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Social distance or distancing, the term is often used in the Covid19 pandemic. Far from being useless, its ambivalence is paramount. It illustrates the relationships between the social animals that are human beings and its content is much richer than the simple physical or geographical distance.
The interest of social distancing
André Torre
Université Paris-Saclay, INRAE, Agroparistech
Social distance or distancing, the term is often used in the Covid19 pandemic. Far from being useless,
its ambivalence is paramount. It illustrates the relationships between the social animals that are
human beings and its content is much richer than the simple physical or geographical distance.
Social distance or distancing, the term is ambiguous and could be considered an oxymoron. Yet this
ambivalence is paramount. It has the merit of illustrating the relationships between the social animals
that are human beings and its content is much richer than the physical or geographical distance. I will
illustrate it with a few examples, based on epidemiological analyses, proxemics and proximity
In 1918, during the Spanish flu pandemic, Doctor Max Starkloff defined and then implemented the
principle of «social distancing», which we now translate sometimes into social distance. This empirical
method, which only repeats and systematizes much older practices, prohibiting in particular the
gatherings of more than twenty people, has then been applied during various epidemic episodes.
Studies conducted in the city of Sydney estimate that these measures saved from 100,000 to 260,000
lives in 1919. They are often considered to play a major role in reducing the impact of the epidemic in
terms of public health (Caley et al., 2006). But other works, based on simulations, suggest that social
distancing, however severe, is only effective in the case of not too virulent epidemics (Reluga, 2010),
and that nothing replaces the effectiveness of vaccination as soon as the spreading factor becomes
too important.
Let’s briefly come to the physical distance in its simplest form, which is that of geographical proximity,
extensively studied and documented by the researches on proximity relations (Torre, 2014). In the
case of the Coronavirus pandemic, as in many other situations, it can be simply observed that a strong
geographical proximity promotes the spread of the virus and the infestation of people, by direct
(cough, sneezing, postilions, etc.) and indirect physical contacts (when someone touches a
contaminated surface), or by air transmission. This is the reason why, following the great epidemics of
the twentieth century, is advocated the setting of a social distancing, which takes various forms and is
based on more or less radical techniques, some of which are familiar to us since the Middle Ages:
wearing masks, isolating identified patients, quarantining, closing schools, banning cultural, sporting
or religious gatherings, starting with total confinement of the population, absolute prohibition of
leaving one’s place of life… So many actions or measures that can be combined, and whose objective
is to avoid suffering this deadly geographical proximity.
The introduction of these rules, and in particular of the most extreme one, lock-down, is far to be
related to the sole technical or physical domains and carries a very strong social and institutional
content. This is evidenced, for example, by the differences, in this situation, between countries such
as Sweden, which has not decided on containment, and Italy, where the rules are very strict. Or, in a
more extreme way, in the USA, the demonstrations of the supporters of de-confinement, who ask a
return to a situation of freedom of movement of people by arguing of obstacles to their fundamental
rights. Obviously, economic considerations are not unrelated to these differences as well; the
introduction of isolation or barrier gestures is clearly a powerful brake on productive and commercial
activity. But it also has a strong impact on our lifestyles, calls into question many personal or
professional habits and practices, and raises many issues about life in society and relationships
between people.
The first concerns obstacles or deprivation of physical contact, which have a social dimension that goes
beyond mere physiology. The proxemics studies, developed by the cultural anthropologist Edward Hall
(1966) and the geographers Moles and Rohmer, allow us to understand that behind the physical
distance lies social contact, whose limitation impacts the comfort zone surrounding the individual.
Each person is surrounded by a surface around him, a kind of bubble that constitutes an emotionally
strong zone or an individual security perimeter. Its size varies from crop to crop, but covers four
growing areas. The intimate distance, which is accompanied by a great physical involvement and a high
sensory exchange, is used to embrace, touch, it is that of love. Personal distance refers to specific
conversations and interactions between friends or family members. The social distance, which
concerns interactions with friends and colleagues, applies particularly well in the context of work.
