It's astounding to see what's happened in Europe!

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 4, 2020

Also, The Project speaks: It's astounding to see what has happened to various nations in Europe. 

Two months ago, they seemed to have Covid beat. As of today, even Germany has reached the point where its weekly death rate is approaching our own. 

Weekly death rates in France, Italy and the U.K. substantially exceed our own. The change has been astounding.

We've been amazed by the lack of journalistic interest in this disastrous change. We see where the New York Times has now posted a report on this topic, though we haven't read it yet.

The data shown below are also amazing. They come to us from this data base, but also from a different part of the world:

Covid deaths in the past seven days:
United States: 23,275
Japan: 254
South Korea: 35
Taiwan: 0
Australia: 1
New Zealand: 0

We haven't adjusted for population. Do we really need to? 

Japan's population is roughly one-third the size of our own—a little bit more than one-third. The lack of interest in data like these also strikes us as amazing.

We offer one more point, this time concerning "reported deaths."

Yesterday afternoon, we mentioned an obvious fact which no major cable star knows. There's no way to know how many people have died of Covid on any given day.

That isn't the way our reporting systems work. Unless you watch CNN or MSNBC, where the stars spend little time examining data and instead serve you storyline.

Yesterday, we cited Rachel Maddow's report from Wednesday night. In fairness, her error has been echoed all over CNN and MSNBC. These people are extremely well paid, but they just aren't super-sharp.

A few hours after we posted, so did The Covid Tracking Project. In a late afternoon report for The Atlantic, they discussed the same statistical artefact we had discussed. Along the way, they said this:

COVID TRACKING PROJECT (12/3/20):  Reported deaths were very low for several days through the holiday weekend and on Monday. They have risen sharply since—again, a pattern we expected to see and may see more of as reports finally roll in. It is not possible today to understand which increases in reported deaths are related to backlogs and which are related to actual rises in deaths—which we also expect to see, given that reported deaths follow cases and hospitalizations up (and down) the curve, several weeks behind.

Official reporting of Covid deaths routinely slows over a weekend. This is especially true in the case of a four-day holiday weekend.

That doesn't mean that people stopped dying over the weekend. It simply means that bureaucratic reporting slowed. The "backlog" gets made up during the course of the subsequent week.

For these reasons, the weekend numbers are artificially low. The subsequent midweek numbers are artificially high.  There's no record of deaths on a given day.  That isn't the way it works.

Your cable stars don't know such things because they focus on storyline and on little else. In the end, this lack of interest and curiosity works out very poorly. 

One last point:

You won't hear about European or Australian death rates on our top-rated cable news programs. You won't hear discussions of the way those Pacific nations have seemed to lick the virus.

That won't happen on cable news. Reason? Aside from simple-minded storyline, your top cable stars don't care.


JOYEUX NOEM: The AP challenged Noem's claims!

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 4, 2020

Warning! Confusion ahead: For what it's worth, Kristi Noem made a claim at her November 18 press event which we haven't yet discussed.

Yesterday, we considered some of the murky, misleading, inaccurate claims with which Noem defended her conduct as an extremely Trumpy governor during the time of a plague. 

Noem is the highly permissive governor of South Dakota. Perhaps because of her highly permissive ways, only one nation in the whole world had a Covid death rate higher than South Dakota's as of mid-November.

Yesterday, we showed you what "some in the media" had been saying as Noem took the stage for her presser that day. We didn't discuss the final claim in the relevant part of her statement:

NOEM (11/18/20): Now, some in the media have said that South Dakota is the worst in the world right now, and that is absolutely false. I'd encourage you to look at the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. There you'll see that there are other states with far higher new confirmed cases per one hundred—one thousand people, compared to South Dakota.

As we noted yesterday, some in the media had actually said that South Dakota was third worst in the world with respect to its Covid death rate. At the time, the worst numbers looked like this:

Weekly deaths from Covid-19 per million population:
North Dakota: 18.2
Czech Republic: 18.0
South Dakota: 17.4 
Belgium: 16.9
Slovenia: 16.8

Most other states had far lower rates when it came to weekly dying.  The two Dakotas were far and away worse off than the rest of the field.

In the face of all that dying, the governor spoke about cases. That said, what did the governor mean when she offered this jumbled statement:

"You'll see that there are other states with far higher new confirmed cases per one hundred—one thousand people, compared to South Dakota."

