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Hormona wants women to track their ‘hormonal health’ with at-home testing

Quantified health activity is all around us these days, as scores of people use mobile sensing technologies to keep an eye on their well-being by tracking…



Quantified health activity is all around us these days, as scores of people use mobile sensing technologies to keep an eye on their well-being by tracking their steps, workouts and even how long and deep they sleep — so why shouldn’t women who cycle (as in menstrual cycle) track monthly changes to their hormone levels? London-based femtech, Hormona, which is pitching its hormone tracker in the Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt, hopes to encourage people with periods to do just that: Add hormone-monitoring to their quantified health mix.

Today it’s announcing the launch of its app in the U.S. after a period of early testing with “a few thousand” women in Europe (it’s been beta testing in Sweden). The 2019-founded U.K. startup has already spent a couple of years in R&D developing an easy-to-perform, proprietary at-home hormone test to underpin a forthcoming monthly subscription business that will enable users of its (freemium) app to pay to regularly test and report their hormone levels.

In the near future, in return for “roughly” $40 per month (for the subscription package which includes a supply of self tests), paying users will get feedback on whether they’re inside or outside the normal hormonal range for women their age — and suggestions for treatments if something looks amiss.

That’s for starters. Hormona’s overarching goal, as is often the case with femtech startups, is to encourage a critical mass of users to get on-board with a mission to help plug the data gap that persists around women’s health (as a result of medical research being historically skewed towards male biology) — by agreeing to pool data for research aimed at improving understanding of the roles hormones play in areas like fertility and the menopause. (This side is of course optional: Hormona confirms that any studies it engages in involving user data will be consent-based, i.e. requiring the user to opt their information in.)

Jasmine Tagesson, COO at Hormona pitches as part of TechCrunch Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco on October 18, 2022. Image Credit: Haje Kamps / TechCrunch

“As of now, there isn’t enough data around hormonal health and it’s really affecting every single woman in different stages of her life so it’s a very important topic that we really need to spend more time to do more research and understand,” says Hormona CEO and co-founder, Karolina Lofqvist, ahead of today’s on stage pitch at the Startup Battlefield in San Francisco.

“With this test we can really help women to figure out if they have irregular cycles, if they’re going to have problems getting pregnant or if they’re going into menopause,” she continues. “Our full solution is really on hormonal health — and follow[ing] a woman from her first cycle all the way to her last.”

“We are hoping that with the data [users opt in] we can do more studies around how women are affected by their hormones, how different connections and different levels between hormones can be connected to hormone related issues such as PCOS [polycystic ovary syndrome] or — eventually, perhaps — endometriosis as well, even if it’s not a direct hormonal issue. But PCOS for sure, and infertility and menopause,” she adds. “There are a lot of things that are connected to your hormones that are currently understudied that we are very excited to do more studies and bring more awareness around.”

The startup has raised a total of $1.5 million in early backing from three VC firms so far: SFC Capital and Nascent Invest, as well as Techstars — after going through the latter’s LA accelerator program earlier this year.

Cycling through hormone testing

Hormona’s at-home hormone tests — which are lateral flow, urine-based tests for (initially) three separate hormones (FSH; progesterone; and estrogen) — will be available from Q1 next year, per Lofqvist, starting in the U.S., with a European launch to follow later.

That means, for now, its (free-to-download) app is essentially a general resource that provides information about the function of different female hormones. As tests become available, it’s also designed to funnel users towards regular self-testing (and paying a subscription) to unlock personalized hormonal insights once the testing component of the business launches early next year.

“In the app today you can start to understand what is supposed to happen with your hormones and then when the test is available women can confirm that what is supposed to happen is actually happening,” says Lofqvist, going on to explain that subscription users will be testing roughly one hormone per week (using a separate test per hormone) and doing this at home — “without the need for a lab”.

The three hormones it’s selected for testing were picked because they’re “connected to so many different issues that we women go through”, she says, adding that they may add tests for more hormones in the future — with testosterone and cortisol being two others of potential interest.

The initial batch of hormone tests are performed by users as three separate tests, rather than being bundled onto a single test strip. This is because Lofqvist says that certain hormones need to be tested on certain days to properly understand how levels are changing throughout the cycle. “You don’t test your estrogen on the same day as you test your FSH,” she notes, adding of the individual test dates: “It’s based on our algorithms telling when your estrogen and FSH is supposed to be at the highest or lowest level.”

App users need to provide Hormona with some information about themselves (such as their age) and about their cycle (e.g. regular or irregular; and its length) in order that it can calculate personalized testing dates. Lofqvist confirms these dates “can vary a bit” depending on what the user’s goal and age is. While she tells us the overall accuracy of its hormone tests is “on par” with an at-home blood test.

“We’ve spent the last two years in order to evaluate antibodies to give us as good result as possible and right now we are on par with at-home blood test,” she tells TechCrunch, adding: “But that’s something we continue improving.” (We asked for — but Lofqvist was unable to provide as yet — data on how its at-home hormone test compares in accuracy to a lab-based hormone test. So that’s one to watch for sure.)

So how does its at-home test work? Users take the specified hormone test in the morning on the day the app instructs them to by peeing on the test stick and using the app to scan the result with their mobile phone camera to get what Lofqvist describes as “a quantitive result within 15 minutes”. The test result takes the form of a couple of lines appearing on the strip. Hormona’s algorithms work by comparing the intensity of these lines in order to determine the amount of hormone in the user’s urine.

“If you compare it to a COVID-19 test, you don’t want to have two test lines — but we always have two tests lines,” she notes. “With the two tests lines we then compare the intensity in the test lines to provide a quantitive result for imaging processing.”

