business of post-mortems and such from elections, nor do I intend to start now. I'll leave that to the political scientists. The polls and results were about as expected on average. My concern is more about accepting uncertainty when reading data and analyses from pollsters and from those who aggregate polls. I'm inevitably amazed at how well polls do given the non-response rate. I am impressed with the various factors aggregators weigh when assessing how to simulate what those polls are really telling us. As a consumer of this sort of data, I would only be concerned if the final results were outside the upper and lower bounds of what we would expect to see. That didn't happen in 2016, 2018, or 2020. For those hoping for something closer to the upper bounds, there is likely considerable disappointment. I'd counsel the opposite.
When I was an undergraduate student, I took my Social Psychology course through my university's Sociology Department. My professor at the time enjoyed introducing us to cognitive dissonance theory, and one of the field observations of a doomsday cult that Festinger and colleagues documented in their book, When Prophecy Fails. Although the methodology behind the observations that made up the core of that book are not above criticism, it remains a valuable document for understanding cults of any sort, including those of a more political nature.
Cognitive dissonance theory is itself fairly straightforward. One has a strongly-held belief. It may be challenged either by a belief-inconsistent behavior the individual performs (a common thread in a lot of lab experiments) or an inconsistent external event. That creates considerable psychological tension (think of anxiety, for example) and is resolved by either modifying one's beliefs or doubling down and continuing to believe. In the case of the doomsday cult that Festinger and colleagues followed, the world did not end, many of the members remained, believing that the power of their faith had spared the planet.
The author of a recent article in The Atlantic, McCay Coppins, uses the book and the theory as means of understanding at least a certain subset of the modern GOP that appears to have truly bought in to what has become known as Trumpism. He covers an event on election night that includes such Trump luminaries as Steve Bannon. The event itself was celebratory at first, but as the night wore one, it became apparent that the narrative of the polls being fake (rather than being merely imperfect, as they typically are), that a Trump landslide was forthcoming, etc., was not going to hold up. The mood of the attendees and of its host certainly changed (we could probably throw in some frustration-aggression theory in as well). But at minimum, this inconvenient truth that Biden was going to prevail in not only the popular vote (which means little in the US) but also in the electoral vote was enough to cause the proverbial house of cards to fall. In the moment, that was met by bitter denials by an event host. We've seen since increasingly shrill denials and actions held at various locations where those workers responsible for counting ballots, along with poll watchers, do their tedious work. So far, it appears that at least a subset of our population does not believe what the data are showing, and are bound and determined not to believe it. When dissonance hits, the defense mechanism of denial seems to be the impulse. We saw that most recently at a hastily convened press conference on the outskirts of Philadelphia, at a landscaping facility located near a crematorium and an adult bookstore. But we've also seen true believers show up in Las Vegas to invoke their deity at the Clark County Election Department, and regular armed protests at the Maricopa County Election Department in Arizona. In this particular psychological space, Trump is portrayed as the legitimate authority whose position is being "stolen" for....reasons.
The election will eventually be certified (after some remaining lawsuits and transitional roadblocks are dealt with), and a transition to a new administration will happen. That is reality, based on the votes counted, and based on what is known of the likely votes remaining. However, that reality will not be accepted by a significant subset of the US population. It may never be accepted. We don't know yet. But for now, the resolution to cognitive dissonance appears to be denial.
Ron Riggio had a recent blog post on the matter of bridging the political divide. Hint: it's easier said than done, but not impossible. It's a post based on a recent interview that Riggio sat for, and does a good job of blending some basics of social psychology with industrial/organizational psychology. Worth reading.
The honest answer is that I have no way of knowing for sure. However, I do think there are some fairly safe predictions, based in part on the data and briefing paper that V-Dem Institute published recently. As noted in that post, the policy positions of the Republican Party had shifted dramatically in an authoritarian direction over the course of this century, arguably accelerated by the Trump era. If the various polling models are correct, and Trump loses his re-election bid (which is highly probable, but not a foregone conclusion, as even the various models acknowledge), will the party begin a dramatic shift toward moderation?