Noem stumbled over her words as she made her claim. She seemed to be saying that there were "other states" with many more new Covid cases than South Dakota, even after adjusting for population. 

(You'll note that she didn't say how many other states were doing much worse than her own.)

We decided to check this out at the recommended site. But when we went to the Hopkins Resource Center, we found no listing of new Covid cases per state. 

When we went to other data bases, North Dakota and South Dakota still seemed to rank way up at the top of the pack. But that was several weeks ago, and data bases have moved on. 

Charitably, the governor may have meant something different. She may have meant that South Dakota's rate of increase in new cases wasn't among the very worst in the nation. 

At the time, that was true—but only because South Dakota was starting from such an incredibly high rate of cases (and deaths). The state's rates had actually been dropping a bit—but because of the disastrous levels the state had previously reached, South Dakota was still pretty much at the top in weekly cases and deaths.

At best,  the governor's attempt at self-defense had been a confusing, imprecise mess. Did she believe the various things she had said?

We can't answer that question. 

That said, the governor seemed to have told the people of her state that her conduct in office—her refusal to order a mask mandate; her refusal to cancel the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally—hadn't produced a statewide (and regional) disaster.

Her claims were grossly misleading at best. We'll conclude our case study with this question:

How did the press corps react?

On the national level, we find little sign that Noem's stumbling, bumbling performance was discussed at all. Within South Dakota, we'll direct you to the AP reports which appeared in the Rapid City Journal, one of the state's largest papers.

Two days before the governor spoke, the Journal had perhaps been less than kind. On Tuesday, November 16, The Journal ran a punishing report by the AP's Stephen Groves. Headline included, the report started like this:

GROVES (11/16/20): Gov. Noem standing more alone in her stance against mask mandates

Gov. Kristi Noem on Monday showed no sign of budging from her hands-off approach to the pandemic, despite finding herself among a dwindling number of Midwest governors holding out against mask mandates and facing a death rate in her state that has risen to the highest in the nation this month.

As the virus has steadily grown into a full-scale health crisis across the Midwest, the Republican governor has remained resolute—sticking to the limited-government ideals that have made her a rising star in the conservative movement and arguing that government mandates don’t work.

But she finds herself the subject of increased scrutiny for the approach...

Oof! South Dakota's Covid death rate "has risen to the highest in the nation this month," Groves unpleasantly wrote. For that reason, Noem's permissive, masks-off approach had become "the subject of increased scrutiny."

Already, Groves was hitting hard. As he continued, he may have become even a bit less neighborly:

GROVES: South Dakota has reported 219 deaths in November—about a third of all its deaths over the course of the entire pandemic. The COVID-19 deaths have sent the state to the top of the nation in deaths per capita during November, with nearly 25 deaths per 100,000 people, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project.

But Noem has no plans to issue mask requirements. The governor’s spokeswoman Maggie Seidel pushed back against arguments by public health experts that a mask mandate would dramatically reduce the spread of the virus, pointing out that states like Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin have also experienced significant virus waves despite having strict mandates to wear face coverings.

“The facts are simple: mask mandates, harsh lockdowns, massive testing and contact tracing haven’t worked—in the United States or abroad,” Seidel wrote in an email.

But South Dakota currently has the nation’s second-worst rate of new cases per capita, according to Johns Hopkins researchers. There were 2,047 new cases per 100,000 people, meaning that roughly one out of every 49 people has tested positive in the last two weeks.

The only state where new cases per capita are worse, North Dakota, moved to require masks and limit the size of gatherings on Friday...

Ow ow ow ow ow! According to Groves, the state had gone to the top of the nation in Covid deaths per capita during the month of November. Also this:

Currently, the state was boasting "the nation’s second-worst rate of new cases per capita, according to Johns Hopkins researchers."

The Journal ran this AP report on Monday. November 16. Two days later, Noem held the press event at which she  made the jumbled, misleading and inaccurate claims we've been discussing in this week's case report.

Was South Dakota "the worst in the world" (on some unnamed measure)? That was "absolutely false," the governor convincingly said, shooting down a straw man claim which no one had actually made. 

As Noem spoke, her state's death rate had been announced as third worst in the world. Within the U.S., only North Dakota's death rate was worse. 

As we noted yesterday, death rates in the vast majority of states were much, much lower. What exactly was Noem talking about? We have no idea.

Noem's performance was grossly misleading, perhaps even flatly false. In response, the Journal published another AP report in which Groves repeated an array of challenging statements about the state's high Covid case and death rates.