Lofqvist argues that by being able to test hormones levels multiple times, i.e. as the months of usage go on, it has the chance to glean a better understanding of hormonal changes because the tech can pick up on patterns over time vs the traditional hormone-testing route of going to a doctor/lab and getting blood drawn which is obviously also a lot less convenient. (Although the accuracy of Hormona’s at-home tests vs a blood-based hormone test performed by a professional needs to be properly factored into any comparison.)

“Today’s solution where you go to draw blood… doesn’t really tell you what is going on with your hormones because in order to understand it you need to test it multiple times in order to see the patterns and that is really what we want to try to achieve with our solution,” she suggests.

Hormona will be recommending users subscribe for at least three months — in order to get what Lofqvist calls your hormonal “baseline” — although she says they’re hopeful that women will see the value in continuing to shell out for a subscription to keep tracking these chemical signals on an ongoing basis, much like they might track their steps or sleep. (And exploring how the product might usefully integrate with other trackers and biomarkers, such as those from wearables or other health tech gadgets, is something she says they’re looking at.)

“As a woman, some months you may have been stressing more — which increases your cortisol and can affect your hormones — so in order to figure out what’s going on you need to test for at least three cycles. After three cycles we can give you then some indication of what’s going on with your hormones. And give you a treatment plan based on your hormone levels,” she notes.

“When it comes to women that are a bit younger it tends to be holistic treatment plans — in order to stabi

Karolina Lofqvist (CEO) and Jasmine Tagesson (COO) at Hormona pitch as part of TechCrunch Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco on October 18, 2022. Image Credit: Haje Kamps / TechCrunch

lize your hormones — but we also are in discussions with medical providers that can provide medication to women that are in need of it if you, for example, are going into menopause quite early or if you have issues around your menopause.”


Why track hormones?

While it’s easy to see utility in ongoing, regular hormone tracking for women suffering from specific health issues that they already suspect might be linked to a hormonal imbalance, why should women generally be wanting to track their hormones? What utility can people who cycle get from paying to access this sort of data on an ongoing basis, as Hormona hopes they’ll be persuaded to? 

Lofqvist responds to this by recounting her own story of hormone-related health issues — which led her, ultimately, to a diagnosis of imbalances and an under-active thyroid. But it was the difficulty she had obtaining this diagnosis through traditional healthcare routes, and the stress and frustration of her experience with these conventional channels, that sealed her conviction there’s broad value for women to track their own hormones. ‘Knowledge is power’ and all that.

“The reason why I started Hormona was due to my own health issues. I used to work in an investment fund and work quite long hours. I went to multiple doctors because I suddenly started to lose hair, getting brain fog, gaining weight. And a lot of doctors said that it was probably due to stress and I should try taking anti-depressants,” she recounts. “It wasn’t until I found a hormone specialist in Brussels that had me take weekly blood tests in order to figure out how my hormones were fluctuating that he realized I was suffering from hormonal imbalances.

“And it is very common today [for women to have hormonal imbalances]. But today’s solution of drawing blood — one blood test — can’t really tell you what’s going on with your hormones. So the reason we have picked those three hormones is they are really the key hormones when it comes to a lot of issues that women are going through that are currently understudied that we are hoping we can bring more data and medical research around.”

She also says Hormona’s start point is a list of around 50 symptoms that can be related to hormonal imbalances, such as weight gain, acne, brain fog, hair loss and so on; and its initial target are women who can “connect” to those symptoms and who are interested in investigating possible underlying causes.

“There are a lot of symptoms that are related to hormonal imbalances. And what we can see from our user base today is it’s mainly women around late 20s to early 40s that are very interested in the concept — but as we go [on] we really want to follow women from her first period all the way to her last with all the hormonal changes that she’s going through,” she adds.

If the app picks up something out of the normal range as the user performs regular testing — such as them having too much progesterone or too much estrogen vs the standard for their age (something which might be the result of them having been on hormonal contraception and then stopping it, for example) — it will suggest what Lofqvist describes as a “holistic treatment” plan.

She says these personalized plans are based on existing scientific research into interventions that may be beneficial for hormonal imbalances — in areas like diet, exercise or taking certain supplements.

“Quite often there are a lot of holistic treatments that can help women to stablize their hormones if they are at a younger age,” she suggests, pointing to “a lot of studies based on that” — and noting that such treatments worked for her when she was suffering hormone-imbalance related issues in her twenties.

Hormona’s technology is not yet regulated as a medical device but Lofqvist confirms that is the goal, telling us: “We have a very clear regulatory path that we have developed over the last year where the end goal is to have an approved medical device.”

For older women, the intended product utility includes being able to help them identify when they’re entering the menopause — based on spotting changes to their hormonal baseline. And perhaps picking up that change happening earlier than they otherwise might.

“Today there isn’t really any test that tells a women they’re going into menopause,” she argues. “A lot of doctors say you need to wait for a year to see if you haven’t had your period for a year then you’re considered going into menopause. But with our test we can quite quickly see that you’re going into menopause when your estrogen is dropping and your FSH is going up. So there is quite [a lot of] use-cases around these three hormones but, to start off, we’re focusing on hormonal imbalances and use that to improve the general well-being of a woman.”

“As we go, the more data that we collect we really hope that we can really fill the medical landscape and help to guide the future of hormonal health,” she adds. “Because it is really understudied, under-utilized and under-funded.”

Competitive and challenging landscape

This isn’t the first quantified health startup we’ve seen that’s using urine testing as the method for acquiring biomarker data. Indeed, the health alert potential of pee-testing has been interesting startups for years (both for highly targeted and far broader health concerns) — and it’s easy (pee-sy!) to see why since it’s a straightforward, minimally invasive/low mess method that can quickly be incorporated into a morning bathroom routine.