That seems improbable. Keep in mind that the composition of the party's leadership in Congress is not going to change dramatically, save for perhaps losing a few more remaining members who were at least nominally moderate, and the addition of perhaps some new members who are tied to extremist movements and conspiracy theories (such as QAnon). The RNC itself is probably not going to change much either. So I don't expect the sort of post-election "autopsy" and self-reflection that occurred in the aftermath of 2012. The shadow of Trump will still loom large, as will his popularity among his base of followers, who will continue to follow his every tweet. Trump will not leave office quietly, and post-Presidential life will for a while leave him as a kingmaker. But even if Trump were to go silent, those in power and their voters are not ones reputed for moderation. I would expect a trend towards authoritarianism to continue, even if concerted efforts are made to remove any vestiges of the Trump name.
It would be interesting to use existing measures of authoritarianism and social dominance orientation developed by political psychologists and fellow travelers to assess the psychology of those in office and among the party's base. Absent that, I can only speculate. I don't expect any change, except perhaps to double down for the foreseeable future. I could be wrong, and would actually be relieved if that were the case.
You can read about it here. Much of what they have to say seems reasonable enough, especially advocating safeguarding evidence-based critical thinking.
I'm not a political scientist, and I won't even pretend to be. What I can speak to is a nagging perception I've had for a while now. Somehow the Republican Party has appeared to me to have changed quite drastically since the start of the 21st century. I am probably not alone in that assessment. If nothing else, I can't help but notice a sharp change in the party's rhetoric and voting behavior over the past two decades. An anecdote that sticks out in particular surrounds the party's effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (often referred to as Obamacare) in 2017. I recall at the time that as the Senate leaders were drafting legislation, even party members of the relevant committee responsible for drafting and voting on it complained of being left out of the process. There is a certain chain of command in both major US parties, but it seems as if the chain of command is more rigid within the Republican Party. It also seems as if the party's zeitgeist has shifted to more of an "us versus them" approach to governance, rather than working with and compromising with the opposing party members.
So, that's been my perception, and one that I have probably voiced in personal conversation for a while. Now we actually have some hard data to examine. The Guardian broke a story about a study conducted by V-Dem Institute of Gothenburg, Sweden shows that the US Republican Party has dramatically shifted from being a fairly center-right party similar to many other European center-right parties to that of more autocratic parties such as Hungary's Fidesz. That shift has been most dramatic during the current Trump era. The US Democratic Party, by contrast, has barely shifted on most dimensions in the past 20 years. Encouraging violence, which was unheard of in the Republican Party is now quite noticeable, as has disrespect for opponents. On dimension of disrespect, neither party had particularly glowing reputations, but while the Democratic Party never budged, the Republican Party has come to more openly embrace that particular tactic.Neither party had a glowing record on immigration in 2000, but again, the Republican Party has become openly anti-immigrant whereas the Democratic Party of today is no different than it was 20 years ago. Both parties have shown some shift toward being more populist and anti-elitist (however that is operationally defined). That shift is fairly minor for the Democratic Party (no doubt fueled by an emerging progressive wing led by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) but very pronounced within the Republican Party. The Democratic Party has not budged on pluralism and liberalism, whereas the Republican Party is clearly anti-pluralist and its positions do increasingly appear to fit the definition of illiberalism. On matters such as LGBT equality, the Republican Party has remained strikingly consistent in its opposition over the course of this century. The Democratic Party as we know has come to embrace equality. Both parties have moved in opposite directions in terms of espousing cultural superiority, which I am guessing means that of those of European ancestry. The Republican Party is considerably more prone to invoke religion, whereas the Democratic Party of today is no different than at the start of the century. Given that fewer Americans identify with any particular religion, and the percentage of agnostics and atheists has increased, that has been an interesting tack for the Republican Party to take. It's pretty interesting to view the summary. There's plenty of information to digest. But the bottom line is that the Republican Party is indeed apparently considerably more authoritarian than it once was even a mere 20 years ago.
