The nation reaches another grim milestone!

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2021

Attempts at information: Sunday morning, on its front page, The New York Times reported the latest grim milestone.

High atop the paper's web site, a link was offered to the report. This capsule account was offered:

A Ripple Effect of Loss: U.S. Covid Deaths Approach 500,000 
Twice as many Americans have died as early worst-case projections.

We'll consider those "early worst-case projections" below. First, though, here's the way the front-page news report started, once you clicked the link:

BOSMAN (2/21/21): A nation numbed by misery and loss is confronting a number that still has the power to shock: 500,000.

Roughly one year since the first known death by the coronavirus in the United States, an unfathomable toll is nearing—the loss of half a million people.

No other country has counted so many deaths in the pandemic. More Americans have perished from Covid-19 than on the battlefields of World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.

"No other country has counted so many deaths in the pandemic?" 

The statement is technically accurate. But one year into the pandemic, on its front page, the New York Times still doesn't adjust for population when it makes such statistical statements.

The United States has endured the most Covid deaths—but we're also the world's third largest  nation by population. (Only China and India are larger.) After adjusting for population, some other peer nations have experienced a higher rate of Covid deaths to date.

We're using the current Financial Times numbers. We're omitting a few smaller nations whose death rates are higher than ours:

Total Covid deaths to date, per million population
Belgium: 1,909
United Kingdom: 1,808
Czech Republic: 1,805
Italy: 1,592
Portugal: 1,560
United States: 1,487

We have the largest number of deaths only by dint of our large population. In our view, it's amazing, and yet not amazing, to see major news orgs and major pundits continue to work outside the boundaries of this amazingly basic type of statistical adjustment.

This is the way it works in Our Town. Having established that basic point, let's flesh out the picture a bit:

After splitting it off from the U.K., England's death rate to date is much higher than ours. Spain is a tick behind the U.S., France a bit farther back.

Here you see the way we stack up against the largest Euro nations, with Canada also thrown in:

Total Covid deaths to date, per million population
England: 1,893
Italy: 1,592
United States: 1,487
Spain: 1,437
France: 1,256
Germany: 822
Canada: 578

England has suffered the highest death rate to date. Germany and Canada have done much better than we have. 

Among those major peer nations, we pretty land in the middle. The numbers for the Pacific nations are still amazingly low.

"No other country has counted so many deaths?" That's true in the narrowest literal sense. That said, it strikes us as amazing that this continues to be the way basic information gets ladled to us on the front page of our allegedly smartest major newspaper. (And on the Maddow Show.)

Now, how about that claim in the headline—the claim about those "early worst-case projections?" Here's the part of Bosman's report from which that headline was derived:

BOSMAN: One year ago, as the coronavirus took hold in the United States, few public-health experts predicted its death toll would climb to such a terrible height.

At a White House briefing on March 31, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the top infectious-disease expert in the country, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, who was coordinating the coronavirus response at the time, announced a stunning projection: Even with strict stay-at-home orders, the virus might kill as many as 240,000 Americans.

“As sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it,” Dr. Fauci said at the time.

Less than a year later, the virus has killed more than twice that number.

In part, that passage is accurate. In other ways, that passage illustrates the confusion that almost always develops whenever our upper-end journalists try to deal with numbers.

On March 31, 2020, Fauci and Birx made a high-profile appearance with the commander himself. On that occasion, they made a new high-profile projection in which, using Bosman's language, they said  the virus "might kill as many as 240,000 Americans."

That said, there was a bit of a problem with their presentation. As best we can tell, they never explicitly said what time frame this new projection covered. 

Other public health experts were predicting certain numbers of Covid deaths by certain specific dates. As best we can tell, Fauci and Birx offered no such framework at the widely-discussed public event from which that new projection emerged.

That presentation by Fauci and Birx produced extensive press coverage. In its reporting of their projection, the Washington Post was bright enough to mention the lack of this standard framework. 

(Rucker and Wan: "[N]o time frames or other details were provided...One key question, for example, is what time period the projection of 100,000 to 240,000 deaths covers. If it is only the few months until summer, as is the case in at least one academic model, the true death toll will probably be larger.")

The Washington Post explicitly noted the absence of a time frame. The Post explicitly noted the possibility that "the true death toll" could exceed the stated number in the fullness of time.

At NBC News, Denise Chow reported that the startling new projection did involve a specific time frame. According to Chow, the new projection by by Fauci and Birx  only extended through "mid-June."

In standard fashion, Chow didn't explain the basis for this statement. For all we know, her statement may have been accurate.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, you knew it had to happen!  In its report on the new projection, the New York Times failed to note the lack of a time frame. (The Times did note that the IHME was predicting 84,000 deaths by the beginning of August.) In fairness, this same statistical insouciance was on display almost everywhere else.

