Tag Archives: False Positive

34 COVID-19 questions

The new coronavirus pandemic is the topic dominating our lives at the moment, so I hope you won’t mind if I diverge from the usual neuroscience and psychology themes of this blog, to pose some questions (some a bit rhetorical) related to the virus.

A note of warning – If you are thinking about copying or plagiarizing any of the text, original ideas or descriptions in this post or using it in your own work without giving me (C. Wright, author of the blog “Am I a Super-recognizer?”) the proper acknowledgement and citations, then think again. If you do that you will be found out and my objection will be well publicized. If you believe that you published any of these ideas before I did, please let me know the details in a comment on this article. If you want to make reference to this blog post or any of the ideas in it make sure that you state in your work exactly where you first read about these ideas. If you wish to quote any text from this post be sure to cite this post at this blog properly. There are many established citation methods. If you quote or make reference to material in this blog in your work, it would be a common courtesy to let me know about your work (I’m interested!) in a comment on any of the posts in this blog. Thank you.

  1. How many children, women and men will die or become victims of abuse as the result of increased domestic violence and opportunities to hide abuse and neglect under conditions of social distancing and online schooling?
  2. Are there any aspects of the medical care of people infected by the virus or other measures to deal with it which could conceivably become the subject of a medical reversal in the future or be later regarded as negligent?
  3. Is there any evidence that social distancing indoors and outdoors should be the same?
  4. Would medical clinics or other places where people must share space be safer in terms of social distancing if they were conducted outdoors?
  5. Are there documented cases of infection from the new coronavirus caught through the air in an outdoor place?
  6. Are there any particular immune deficiency conditions or genetic immune system variations that are over-represented among people who have died from the new virus?
  7. Have any researchers studied the vitamin D status of people infected with or killed by the new virus?
  8. Vitamin D deficiency makes people more vulnerable to infection, and this deficiency related to limited sun exposure is surprisingly common, even in sunny nations like Australia, so could government prohibition of outdoor activities in which people often gain sun exposure, such as swimming and sunbaking at closed beaches, intended to prevent transmission of the virus, prove counter-productive by raising people’s vulnerability to the virus, if the virus is encountered?
  9. Should saturation mass media messages from celebrities to “stay inside” be modified to a more nuanced message to prevent an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency and associated autoimmune diseases come the end of winter 2020?
  10. Are any of the fatalities that followed after infection by the new coronovirus attributable to secondary infection by pneumonia-causing bacteria?
  11. Is there a cohort of young Australians who have never been immunised against pneumococcal bacteria because they were born before it was scheduled as a standard childhood immunisation?
  12. If the adult vaccination against pneumonia bacteria is safe and effective, and pneumonia is not a rare disease, why isn’t it recommended and funded in Australia for all adults, rather than recommended for a confusing collection of categories of adults?
  13. Why is vaccination against influenza widely promoted as a good idea for everyone, especially within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, while this does not appear to be the case in relation to immunisation against pneumonia bacteria?
  14. Are social problems resulting from social distancing restrictions on recreational activities outside the home particularly acute in new suburbs in which tiny residential block sizes or large homes with tiny gardens have been compensated for by land developers with quality recreational facilities in public parks, which are now shut down or restricted?
  15. Is it true that India has never been the site of origin of an infectious agent responsible for a major epidemic or pandemic, even though it is a large nation in terms of geography and massive in terms of human population? China is another massive nation, and it and surrounding nations have bred some troublesome infectious agents in recent years, including COVID-19. Does this show that the lacto-vegetarian/Hindu values of the Indian nation are safer and a benefit to all of humankind, because the lifestyle these values promote involves less human interference with and caging of wild animals? The WHO has recently thanked India for engaging the WHO’s national polio surveillance network to strengthen COVID-19 surveillance in India. Should India also be thanked for refraining from doing stupid and cruel things with disease-riddled bats and other wild animals?
  16. Should wildlife carers be banned from caring for or touching bats?
  17. In 2018 an estimated 1.5 million people died from tuberculosis. Why has the world stopped in its tracks to control covid-19, but has not solved the very long-standing global TB problem?   
  18. The potential benefits of the BCG anti-TB vaccine on the immune system beyond TB protection have been known for many years, including potential to prevent allergy. Allergy has been described as a modern-day “epidemic” causing life-threatening medical problems for countless children and adults. Why has it taken the COVID-19 pandemic for Australian researchers to study the important possible benefits of the BCG vaccine? 
  19. In the UK sniffer-dogs are being trained to sniff out cases of coronavirus. Already dogs, and even one British woman, have been used to sniff out medical conditions such as cancer and infectious and non-infectious diseases, and of course trained detection dogs have been used for a long time to sniff out drugs and explosives. Are there any disease-sniffer dogs in Australia?
  20. Can anything be done about police informant drug dealers who fail to observe social distancing by hosting a steady parade of guests at their home? 
  21. Does taking ACE inhibitor drugs make it more likely that you will die if you catch coronavirus?
  22. Does coronavirus directly cause birth defects or other forms of harm to a child born to an infected mother? 
  23. What is the evidence-base or group of published studies upon which Autralian governments’ policies of returning children to school in person has been based? 
  24. How common among children infected by covid-19 is the development of the Kawasaki-like inflammatory/autoimmune disorder that has been reported recently?
  25. Could there be unidentified deaths from or cases of the above disease in Australian children, as is possibly the case in the UK?
  26. Why was the “Socialist medicine” NHS in the UK the first institution to alert the world to the new covid-19-associated Kawasaki-like inflammatory/autoimmune disorder affecting children, when it appears that evidence of the development of this new potentially serious disease in kids has been observed in Australia and other nations? 
  27. Is it possible or likely that a thing to emerge from the covid-19 pandemic will be blocs or groupings of countries into a handful of categories: those nations with effective coronoavirus control, those without with current new infections, nations still to be affected by the virus, and nations with unreliable statistical reporting. If Australia and New Zealand might one day be able to have an arrangement to open borders, might this exclusive club one day widen to incorporate other nations that appear to be on top of covid-19, such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, some Scandinavian countries, with trade, travel and tourism resuming between nations? Even though PNG and Indonesia are geographically closer to Australia than New Zealand, in the new post-covid world order New Zealand seems much closer to Australia, as on May 4th 2020 New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was invited to remotely attend an Australian National Cabinet meeting between Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the state and territory heads.  Will Australia’s historically close social and trade ties with countries such as the USA, the UK and China be downgraded because these countries have done a poor job of controlling or honestly reporting about covid-19?
  28. Is there any evidence or observations that people with autoimmune diseases are affected by covid-19 in a more or less serious way than the average person? 
  29. Can people who have other diseases register a false positive in a covid-19 test, as is the case with the RPR Test for syphilis?
  30. Can immunisation with existing vaccines cause a person to register a false positive in a covid-19 test, as is the case with the BCG TB immunisation that can cause a false positive result on a TB infection test? 
  31. Given that there is still a lack of scientific consensus about whether children infected with covid have lower viral loads than infected adults, and thus might be just as infectious as adults, why are so many state and national governments in Australia and globally forcing parents to send their children to schools?
  32. There appears to be a lot of uncertainty in reports of the emerging Kawasaki-like illness seen in children (now named pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome), and among recent cases of Kawasaki disease in children in Australia of an unexpected number, about whether or not all of these cases have had or do have covid infections. Is this evidence of a problem globally with identifying or testing covid-19 infection in children? Are children dying of covid-19 or its complications, in “advanced” countries, without ever being identified as covid-19 cases?
  33. Given that pediatric multisymptom inflammatory syndrome clearly associated with covid-19 in kids killsbut has not reliably been identified or tested as being associated with covid-19 infection in cases seen in various parts of the world, including in Australia, pointing to the likelihood that covid-19 in kids “flies under the radar”, not reliably detected as the cause of illness by many doctors or by covid-19 testing, does Australia or the Australian states need to set up a reporting system in which doctors are compelled to report to a team of investigative medical specialists any adult or pediatric cases which could potentially be novel infectious diseases or novel presentations of known infectious diseases? 
  34. Given that pediatric multisymptom inflammatory syndrome clearly associated with covid-19 in kids kills, with at least one press report suggesting a cover-up of PMIS deaths in the UK, and PMIS was not initially identified or tested as being associated with covid-19 infection in many cases seen in various parts of the world, including in Australia, pointing to the likelihood that covid-19 in kids “flies under the radar”, not reliably detected as an illness or by covid-19 testing, should schools in parts of the world where covid-19 is not close to eradicated and monitored by large-scale public random testing programs be open?