The data and summary can be accessed at the V-Dem Institute's website. If nothing else, the summary itself is pretty concise. Thankfully the data are public, and I am sure that others will examine it and scrutinize the findings. If nothing else, it gives the public an idea of what has happened in our particular political system, and may offer something of a snapshot of the ability of our particular system to function.
The US is set to vote for a potentially new President, along with a number of down ballot contests and initiatives, all the way to the local level. The election is really underway already, as large numbers of Americans have cast their votes either in person or via mail in ballots. As any of us might remember from elections past over the course of this still-young century, all it takes is one outrageous headline to essentially "blow up" in order to alter the trajectory of an election.
With that in mind, my advice is actually pretty simple. Stick to relatively mainstream sources. If you can subscribe to what is essentially a national newspaper (e.g., Washington Post, New York Times), do so. If you can't and are at a workplace or educational institution that has access to these sources, take advantage. Find at least one mainstream international news source that has some mainstream credibility. I rely a lot on The Guardian, which is a UK based independent news source. I also recommend bookmarking news aggregators like Memeorandum or use aggregator apps like Google News. Beyond that, try to read sources that are reputable but have varying editorial slants. CNN is pretty much middle of the road. Washington Post is likewise, although its columnists will run the gamut from neoconservative to rather liberal. My own bias is to avoid most of the columnists, unless I have grown familiar with their work and I trust them (whether or not I am likely to agree with their conclusions is another matter). Have at least one financial news source in your bookmarks. Forbes works for me. It's slant is somewhat conservative, but it is reliable. Pressed for time? I find Axios worth bookmarking. Its articles are brief, no-nonsense, and cut to the chase. Ultimately, the idea is to have a mix of sources that vary somewhat in editorial slant so that you are not in a bubble (or what we used to call 20 years ago, an echo chamber).
I can't emphasize enough sticking to mainstream sources. My reasoning again is fairly simple. A source like Washington Post, Axios, or CNN vet articles for reliability before publishing. If the claims made in an article can't be verified, the story typically doesn't run. That vetting process is far from perfect, but it usually works. Their stock in trade is reliability, after all. The other thing that seems more like a corollary is that mainstream sites are highly unlikely to sensationalize. Yes, news sources want you to read them and view their videos, or find their YouTube channel. But, they also want readers or viewers to stick around for the long haul. There may be a subset of an audience that can be taken in by the latest sensationalized headline (another story for another time), but most of us are going to tune out if we are unable to trust the news site to provide accurate information. I stick to sources I can trust. Bottom line to me is that if a source is unfamiliar, I think twice before clicking a link. If the headline seems too outrageous, I think twice. So should you.
A personal anecdote might help. In early 2017, not long after the 2016 election had come and gone, and Trump had become President, I noticed a site called Axios appear on my aggregators constantly. I'd never heard of it before. Needless to say, I was highly suspicious. However, I noticed the headlines seemed fairly neutral, and the stories appeared to be well-vetted, and tracked pretty well with the rest of the mainstream. When I'm pressed for time, it's become one of my go-to news sites. But I was definitely skeptical at first.
Finally, there is little doubt that for those getting their news from social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, the algorithms are just simply jacked, for a lack of a better way of phrasing it. Sites that really are not reputable tend to end up getting their headlines to trend easily. Whether or not we wish to accept that alleged news sites that trade in sensationalism, clickbait, and outright conspiracy theories are simply "more engaging" to social media users, and that is merely a marketplace of ideas scenario I will leave to your discretion. My recommendation is that this would probably be a good time to tune out from social media for a few weeks. Log off Facebook. Log off Twitter. You get the idea. Bots, whether or domestic or foreign, are boosting and in the process mainstreaming content that is detrimental to a functional democratic process, sowing division and doubt in the process. My best guess is the next few days and weeks will get really ugly really fast, and stay that way until we have a clear picture of the final vote count. I wish that were not the case, but here we are.