To its credit, The Journal had been pulling no punches in the challenges it posed to Noem. That said, Groves' new report seemed to highlight one of the problems journalists face as they attempt to discuss this ongoing life-and-death topic.

To their credit, the AP and the Journal were speaking truth to power. But early in his new report, Groves offered a string of apparently contradictory claims:

GROVES (11/18/20): [Noem] pointed to other states in the region with mask mandates, such as Wisconsin and Montana, that have a higher rate of daily new cases per capita. South Dakota ranks in the top seven states for the metric. And in the last two weeks, the numbers of confirmed new cases and deaths per capita in the state have been the second-highest in the country, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.

The number of COVID-19 deaths has skyrocketed in recent weeks. Health officials have reported 259 deaths in November—about a third of the state’s total death toll over the course of the pandemic.

The only state with worse death and new case rates, North Dakota, on Friday issued a statewide mask mandate and limited the size of gatherings in businesses.

First, Groves seemed to say that South Dakota only "ranks in the top seven states" with respect to its  "rate of daily new cases per capita." (We'll assume that means that the state ranked seventh.) But in his very next sentence, he seemed to say that South Dakota had had the second highest rate of confirmed new cases in the last two weeks.

In the final paragraph, Groves seems to say that only North Dakota had higher case and death rates at that very time. Two paragraphs earlier, he seemed to agree that "such states as" Wisconsin and Montana also had higher case rates.

No one can say that Groves deferred to this popular governor. On the other hand, even he seemed unable to avoid the shoals of self-contradiction and confusion as he reported this complex topic.

Alas! The Covid crisis has spawned a blizzard of statistics of widely varying types. A wide array of Covid sites slice and dice these data in widely varying ways.

Covid sites may provide statistics for cases, for hospitalizations and/or for Covid deaths. They may report total deaths to date, or they may report current daily rates of death.

Sometimes, data have been adjusted for population; in other cases, they haven't. The data may show current case or death rates—or the data may perhaps show increases in case or death rates.

Employing this blizzard of information, politicians  will defend themselves against criticism. Knowingly or otherwise, they may make false or misleading statements, jumping around and moving about within this sea of data.

That's a big problem. Here' s why:

For our major mainstream journalists. statistics tend to be extremely hard. The higher up the ladder you go, the more they tend to stress storyline, factual clarity be damned.

In truth, our major journalists tend to avoid statistics altogether. So it has been, to cite three examples, in the case of national test scores, health care spending and lead exposure at Flint. 

Our journalists tend to like storyline. They don't enjoy sifting through facts.

Groves has pushed extremely hard, as a journalist should. That said, even he seemed to be perhaps a bit tangled up in his second report.

Meanwhile, can we talk?

On this very day, as we sit here typing, South Dakota leads the fifty states in current case rate and in current death rate. We see this in the data compiled by the New York Times. (Scroll down to "Cases and deaths by state and county.")

Was there really a time, not long ago, when Noem's state only had the nation's seventh worst case rate? We don't know the answer to that, and we stand exhausted by the attempt to sort these matters out. 

That said, Groves was trying to do his job. Elsewhere, major top celebrity journalists are a great deal dumber and lazier. 

They like to hand you storyline. Sifting statistics is hard!


Covid statistics are very hard!

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2020

What our corporate stars said: For the big major stars of our corporate press corps, Covid statistics are hard.

Consider what those major stars kept saying on cable last night. First, though, let's take a look at the nation's most recent Covid death statistics.

Below, you see the numbers from the Washington Post over the past four days. We're using the same title the Post uses on its highly informative graphic, which you can access here.

Spoiler alert! Please note the key word "reported:"

New deaths reported per day:
Sunday, November 29: 831
Monday, November 30: 1,033
Tuesday, December 1: 2,506
Wednesday, December 2: 2,798

Yikes! To an untrained observer, the numbers seem to be growing like Topsy.

It's true, of course, that the number of daily deaths has been growing in the past few months. But adding a tiny bit of complexity, here are the Post's numbers over the past seven days:

New deaths reported per day:
Thursday, November 26: 1,388
Friday, November 27: 1,410
Saturday, November 28: 1,240
Sunday, November 29: 831
Monday, November 30: 1,033
Tuesday, December 1: 2,506
Wednesday, December 2: 2,798

Now the pattern seems a bit more complex. The numbers were higher, then they were lower, then they were really high.

