DOING MATH IN PUBLIC IS FULL OF RISKS: Hot Fudge Sundae, Cherries, and the Wuhan Virus
James J. S. Johnson
To celebrate my wife’s birthday, recently, a restaurant dinner was not an option (due to Coronavirus “social distancing” mandates), so drive-through fried chicken and a hot fudge sundae had to suffice. The cherry topped the dessert, but there was not enough fudge, so I returned (later) for another hot fudge sundae.
Somehow that dessert—something about fudge and cherries—reminded me of all the math calculations and projections being thrown around, nowadays, as we swim in the deep, dark flood-waters of Coronavirus pandemic forecasting.(1)
Repeatedly my wife has warned me, when I prepare to speak at a church or school or other venue, “don’t try to do math in public!” So this article is not intended to advocate one statistical analysis, epidemiology model, or pandemic projection over another.
Rather, this consideration of recent Coronavirus-related reports is intended only as a caution—as we follow the latest news and “experts”(1),(2)—to recall that statistics reporting has its validity vulnerabilities, including “cherry-picked” data and analytical “fudge”.(2) But the challenge of separating “wheat” (accurate information) from “chaff” (false, misleading, or confusing information) is nothing new. Consider the following illustrations and the questions that they raise.
Government statistics are only as sound as their underlying data collection and analytical reporting processes. In a prior article,(2) the example was given of EEOC litigation. At trial the EEOC advocated “cherry-picked” statistics (i.e., “fake math”), to falsely accuse a private corporation of employment discrimination.(2),(3) The federal trial judge shamed the EEOC for bearing false witness against the company, by portraying the quantitative facts in a deliberately dishonest and skewed (“cherry-picked”) analysis.(3)
Sometimes, however, the shoe is on the other foot. In another article,(4) an example was given of private sector businesses lying to government inspectors, in order to deceptively catch Alaska Pollock quantities that approximately doubled the amounts reported as caught, in order to evade international treaty-mandated catch limits.(4),(5) Further complicating the math used for government statistics, the Pollock population reports were used, in environmental politics, to fuel the billion-dollar “global warming” industry.(5)
In short, if data needs to be harnessed, to build or defend billion-dollar fortunes, don’t expect purist math.(6) But how is this relevant, to quantifying and forecasting the Coronavirus pandemic’s demographics?
First, as in all forensic evidence contexts, consider the reliability (and potentially influential motives) of the sources who are reporting the facts.(6)
Should all statistical data reported by communist governments be naïvely trusted?
Coronavirus expert Ralph Baric, from the University of North Carolina, is uneasy about the numbers coming out of China. “I’m very suspicious about anything they’re saying,” Baric said, pointing to the low numbers China is reporting from other provinces in the country. “The math says there should be a lot more cases.”(7)
Is it relevant that a hospital receives more federal money for reporting a Coronavirus-caused in-patient service than for treating a patient who is not designated as a Coronavirus victim?(8)
What if a patient has a Coronavirus infection, recovers, then dies of a heart attack or traffic accident? If the autopsy indicates a recent Coronavirus infection, is that alone sufficient to label Coronavirus as the cause of death, etiologically speaking?
This is not to suggest (or to discourage) that statisticians need to rigorously scrutinize Coronavirus cause-of-death reports, with cynical “follow-the-money-trail” distrust. However, if government-funded billions of dollars are at stake, it is at least worth some “peer review” to confirm what norms were used for reporting and sorting data.(8)
Likewise, is it prudent to consider who makes a fortune, if one remedy is selected over another? For example, if hydroxychloroquine (maybe in combination with azithromycin and/or zinc) is a simple, cheap, quick, safe, and accessible remedy, who would profit (or fail to profit) by its wholesale use in treating Coronavirus victims?(9)
Or, if hydroxychloroquine it is the best overall solution, and is already available on the market as a generic medicine (and safely used for decades), so patent royalties are not an economic issue, to treating Coronavirus infections, who stands to lose a pharmaceutical fortune if it is now used?(9),(10),(11)
The statistics have yet another challenge: what about the many people who (at some point) have acquired the Coronavirus, and got horribly sick for days or weeks, and eventually recovered—but are afraid to report what they experienced, due to fear of job loss or governmental intrusions that may add to a problem that is now “cured”?(12)
The statistical lethality of Coronavirus is a quotient derived from dividing the numerator (number of Coronavirus deaths within a specific population) by the denominator (total number of Coronavirus infections in that same population combining the number of survivors with those who died).(13)
But a fear-motivated failure, to report a successful recovery from Coronavirus infection, leads to an inaccurately smaller denominator, producing a lethality quotient that erringly suggests that Coronavirus infections are statistically more deadly, in a human population, than they really are.(12),(13)
In other words, the Coronavirus statistics are not a simple matter of merely counting who gets sick and recovers, versus who gets sick and does not recover. No wonder I must avoid doing math in public.