Are you an aspiring academic? Hoping to make your mark on your area of interest? Hoping to have a claim to fame? Make sure that your potential collaborators are actually interested in looking carefully at the data you are collecting and analyzing. If they aren't? You are the one who gets hurt, if things go sideways. Speaking from experience. The good news is that life goes on. Finding your way after things go wrong is tricky. It is doable. You will find people who understand. You'll also have to live with detractors for a lifetime. Goes with the territory.
Previously, I noted that the latest Zhang et al. (2020) paper had at least one serious error: that instead of computing a difference between reaction time for aggressive (weapon) images and neutral images, the authors used simply the reaction times to the weapon images as the DV. Hence, we as the readers are left with a misleading set of analyses and a potentially misleading narrative. Fortunately, the authors had already shared their data, which made detecting the error fairly easy. Why the reaction times for the neutral images and then the difference scores (which would have been the real DV) didn't have their own column is only something that the authors can answer.
Oftentimes, with this lab (as is probably the case with others), it is often difficult to glean whether or not variables are entered and computed correctly based on the information appearing in a published paper. Whether those omissions are a bit of sleight of hand or simple human error or misunderstanding is often difficult to deduce. However, sometimes authors make it easy for the readers to see for themselves that the authors have goofed. I have found some rather odd analyses in which IVs were not quite analyzed correctly as well as DVs.
One of my favorite papers published by the Zhang lab, just for the sheer madness it contained, was the on published in Personality and Individual Differences nearly five years ago. That was the first, and I think only, effort these authors made to replicate and extend research on the weapons priming effect (itself a fairly controversial topic). The DV situation appears okay in the initial analysis under section 4.1. However, where things fall apart (aside from a grossly undersized df, given sample size) was that the authors only examined the difference in reaction times between aggressive and neutral words under the weapon prime condition, while completely ignoring the neutral prime condition. The authors eventually did correct the df for that section in a pretty massive corrigendum. However, they never did address that they had done the wrong analysis in order to establish a weapons priming effect. They really should have read more carefully Anderson et al. (1998) in order to do so. The authors needed to establish that the difference between rts in the treatment and control conditions were larger, and in the predicted direction, when participants saw weapons than when they were presented with neutral images. Also left unanswered was the nagging question of the three-way interaction effect that was a duplicate of another three-way interaction effect in another paper authored by this same research team. I got the impression that the current editor in chief at Personality and Individual Differences was not much in the mood for dealing with this mess to begin with, and that any superficial corrections were extracted from Zhang et al. (2016) was probably a minor miracle. In theory, since the authors changed a single digit in the F-test for the three-way interaction, perhaps the point is now moot. I am still concerned that a certain amount of self-plagiarism happened, but the editor-in-chief chose to let it go. As was the case with the most recent article in question, the Zhang lab had enlisted an established American aggression researcher, Phillip Rodkin. Rodkin's wheelhouse was more in the area of bullying, and not so much media violence, so this seemed like an odd choice for a collaborator for a media violence paper. I honestly don't know how much access Rodkin had to the original data, nor could I comment on whether he would have known what to look for when checking out the analyses. He had already been deceased for a while when this paper was published. Hence, we will likely never know.
The Zhang et al. (2016) paper shared something strikingly in common with a paper in which Zhang was second author, and Rodkin also was a collaborator. There was a three-way interaction that was deemed nonsignificant in each paper, although according to a Statcheck analysis, the three-way interaction would have to have been statistically significant based on what was originally reported in each paper. Publication of duplicate analyses is presumably serious business, but apparently the powers that be can overlook such matters. Perhaps the corrigendum on the Zhang et al (2016) paper makes the point moot, as I noted earlier. The erratum in the other paper entirely ignores the pesky issue of that three-way interaction effect.
