Coronavirus Lessons: Fact and Reason?

After the Covid-19 pandemic is over (presuming an effective virus is developed) there will be a lot of looking back at the actual dangers the virus posed, and whether reactions to it were justified, over the top or too light and too late. We should find out what the death toll could have been if different measures had been taken, and whether the degree  impact on economies, business and jobs was justified or was an overreaction.

We should learn lessons from it, because sooner or later there is certain to be another virus that threatens the world.

Making pronouncements now about the whole thing, what should and shouldn’t have been done, is premature. We are currently experiencing perhaps the worst of the first wave of the virus after taking drastic action to contain Covid-19, but there’s a real risk of followup waves of infection, especially as people movement and border restrictions are lifted.

Some of the reactions have been as over the top as some of the predictions and warnings seem to have proved to be.

From William J. Bennett and Seth Leibsohn at RCP –  Coronavirus Lessons: Fact and Reason vs. Paranoia and Fear

Given the most recent mortality rates and modeling, it appears that the death toll in America from coronavirus will end up looking a lot like the annual fatality numbers from the flu. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Washington state is now projecting 68,841 potential deaths in America. It is also estimating lower ranges than that. The flu season of 2017-2018 took 61,099 American lives. For this we have scared the hell out of the American people, shut down the economy, ended over 17 million jobs, taken trillions of dollars out of the economy, closed places of worship, and massively disrupted civic life as we know it.

A few points on this opening statement.

Current projections of deaths should be more accurate as much more is known than a couple of months ago, so hopefully the US will only end up with 60-70,000 deaths from Covid.

But this is still a huge death toll from a single virus. While it may be similar to the annual toll from influenza it is largely on top of the flu toll, so it is still a substantial increased number of deaths.

And at this stage at least claiming ‘only 60,000 so what was the fuss about’ ignores what the death toll might have been if such drastic measures were not taken. If borders weren’t shut and lockdowns weren’t enforced it is certain the spread would have been worse, probably much worse. So a 60,000 toll doesn’t necessarily indicate an over reaction (it could), but to some extent it is due to success from the severe restrictions and drastic actions taken.

A panic and hysteria over a pandemic that does not look to be what so many frightened us into thinking has radically degraded this country. What should be the major lessons learned here? How did we go from an ethos of “Let’s Roll!” when America was hit by a major attack from outside forces two decades ago to “Let’s roll up in a ball”?

Maybe there was panic and hysteria in some places but I haven’t seen that. Sure there have been concerns and there has been fairly rapid action, but that action has largely been orderly. Most early criticisms were for not doing enough soon enough, and the US (led by Trump) is still arguing over who didn’t do enough soon enough.

Presuming “major attack from outside forces two decades ago” refers to 911 that’s a poor comparison. 911 was a one day attack that caused all US flights to be grounded, and resulted in major restrictions and impositions on travel that we still experience, and it resulted in a misguided war or three. ‘Let’s Roll!’ is a poor description of the reaction to 911 – there were complaints then of too much rolling in a ball.

911 was fundamentally different. the enemy was human sized, weapons were much larger than humans, and they could be seen and detected. As has been pointed out with Covid it is an invisible enemy, and is much harder to contain than terrorists, and  there is potentially a much bigger supply of enemies – viruses replicate, terrorists tend to die out and replication takes a lot longer, if it happens at all.

First, New York City is where the epidemic has struck the hardest. The media is centered in New York City. Although sensationalism is not new, something in the 21st century media landscape is: Reporting the news has been replaced with raising alarms, heightening political tensions, and funneling information through a strictly partisan lens.

Media overreaction has been an issue for a long time. It happens here in New Zealand. We have a minor problem with partisan divides here, but it is bad and getting worse in the US. That’s partly stoked by media (and right wing media is to blame as well as left wing media), but it’s largely a political problem, with politicians using the media to inflame and divide. Blaming the media is a bit like blaming bombs for wars. The media are tools of trade in a bitter US political battle. Some of the worst sensationalism and division is generated personally by the president using Twitter (but I guess at least his device keeps his fingers away from nuclear buttons).

Conspiracy theories and extreme rhetoric have replaced fact and reason, as well as reasonableness. These dark impulses have been aided and abetted by a series of left-wing notions that have come to dominate our politics, giving us a new “paranoid style in American politics.”

Having just talked about “funneling information through a strictly partisan lens” the article launches into paranoia and sensationalism: “aided and abetted by a series of left-wing notions that have come to dominate our politic”. Blaming the left is as bad as blaming the right, but both sides seem blind to their own faults in this respect.