So, next time you watch a television evening news report, on Coronavirus statistics and projections from those statistics—don’t panic–there might be some fake math (opined by Dr. Faux or his ilk) that incites fear-mongering, implying no returning to “normal”.
Certainly, the pandemic deserves prayer and care, but not panic.(14) Maybe (note that qualifier: “maybe”) it’s not as bad as the numbers appear to suggest. Maybe some of the so-called experts represent industries that make more money, or gain more power, if the pandemic is worse (or harder to cure) than it really is. It is storming outside, no doubt, but maybe the sky is not falling. For now, being careful and prayerful is a good idea, but panicking helps no one.(15)
Think about it. Maybe enjoy a hot fudge sundae, with picked cherries on top.
- Forecasting, based on scientific “models” (simulation-based projections) is a tricky business. Johnson, J. J. S. 2020. Signs of the Times: Glacier Meltdown. Acts & Facts. 49(4):21. https://www.icr.org/article/signs-of-the-times-glacier-meltdown . Likewise, recognizing the legitimacy and limitations of “experts” is tricky business, well served by forensic evidence norms and perspectives. 2012. Johnson, J. J. S. Acts & Facts. 41(11):8-10. https://www.icr.org/article/what-good-are-experts .
- Incorporating “fudge” factors invalidates research data, as well as conclusions relying upon such data. Coppedge, D. F. 2008. Cosmology’s Error Bars. Acts & Facts. 37(7)15. https://www.icr.org/article/cosmologys-error-bars . Likewise, cherry-picking research data, to skew statistics, is fake math. Johnson, J. J. S. 2015. Cherry Picking Data is the Pits. Acts & Facts. 44(7):19. https://www.icr.org/article/cherry-picking-data-pits .
- “In an egregious example of scientific dishonesty, Murphy cherry-picked certain individuals…in an attempt to pump up the number of ‘fails’ in his database…conveniently increas[ing] the fail percentage by over twenty percent, rendering it a meaningless, skewed statistic.” EEOC v. Freeman, 961 F.Supp2d 783, 795 (D. Md. 2013), affirmed, 778 F.3d 463, 471 (4th Cir. 2015) (decrying the EEOC’s cherry-picked data presentation as “slipshod work, faulty analysis, and statistical sleight of hand”).
- Johnson, J. J. S. 2018. Something Fishy About Global Warming Claims. Acts & Facts. 47(3):21.
- Bailey, K. M. 2013. Billion-Dollar Fish: The Untold Story of Alaska Pollock. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2-44, 46-88, 199-215. See also Miles, E. et al. 1982. The Management of Marine Regions: The North Pacific. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 160-165, 172, 184-193, 220-223; Kasahara, H. 1972. Japanese Distant-Water Fisheries: A Review. Fishery Bulletin. 70(2):227-282.
- See Proverbs 20:10, 23; Micah 6:11. Improper influences are known to transmogrify peer review into veneer review. In re Hurricane Sandy Cases (Raimey & Raisfeld v. Wright National Flood Insurance Company), 2014 WL 5801540, *1, *3 (E.D.N.Y. 2014) (Gary R. Brown, U.S. District Judge), analyzed in Johnson, J. J. S. 2015. Forensic Science Frustrated by “Peer Review”. Acts & Facts. 44(2):18. https://www.icr.org/article/forensic-science-frustrated-by-peer/ . In America, Hurricane Sandy caused 147 direct deaths, at least 75 indirect deaths, and about $70 billion in property damages (as estimated in March 2014). Sandy’s diameter reached 1,100 miles, with storm surges that caused tidewater flooding up to 7.9 feet above normally dry ground. See U.S. NOAA, National Weather Service, “Hurricane /Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy, October 22-29, 2012” and the National Hurricane Center’s Tropical Cyclone Report, both posted at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov, accessed December 1, 2014.