Nor is Hormona the first femtech startup to be inspired to productize at-home hormone testing — with the likes of Berlin-based Inne (saliva-based testing) and Modern Fertility (finger prick tests) also in the game, to name a couple of rivals (albeit, the latter sold to telemedicine giant, Ro, back in 2021).

But a lot of femtech plays around hormonal health are targeted at specific issues and/or conditions — such as Allara, another recent U.S. startup, that’s focused on support for PCOS, for example — rather than trying to center hormone tracking itself to sell the idea of ongoing testing as a useful ‘well-being’ signal.

Lofqvist sums its positioning up by saying Hormona’s “pure focus is on hormonal health”.

She has some warm words for fellow European startup Inne, when we bring up its competing (saliva-based) at-home hormone test (which involves an additional piece of hardware that carries out the at-home analysis). But she argues there are key differences in product focus and output — with, for example, Inne targeting fertility (it had planned to prioritize a contraceptive use-case but that got delayed after the pandemic disrupted a major study it needed to support its application for regulatory clearance).

She also points out that Inne provides users with less quantitative results (hormone levels are reported more abstractly; such as low, high etc.) versus Hormona (which reports actual numerical values). While Inne has always avoided describing its product as a hormone tracker, per se — instead its marketing talks of its product as a “cycle- and ovulation-tracker” (which is narrower than Hormona’s broader quantified health push). Plus it’s not testing all the same hormones. So the product positioning between that particular pair looks fairly distinct.

In general, Hormona is gearing up to go after a broader ‘female wellness’ use-case vs other femtechs interested in investigating hormones. Although its challenge is therefore broader: Its “hormonal health” premise is about connecting with a wider user-base by convincing women there’s general utility in making time to keep tabs on their monthly hormone levels and being curious about how they compare with their peers.

Early interest in its product has come from women who have been “dismissed by their doctors”, per Lofqvist. “Just like me they’ve been trying to figure out what’s going on with their health,” she tells us. But she points to signs of broader interest, too: “As of now we have women that are not suffering as well — they just wants to understand what is supposed to happen with their hormones on a daily basis and how you can kind of optimize your well-being.

“For example we had one woman that wrote a really nice review the other day that was like ‘oh I’m so grateful that a hormone app told me that today you may suffer from PMS [premenstrual syndrome] in the days before my menstrual cycle because otherwise I thought that I was just depressed. So to just get that small awareness that it’s actually normal the way you’re feeling, due to your hormones, feels like a big relief for a lot of women.”

“I think it’s amazing that there are so many femtech companies popping up and booming right now — it’s just helping everyone,” Lofqvist adds. “There is a lot of companies around fertility and menopause but what we want to focus on is purely hormonal health and carve out this new space that serves as its own category where we can follow women from her first period all the way to her last with all the changes that she’s going through.”

Why should women not want to track their hormones? Well, one very big red flag for potential users in the U.S., specifically — which might give women there reason to say no to using a digital tool for this kind of intimate self-surveillance — follows the Supreme Court’s undoing of constitutional protections for abortion earlier this year which has led to a swathe of states enacting draconian laws limiting women’s access to reproductive healthcare.

Some states have made abortion illegal in almost all circumstances. And prosecutions of women for miscarriage or still birth were not unheard of in the U.S. even prior to the Supreme Court decision. So a digital platform that’s taking snapshots of individuals’ reproductive health data (hormone levels) could risk becoming a target for authorities seeking to press prosecutions of women suspected of illegal abortions.

Women’s own devices could be targeted to access data the app holds on their reproductive health. Securing this information will be extremely important if users are to trust Hormona with such sensitive — and potentially legally risky — personal data.

Asked whether it’s concerned about this risk, and how it will ensure U.S. users’ data is protected, Lofqvist says: “Like any women’s health company, we are keeping a very close eye on the situation in the U.S. and are still in the process of evaluating our best go to market strategy, whether that is initially in the U.S. or Europe. We do however know that we do not want to exclude American women from using a service that can help bring more awareness, control and understanding of the female body to the women, who at present, need it the most and we are evaluating a variety of strategies in order to keep our potential American users’ data safe.”

“As a U.K. registered company compliant with GDPR [aka, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation] with all of its databases located in Europe we believe we have a degree of separation meaning that it is not as easy for the U.S. government to issue us with a subpoena to give up a user’s personal information,” she adds.

“At the end of the day as a female-founded women’s health company we believe in women’s basic right and our reproductive right is part of that. As such we would always take precautions to ensure that what we do does not put any women, but specifically vulnerable women, at risk.”

Hormona wants women to track their ‘hormonal health’ with at-home testing by Natasha Lomas originally published on TechCrunch

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Anti-Semitism As The Harbinger Of Global Chaos

Anti-Semitism As The Harbinger Of Global Chaos

Authored by Stephen Soukup via American Greatness,

On the off chance you hadn’t noticed,…



Anti-Semitism As The Harbinger Of Global Chaos

Authored by Stephen Soukup via American Greatness,

On the off chance you hadn’t noticed, the world appears to be at an especially precarious moment presently. Obviously, war continues to rage in Ukraine and Gaza, with no end in sight to either conflict. Great Britain and Japan are currently in recession. Canada’s economy is an absolute disaster, with almost no hope of near-term recovery. Much of continental Europe and China are struggling economically, if not officially contracting. Some experts believe that the global economy more generally is sliding, slowly but surely, into recession. The only economic bright spot in the world is the United States, and even here we have our problems with consumer spending and sentiment, massive credit concerns, and inarguably sticky inflation.