Meanwhile, the Post says the current 7-day "rolling average" is almost exactly 1,600 deaths per day from Covid. More precisely, over the past seven days, an average of 1,600.9 people have died from the virus per day.

Why have the numbers jumped around in the manner shown? As we've told you a million times—as we've even seen some journalists explain!—the "reporting" of Covid cases and Covid deaths tends to slow down on the weekends.

Those daily numbers are not supposed to be a record of the number of people who died each day. Instead, the numbers record the number of deaths which were officially recorded ("reported") that day.

For various bureaucratic reasons, the recording/reporting of Covid deaths slows on Sundays and Mondays, then jumps up starting on Tuesdays. For this reason, numbers on Sundays and Mondays tend to be artificially low. Numbers on Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be artificially high as various agencies report several days worth of cases or deaths.

In this instance, the existence of a lengthy Thanksgiving weekend almost surely exacerbated this regular weekly effect. Presumably, this helps explain why the numbers for the past few days were so appallingly high.

That said, our daily death rate has been getting higher. As of November 1, we were averaging 829 deaths per day, according to the Post's numbers. By December 1, the average had risen to 1,526.

How high will this daily death rate go? We can't tell you that. But here's what Rachel Maddow said on last evening's highly entertaining TV show. Maddow's numbers were slightly different from those in the Washington Post:

MADDOW (12/2/20): We thought it couldn't get any worse than it was in the spring, right? These are the numbers from the Covid Tracking Project.

This is today's daily death toll:

[Pregnant pause as the number 2,733 appears in bold on the screen]

2,733 Americans dead in a day. We are very quickly heading toward 3000 Americans dead in a day—toward the number of Americans who died on 9/11 dying every day.

Are we heading, very quickly, toward three thousands deaths every day? In a sense, yes we are! But we'll have to get to two thousand deaths per day first!

Will we ever reach the point where three thousand Americans are dying of Covid on a daily basis? Certainly, that's possible. At present, though, the 7-day average stands at 1,600 deaths per day. 

To our ear, Maddow seemed to be saying that 2,733 people died of Covid yesterday alone. ("2,733 Americans dead in a day," she mournfully said, after a pregnant pause.) But that isn't what those daily numbers  mean.

We're citing Maddow's presentation, but we saw people all over MSNBC making this apparent error last night. This morning, Mika started right in at 6:02 Eastern, explicitly saying that more than 2700 people had died of Covid yesterday.

The numbers these cable stars are citing do not record the number of people who died on a given day. Without any doubt, the daily average will continue to rise—but as far as we know, there is no record of how many people died on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week, or on any particular day.

Does it matter that these stars keep making this harmless error? That they are still making this harmless error nine months into this mess?

Does it matter that they don't seem to be paying enough attention to give you an accurate account of where the numbers currently stand? Of what those numbers actually mean? Does any of this matter at all?

All in all, our political culture is so broken that virtually nothing matters any more. Misinformation is a very big business at this point, and that isn't going to change.

Right-wing orgs will keep cranking the lunacy out; many people will believe the various things they're told. Starting next week, we expect to start describing the various ways this same game is played Over Here, within our own pitiful tribe.

Maddow (and others) could have given you an accurate account of these rising numbers. Does it matter that they're too lazy, too indifferent to accuracy, too lacking in curiosity, to bother with something like that?

We'll only say this:

For decades now, our discourse has tended to run on narrative, not on a jealous search for accurate information. As a general matter, the children tell us the stories we like. The facts are much less important.

This has produced many bad outcomes over the years. Based on every indication, it will ever be thus.

Nothing will turn on the statements the various stars made last night and then again this morning. As a special treat, we decided to offer you the actual current facts.

We'll also offer  a special assurance! In many and varied ways, various things will, indeed, almost surely get worse. 


JOYEUX NOEM: What did Governor Noem claim?

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2020

How accurate were her statements?: Covid statistics are hard! So is the logic involved in any attempt to discuss the pandemic.

As we'll note this afternoon, discussing Covid is hard! In that respect, the mainstream press corps' attempts at this discussion resemble many other past attempts.

The corps' attempts at Covid discussion resembles their endless past attempts to discuss the nature of the Social Security trust fund. (In recent years, this topic, and this failed discussion, have basically disappeared.)  They resemble the upper-end press corps' endlessly failed attempt to solve this endless riddle from the mid-1990s:

Was Newt Gingrich proposing Medicare cuts? Or was he simply slowing the rate at which the program would grow?