- Branswell, H. 2020. Experts say confusion over coronavirus case count in China is muddying picture of spread (February 20, 2020; accessed April 9, 2020), posted at https://www.statnews.com/2020/02/20/experts-say-confusion-over-coronavirus-case-count-in-china-is-muddying-picture-of-spread/ . Totalitarian regimes, like communist China, mandate (and thus exemplify) state-approved “consensus science”. See Guliuzza, R. J. 2009. Consensus Science: The Rise of a Scientific Elite. Acts & Facts. 38(5):4. https://www.icr.org/article/consensus-science-rise-scientific-elite/ .
- “Consumer groups and public health experts said paying hospitals for uncompensated care [i.e., for treating Coronavirus patients who are uninsured] would not help the millions of Americans who are now without coverage. … [but who are ill] without the virus … [so uninsured non-Coronavirus patients, in hospitals, remain an unpaid] burden on emergency rooms and hospital staff.” Abelson, R., and M. Sanger-Katz. 2020. Trump Says Hospitals Will Be Paid for Treating Uninsured Coronavirus Patients. New York Times (April 3, 2020; accessed April 9, 2020), posted at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/03/upshot/trump-hospitals-coronavirus.html .
- “The White House coronavirus task force had its biggest fight yet on Saturday [March 28, 2020], pitting economic adviser Peter Navarro against infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci. At issue: How enthusiastically should the White House tout the prospects of an antimalarial drug to fight COVID-19? … Navarro pointed to the pile of folders on the desk, which included printouts of studies on hydroxychloroquine from around the world. Navarro said to Fauci, ‘That’s science, not anecdote,’ said another of the sources. Navarro started raising his voice, and at one point accused Fauci of objecting to Trump’s travel restrictions, saying, ‘You were the one who early on objected to the travel restrictions with China,’ saying that travel restrictions don’t work.” Swan, J. 2020. Scoop: Inside the Epic White House Fight Over Hydroxychloroquine. Axios Health. Posted at https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-hydroxychloroquine-white-house-01306286-0bbc-4042-9bfe-890413c6220d.html . Updated April 5, 2020; accessed April 9, 2020.
- One Coronavirus-infected Michigan legislator (Karen Whitsett) is grateful to be an “anecdotal” evidence of hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness. “A Democratic state representative from Detroit is crediting hydroxychloroquine — and Republican President Donald Trump who touted the drug — for saving her in her battle with the coronavirus. State Rep. Karen Whitsett, who learned Monday [March 16, 2020] she has tested positive for COVID-19, said she started taking hydroxychloroquine on March 31, prescribed by her [medical] doctor, after both she and her husband sought treatment for a range of symptoms on March 18. ‘It was less than two hours’ before she started to feel relief, said Whitsett, who had experienced shortness of breath, swollen lymph nodes, and what felt like a sinus infection.” Egan, P. 2020. Detroit Rep Says Hydroxychloroquine, Trump Helped Save her Life amid COVID-19 Fight. Detroit Free Press. Posted at https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2020/04/06/democrat-karen-whitsett-coronavirus-hydroxychloroquine-trump/2955430001/ (updated April 6, 2020; accessed April 9, 2020).
- Likewise, cartographic comparisons of malaria demographics, globally, with Coronavirus demographics, are worth serious investigation. Spencer, R. 2020. Some COVID-19 vs. Malaria Numbers: Countries with Malaria have Virtually No Coronavirus Cases Reported. Posted at https://www.drroyspencer.com/2020/03/some-covid-19-vs-malaria-numbers-countries-with-malaria-have-virtually-no-coronavirus-cases-reported/ . (March 18, 2020; accessed April 9, 2020.)
- This author, being a licensed attorney, communicates often with other attorneys. In short, there are folks who report (in confidence) that they are afraid of disadvantages if they disclose symptoms of recent illness (form which they are now fully recovered), that appear to match the symptoms of the Coronavirus.
- Centers for Disease Control. 2020. Principles of Epidemiology in Public Health Practice: Lesson 3, section 3: Mortality Frequency Measures. https://www.cdc.gov/csels/dsepd/ss1978/lesson3/section3.html (accessed April 9, 2020).
- Care, of course, means efficient delivery of healthcare as needed—please pray for everyone who is involved in fighting the Coronavirus pandemic. Actually, this is a Genesis Mandate-relevant crisis. And this is not the first time we have needed heroes in an epidemic/pandemic. Johnson, J. J. S. 2013. Siberian Huskies and the Dominion Mandate. Acts & Facts. 42(6):18-19. https://www.icr.org/article/siberian-huskies-dominion-mandate .
- See 2 Timothy 1:7.