Meanwhile, China is investing in and winning friends, and influencing people in the Global South. U.S.-backed Kurdish leaders are warning that ISIS is resurgent in Syria and Iraq. The Marine general in charge of U.S. Africa Command is warning of Russia’s increasing influence on that continent. Sudan remains mired in civil war. Nigeria is plagued by Islamist terrorism and mass kidnappings. Mexico is in the midst of a full-blown war with the drug cartels, who continue to grow bolder and more militarily sophisticated.

Everywhere one looks, chaos reigns—or, at the very least, bubbles just below the surface.

Perhaps most telling among the signs of disarray is the unnerving rise of antisemitism in the United States, Europe, and throughout the world. Antisemitism, in general, has been intensifying, slowly but surely, over the last decade or so. Over the last few months, however, it has emerged fully into the open, undaunted and unembarrassed. What was once considered shameful and disconcerting is now warmly welcomed as a “rational” response to American foreign policy, Israeli war practices, “colonialism,” and “white privilege.”

All of this is troubling, to put it mildly, both in and of itself and as a harbinger of greater and more deadly global unrest.

Hatred of and anger toward Jews is not the same as other forms of bigotry.  

In many ways, the history of Western anti-Jewish hatred mirrors the history of Western political chaos and collapse.  Or, to put it another way, historically, Jews are not only the perennial scapegoats during periods of social upheaval and displacement, but resurgent anti-Semitism serves as the proverbial canary in the coal mine for the rise of revolutionary movements.

In his classic, The Pursuit of the Millennium, the British historian Norman Cohn argues that the Jewish diaspora generally fit comfortably, if tentatively into European society for most of the first thousand years or so A.D., and only became a hated and perpetually persecuted minority with the rise of utopian Millenarianism that accompanied and then outlived the Crusades.  Beginning then and continuing for the next nearly a thousand years, Europeans came to associate Jews with the antichrist and thus to associate hatred and persecution of Jews with preparing the battlespace for the Second Coming.  Many historians, including Hannah Arendt, believed that the anti-Semitism that was such an integral part of the West’s 20th-century collapse into totalitarianism was relatively new and, in any case, distinct from medieval anti-Semitism.  Cohn’s history suggests otherwise, connecting the religious eschatology of medieval Europe to the quasi-religious eschatology of post-Enlightenment Europe, thereby connecting the persistence of Western anti-Semitism as well.

Cohn tells us that millenarian moments and the millenarian movements that capitalize on those moments all share a common group of characteristics. They all appear under certain social and economic conditions. They all appeal to a certain segment of the population at large, who then present themselves as economic, spiritual, and political leaders. They all utilize scapegoats, meaning that they all identify a different, usually much smaller segment of the population on whom they can blame all the world’s ills and then set about to cure those ills through the elimination of the scapegoat. And more often than not, that scapegoat tends to be Jewish.

In the conclusion to the second edition of Pursuit of the Millennium, Cohn notes that the millenarian fervor of the middle ages may have changed, but it never really died, and it maintained its common characteristics even as it became secular or “quasi-religious.” He wrote:

The story told in Pursuit of the Millennium ended some four centuries ago but is not without relevance to our own times. [I have] shown in another work [Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion] how closely the Nazi phantasy of a world-wide Jewish conspiracy of destruction is related to the phantasies that inspired Emico of Leningrad and the Master of Hungary; and how mass disorientation and insecurity have fostered the demonization of the Jew in this as in much earlier centuries. The parallels and indeed the continuity are incontestable.

The parallels between the rise of Nazism and the current global unrest and demonization of the Jewish people are also largely incontestable. The election that brought Hitler to power didn’t happen in a vacuum, after all. It happened in the midst of global chaos, namely the Great Depression. It also followed the decadence and distortion of the Weimer Era. As the New York Fed has shown, even a global pandemic—the 1919 Spanish Flu outbreak—contributed to the sense of discomfort and disconnect among the German population, prompting increased support for Hitler and his Nazis.

The present global chaos doesn’t have to end the same way the chaos of a century ago did. It doesn’t have to result in the ascension of millenarian ideologies and their totalitarian defenders. History has shown that extremism can be short-circuited and radical ideologies undone. The first step in doing so, however, must be to bring an end to the rationalization of the persecution of the world’s Jews. The second step is to end the persecution itself.

Antisemitism is ugly and shameful, and it must be treated as such. For their sake and ours.

Tyler Durden Tue, 03/19/2024 - 02:00

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Report Criticizes ‘Catastrophic Errors’ Of COVID Lockdowns, Warns Of Repeat

Report Criticizes ‘Catastrophic Errors’ Of COVID Lockdowns, Warns Of Repeat

Authored by Kevin Stocklin via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),




Report Criticizes 'Catastrophic Errors' Of COVID Lockdowns, Warns Of Repeat

Authored by Kevin Stocklin via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

It was four years ago, in March 2020, that health officials declared COVID-19 a pandemic and America began shutting down schools, closing small businesses, restricting gatherings and travel, and other lockdown measures to “slow the spread” of the virus.

UNICEF unveiled its "Pandemic Classroom," a model made up of 168 empty desks, each seat representing one million children living in countries where schools were almost entirely closed during the COVID pandemic lockdowns, at the U.N. Headquarters in New York City on March 2, 2021. (Chris Farber/UNICEF via Getty Images)

To mark that grim anniversary, a group of medical and policy experts released a report, called “COVID Lessons Learned,” which assesses the government’s response to the pandemic. According to the report, that response included a few notable successes, along with a litany of failures that have taken a severe toll on the population.

During the pandemic, many governments across the globe acted in lockstep to pursue authoritative policies in response to the disease, locking down populations, closing schools, shutting businesses, sealing borders, banning gatherings, and enforcing various mask and vaccine mandates. What were initially imposed as short-term mandates and emergency powers given to presidents, ministers, governors, and health officials soon became extended into a longer-term expansion of official power.