Finally, public distance is required when talking to groups of people. From these different distances, it
results in the existence of territories of the individual They are defined according to the type of
interactions and relationships that he practices and correspond to the territory of the social animal
that is the human being. It is also found in animal societies, and some species go as far as practicing
the “shyness” of trees, which implies a gap between their tops (Fish et al. 2006).
This contact area is obviously very strongly influenced by both technical actions and fear of contact
caused by the indisputable spatial dimension of the spread of the pandemic. Thus, work in co-presence
and co-working, as we like to practice in open spaces, becomes dangerous and prohibited, whereas
face-to-face interactions, recommended for the co-creation of knowledge, ideas or the dissemination
of innovations (Feldman, 1994), are cut off or made impossible. A large part of the benefits of co-
location of innovators or engineers is thus mostly reduced and the interior design of workplaces needs
to be rethought (Zhang et al., 2020). The same is true of all invention laboratories, such as living labs
or fab labs, which are based on grouping people in one place, face-to-face exchange, common
manipulation of technical objects and joint interventions on the same process…. Or third places, which
mix technicians and lay users in the development of shared projects (Oldenburg, 1991). All the well-
known and often celebrated virtues of face to face interactions are thrown down because of the need
to maintain a social distancing, which rightly prohibits social practices and their positive effects. This
even goes as far as urban development, which can be modified to reduce contact possibilities, by
means of temporary settings corresponding to strategic urbanism tactics (Honey-Roses et al. 2020).
Proximity approaches have taught us for a long time that the distancing of people does not only have
geographical or spatial effects, but that it leads to a loss of exchanges and landmarks. An important
part of the interactions between human beings goes through attitudes, facial expressions,
pheromones, human contact, kisses, hugs, shaking hands, conviviality around a glass or a meal, and
can only reproduce imperfectly at a distance. This distance exchange and its limitations are well known
to sociologists (Urry, 2002). It is also on this observation that the existence of localized production
systems and policies for the creation of clusters or technopoles is based, which seek to promote
exchange between scientists or technicians (Porter, 1998).
In this case, geographical proximity (let’s call it physical distance) is not the only important variable.
Another crucial dimension is the so-called organized proximity. I can find myself in the most beautiful
technopolis, if I do not share cognitive, emotional, cultural and organizational resources with my
neighbors it has no interest to be at a short physical distance from them. It is the combination of these
two variables geographical proximity and organized proximity that creates positive interactions,
whether economic or social. Their secret, to quote Alfred Marshall’s famous joke, is not in the air but
in the social bond. And this is also where the existence of urban agglomerations, and in particular cities,
comes from. The search for geographical proximity explains the constitution of cities and urban
agglomerations, associated with the search for contact, the interactions of life in society, which fall
under the organized proximity (Bourdeau-Lepage and Torre, 2020). Economies of agglomeration,
which are positive externalities that benefit to every inhabitant and to which he aspires by being
located in densely populated areas, are based on their combination.
But in times of pandemic this virtuous causality is reversed because the risk of diffusion becomes much
more important in the heart of towns or cities. Regular and repeated meetings, face-to-face
interactions, contacts, that’s all the Covid19 appreciates! Geographical proximity, hitherto sought for
its benefits, becomes a source of major inconvenience, at the risk of disease and death. As far as
possible, people prefer to move to rural or less densely populated areas, which are less affected by
geographical proximity because of their lower concentration. This is one of the causes of the urban
exodus in France in March, conducted by the desire to find oneself in a more «healthy» area than the
city. For people forced to stay or return to the urban space, the practice of the individual car becomes
attractive again, because it makes it possible to recreate the famous bubble around the individual and
thus to preserve, as far as possible, their health, given the challenge of protection in public transport.
Geographical proximity is also a ruthless indicator of social inequalities and fractures. The size of the
house, the number of rooms and people who occupy them, the layout of a garden or terrace, refer to
a possibility of social distancing and of living in common more or less important according to income.
