‘Science’ as related by ‘journalists’

This was from an email I sent back in mid-May, but I thought it merited being transferred to a blog post:

Though I am not commuting and hence am doing significantly less driving than I was back in March, I still occasionally listen to WSB radio news when I am out in my car these days. Their coverage of Covid (in the original email, the term I used was “Chairman Xi’s Chinese Bat Fever”) is truly abysmal. Here are my two least-favorite examples:

First, reporters apparently like to cite the number of confirmed positive tests as well as the number of deaths for Georgia. I don’t recall the exact numbers but here is a close approximation from one recent report: “There were 25,000 confirmed cases and 1,000 deaths. That means the fatality rate for the virus is 4%.” Uh, no, that isn’t what that means. 4% *is* the result of dividing those two numbers, but that is NOT equal to the fatality rate. To get that number, you’d have to know the overall cases…including untested, asymptomatic cases…which by definition, we don’t know. The *most accurate* conclusion you can draw from those two figures is that the fatality rate is AT MOST 4%, in a very unlikely worst-case scenario where no one who hadn’t been tested had the virus.

The second example was a breathless report about the dangers of reopening the state of Georgia “too early”. The lady reporting this stated that by tracking cell phone data, “the authorities” knew that “1000’s of people from out of state came into Georgia after it started opening.” She concluded that “and most of these people were from…Alabama!” <insert scary music here>

So WTF am I supposed to conclude from her report? That Alabamians are unclean and our only rational response would be to kill these intruders before they infect us? This seems to stand in stark contrast to how, in the recent past, journalists would report on people entering the state / country from, say, Mexico. I also don’t recall a lot of reporting about potential disease vectors associated with migrant caravans from Central America. Why was that?

Further, let’s examine some actual numbers (I looked this up online from CDC data, btw, in under 5 minutes):

State……….Reported Cases …….Deaths…………Worst-case fatality rate

Georgia……34,700………………1460,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,4.21%

Alabama…..10,600,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,430,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,4.05%

My take-away: maybe we should let in *more* Alabamians, as they appear marginally healthier than Georgians.

Admittedly: I am not an epidemiologist.

However: have I had broader and more extensive exposure to math than many epidemiologists? Probably.

Do I know more about math than virtually all radio-journalists? I’d guess a strong ‘yes’.

I’m getting really tired of being lectured to by people whose grasp of math in general, statistics in particular, and science as a whole is so poor.