The corps' attempts at Covid discussion resemble their crazy, deeply destructive attempts to paraphrase an array of insignificant statements by Candidate Gore,  the planet's biggest liar. (We ended up in Iraq.)

Also, the current attempts  resemble the press corps' inability to explain the basic patterns on display in national test scores; to report or explain the astounding  statistics about our massive health care spending; to report the statistics concerning the amount of lead exposure in Flint, and around the country, over the past thirty or forty years; and many failed topics more.

For our failing nation's failed elites, all discussion is hard! Except that in which they hide in the bushes outside Gary Hart's house, or in which they ask Marla Maples if sex with The Donald was really the best sex she'd ever had. Or in which they claim, on page one of the New York Times, that Candidate Hillary Clinton was sooo unfair to Gennifer Flowers!

These upper-end journalists today! They've often gone to the finest schools, but how much good has it done?

This brings us to Governor Noem's recent attempt to push back against all the guff to which the people of South Dakota had been unfairly exposed.

Governor Noem held a press event on November 18. Below, for the third and final time, you see the actual words she spoke that day. But what had she actually said?

NOEM (11/18/20): Across the country and around the globe, cases [of Covid-19] are increasing. Over the past week, cases are on the rise in 48 states.

Some have said that my refusal to mandate masks is a reason why our cases are rising here in the state of South Dakota, and that is not true.

Others have said that my refusal to advance harsh restrictions like lockdowns is another one of the reasons why our cases are rising, and that is also not true.

There are 41 states that have some kind of a mask mandate. Cases are on the rise in 39 of those 41 states.

Now, some in the media have said that South Dakota is the worst in the world right now, and that is absolutely false. I'd encourage you to look at the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. There you'll see that there are other states with far higher new confirmed cases per one hundred—one thousand people, compared to South Dakota.

Several of the governor's claims in that passage are rather fuzzy. That makes them hard to paraphrase. 

What had the governor actually said? Quickly, let's do the best we can:

The governor had long refused to order a mask mandate for her state. Although her statement was rather fuzzy, she seemed to say that this decision had played no role in South Dakota's rising number of Covid cases.

The governor had also refused to order a "lockdown." Again, she seemed to say that this had played no role in her state's increased number of cases.

How could the governor possibly know that these claims were accurate? Her logic, such as it may have been, may have been lodged in her next statement—in the accurate statement in which she noted that cases were also on the rise in almost every state which did have a mask mandate.

It's true! Mask mandates—even the widespread wearing of masks—can't necessarily, all by themselves, stop a state's cases from rising.  If the governor was saying that cases would have increased in South Dakota even if there had been a mandate, then that statement was probably accurate.

Is that what the governor was saying? Given the fuzziness of her statements, it was hard to tell.

Now we come to the part of the governor's statement which is fairly straightforward. It also seems to be (basically) false. We refer to this aggrieved statement:

"Some in the media have said that South Dakota is the worst in the world right now, and that is absolutely false."

Had "some in the media" really said "that South Dakota is the worst in the world right now?" (Worst in the word at what? Worst in cases? Worst in deaths? Worst in increases in cases or deaths? For the record, the governor didn't say.)

Had "some in the media" really said that South Dakota was "worst in the world?" The governor cited no examples, but given the massive sprawl of "the media," it's always possible that someone, somewhere, may have said something like that.

Any such claim would be "absolutely false," the aggrieved governor said. In fairness, it's entirely possible that her angry statement could be scored as correct. 

But when we checked, we didn't find some in the media saying her state was worst. Instead, we found that many in the media had, in fact, been making statements like these, as found in USA Today four days before Noem's presser:

SHANNON (11/14/20): South Dakota welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors to a massive motorcycle rally this summer, declined to cancel the state fair and still doesn't require masks. Now its hospitals are filling up and the state's COVID-19 death rate is among the worst in the world.

The situation is similarly dire in North Dakota...

[...]

North Dakota's COVID-19 death rates per capita in the past week are similar to those in the hardest-hit countries in the world right now–Belgium, the Czech Republic and Slovenia–according to New York Times data. That data as of Saturday also places South Dakota's per capita deaths among the world's highest rates.

According to USA Today's Joel Shannon, South Dakota's "death rate" at that time was among the worst in the world. On November 17, a similar statement appeared in The Hill, Zack Budryk reporting (headline included):

BUDRYK (11/17/20): North Dakota records world's highest COVID-19 mortality rate

North Dakota’s coronavirus mortality rate is the highest of any U.S. state or country, according to an analysis of data from last week conducted by the Federation of American Scientists.