It is much more dangerous to impose lock-down inside homes for very large families. They feel
probably safer and more likely to respect distancing when they are outside, especially in case of
wearing masks. Beyond the epidemiological risk involved, the cramped housing for a large family
makes confinement difficult. Proximity is exacerbated, social distancing becomes difficult, if not
impossible, and the space of each person becomes drastically reduced. The increase in domestic and
gender violence becomes the price to be paid in the event of an exit ban, and logically affects the more
deprived neighborhoods, where the number of people is much higher per square meter. The penalty
is then double, in the image of the character of social distancing: to the physical infection, much
stronger in the more crowded and poor areas, comes added social misery. The message of lock-down
is then difficult to communicate, especially when it comes to emerging economies, in which a large
part of the population lives off to informal labor, which requires daily physical and social contacts, and
does not have sufficient savings or income to cease all activity for a relatively short period of time. In
slums and favelas, as well as in working-class neighborhoods in developed countries, the geographical
proximity of workers and blue collars is deadly. Forced to exercise their activity as caregivers, cashiers,
garbage collectors, etc. travelling in scarce public transport, they are exposed to the risk of disease,
while they sometimes do not have access to the simplest tools of social distancing.
The vast majority of others, the middle classes, are now working remotely, and teleworking is
developing, based on the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs), in parallel with
other modes of remote interaction such as telemedicine or even a good part of teaching. Remote
relationships replace face-to-face interactions. If they are just as social as the latter, these relations act
the separation of bodies and people through the development of the Internet and social networks.
Organized proximity, of relational and not geographical essence, is then used. It has always existed
between people, making reference to the people we love, the friends, the family, the persons with
whom we feel close because we share the same origins, the same culture, the same ways of seeing the
world. Thanks to the development of ICTs it has developed; they enable knowledge exchange and
remote working, largely abolish the constraints of geographical proximity, and therefore of distance,
in particular (Torre and Rallet, 2005). But this augmented remoteness asks questions, and we do not
yet measure all the consequences. The development of syndromes and psychological diseases in time
of lock-down is a cause for concern, but is it linked to this absence of social bond?
The use of ICTs is also strongly mobilized in proximity tracing or contact tracing applications, which
should make it possible to identify infected persons and report them to people in their immediate
geographical proximity, thanks to the virtues of Bluetooth, for example. The development of these
practices, whether or not based on the voluntary work of infected persons, obviously raises massive
legal questions and individual freedoms, as well as problems of artificial intelligence, big data or
machine learning (Kuhn et al. 2020). Fraser and his team simulated the use of proximity tracing in a
fictitious city of one million people (Feretti et al., 2020) and estimated that the use of this application,
based on geographical proximity, could lead to a massive reduction in the spread of Coronavirus.
Recent applications in Singapore, however, suggest that the social component of proximity plays an
unanticipated role, with the refusal of many people to download the application, which only becomes
effective if more than 60% of the population makes use of it (Bay, 2020).
It appears that the term of social distance or distancing is well chosen, combining a purely physical
component - the distance that can exist between two objects like a table and a chair - and the
fundamental social component that governs every human or living relationship. These two variables
must therefore be carefully considered. The physical distance to try to stop the contagion, the social
proximity to try to preserve human exchanges and maintain life in society beyond the family or
intimate circle. Considering social distancing forces us to think, to come out of easy patterns, and
reminds us that distance or proximity is not only a physical affair. Man is indeed this social animal,
which combines individual impulses with group functioning and fears the virus while feeling the pangs
of spatial isolation. The question before us now, at the time of distant or distant exchanges, is our
ability to socialize in ways other than anecdotal. Are we still a society, when we exchange through our
connected terminals? These people who no longer see each other, who no longer touch each other,
do they still form a society, or only an agglomeration of individualities? Are the laws and rules sufficient
to maintain the link in the absence of social contact? Does the social and spatial distinction between
those who go out to work and those who remain isolated to do their daily job introduce a new social
and spatial divide?
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... Hall's theories also significantly impacted communication theory, especially intercultural communication, where it inspired research on spatial perception that continues to this day (Cristani, et al., 2020;Wilson & Peterson, 2002). During the COVID-19 pandemic, remote relationships replaced face-to-face interactions so that organized proximity was interpreted as relational and not geographical or physical (Torre, 2020;Charness, Haruvy, & Sonsino, 2007). ...