References / Links

Aranow C. (2011). Vitamin D and the immune system. Journal of investigative medicine : the official publication of the American Federation for Clinical Research59(6), 881–886. https://doi.org/10.2310/JIM.0b013e31821b8755

Nowson, C. A., McGrath, J. J., Ebeling, P. R., Haikerwal, A., Daly, R. M., Sanders, K. M., … & Mason, R. S. (2012). Vitamin D and health in adults in Australia and New Zealand: a position statement. Medical journal of Australia196(11), 686-687. https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2012/196/11/vitamin-d-and-health-adults-australia-and-new-zealand-position-statement

Brooks, M. (2013). Small shot, big impact. New Scientist219(2930), 38-41. https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24027-booster-shots-the-accidental-advantages-of-vaccines/

World Health Organisation. Tuberculosis. 24 March 2020. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/tuberculosis

Worldometer. Coronavirus. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

Quaggin, Lucy (2020) Coronavirus vaccine: West Australian hospital workers to take part in COVID-19 experiment. 7NEWS. Tuesday, 14 April 2020. https://7news.com.au/lifestyle/health-wellbeing/coronavirus-vaccine-west-australian-hospital-workers-to-take-part-in-covid-19-experiment-c-974237

Coronavirus: WHO thanks India for support, borrows polio-fighting strategy for COVID-19. business Today. April 16, 2020. https://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/coronavirus-who-thanks-india-for-support-borrows-polio-fighting-strategy-for-covid-19/story/401156.html

Dogs join fight against COVID-19 by learning how to detect the virus. Sandie Rinaldo. CTV National News. April 12, 2020. https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/dogs-join-fight-against-covid-19-by-learning-how-to-detect-the-virus-1.4893325



Objections to East Perth facial recognition technology


This article from The New Daily includes a summary of where in Australia this technology is being used.