The analysis, first reported by HuffPost, shows that North Dakota has a rate of 18.2 deaths per 1 million people. South Dakota, meanwhile, has 17.4 deaths per million, the third-worst rate in the world. The states have a total population of under 2 million.

Actually, North Dakota was worst in the world, according to Budryk's report (and according to the HuffPost). More specifically, North Dakota had the worst mortality rate in the world—"a rate of 18.2 deaths per 1 million people." South Dakota was only third worst!

As he continued, Budryk posted the relevant data from the American Federation of Scientists. The chart explained what Budryk hadn't—South Dakota was experiencing 17.4 Covid deaths per million people on a weekly basis.

As noted, only North Dakota had a worse weekly death rate among the fifty states. Around the world, only one country had a worse rate than South Dakota. That one country was Czechia—the Czech Republic.

How bad was South Dakota's death rate? Gaze upon some other figures from the FAS chart:

Weekly deaths from Covid-19 per million population:
North Dakota: 18.2
Czech Republic: 18.0
South Dakota: 17.4 
[...]

Alabama 4.8
Arkansas: 4.8
Georgia: 4.2
Texas: 4.0

United States overall: 3.3
Southern states: 3.4
Northeastern states: 2.2
Western states: 2.0

South Dakotans were dying at more than four times the rate of people from such lunkhead states as Arkansas, Georgia and Texas. 

South Dakotans were dying at well over five times the rate of people nationwide. South Dakotans were dying at roughly eight times the rate of people in the once hard-hit Northeast. They were dying at more than eight times the rate of people in the west.

That's what "some in the media" had been saying as Governor Noem staged her presser. Some in the media had even said that mask mandates, and the actual wearing of masks, had helped reduce the death rates in those other states.

South Dakota wasn't the worst in the world, this highly appealing governor convincingly said. How did the press corps respond to such guff? 

Please return tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Joyeux Noem!


Brian Stelter's ball of confusion, part 2!

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2020

Large chunks of our discourse are like this: Is it possible that Donald J. Trump really believes the crazy things he says?

We'll have to admit it! When the commander rants at length as he did in his Thanksgiving press event, the deeply disordered commander in chief really makes us wonder.

Personally, we'd like to see carefully selected medical / psychiatric specialists asked about this puzzling state of affairs. Because that sort of thing is forbidden, we end up with ruminations like this:

STELTER (11/29/20): Welcome back to Reliable Sources. I'm Brian Stelter.

I remember a day, early in the Trump years, when there were all these debates about whether to say the president was lying. Remember that? Was he lying? Was he just fibbing?

I remember Jeff Greenfield saying, "Brian, there is something worse than a lie. There is something worse than a lie. There's a delusion. When you are lying, you know it. When you are delusional, you don't." 

He wanted to remind me there is something more dangerous than a liar—someone who is delusional. 

What do you think is going on now? What do you see happening with the White House, with the Trump White House? Is it delusion? Is that what's happening?

That was CNN's Brian Stelter on Sunday's Reliable Sources. For a bit of background on this matter, see yesterday's report.

Stelter is a good, decent person—but his presentation on Sunday made almost no sense. Things went sideways when he introduced his next guest, the Atlantic's Jonathan Rauch:

STELTER (continuing directly): Well, my next guest says that the president's behavior, the outgoing president's attacks against the election integrity, are attacks on reality itself. 

Jonathan Rauch wrote this back in 2018. He was early onto this. He called it "The Constitution of Knowledge." He is now turning it into a book, and he joins me now. He's a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a contributor for The Atlantic.

Jonathan, "delusion." I've always been afraid—not afraid. I've always been sensitive about using that word, cautious about using that word in the Trump years, not wanting to know—not wanting to assume I know what's going on in the president's head.

What do you see? What do you see? Is "delusion" a fair word for these election lies?

How confused was Stelter's presentation? Let us count (some of) the ways:

In the first chunk of his presentation, Stelter seemed to say that the commander may actually believe his crazy statements. 

Trump may be "delusional," Stelter seemed to say. He seemed to say that being delusional is different from being a liar.

Quoting Greenfield, he seemed to say that being delusional is even worse!

Is it possible that Trump is so disordered that he believes his craziest claims? We often find ourselves wondering about that—but Stelter soon seemed to be over his head just handling these basic concepts. 