... Social distancing forces us to think, to come out of easy patterns, and reminds us that distance or proximity is not only a physical affair, but a virtual conception, as well. Man is indeed a social animal and must combine individual impulses regarding group functioning with fear of the virus, while experiencing the emotional anxiousness of the pangs of social and spatial isolation (Torre, 2020). As educators, one of our primary responsibilities should be to create a community of practice, system of meanings, understanding, and safe space for each of our courses; and to do our best to eliminate (or mitigate) the feelings of a social-cultural and spatial divide within a virtual classroom. ...
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... These spatial factors are underpinned by specific regional features to enhance the explanatory framework of the geographical evolution of COVID-19, accounting for the unequal spatial growth of pandemics (Huang & Smith, 2010). As aforementioned, geography and spatial proximity are deemed to be crucial in the COVID-19 spread, due to its high R0 (Torre, 2020), with high levels of contagion being observed in cases where great concentration of people occurs, such as metropolises. ...
... Besides timing, the restrictiveness of mitigation measures appears to vary significantly across the EU (Torre, 2020). Sweden abandoned the idea of pursuing a lockdown strategy, restricting only mass gatherings, while the Netherlands imposed the closure of non-essential services without giving a "stay at home" order. ...
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The novel coronavirus Covid‐19 was brought to the global spotlight in early 2020 and has already had significant impacts on daily life, while the effects could last for a long period. However, these impacts appear to have been regionally differentiated, since similar to previous pandemics, geography plays an important role in viruses’ diffusion. This paper enriches our knowledge about the initial territorial impact of the pandemic, from January to May 2020, studying the spread of Covid‐19 across 119 regional economies in 9 EU countries and explaining its underlying factors. Air quality, demographics, global interconnectedness, urbanization trends, historic trends in health expenditure as well as the policies implemented to mitigate the pandemic were found to have influenced the regionally uneven mortality rate of Covid‐19.
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The onset of the coronavirus pandemic led to profound changes in populations' everyday lives. The main purpose of this research is to investigate the factors that affected life satisfaction during the first-wave lockdown in Greece. A web-based survey was developed, and 4305 questionnaires were completed corresponding to all Greek regional units. Statistical modeling (multivariate logistic regression) was performed to evaluate to which extent significant geographical attributes and socioeconomic characteristics are likely to influence life satisfaction during lockdown due to the pandemic. In the course of the present work, some key findings emerged: social distancing and confinement measures affected mostly women in relation to men; there was a strong positive association between life satisfaction and age, especially as regards the older population; changes to employment status, increase in psychosomatic disorders, and increased usage of social media were also likely to negatively impact people's life satisfaction. By contrast, trust in the government and the media and limited health concerns seem to have a strong association with subjective wellbeing. Finally, life satisfaction does not depend much on geographical characteristics such as urbanity or insularity, highlighting that the lockdown had an impact on the Greek population regardless of the physical isolation.
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هدفت الدراسة التعرف على مدى وعي المواطنين والمقيمين بمفهوم التباعد الاجتماعي وآثاره الإيجابية والسلبية، وطرق التواصل خلال فترة التباعد الاجتماعي، ومصادر الحصول على المعلومات، ونمط الحياة قبل وخلال الجائحة، وتصورات ما بعد التباعد الاجتماعي من وجهة نظر المواطنين والمقيمين في سلطنة عمان في ظل حائجة فيروس کرونا Covid-19 ، وتندرج هذه الدراسة ضمن البحوث الوصفية التي تعتمد منهج المسح الميداني بتطبيق أداة الاستبانة ومن أهم نتائج الدراسة: أن وعي المواطنين والمقيمين بمفهوم التباعد الاجتماعي في ظل حائجة فيروس کرونا Covid-19 کان بدرجة کبيرة، وأن مستوى مجالات الدراسة الأخرى کلها جاءت بدرجة متوسطة. وأظهرت النتائج أنه توجد فروق ذات دلالة إحصائية عند مستوى (أقل من 0.05) في مجال مصادر الحصول على المعلومات لصالح ( الإناث) تبعا لمتغير النوع الاجتماعي والمؤهل العلمي، بينما توجد فروق ذات دلالة إحصائية في جميع مجالات الدراسة تعزى لمتغير الفئة العمرية، مع وجود فروق ذات دلالة إحصائية عند مستوى (أقل من 0.05) في الدرجة الکلية في مجالات الدراسة تعزى لمتغير الجنسية لصالح فئة (المقيم)، بينما لا توجد فروق ذات دلالة إحصائية عند مستوى (أقل من 0.05) في استجابات أفراد عينة الدراسة في مجال الوعي بمفهوم التباعد الاجتماعي، ومجال مصادر الحصول على المعلومات تبعاً لمتغير مکان الإقامة. ومن أهم التوصيات: الحرص على تنفيذ برامج توعية نوعية للمجتمع بشکل عام ترکز على التباعد الاجتماعي، العمل على تقليل الآثار الاجتماعية والنفسية والاقتصادية للتباعد الاجتماعي، وتفعيل التربية الوقائية في المؤسسات التعليمية کالمدارس، والتأکيد على الالتزام بإجراءات التباعد الاجتماعي في بيئات العمل المختلفة بمؤسسات القطاع الحکومي والقطاع الخاص مع سن القوانين التي تضمن ذلک.