As I have probably said too many times, I find this state of affairs to be very disappointing. As someone who still finds media violence research interesting (although definitely from the standpoint of a skeptic), I treasure efforts by researchers who study non-WEIRD populations. As an educator and researcher who is very eager to decolonize my particular areas of expertise, I would ordinarily welcome work coming out of China. Unfortunately, the work from this lab is so chock full of errors that it is best left uncited. Hold out for the real thing. Hold out for competently and ethically conducted work.
If you've read this blog long enough, you're familiar with the work of Qian Zhang of Southwest University in China. You are already well aware that there are some serious problems with many of the papers he has co-authored (either as a first author or a more secondary co-author) over the years. His more recent papers have been on the surface of higher quality, but it sometimes doesn't take much to realize that there are still substantial problems. Bottom line is that if you see his name mentioned here, it's not good news.
Case in point: Dr. Zhang has a new paper out that purports to examine the link between viewing prosocial cartoons and a reduction in aggressive cognition and behavior. I was alerted to this paper by Joe Hilgard. On the surface, a simple Statcheck run looked good. Initially I lamented the lack of tangible data to reproduce the analyses. Dr. Hilgard pointed me to where the data were stored (which kudos to this lab for doing so). I ported the dataset into my current version of jamovi and successfully reproduced the analyses reported in the paper. So far so good. Then I had that sinking realization something was still wrong. The data set only contained data for reaction time data for weapon images (which the authors use for the DV in the paper and analyses - a fact Dr. Hilgard had already arrived at before I did my work here). However, the authors should also had data on reaction times for neutral images that were not included in the data set. The appropriate DV would have been a difference score between reaction times for aggressive images (in this case, weapons) and reaction times neutral images. That difference score would be the proper measure of accessibility of aggressive cognitions.
As of this writing, the last author on the paper had been contacted, and I trust this last author to do the right thing here. At bare minimum, a reanalysis needs to be conducted in order to ascertain that prosocial cartoons really did lead to a decrease in the relative accessibility of aggressive cognition. As of now, the paper cannot adequately address that claim. There is this funny gray area between what we consider published and in press. The paper has already been accepted, and some version of it has been made available online. My hope is that the last author, an American researcher with a solid reputation, is able to get the matter resolved satisfactorily, however that turns out. Maybe a simple correction suffices. It is possible that a properly calculated cognitive DV yields the same basic findings as the incorrect cognitive DV. If it does not, then many of the conclusions of the paper may need to be rethought and rewritten. If so, the topic is of enough theoretical and practical interest that perhaps a sympathetic editor and publisher will still be okay with a corrigendum, regardless of how the ultimate findings flush out. If a retraction is necessary at this stage, it would be far less painful than after it is already officially in print. This is a matter of making sure that those of us who might still be tempted to conduct meta-analyses in this broad area of media violence have the correct findings when estimating effect sizes, that those who might be using this literature to advocate for policy changes have the right information before coming across as grossly uninformed. For the good of the order, I hope this matter is taken care of quickly. In the meantime, I'd warn against citing this particular paper unless and until at least some sort of correction has been published.
There seems to be a certain hubris among a subset of humanity in which members of that subset perceive that fundamental laws of nature just don't apply to them. If I were a clinician, I would be tempted to try my hand at a bit of armchair diagnosis. I shall refrain. Instead, let's try something a bit more down to earth.
We as a species, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, religion, ideology, etc. are capable of contracting and transmitting this very highly novel coronavirus dubbed COVID-19. It's a virus that knows no boundaries. We know that in the absence of effective treatments and vaccines (which will take a while to be developed to the point to where they can be given the green light for mass distribution), we have only a few means available to us in order to have some hope of slowing down transmission of this virus: masks/face coverings, physical distancing, and proper hand hygiene (and probably proper hygiene in general). Under the worst case scenario, curfews and lockdowns can be used to reduce transmission, but those are probably best used sparingly and only when the other available options are not working. Those are the facts on the ground. That's our reality. Some nations have really risen to the occasion, and have generally minimized transmission and death rates. Their experiences are hardly perfection (South Korea and Germany for example are still prone to spikes in community spread), but generally about as good as we could expect under these particular circumstances. Clear, consistent leadership certainly helped. In the US, we did not quite have that experience. As a result, there is some argument as to whether we ever quite emerged from the first wave of this pandemic.