There doesn’t seem to be much fact or reasonableness here.

Aided and abetted by its mainstream media enablers and ideological soulmates, the left has warped our political rhetoric to a point beyond reason, impeding our ability to make calm and rational assessments. President Trump, for example, is not wrong or too conservative — he’s an “existential threat to America” and “worse than Hitler,” and, of course, responsible for all the deaths from COVID-19.

Cherry picking a couple of extreme examples of criticisms and then throwing in a ridiculous claim is warped.  Maybe someone has claimed Trump is responsible for all Covid-19 deaths, but that’s ridiculous. Someone else did actually claim that Covid-19 would be gone by summer, things would be back to normal by Easter and “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle—it will disappear” and those warped views got a lot more airtime.

Thus, when the virus came to our shores, Americans were primed enough to accept and cower in front of models of death telling us that two million of us would be killed.

Models didn’t claim that 2 million Americans would be killed. They projected that that sort of toll was possible if nothing was done to stop the spread of Covid-19. As it turned out a lot was done, and the toll seems likely to be much less. To an extent at least that’s success.

Now, after the damage was ignited by shutdowns and panic, the social destruction of this irresponsible fearmongering will take a long time to undo.

The damage from doing less would have taken longer to undo – and in fact deaths can’t be undone, even by Trump.

There are things that will take time to recover from, and some things are unlikely to be the same again. The cruise ship business has been badly effected – but did people stop cramming into cruise ships due to panic? I’d call it prudence.

Or any other institution. As part of our national affright, we engaged in a shuttering of our best forces of composition — such as churches, synagogues, schools — and our venues for physical exercise. Just at the time of their greatest needs, these services were ordered to be shut down.

If churches, synagogues, mosques and schools weren’t shut down no amount of praying would have prevented much worse problems than we have experienced. Some people may have suffered from not being able to worship as usual, but the suffering would have been quite a bit worse.

Sure negative impacts from what has been done will be felt for some time, but there will also be some positive outcomes (on top of saving many lives). Many people and many families have done more together than they have for some time in busy lives. People have gone back to cooking food from basics, teaching kids important skills, brought communities together in what had become a fractured society. There will be pluses and minuses from what we are experiencing.

Lesson Four: Understand there is public health, and there is public health. Does a virus that may take as many Americans as the seasonal flu require an upending of literally everything in our life, work, and recreational activity, affecting so much more of our other health, including mental health?

A repeat of a fundamental flaw in their argument – if much less upending was done the toll would have been greater and probably much greater than the seasonal flu.

Lesson Five: Do not be impervious to good or hopeful news. Compare this virus’ numbers and prognoses to other numbers and prognoses we have taken for granted without even knowing it. When data reveals that there is a .007% chance of dying from this disease in America, report that. When evidence shows there may be extant medicines that can treat the virus, encourage rather than anathematize that.

But data hasn’t revealed that there is a .007% chance of dying from this disease in America. It’s too soon to tell because all the data can’t be known yet. The chance of dying would have been much more if much less had been done to stop the spread of Covid. And I think their maths is screwy anyway, I can’t see where their .007% comes from.

This article is badly lacking in both facts and reason.

Hopelessly out of touch poll claim

Polls are often used to claim things that they don’t portray. There is no way of knowing exactly why polls move, and what timeframe cause and effect operates under. Pundits can only guess, or make things up.

In New Zealand media companies who publish polls try to make dramatic stories out of their own polls.

Here a niche blogger makes a ridiculous claim based on a US poll aggregator’s rolling results: Shithole countries comment gets Trump a big bounce in the polls

I had a chat amongst some other political tragics some weeks ago about how big a bounce would Donald Trump get with his shithole countries comments.

Some weeks ago? Trump made those comments just over two weeks ago, reported on 11 January (US date so 12 January NZ date).

It turns out a pretty substantial bump in the polls:

It doesn’t turn out to be anything of the sort. A Real Clear Politics ‘President Trump Job Approval’ chart is displayed – here is the same thing a day later, with the date of the shithole comment shown.

Since the comment there has been a small improvement in the poll average.  All polls cover several days and are obviously published after they are taken. Some of them are rolling polls. There is never a ‘before and event’ poll and an ‘after an event’ poll that can measure a movement on a specific day. So there is no way of knowing when a poll moves and why with any precision.