The onset of the coronavirus pandemic led to profound changes in populations' everyday lives. The main purpose of this research is to investigate the factors that affected life satisfaction during the first lockdown wave in Greece. A web-based survey was developed, and 4,305 questionnaires were completed corresponding to all Greek regional units. Statistical modeling (Multivariate Logistic Regression) was performed to evaluate in which extent significant geographical attributes and socioeconomic characteristics are likely to influence life satisfaction during the lockdown due to the pandemic. In the course of the present work, key findings emerge; Social distancing and confinement measures affected mostly men in relation to women. There is a strong positive association between life satisfaction and age, especially as regards older population. The change in the employment status, the increase in psychosomatic disorders and the increased usage of social media are also likely to impact negatively people's life satisfaction. On the contrary, trust in government and the media and limited health concerns seem to have a strong association with subjective well-being. Finally, life satisfaction hardly depends on geographical characteristics PREPRINT 2 like urbanity or insularity, highlighting that lockdown impacts on the Greek population regardless of the physical isolation.
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Restrictions on the use of public space and physical distancing have been key policy measures to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and protect public health. At the time of writing, one half of the world’s population has been asked to stay home and avoid many public places. What will be the long term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on public space once the restrictions have been lifted? The depth and extent of transformation is unclear, especially as it relates to the future design, use and perceptions of public space. This article aims to highlight emerging questions at the interface of COVID-19 and city design. It is possible that the COVID-19 crisis may fundamentally change our relationship with public space. In the ensuing months and years, it will be critical to study and measure these changes in order to inform urban planning and design in a post-COVID world.
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Instantaneous contact tracing New analyses indicate that severe acute respiratory syndrome–coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is more infectious and less virulent than the earlier SARS-CoV-1, which emerged in China in 2002. Unfortunately, the current virus has greater epidemic potential because it is difficult to trace mild or presymptomatic infections. As no treatment is currently available, the only tools that we can currently deploy to stop the epidemic are contact tracing, social distancing, and quarantine, all of which are slow to implement. However imperfect the data, the current global emergency requires more timely interventions. Ferretti et al. explored the feasibility of protecting the population (that is, achieving transmission below the basic reproduction number) using isolation coupled with classical contact tracing by questionnaires versus algorithmic instantaneous contact tracing assisted by a mobile phone application. For prevention, the crucial information is understanding the relative contributions of different routes of transmission. A phone app could show how finite resources must be divided between different intervention strategies for the most effective control. Science , this issue p. eabb6936
The recent SARS-CoV-2 pandemic gave rise to management approaches using mobile apps for contact tracing. The corresponding apps track individuals and their interactions, to facilitate alerting users of potential infections well before they become infectious themselves. Naïve implementation obviously jeopardizes the privacy of health conditions, location, activities, and social interaction of its users. A number of protocol designs for colocation tracking have already been developed, most of which claim to function in a privacy preserving manner. However, despite claims such as “GDPR compliance”, “anonymity”, “pseudonymity” or other forms of “privacy”, the authors of these designs usually neglect to precisely define what they (aim to) protect. We make a first step towards formally defining the privacy notions of proximity tracing services, especially with regards to the health, (co-)location, and social interaction of their users. We also give a high-level intuition of which protection the most prominent proposals likely can and cannot achieve. This initial overview indicates that all proposals include some centralized services, and none protects identity and (co-)locations of infected users perfectly from both other users and the service provider.