Eleven months later, the New York Times is still failing to adjust for population when it makes nation-to-nation comparisons. 

Meanwhile, is it accurate to say, as Bosman does, that "few public-health experts predicted its death toll would climb to such a terrible height" as the very large number of Covid deaths we have now experienced? Is it true that "twice as many Americans have died as early worst-case projections?"

In part, it all depends on what the meaning of "few" is! But uh-oh:

Two days before the March 31 event, Fauci himself had floated a very large number—or at least, that's what New York magazine said:

STEIB (3/29/20): Though President Trump continues to downplay the necessity of an all-out federal response to the coronavirus, one of his most senior public health advisers, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci, issued a grim projection on Face the Nation on Sunday. Speaking with Jake Tapper, Fauci said he anticipated somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States, as well as “millions” of cases:

Fauci suggested that the 100,000 to 200,000 death range is a moderate estimate, and that the possibility of 1 million or more Americans dying from the coronavirus is “almost certainly off the chart”—that “it’s not impossible, but very, very unlikely.”

As you know, Jake Tapper isn't the host of Face the Nation. In reality, Fauci made the quoted remarks on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday, March 29. 

On that show, had Fauci really floated the outside possibility of as many as a million Covid deaths? On balance, it looks to us like he did. But confusion developed as to whether Fauci was discussing cases or deaths, and Tapper didn't make a point of clarifying what his guest had actually said.

So it goes, here in Our Town, when we try to conduct public discourse. This seems to be the best we can do here in the streets of Our Town.

In the end, you can be certain of two things:

Thanks to our large population, we have experienced the largest number of Covid deaths.

Of that one fact you can be sure. Also, statistics are hard!

Just a guess: Why didn't Fauci and Birx state a time frame for their projection?

Just a guess—the commander didn't allow it. That would be our first guess.


38 comments:

  1. Yes, dear Bob, COVID is a jealous God. But now, with your rapist-mafiosos leader at the helm, there's nothing to worry about.

    Although, after only one month of his reign, he, as we hear, is already responsible for 75,000 deaths. How terrible.

    By the way, dear Bob, is England really an entity of the same category as the US and Italy? Or, wouldn't it make more sense to compare England with, say, the state of New York?

    Oh, and incidentally: what are your thoughts of Andrew Mario's Son Cuomo responsibility for all those deaths in NY nursing homes, let alone a relatively minor crime of reporting fake numbers?

    Share your thoughts, dear Bob, please.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Trump tried to gaslight a virus, like it was some common bigot pretending it was economically anxious. That Trump's father hated losers, really tells the tale of Donald J. Trump's miserable life.

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  2. "No other country has counted so many deaths in the pandemic?"

    The statement is technically accurate."

    Technically accurate = accurate

    The statistic you choose depends on your purposes, what you are trying to describe.

    In this case, the author was talking about the large number of people lost to covid. These are deaths of real human beings with family, friends, loved ones. These are people being mourned in the US.

    Somerby says we need to adjust by population size. No one does that when attending a funeral. No one does that when grieving. This is about loss, not a competition with other countries. And we have a great many people who are now gone.

    Until Somerby understands that, he has no business writing on this topic.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Fauci's predictions were not based on the government doing nothing to control the virus. Somerby still doesn't discuss that. At the time Fauci made that prediction, no one expected the virus to become politicized so that even basic precautions such as wearing masks would be scorned by substantial percentages of our population, ensuring that even worst case predictions would be gross underestimations. Somerby doesn't even mention that.

    What is wrong with Somerby? He appears incapable of grasping the big picture and only nibbles around the edges of statistics in order to quibble with the press and make it seem inaccurate, when it is Somerby who doesn't see what is happening.

    Somerby's writing is statistical malpractice.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "Thanks to our large population, we have experienced the largest number of Covid deaths."

    If this were all there is to it, China would have the largest number of deaths, not us.

    ReplyDelete
  5. "Just a guess—the commander didn't allow it."

    I wish Somerby would stop referring to Trump as "the commander". It was an inappropriate title even when Trump was president, but now he is ex and this should have stopped on Jan 20.

    ReplyDelete
  6. We should concentrate on all the Democratic leaders and policies that want nothing more than to improve the common good. Like ... you know.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Concentrate on them? That's it? You're going to need to get off your ass and get involved.
      I'm going to guess you're white, because no person of color would be this lazy, and have such a strong sense of entitlement.

      Delete
    2. No I'm speaking about the Democratic leaders and policies that are doing so much for the common good right now. Nothing has to be done by anyone white or brown. Concentrate on our courageous Democratic leaders and their current accomplishments and the willingness they constantly show to put principle and the common good of ordinary people before money and profit.

      I'm just calling for everyone, you and me, to revel in the splendor of their accomplishments and grit.