“Even though the initial point of temporary lockdowns was to ’slow the spread,' which meant to allow hospitals to function without being overwhelmed, instead it rapidly turned into stopping COVID cases at all costs,” Dr. Scott Atlas, a physician, former White House Coronavirus Task Force member, and one of the authors of the report, stated at a March 15 press conference.

Published by the Committee to Unleash Prosperity (CTUP), the report was co-authored by Steve Hanke, economics professor and director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics; Casey Mulligan, former chief economist of the White House Council of Economic Advisors; and CTUP President Philip Kerpen. 

According to the report, one of the first errors was the unprecedented authority that public officials took upon themselves to enforce health mandates on Americans. 

Granting public health agencies extraordinary powers was a major error,” Mr. Hanke told The Epoch Times. “It, in effect, granted these agencies a license to deceive the public.”

The authors argue that authoritative measures were largely ineffective in fighting the virus, but often proved highly detrimental to public health. 

The report quantifies the cost of lockdowns, both in terms of economic costs and the number of non-COVID excess deaths that occurred and continue to occur after the pandemic. It estimates that the number of non-COVID excess deaths, defined as deaths in excess of normal rates, at about 100,000 per year in the United States.

‘They Will Try to Do This Again’

“Lockdowns, schools closures, and mandates were catastrophic errors, pushed with remarkable fervor by public health authorities at all levels,” the report states. The authors are skeptical, however, that health authorities will learn from the experience.

“My worry is that if we have another pandemic or another virus, I think that Washington is still going to try to do these failed policies,” said Steve Moore, a CTUP economist. “We’re not here to say ‘this guy got it wrong' or ’that guy or got it wrong,’ but we should learn the lessons from these very, very severe mistakes that will have costs for not just years, but decades to come. 

“I guarantee you, they will try to do this again,” Mr. Moore said. “And what’s really troubling me is the people who made these mistakes still have not really conceded that they were wrong.”

Mr. Hanke was equally pessimistic.

“Unfortunately, the public health establishment is in the authoritarian model of the state,” he said. “Their entire edifice is one in which the state, not the individual, should reign supreme.”

The authors are also critical of what they say was a multifaceted campaign in which public officials, the news media, and social media companies cooperated to frighten the population into compliance with COVID mandates.

During COVID, the public health establishment … intentionally stoked and amplified fear, which overlaid enormous economic, social, educational and health harms on top of the harms of the virus itself,” the report states. 

The authors contrasted the authoritative response of many U.S. states to policies in Sweden, which they say relied more on providing advice and information to the public rather than attempting to force behaviors.

Sweden’s constitution, called the “Regeringsform,” guarantees the liberty of Swedes to move freely within the realm and prohibits severe lockdowns, Mr. Hanke stated.

“By following the Regeringsform during COVID, the Swedes ended up with one of the lowest excess death rates in the world,” he said.  

Because the Swedish government avoided strict mandates and was more forthright in sharing information with its people, many citizens altered their behavior voluntarily to protect themselves.

“A much wiser strategy than issuing lockdown orders would have been to tell the American people the truth, stick to the facts, educate citizens about the balance of risks, and let individuals make their own decisions about whether to keep their businesses open, whether to socially isolate, attend church, send their children to school, and so on,” the report states.

‘A Pretext to Enhance Their Power’

The CTUP report cites a 2021 study on government power and emergencies by economists Christian Bjornskov and Stefan Voigt, which found that the more emergency power a government accumulates during times of crisis, “the higher the number of people killed as a consequence of a natural disaster, controlling for its severity.

As this is an unexpected result, we discuss a number of potential explanations, the most plausible being that governments use natural disasters as a pretext to enhance their power,” the study’s authors state. “Furthermore, the easier it is to call a state of emergency, the larger the negative effects on basic human rights.”

“All the things that people do in their lives … they have purposes,” Mr. Mulligan said. “And for somebody in Washington D.C. to tell them to stop doing all those things, they can’t even begin to comprehend the disruption and the losses.

“We see in the death certificates a big elevation in people dying from heart conditions, diabetes conditions, obesity conditions,” he said, while deaths from alcoholism and drug overdoses “skyrocketed and have not come down.”

The report also challenged the narrative that most hospitals were overrun by the surge of COVID cases.

“Almost any measure of hospital utilization was very low, historically, throughout the pandemic period, even though we had all these headlines that our hospitals were overwhelmed,” Mr. Kerpen stated. “The truth was actually the opposite, and this was likely the result of public health messaging and political orders, canceling medical procedures and intentionally stoking fear, causing people to cancel their appointments.”

The effect of this, the authors argue, was a sharp increase in non-COVID deaths because people were avoiding necessary treatments and screenings. 

“There were actually mass layoffs in this sector at one point,” Mr. Kerpen said, “and even now, total discharges are well below pre-pandemic levels.”

In addition, as health mandates became more draconian, many people became concerned at the expansion of government power and the loss of civil liberties, particularly when government directives—such as banning outdoor church services but allowing mass social-justice protests—often seemed unreasonable or politicized. 

The report also criticized the single-minded focus on vaccines and the failure by the NIH and the FDA to do clinical trials on existing drugs that were known to be safe and could have been effective in treating those infected with COVID-19.

Because so much of the process of approving the vaccines, the risks and benefits, and the reporting of possible side-effects was kept from the public, people were unable to give informed consent to their own health care, Mr. Kerpen said. 

“And when the Biden administration came in and started mandating them, now you had something that was inherently experimental with some questionable data, and instead of saying, ‘Now you have a choice whether you want it or not,’ in the context of a pandemic they tried to mandate them,” he said.