An interesting quote:
“People being wrongly identified by cameras remains a big problem in the system. After trialling automated facial recognition in 2016 and 2017, London’s Metropolitan Police reported that more than 98 per cent of matches mistakenly identified innocent members of the public.”

Facial recognition tech fail

Police facial recognition trial led to erroneous arrest
Alexander J Martin
Sky News August 31st 2017


Is there any particular reason why prosopagnosics are Australia’s favourite popularizers of science?

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki is a prosopagnosic, and apparently so is Robyn Williams, who has been the hosting The Science Show on Australian public radio since the last ice age with intelligence and grace and a pleasantly smart but mild English accent. They both work for the ABC in both TV and radio. They have both written many popular science books. They both come across as likable and enthusiastic. Is this just coincidence? Looking overseas, other highly successful popularisers of science, such as Oliver Sacks and Jane Goodall have also been identified as prosopagnosics. In his role as host of QI, actor Stephen Fry has done a lot to educate and popularise science and other types of knowledge. He’s one too. Strange coincidence that this particular type of fame seems to go with a very particular inability to recognize or memorise faces more often that it should for a characteristic that affects around 1 in 50 people? Maybe it is just more likely that a person who is very interested in science is more likely to identify their self as a scientific curiosity? I could contrast this group of people with famous people who have identified as synaesthetes. Synaesthesia, like prosopagnosia is a psychological-neurological characteristic that is uncommon but not rare. and quite interesting but definitely not obvious. Unlike celebrity prosopagnosics, it seems as though famous figures who claim synaesthesia tend to be more into the arts than the sciences. So what gives?

I found out about Robyn Williams and prosopagnosia reading part of the transcript of an upcoming episode of the radio show Ockham’s Razor which is hosted by Williams. The guest of the show is scientist Len Fisher, and guess what? Another prosopagnosic. He’s made the claim that apophenia is the opposite of prosopagnosia. I can see the logic behind this claim but “No”. Super-recognition is the opposite of prosopagnosia, because face recognition is a type of memory ability, and it is also highly specific to visual memory of faces. The concept of super-recognition is a mirror-image of the concept of prosopagnosia, and both specifically relate to the visual memory of faces. In contrast, apophenia is a very loose and general concept; the tendency of humans to perceive meaningful patterns within stimuli or data that are actually random. Apophenia is not specific to faces or to visual stimuli, and it is a more general term than pareidolia, which I’ve previously written about at this blog. The concept of apophenia seems to me to be too vague a concept to have any scientific utility or meaning, rather like the concept of autism. That’s my opinion, but I’m open to good arguments against it.

Another objection that I have to the idea of apophenia as the opposite of prosopagnosia is the apparent assumption that nature cannot create a biological system of face recognition that is accurate and doesn’t have a tendency towards either false positives (type I error or identifying unfamiliar faces as familiar) or false negatives (type II error or identifying familiar faces as unfamiliar). The source of this type of erroneous thinking about face recognition is the common (among scientists and non-scientists) miscategorisation of face recognition as a form of sensory perception rather than a form of visual memory. As far as I know there’s not anything necessarily amiss about the way prosopagnosics see or perceive faces. They don’t see faces as blurs or blanks. They just don’t remember them. And there’s no reason to think that supers have anything super about the way we see faces. There’s nothing super-human about my eyesight acuity or my ability to identify facial expressions. There’s also nothing in my face recognition ability that looks like any trend towards false positives. As I’ve explained in the first post in this blog, I’m not prone to incorrectly identifying strangers as familiar people, as has been observed in some stroke patients. Very occasionally I’ve had interaction between synaesthesia and face recognition, but this doesn’t affect accuracy.

There’s no reason for skepticism of the proposition that evolution can design a visual memory system that is amazingly swift and accurate and operates unconsciously and automatically. This is simply how visual perception works, for humans and for animals that are seen as much less cerebral than humans. Apparently there’s evidence that the humble pigeon can recognize human faces, and other bird species appear to have evolved the ability to visually recognize the difference between the speckles of their own eggs and those of similar eggs laid by the parasitic cuckoo bird. Evolution can achieve accuracy in systems, if there is a need for such systems to evolve, but it is also plausible that such abilities might be uneven in levels within populations, as variation within populations is completely normal and necessary in biological systems.


The trouble with police, large photograph databases and face recognition technology

Hodson, Hal Police mass face recognition in the US will net innocent people. New Scientist. October 20th 2016.


United States Government Accountability Office Face Recognition Technology: FBI Should Better Ensure Privacy and Accuracy. May 2016.

Click to access 677098.pdf

Had you assumed that hiring human super-recognizers to perform face recognition tasks would be less effective, less accurate and more open to bias than using technology? Think again.