By the end of that second chunk, he seemed to be asking if "delusion" was just another word for "lies." By now, he'd completely lost his way. Here's how the confusion developed:

In his opening chunk, Stelter proceeded with perfect clarity. He presented two dueling possibilities:

Trump may be lying when he makes his crazy claims. Or he may be delusional—he may actually believe the crazy things he has said.

At this point, Stelter had drawn a clear distinction between two possibilities. But then, he quickly muddied the waters, offering this:

"Well, my next guest says that the president's behavior, the outgoing president's attacks against the election's integrity, are attacks on reality itself."

Are the commander's crazy claims an "attack on reality itself?" Imaginably, a person could voice that judgment whether he thought Trump was lying or not.

From there, the confusion grew. Stelter said this to Rauch:

"Jonathan, delusion. I've always been afraid—not afraid. I've always been sensitive about using that word, cautious about using that word in the Trump years, not wanting to know—not wanting to assume I know what's going on in the president's head."

According to Stelter, he doesn't like to use the word "delusion." Reason? He doesn't like to give the impression that he knows what's going on in Trump's head.

Sadly, that doesn't make sense! If you say that Trump is lying, you're already saying that you know what's going on in his head. You're saying Trump knows the statement in question is false, but he's saying it anyway. 

Media analyst, please! If you say that some politician is lying, you're saying that you know what's going on in his head! This is why, until recently, it was considered bad journalistic form to say that a pol was lying.

As a general matter, it's hard to know if someone is lying. How do you know the person isn't confused or misinformed? 

Now we have an additional possibility—the possibility that Trump may be "delusional." That's one step past confused or misinformed—but as soon as you say that someone is lying, you're already saying that  you know what's going on in his head.

These basic concepts are bone simple. They've been a basic conceptual construct since roughly forever. One last time, let's review:

Traditionally, journalists have been forbidden from using the L-word because it's hard to know what's going on in someone's head. 

Now, Stelter seemed to be saying that he has avoided suggesting that Trump is "delusional" for that very reason. But he refers to Trump's "lies" on a regular basis!

Could it be that Trump is so crazy that he believes his ridiculous statements? We'd like to see a (carefully selected) medical expert asked to evaluate that question.

Last Sunday, Stelter seemed to be over his head handling these basic concepts. His presentation had broken down completely by the time he posed his puzzling question to Rauch. As we'll see tomorrow, Rauch was instantly tangled in this conceptual spider web too.  

Is man [sic] really "the rational animal?" Dearest darlings, let's face the truth. Large chunks of our discourse are like this!


JOYEUX NOEM: Reporting (Covid) statistics is hard!

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2020

Let the Post's editors show you: As we've often noted, reporting statistics is very hard, especially for major top journalists.

That's even true with respect to major topic like pandemic infection and death. This very morning, the editorial board of the Washington Post helps us see how hard it can be to fight our way through such statistics.

In a newly published editorial, the board says that Sweden's experiment with "herd immunity" has majorly failed. As far as we know, that assessment seems to be accurate.

As far as we know, Sweden's experiment has been a major failure. But along the way, as they attempt to prove their case, the highly distinguished upper-end editors haplessly tell us this:

WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (12/2/20): Sweden is now caught in a wave of pandemic pain—and reversing course. Sweden has 48.9 new confirmed cases per 100,000 population, compared with 21.7 in Denmark, 8.2 in Norway and 7.7 in Finland. Sweden is averaging about 42.6 deaths per day, compared with 6.9 in Denmark, 3 in Norway and 2.1 in Finland. Sweden’s total 6,798 deaths, predominantly among the elderly, dwarf the toll in the other Nordic nations combined.

The editors went to the finest schools. But how much good did it do?

In this passage, the editors seem to be claiming that Sweden's current rates of Covid infection and death are much higher than the infection/death rates of three Nordic neighbors. 

As far as we know, that's true. But for starters, just consider the very first claim they made:

"Sweden has 48.9 new confirmed cases per 100,000 population, compared with 21.7 in Denmark, 8.2 in Norway and 7.7 in Finland."

In that statement, the editors have adjusted for population. For each of the countries, they're reporting the number of new cases per 100,000 population—but they fail to state the time span in question. 

Sweden is said to be recording 48.9 new cases per 100,000 population. But is Sweden recording that number of new cases on a daily basis? Is that perhaps a weekly average?