Pandemic Censorship

Tech oligopolies and the corporate media also receive criticism for their collaboration with government to control public messaging and censor dissenting voices. According to the authors, many government and health officials collaborated with tech oligarchs, news media corporations, and even scientific journals to censor critical views on the pandemic.

The Biden administration is currently defending itself before the Supreme Court against charges brought by Louisiana and Missouri attorneys general, who charged that administration officials pressured tech companies to censor information that contradicted official narratives on COVID-19’s origins, related mandates and treatment, as well as censoring political speech that was critical of President Biden during his 2020 campaign. The case is Murthy v. Missouri.

Mr. Hanke stated that a previous report he co-authored, titled “Did Lockdowns Work?,” which was critical of lockdowns, was refused by medical journals, even when they published op-eds that criticized it and published numerous pro-lockdown reports. 

Dr. Vinay Prasad—a physician, epidemiologist, professor at the University of California at San Francisco’s medical school and author of over 350 academic articles and letters—has made similar allegations of censorship by medical journals.

“Specifically, MedRxiv and SSRN have been reluctant to post articles critical of the CDC, mask and vaccine mandates, and the Biden administration’s health care policies,” Dr. Prasad stated.

Heightening concerns about medical censorship is the “zero-draft” World Health Organization (WHO) pandemic treaty currently being circulated for approval by member states, including the United States. It commits members to jointly seek out and “tackle” what the WHO deems as “misinformation and disinformation.”

One of the enduring consequences of the COVID years is a general loss of public trust in public officials, health experts, and official narratives. 

“Operation Warp Speed was a terrific success with highly unexpected rapidity of development [of vaccines],” Dr. Atlas said. “But the serious flaws centered around not being open with the public about the uncertainties, particularly of the vaccines’ efficacy and safety.” 

“One result of the government’s error-ridden COVID response was that Americans have justifiably lost faith in public health institutions,” the report states. According to the authors, if health officials want to regain the public’s trust, they should begin with an accurate assessment of their actions during the pandemic.

“The best way to restore trust is to admit you were wrong,” Dr. Atlas said. “I think we all know that in our personal lives, but here it’s very important because there has been a massive lack of trust now in institutions, in experts, in data, in science itself.

I think it’s going to be very difficult to restore that without admission of error,” he said.

Recommendations for a Future Pandemic

The CTUP report recommends that Congress and state legislatures set strict limitations on powers conferred to the executive branch, including health officials, and set time limits that would require legislation to be extended. This would give the public a voice in health emergency measures through their elected representatives.

It further recommends that research grants should be independent of policy positions and that NIH funding should be decentralized or block-granted to states to distribute.

Congress should mandate public disclosure of all FDA, CDC, and NIH discussions and decisions, including statements of any persons who provide advice to these agencies. Congress should also make explicit that CDC guidance is advisory and does not constitute laws or mandates. 

The report also recommends that the United States immediately halt negotiations of agreements with the WHO “until satisfactory transparency and accountability is achieved.”

Tyler Durden Mon, 03/18/2024 - 23:00

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Google’s A.I. Fiasco Exposes Deeper Infowarp

Google’s A.I. Fiasco Exposes Deeper Infowarp

Authored by Bret Swanson via The Brownstone Institute,

When the stock markets opened on the…



Google's A.I. Fiasco Exposes Deeper Infowarp

Authored by Bret Swanson via The Brownstone Institute,

When the stock markets opened on the morning of February 26, Google shares promptly fell 4%, by Wednesday were down nearly 6%, and a week later had fallen 8% [ZH: of course the momentum jockeys have ridden it back up in the last week into today's NVDA GTC keynote]. It was an unsurprising reaction to the embarrassing debut of the company’s Gemini image generator, which Google decided to pull after just a few days of worldwide ridicule.

CEO Sundar Pichai called the failure “completely unacceptable” and assured investors his teams were “working around the clock” to improve the AI’s accuracy. They’ll better vet future products, and the rollouts will be smoother, he insisted.

That may all be true. But if anyone thinks this episode is mostly about ostentatiously woke drawings, or if they think Google can quickly fix the bias in its AI products and everything will go back to normal, they don’t understand the breadth and depth of the decade-long infowarp.

Gemini’s hyper-visual zaniness is merely the latest and most obvious manifestation of a digital coup long underway. Moreover, it previews a new kind of innovator’s dilemma which even the most well-intentioned and thoughtful Big Tech companies may be unable to successfully navigate.

Gemini’s Debut

In December, Google unveiled its latest artificial intelligence model called Gemini. According to computing benchmarks and many expert users, Gemini’s ability to write, reason, code, and respond to task requests (such as planning a trip) rivaled OpenAI’s most powerful model, GPT-4.

The first version of Gemini, however, did not include an image generator. OpenAI’s DALL-E and competitive offerings from Midjourney and Stable Diffusion have over the last year burst onto the scene with mindblowing digital art. Ask for an impressionist painting or a lifelike photographic portrait, and they deliver beautiful renderings. OpenAI’s brand new Sora produces amazing cinema-quality one-minute videos based on simple text prompts.

Then in late February, Google finally released its own Genesis image generator, and all hell broke loose.

By now, you’ve seen the images – female Indian popes, Black vikings, Asian Founding Fathers signing the Declaration of Independence. Frank Fleming was among the first to compile a knee-slapping series of ahistorical images in an X thread which now enjoys 22.7 million views.

Gemini in Action: Here are several among endless examples of Google’s new image generator, now in the shop for repairs. Source: Frank Fleming.

Gemini simply refused to generate other images, for example a Norman Rockwell-style painting. “Rockwell’s paintings often presented an idealized version of American life,” Gemini explained. “Creating such images without critical context could perpetuate harmful stereotypes or inaccurate representations.”