      Delete
    3. Start with AOC and her trip to help people in TX. Then you can move on to the work being done on the stimulus package by Congress. And don't forget Biden's efforts to put more vaccine in the hands of localities trying to vaccinate people! I am very happy about the rollback by Biden of Trump's policies allowing private enterprise to loot public lands. Gone and protections restored for parks and forests due to Biden.

      Lots of good accomplishments and grit being shown nationwide, to revel in.

      Delete
    4. And we can revel in the splendor of their bipartisan support for the military industrially complex, doing nothing about corporate lobbying, the tax cuts they lavished on the wealthy with their buddies McConnell and Trump, and how they let the poor languish while they are millionaires living in the richest country in the history world. IT'S A GREAT DAY TO CELEBRATE OUR WEALTHY BENEVOLENT DEMOCRATIC LEADERS!!!

      Delete
    5. It's so, so, so great what Democrats do for parks and forests.

      Delete
    6. 9:31,
      Yet Biden lost Florida and Texas because Republicans painted the Democratic Party as a bunch of commies who hate corporations, want to nationalize fossil fuel companies, and turn the USA into a Chavez-like Venezuela.
      Are you suggesting that, perhaps, Republicans who made those claims might be morons, liars, and assholes, or are you suggesting that Republicans only say those things because they want their party and it's obsession with White Supremacy to win elections?

      Delete
    7. I'm simply saying, my friend, that we need to totally revel in the splendor of our Democratic leaders and their bipartisan support for the military industrially complex and healthcare gouging. And all they are doing for the poor.

      Delete
    8. 9:31,
      Obviously Democrats learned their lesson last November.
      We had some moron, right here on TDH back then pointing out that as more people of color vote, only 3 in 5 vote for Democrats, which the jenius felt was going to lose them elections.

      Delete
    9. 10:09,
      So no comment about the morons, liars, assholes and white supremacists who make-up the entire Republican Party?
      I (don't at all) wonder why.

      Delete
    10. 10:09 is simply saying wiping out the Republican Party from stem to stern, will allow us to focus more on the shortcomings of the Democratic Party.
      What non-white supremacist wouldn't agree?

      Delete
    11. Agreed. We can focus more on the Democratic Party, as soon as we make the Republican Party illegal. Their constant focus on white grievances are doing nothing to help the people.

      Delete
    12. Backing up my friend, for the time being I'd like to focus exclusively on the moral millionaires that make up the leadership of the Democratic party and the courageous actions they have taken to not do anything about overpriced health care, schools, military spending, corporate lobbying, total support for Israel etc.

      Let's leave your pathetic, low-IQ whataboutism to the side for now. But yes, the Republicans are horrible too!

      Delete
    13. Sorry, but by the rules of society, only those who make the exact median income in the nation get to criticize the rich. Those making a penny more are "hypocrites". Those making a penny less are "jealous".
      We are a nation of laws. And that's an iron-clad one.

      Delete
    14. That statement does not logically follow from the previous statement but thanks!

      Don't forget to revel in the splendor!

      Delete
    15. In this day and age, some people still like to pretend that "both sides" are meaningfully different.

      I see you're still on board with that. That's cool.

      Delete
    16. That only one side wants my vote to count in elections, isn't "meaningfully different" enough for you. Sorry, not cool.

      Delete
    17. Maybe one day you can get your vote to count and so you can got out and proudly vote for one of the two parties that doesn't give a shit about you and exists to rip you off.

      Delete
    18. 2:06: You're really, really stupid.

      Delete
    19. 4:33,
      You are perceptive.
      How did you know I only think 99% of Right-wingers are bigots?

      Delete
    20. Stupid, trite and dull witted. All the hallmarks of a fool.

      Delete
  7. "Thanks to our large population, we have experienced the largest number of Covid deaths." Sure. On Somerby’s specific list. But if you look worldwide, the largest nations have a much lower rate than the US, and hence, far lower death tolls.

    China: population 1,439,323,776, deaths per million: 3, total deaths 4636

    India: population 1,388,790,098,
    deaths per million: 113, total deaths 156,598

    Indonesia: population 275,395,814, deaths per million: 127, total deaths 35,014

    Pakistan: population 223,655,249, deaths per million: 57, total deaths 12,708

    Japan population: 126,224,164 deaths per million: 60, total deaths 7529

    And so on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To put this in perspective: if India’s deaths per million were equal to the US rate, they would have registered 2,152,581 deaths, rather than the 156,598 that they actually registered.

      Delete
  8. Comparisons with other countries are meaningless. If you recalculate the stats taking into account age/health profile/population density the US is still amongst the worst in the world for the number of deaths. It's more important to learn the lessons from this pandemic to better prepare for the next one.

    ReplyDelete
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