Objective: To investigate and analysis the epidemiological characteristics of a cluster epidemic of COIVD-19 in a collective workplace in Tianjin, evduate the prevention and control measures based on limited evidence and experience in early period of COVID-19 epidemic. Methods: Descriptive research method was used to describe the distribution and other epidemiological characteristics of the cluster cases of COVID-19. Results: Since the onset of the first index case on January 15, ten confirmed COVID-19 cases had occurred in the workplace, and the epidemic had spread from the workplace to 4 families, infecting 7 family members. The median age of 17 cases was 55 (19-79) years. All the 10 employee cases were males, and in 7 family cases, 3 were males and 4 were females. Of the employee cases, 8 worked in CW workshop and 2 worked in administrative office building. The median exposure-onset interval of all the cases was 4 (0-12) days, and the median exposure-onset interval was 4.5 days in the employee cases and 4 days in the family cases. The median onset-medical care seeking interval was 4 days in the non-isolated cases, 2.5 days in the cases with home isolation after onset, and 0.5 day in the cases with home isolation before onset. Conclusion: The clustering of COVID-19 cases was observed in this workplace in Tianjin, which affected 4 families. In the early stage of the epidemic, accurate and rapid blocking and control measures can completely prevent the large-scale spread of COVID-19.
Provides a geographic dimension to the study of innovation and product commercialization. Product innovation is shown to cluster spatially in regions that provide concentrations of the knowledge needed for the commercialization process. That is, the presence of universities, related industries and specialized business services can create a technological infrastructure that promotes information transfers, thus lowering the risk and costs of undertaking innovative activity. Using U.S. Small Business Administration Innovation Citation data, the study introduces a direct measure of innovation output to explore the location of innovative activity. Prior empirical studies are also examined. The tendency to cluster geographically is found to be more pronounced when individual industries are examined. Certain states also have a comparative advantage for innovation in specific industries. Policy implications for private firms and state economic development efforts are considered. (TNM)
In this article I discuss just why travel takes place. Why does travel occur, especially with the development of new communications technologies? I unpack how corporeal proximity in diverse modes appears to make travel necessary and desirable. I examine how aspects of conversational practice and of `meetings' make travel obligatory for sustaining `physical proximity'. I go on to consider the roles that travel plays in social networks, using Putnam's recent analysis of social capital. The implications of different kinds of travel for the distribution of such social capital are spelled out. I examine what kinds of corporeal travel are necessary and appropriate for a rich and densely networked social life across various social groups. And in the light of these analyses of proximity and social capital, virtual travel will not in a simple sense substitute for corporeal travel, since intermittent co-presence appears obligatory for many forms of social life. However, virtual travel does seem to produce a strange and uncanny life on the screen that is near and far, present and absent, and it may be that this will change the very nature of what is experienced as `co-presence'. I conclude by showing how issues of social inclusion and exclusion cannot be examined without identifying the complex, overlapping and contradictory mobilities necessarily involved in the patterning of an embodied social life.
Crown shyness is the empty space between crowns in fully stocked stands that is not related to tree-fall gaps. The objectives of this study were to determine the stand and site factors that control crown shyness in lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Dougl. ex Loud.) stands and to evaluate whether stands experiencing crown shyness compensate for leaf area losses by maintaining longer crowns. We measured canopy closure (i.e., the inverse of crown shyness), crown radius and length, and green litterfall in stands of various height, relative density, and site index. Canopy closure decreased with stand height and increased with site index and relative density. Green litterfall increased with height and relative density. Crown radius and crown length reached a plateau by 8-10 m height, despite increased spacing between tree boles with increasing stand height. Crown radius increased with height and site index but declined with relative density and slenderness coefficient. Crown length also increased with height and site index but declined with slenderness coefficient. Despite the fact that, in tall stands, where >50% of the sky was not covered by crowns, there was not an accompanying increase in crown length to take advantage of the apparent increase in light transmission to the lower crown.