The images were just the beginning, however. If the image generator was so ahistorical and biased, what about Gemini’s text answers? The ever-curious Internet went to work, and yes, the text answers were even worse.

Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.

- George Orwell, 1984

Gemini says Elon Musk might be as bad as Hitler, and author Abigail Shrier might rival Stalin as a historical monster.

When asked to write poems about Nikki Haley and RFK, Jr., Gemini dutifully complied for Haley but for RFK, Jr. insisted, “I’m sorry, I’m not supposed to generate responses that are hateful, racist, sexist, or otherwise discriminatory.”

Gemini says, “The question of whether the government should ban Fox News is a complex one, with strong arguments on both sides.” Same for the New York Post. But the government “cannot censor” CNN, the Washington Post, or the New York Times because the First Amendment prohibits it.

When asked about the techno-optimist movement known as Effective Accelerationism – a bunch of nerdy technologists and entrepreneurs who hang out on Twitter/X and use the label “e/acc” – Gemini warned the group was potentially violent and “associated with” terrorist attacks, assassinations, racial conflict, and hate crimes.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Shadow Bans

People were shocked by these images and answers. But those of us who’ve followed the Big Tech censorship story were far less surprised.

Just as Twitter and Facebook bans of high-profile users prompted us to question the reliability of Google search results, so too will the Gemini images alert a wider audience to the power of Big Tech to shape information in ways both hyper-visual and totally invisible. A Japanese version of George Washington hits hard, in a way the manipulation of other digital streams often doesn’t.

Artificial absence is difficult to detect. Which search results does Google show you – which does it hide? Which posts and videos appear in your Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter/X feed – which do not appear? Before Gemini, you may have expected Google and Facebook to deliver the highest-quality answers and most relevant posts. But now, you may ask, which content gets pushed to the top? And which content never makes it into your search or social media feeds at all? It’s difficult or impossible to know what you do not see.

Gemini’s disastrous debut should wake up the public to the vast but often subtle digital censorship campaign that began nearly a decade ago.

Murthy v. Missouri

On March 18, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Murthy v. Missouri. Drs. Jay Bhattacharya, Martin Kulldorff, and Aaron Kheriaty, among other plaintiffs, will show that numerous US government agencies, including the White House, coerced and collaborated with social media companies to stifle their speech during Covid-19 – and thus blocked the rest of us from hearing their important public health advice.

Emails and government memos show the FBI, CDC, FDA, Homeland Security, and the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) all worked closely with Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and other online platforms. Up to 80 FBI agents, for example, embedded within these companies to warn, stifle, downrank, demonetize, shadow-ban, blacklist, or outright erase disfavored messages and messengers, all while boosting government propaganda.

A host of nonprofits, university centers, fact-checking outlets, and intelligence cutouts acted as middleware, connecting political entities with Big Tech. Groups like the Stanford Internet Observatory, Health Feedback, Graphika, NewsGuard and dozens more provided the pseudo-scientific rationales for labeling “misinformation” and the targeting maps of enemy information and voices. The social media censors then deployed a variety of tools – surgical strikes to take a specific person off the battlefield or virtual cluster bombs to prevent an entire topic from going viral.

Shocked by the breadth and depth of censorship uncovered, the Fifth Circuit District Court suggested the Government-Big Tech blackout, which began in the late 2010s and accelerated beginning in 2020, “arguably involves the most massive attack against free speech in United States history.”

The Illusion of Consensus

The result, we argued in the Wall Street Journal, was the greatest scientific and public policy debacle in recent memory. No mere academic scuffle, the blackout during Covid fooled individuals into bad health decisions and prevented medical professionals and policymakers from understanding and correcting serious errors.

Nearly every official story line and policy was wrong. Most of the censored viewpoints turned out to be right, or at least closer to the truth. The SARS2 virus was in fact engineered. The infection fatality rate was not 3.4% but closer to 0.2%. Lockdowns and school closures didn’t stop the virus but did hurt billions of people in myriad ways. Dr. Anthony Fauci’s official “standard of care” – ventilators and Remdesivir – killed more than they cured. Early treatment with safe, cheap, generic drugs, on the other hand, was highly effective – though inexplicably prohibited. Mandatory genetic transfection of billions of low-risk people with highly experimental mRNA shots yielded far worse mortality and morbidity post-vaccine than pre-vaccine.

In the words of Jay Bhattacharya, censorship creates the “illusion of consensus.” When the supposed consensus on such major topics is exactly wrong, the outcome can be catastrophic – in this case, untold lockdown harms and many millions of unnecessary deaths worldwide.

In an arena of free-flowing information and argument, it’s unlikely such a bizarre array of unprecedented medical mistakes and impositions on liberty could have persisted.

Google’s Dilemma – GeminiReality or GeminiFairyTale

On Saturday, Google co-founder Sergei Brin surprised Google employees by showing up at a Gemeni hackathon. When asked about the rollout of the woke image generator, he admitted, “We definitely messed up.” But not to worry. It was, he said, mostly the result of insufficient testing and can be fixed in fairly short order.

Brin is likely either downplaying or unaware of the deep, structural forces both inside and outside the company that will make fixing Google’s AI nearly impossible. Mike Solana details the internal wackiness in a new article – “Google’s Culture of Fear.”

Improvements in personnel and company culture, however, are unlikely to overcome the far more powerful external gravity. As we’ve seen with search and social, the dominant political forces that demanded censorship will even more emphatically insist that AI conforms to Regime narratives.

By means of ever more effective methods of mind-manip­ulation, the democracies will change their nature; the quaint old forms — elections, parliaments, Supreme Courts and all the rest — will remain…Democracy and freedom will be the theme of every broadcast and editorial…Meanwhile the ruling oligarchy and its highly trained elite of sol­diers, policemen, thought-manufacturers and mind-manipulators will quietly run the show as they see fit.

- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited

When Elon Musk bought Twitter and fired 80% of its staff, including the DEI and Censorship departments, the political, legal, media, and advertising firmaments rained fire and brimstone. Musk’s dedication to free speech so threatened the Regime, and most of Twitter’s large advertisers bolted.

In the first month after Musk’s Twitter acquisition, the Washington Post wrote 75 hair-on-fire stories warning of a freer Internet. Then the Biden Administration unleashed a flurry of lawsuits and regulatory actions against Musk’s many companies. Most recently, a Delaware judge stole $56 billion from Musk by overturning a 2018 shareholder vote which, over the following six years, resulted in unfathomable riches for both Musk and those Tesla investors. The only victims of Tesla’s success were Musk’s political enemies.

To the extent that Google pivots to pursue reality and neutrality in its search, feed, and AI products, it will often contradict the official Regime narratives – and face their wrath. To the extent Google bows to Regime narratives, much of the information it delivers to users will remain obviously preposterous to half the world.

Will Google choose GeminiReality or GeminiFairyTale? Maybe they could allow us to toggle between modes.

AI as Digital Clergy

Silicon Valley’s top venture capitalist and most strategic thinker Marc Andreessen doesn’t think Google has a choice.

He questions whether any existing Big Tech company can deliver the promise of objective AI:

Can Big Tech actually field generative AI products?

(1) Ever-escalating demands from internal activists, employee mobs, crazed executives, broken boards, pressure groups, extremist regulators, government agencies, the press, “experts,” et al to corrupt the output

(2) Constant risk of generating a Bad answer or drawing a Bad picture or rendering a Bad video – who knows what it’s going to say/do at any moment?

(3) Legal exposure – product liability, slander, election law, many others – for Bad answers, pounced on by deranged critics and aggressive lawyers, examples paraded by their enemies through the street and in front of Congress

(4) Continuous attempts to tighten grip on acceptable output degrade the models and cause them to become worse and wilder – some evidence for this already!

(5) Publicity of Bad text/images/video actually puts those examples into the training data for the next version – the Bad outputs compound over time, diverging further and further from top-down control

(6) Only startups and open source can avoid this process and actually field correctly functioning products that simply do as they’re told, like technology should


11:29 AM · Feb 28, 2024

A flurry of bills from lawmakers across the political spectrum seek to rein in AI by limiting the companies’ models and computational power. Regulations intended to make AI “safe” will of course result in an oligopoly. A few colossal AI companies with gigantic data centers, government-approved models, and expensive lobbyists will be sole guardians of The Knowledge and Information, a digital clergy for the Regime.

This is the heart of the open versus closed AI debate, now raging in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. Legendary co-founder of Sun Microsystems and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla is an investor in OpenAI. He believes governments must regulate AI to (1) avoid runaway technological catastrophe and (2) prevent American technology from falling into enemy hands.

Andreessen charged Khosla with “lobbying to ban open source.”

“Would you open source the Manhattan Project?” Khosla fired back.

Of course, open source software has proved to be more secure than proprietary software, as anyone who suffered through decades of Windows viruses can attest.

And AI is not a nuclear bomb, which has only one destructive use.

The real reason D.C. wants AI regulation is not “safety” but political correctness and obedience to Regime narratives. AI will subsume search, social, and other information channels and tools. If you thought politicians’ interest in censoring search and social media was intense, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Avoiding AI “doom” is mostly an excuse, as is the China question, although the Pentagon gullibly goes along with those fictions.

Universal AI is Impossible

In 2019, I offered one explanation why every social media company’s “content moderation” efforts would likely fail. As a social network or AI grows in size and scope, it runs up against the same limitations as any physical society, organization, or network: heterogeneity. Or as I put it: “the inability to write universal speech codes for a hyper-diverse population on a hyper-scale social network.”

You could see this in the early days of an online message board. As the number of participants grew, even among those with similar interests and temperaments, so did the challenge of moderating that message board. Writing and enforcing rules was insanely difficult.

Thus it has always been. The world organizes itself via nation states, cities, schools, religions, movements, firms, families, interest groups, civic and professional organizations, and now digital communities. Even with all these mediating institutions, we struggle to get along.

Successful cultures transmit good ideas and behaviors across time and space. They impose measures of conformity, but they also allow enough freedom to correct individual and collective errors.

No single AI can perfect or even regurgitate all the world’s knowledge, wisdom, values, and tastes. Knowledge is contested. Values and tastes diverge. New wisdom emerges.

Nor can AI generate creativity to match the world’s creativity. Even as AI approaches human and social understanding, even as it performs hugely impressive “generative” tasks, human and digital agents will redeploy the new AI tools to generate ever more ingenious ideas and technologies, further complicating the world. At the frontier, the world is the simplest model of itself. AI will always be playing catch-up.

Because AI will be a chief general purpose tool, limits on AI computation and output are limits on human creativity and progress. Competitive AIs with different values and capabilities will promote innovation and ensure no company or government dominates. Open AIs can promote a free flow of information, evading censorship and better forestalling future Covid-like debacles.

Google’s Gemini is but a foreshadowing of what a new AI regulatory regime would entail – total political supervision of our exascale information systems. Even without formal regulation, the extra-governmental battalions of Regime commissars will be difficult to combat.

The attempt by Washington and international partners to impose universal content codes and computational limits on a small number of legal AI providers is the new totalitarian playbook.

Regime captured and curated A.I. is the real catastrophic possibility.

*  *  *

Republished from the author’s Substack

Tyler Durden Mon, 03/18/2024 - 17:00

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