Pro-tip: It’s not a “conspiracy theory” to want reliable data, accurate projection, and clear explanations.
I have a “conspiracy theory” about recent “conspiracy theories.”
The Presidential Coronavirus 30 Day Guidelines that most of us are following have been established based on epidemiological models. Those models have adjusted recently, which means potential hospitalizations and deaths have projected downwards. In a nutshell, we have gone from 2.2 million deaths to 60,000 in less than a month:
A key forecasting model used by the White House has revised its prediction of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., now estimating a peak of 60,415 by early August.
The model created by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington had predicted a peak of 81,766 deaths in an update on Sunday.
Public health experts, including Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have previously estimated that as many as 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from the novel coronavirus.
Americans have been following the news closely. They are eager to understand viral biology, learn the appropriate precautions, and keep up-to-date with the latest treatments.
Americans are also eager to get back to work, so they are now clamoring to understand the models being used to keep the nation at a standstill. Our press seems keener on asking irrelevant questions and social justice scolding instead of questioning the models that have been offered up, often with little context and usually lacking clear explanations for the general public.
Embarrassed by average citizens combing through those models, journalists have now taken to tagging those who are asking questions as “right-wing conspiracy theorists.” For example, The New York Times recently proclaimed Fauci was becoming the target of right-wing conspiracy theorists:
Dr. Fauci — the administration’s most outspoken advocate of emergency measures to fight the coronavirus outbreak — has become the target of an online conspiracy theory that he is mobilizing to undermine the president.
That fanciful claim has spread across social media, fanned by a right-wing chorus of Mr. Trump’s supporters, even as Dr. Fauci has won a public following for his willingness to contradict the president and correct falsehoods and overly rosy pronouncements about containing the virus.
An analysis by The New York Times found over 70 accounts on Twitter that have promoted the hashtag #FauciFraud, with some tweeting as frequently as 795 times a day. The anti-Fauci sentiment is being reinforced by posts from Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, a conservative group; Bill Mitchell, host of the far-right online talk show “YourVoice America”; and other outspoken Trump supporters such as Shiva Ayyadurai, who has falsely claimed to be the inventor of email.
It is not a “conspiracy” to want to understand the underlying data and assumptions. In the good old days, investigative reporters would actually do this, or go out and find someone who could.
The “conspiracy theory” accusation is clearly the media’s new mantra, as it seeks to extend the national shut-down. CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta reflected the herd mentality when he used the term while questioning the Task Force about people claiming reported death rate is high “with no evidence.”
Fauci, of course, responded using the same terminology:
Dr. Fauci calls coronavirus death toll ‘conspiracy theories’ a ‘distraction’
“Let somebody write a book about it later on. But not now.” pic.twitter.com/AjPRBQrhT0
— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) April 8, 2020
I assert that it is not a “conspiracy theory” when people fail to comprehend explanations that are unclear, vague, out of context, or not presented in a manner that can be readily understood. The failing belongs on the shoulders of the explainers. In my view, they are the media and the scientific members of the Task Force.
Now, I would like to use this as an opportunity to talk about an issue Dr. Deborah Birx brought-up yesterday: Recording deaths associated COVID-19 infections as a fatality caused by the virus.
The federal government is classifying the deaths of patients infected with the coronavirus as COVID-19 deaths, regardless of any underlying health issues that could have contributed to the loss of someone’s life.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the White House coronavirus task force, said the federal government is continuing to count the suspected COVID-19 deaths, despite other nations doing the opposite.
“There are other countries that if you had a pre-existing condition, and let’s say the virus caused you to go to the ICU [intensive care unit] and then have a heart or kidney problem,” she said during a Tuesday news briefing at the White House. “Some countries are recording that as a heart issue or a kidney issue and not a COVID-19 death.
“The intent is … if someone dies with COVID-19 we are counting that,” she added.
I assert that it is a reasonable classification.
Let’s say a patient had been suffering cancer for six months. The person with cancer then contracts the Wuhan coronavirus and dies within a week of that diagnosis of a complication related to cancer.
Statistically, what are the chances that the patient would have died that very week in the ordinary course of cancer? Small.
COVID-19 targets those with compromised health and exacerbates those conditions. Therefore it is fair to classify those as COVID-19 deaths.
Perhaps if Birx had taken the time to explain the reasoning with a clarifying example more robustly, there would be more trust in the numbers presented today.
On the other hand, there is also a good reason to disagree with this approach. A patient might have only had a mild case, and their pre-existing condition may have actually lead to death. Challenging the CDC’s current counting tactic also does not make one a conspiracy theorist.
We need real data to get to the real facts about COVID-19.
In my opinion, the question about the pardoning of Joe Exotic was one of the more well-thought-out and good queries from the press than I have seen in some time.
A reporter just asked if Trump would pardon Joe Exotic from Tiger King and Trump said, “I will take a look.” pic.twitter.com/f0c0R8QmDy
— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) April 8, 2020
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