Trump, who for the time being is the US President, downplayed the seriousness of the virus. He mocked basic safety precautions (something I find ironic, given that any biographical info I am aware of about him suggests he's something of a germaphobe). He's encouraged his hardcore followers to also mock safety precautions and to essentially throw caution to the wind. In the interim, he's held in recent weeks a number of outdoor rallies without physical distancing or masks, indoor rallies and events without physical distancing or masks, denigrated testing, and treated the pandemic as if it is essentially a thing of the past. The reception for the most recent Supreme Court nominee was arguably a superspreader event. Over the last week or so, numerous individuals associated with that event and the debate have tested positive. Trump himself tested positive, although questions about when he first tested positive are unclear as of this writing. There's a reason why the Bidens have been getting tested since the first Presidential debate a mere week ago.
Since I am not a medical doctor, I will gladly defer to those who have that expertise. What I do know as a layperson is that the combination of medications Trump is currently receiving since both his admission and arguably premature discharge from Walter Reed suggest his case was and is very serious. Footage I saw of him on the White House balcony made it clear that he seemed to be struggling to breathe and that he might be in some pain or discomfort. As someone who has experienced pneumonia before, I have some idea of what it feels like to struggle to breathe. I had something going for me at the time: youth. I was in my early 30s and trying to finish up remaining PhD coursework before going to work on my dissertation prospectus. I was out of commission for two weeks. One course in particular I went from holding my own to wondering if I would pass. That I just barely missed an A was a minor miracle, and one for which I am grateful. I made one mistake early on in my diagnosis: I didn't take it seriously enough, and that set me back. I was lucky to not end up hospitalized, or worse. But I recovered. After a good while, I was back to baseline. But that really did take time. So, the pneumonia that is common with COVID-19 is something I understand fairly intimately. I also understand that the meds Trump takes now are ones that can have all sorts of physical and psychological side effects that should give all of us pause. And yet, Trump is continuing to act as if he is somehow special. He was claiming in footage shot Monday that he thought he might even be immune to COVID-19. Thing is, he's still infected and still contagious.
As to what the future holds for Trump? I have no idea. What I think I can predict is that Trump has modeled a set of attitudes and behaviors that at least his most ardent followers will acquire (if they haven't already) and imitate. In other words, this is just basic observational learning in action. I have little doubt that we'll see more brazen attempts to flout expert medical advice, as the role model himself has led the way. I have little doubt that his followers will show disdain for those who aren't "moving on" to Trump's and their satisfaction. It'll probably get worse now. What I'd say as a professional is that whatever opinions they wish to hold, the facts are what they are. One does not need to be a virologist to understand that when a person with no natural immunity and no willingness to use whatever preventative measures might actually work, the virus is highly likely to win every time. In other words, none of us is special. The sooner we grasp that basic concept, the better.
I am reminded how zombie films (and TV series) tend to work. One typical subplot is for one of the characters to get bitten and to hide the fact that he or she has been bitten from the other characters in the group of survivors. Maybe they genuinely think they will somehow beat the zombie virus and be okay. Maybe they're too afraid that they'll be cast out (which would be an adaptive group strategy). The end result (even in comedic zombie films and TV satires) is not good.
We're not that special. Prevention is no guarantee of survival, but hubris is one nearly certain way to needlessly end up in harm's way. Stay safe.
At this point, we're well aware of Trump's current health situation. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 apparently late last week (although the exact timeline has been disputed), and was admitted to Walter Reed late in the day Friday. We know he has been administered some medications that are normally recommended for patients with severe symptoms, and that at least two of those medications are still in experimental trials. As COVID-19 is highly infectious and more deadly than a typical flu, we would expect an outpouring of well-wishing for his recovery. In fact, I wish Trump well, and hope he recovers. I say that as someone who has known at least four people (so far) who, in spite of taking appropriate precautions caught this novel coronavirus anyway.