The reader has no way to know. In a typical manifestation, the editors fail to say.

Now, consider the editors' second statement:

"Sweden is averaging about 42.6 deaths per day, compared with 6.9 in Denmark, 3 in Norway and 2.1 in Finland."

In this case, the editors have defined the relevant time span; Sweden is averaging roughly 42 deaths per day.  But is that Sweden's average number of deaths per day unadjusted for population? Or is that Sweden's average number of daily death per 100,000 population? 

The editors failed to say—and by now, we were puzzled. Here's why:

A forgiving person might want to assume that both sets of statistics represent these nations' average daily occurrences per 100,000 population. 

A forgiving person might want to make that assumption. But is it possible that Sweden is averaging 49 new cases per day, but as many as 42 deaths? 

On its face, that didn't seem to make sense. For that reason, we decided to click the one link the editors provide. We were taken to this borderline bewildering web site maintained by the Financial Times.

Even at that major Covid web site, the FT does a strikingly poor job explaining what its various charts and graphs are recording. Such confusions have been remarkably common as elite journalistic cadres have attempted to keep us abreast of the most significant Covid-19 statistics.

Making a long story short, we journeyed to some other sites which are easier to interpret. And sure enough:

According to this useful site, Sweden is currently averaging roughly 42 Covid deaths per day; Denmark is averaging 7. But those are average numbers of daily deaths nationwide, unadjusted for population.

That said, Sweden's population is almost twice the size of each of the other three Nordic nations. And as we've noted a million times, it doesn't make sense to draw comparisons of this type between countries without adjusting for population. 

As a general matter, it doesn't make sense to do that. But our major journalists, from Rachel on down, routinely do this. (Needless to say, it's generally done when it makes a preferred storyline better.)

Again, we're not suggesting that the board's overall assessment about Sweden is wrong. As best we can tell, Sweden's attempt to ride the herd immunity hobby horse is an experiment which has failed.

We're speaking here about something different. Consider our point this way:

Fred Hiatt, the Post's editorial board editor, is a Harvard graduate (class of 1974). And not only that! His father, Howard Hiatt, was a medical researcher and dean of the Harvard School of Public Health!

Even with a background like that, Hiatt couldn't induce the board to offer a coherent presentation about the way these Nordic nations currently fare in this major public health crisis. Hiatt is a thoroughly sensible person, but in an intellectually capable world, that passage in this morning's Post would be viewed as a comically puzzling mess.

It wouldn't be hard to rewrite that passage so that it made perfect sense. You'd have to make some basic adjustments:

It made no sense to present any figures in that passage without adjusting for population. Most strikingly, it made no sense to adjust the figures for Covid cases but not for Covid deaths.

For various reasons, it would have made better sense to present the daily numbers of cases and deaths per million population. But all in all, that passage from the board is an incompetent mess.

That said, can we talk? This sort of thing is amazingly common when Covid data are reported by the upper-end press. This brings us back to the conceptual mess Governor Kristi Noem loosed on the world back on November 18.

Noem is governor of South Dakota. Her father was a farmer/rancher. He wasn't dean of anybody's school of public health. 

With that in mind, to what extent might Noem have thought that her presentation made sense? We can't hope to answer that question, but just to refresh you, her hopelessly jumbled, grossly misleading presentation went exactly like this:

NOEM (11/18/20): Across the country and around the globe, cases [of Covid-19] are increasing. Over the past week, cases are on the rise in 48 states.

Some have said that my refusal to mandate masks is a reason why our cases are rising here in the state of South Dakota, and that is not true.

Others have said that my refusal to advance harsh restrictions like lockdowns is another one of the reasons why our cases are rising, and that is also not true.

There are 41 states that have some kind of a mask mandate. Cases are on the rise in 39 of those 41 states.

Now, some in the media have said that South Dakota is the worst in the world right now, and that is absolutely false. I'd encourage you to look at the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. There you'll see that there are other states with far higher new confirmed cases per one hundred—one thousand people, compared to South Dakota.

That presentation was a mess. How did the press corps react?

Tomorrow: What in the world had she said?

For figure filberts only: For the record, the FT site records these current daily death rates for the four Nordic nations. These are average numbers of Covid deaths per day per 100,000 population:

Sweden: 0.41
Denmark: 0.12
Norway: 0.06
Finland: 0.06

Even after adjusting for population, Sweden is doing substantially worse. But dag, those numbers look small!