What is interesting, but also quite predictable, is that the public is taking into account personal responsibility in their reaction to Trump's health crisis:
Keep in mind that although taking appropriate preventive measures (using masks/face coverings, physical distancing of at least six feet, and proper hand hygiene) is no guarantee of avoiding infection, it helps. Failure to take those precautions, failure to take this virus seriously, is naturally going to be seen as practically inviting oneself to become infected. Really, this is just an application of basic attribution theory, going back to the work of Kelley. People make internal attributions for the plight of others when it appears as if the consequences of behavior are predictable, and that the individual made little to no attempt to avoid harm. In other words, a significant portion of the public have concluded that Trump brought this on himself. Whether or not that is necessarily fair is another conversation for another time. It is what it is, in the meantime.
Less than a month later, this got me into trouble. Apparently I had upset some Very Important People by “desk-rejecting” their papers, which means I turned them down on the basis of serious methodological flaws before sending out the work to other reviewers. (This practice historically accounted for about 30 percent of the rejections at this journal.) My bosses—the committee that hires the editor in chief and sets journal policy—sent me a warning via email. After expressing concern about “toes being stepped on,” especially the toes of "visible ... scholars whose disdain will have a greater impact on the journal's reputation," they forwarded a message from someone whom they called "a senior, highly respected, award-winning social psychologist." That psychologist had written them to say that my decision to reject a certain manuscript was "distasteful." I asked for a discussion of the scientific merits of that editorial decision and others, but got nowhere.The rest of the article is worth reading. Peer review is not all it's cracked up to be. Peer review is better than nothing, and definitely better than government meddling into what gets published. However, it only works to the extent that eminent scholars can't do an end-run around editorial decisions, and of course the extent to which peer reviewers have sufficient information to make informed decisions.
Structural violence is a feature of social structures. This form of violence is inherent in the established modes of social relations, distribution of goods and services, and legal practices of dispensing justice. Structural violence involves more than the violation of fairness and justice. [p. 136]We see these differential rates in the US in terms of differences in life expectancy of African Americans versus Euro-Americans, as well as in the disproportionate rates of incarceration between different racial/ethnic groups, differences in income that disproportionately disadvantage racial and ethnic minorities, and so on. This year alone, we learned that African Americans were much more prone to die of COVID-19 than their Euro-American counterparts. A lifetime of differences in opportunities, patterns of mistreatment by authorities, access to healthcare, and so on appear to be predictors. The structural violence in this case will also fall underneath the radar because it is built into the very fabric of the oppressors' worldview. After all, the injustices that exist can be written off as human nature, some form of moral failings, etc. "It's just the way it is," many might say. Those oppressed may be written off as less intelligent, as not belonging and unable to fit in, etc. The deaths caused from the stress of being oppressed, and without adequate access to fundamental human needs for survival are no less real, even if they don't make the headlines of our various corporate controlled newspapers and news channels. Again, it is crucial to recognize that is in the case of organizational violence, structural violence can and often does lead to blowback - as we have seen in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. Fortunately, most of that blowback has been remarkably nonviolent and restrained, given the very visible anger and frustration expressed by those most affected by a system and set of societal filters and norms stacked against them.
Structural violence is the most lethal form of violence because it is the least discernible; it causes premature deaths in the largest number of persons; and it presents itself as the natural order of things. A situation of oppression rests primarily on structural violence which in turn fosters institutional, interpersonal, and intrapersonal violence. Structural violence pervades the prevailing values, the environment, social relations, and individual psyches. The most visible indicators of structural violence are differential rates of mortality, morbidity, and incarceration among groups in the same society. In particular, a situation of oppression increases the infant mortality rate and lowers the life expectancy for the oppressed. [p. 155]