And different polls come out over time, with some leaning one way or the other, so the timing of the polls in the mix can make a difference, especially coming out of a time when some polls shut down for the holiday period.

RCP polling data shown at the blog:

I don’t know how that can tell anyone why a poll average changed due to one of many events that happened on 11 January, before that and after that. Trump is in the news a lot. A few days prior to his shithole comment Michael Wolff’s book was big news, and that’s likely to have some effect on poll trends.

A single rolling poll (Rasmussen Reports that tends to favour Trump) shows no appreciable change over the shithole period.

Date Approval Index Strongly Approve Strongly Disapprove Total Approve Total Disapprove
26-Jan-18 -12 30% 42% 44% 55%
25-Jan-18 -15 29% 44% 45% 54%
24-Jan-18 -16 29% 45% 44% 55%
23-Jan-18 -18 29% 47% 43% 57%
22-Jan-18 -18 28% 46% 42% 56%
19-Jan-18 -14 30% 44% 45% 54%
18-Jan-18 -16 28% 44% 45% 54%
17-Jan-18 -16 29% 45% 45% 54%
16-Jan-18 -16 29% 45% 45% 54%
15-Jan-18 -13 31% 44% 46% 52%
12-Jan-18 -13 30% 43% 46% 53%
11-Jan-18 -13 29% 42% 45% 53%
10-Jan-18 -14 30% 44% 44% 55%
09-Jan-18 -17 28% 45% 43% 56%
08-Jan-18 -16 30% 46% 42% 56%
05-Jan-18 -15 29% 44% 44% 54%
04-Jan-18 -12 31% 43% 45% 53%
03-Jan-18 -15 29% 44% 44% 54%

To understand what people thought of Trump’s comment requires a targeted poll. Like this one from HuffPost/YouGov:

January 11 – 12, 2018 – 1000 US Adults

According to a recent news report, President Trump asked “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” referring to immigration from African countries and Haiti. Do you agree or disagree with that comment?

  • Agree strongly 12%
  • Agree somewhat 14%
  • Total agree 26%
  • Disagree somewhat 13%
  • Disagree strongly 45%
  • Total disagree 58%
  • Not sure 16%

A comment at WO from ‘no bullswool’ would appear to be bullswool:

Donald Trump is refreshing in that he says what many ordinary people are thinking.

Back to the WO post:

Once again the media are shown to be hopelessly out of touch with ordinary voters.

Those are big changes over the previous months polling and you can clearly see his Approval ratings climbing rapidly off of the back of his shithole comments.

They are not big changes, ratings haven’t climbed rapidly, there is no way of linking minor poll fluctuations to one comment by Trump, and are a fool (or are trying to fool others) claiming you can see clearly what Slater is claiming.

Who is hopelessly out of touch?

Trump approval largely unmoved

Donald Trump claimed that his trip to the Middle East and Europe, which included a G7 meeting in Italy, was very successful, but it highlighted a divide that seems to be growing between the US and Europe.

Last week Trump also announced that the US would withdraw from the Paris climate accord. This was a largely symbolic move but it was widely criticised.

Both the overseas trip and the climate change withdrawal indicated that the US under Trump’s leadership was focussing more on it’s own interests and less on world leadership.

However Trump’s poll approval ratings are so far largely unmoved. Rasmussen, which tends to favour Trump more than others has shifted for him a little, but is still on 54% disapproval to 46% approval.

The RCP average has more or less flat lined since dropping in mid May at around 40% approval to 54% disapproval.


His approval ratings improved a little when Trump launched a missile attack in Syria and talked and acted tough militarily in the US spat with North Korea but he has lost those gains over the last month.

Trump continues to try to communicate to supporters via Twitter but that seems to have little impact on how people judge his performance.



US general discussion

News or views or issues from the USA.USFlag

Trumps poll approval improved a bit after his missile strike on Syria but now could be  levelling off .


So the military intervention seems to have stopped a poll slide, for now, but there is still a significant approval deficit.

Polls: Clinton steady, Trump rising

The RealClear Politics poll average has closed up to +2.8 Clinton in the US presidential race. This seems largely  due to Trump picking up support from undecideds and the Liberal candidate Johnson, as Clinton’s support has trended quite steadily at about 45%.


But that’s just the overall vote, it doesn’t take into account the state by state Electoral College votes that will decide the election. Trump still has a difficult pathway to victory.

The FiveThirtyEight ‘chance of winning’ has closed up a little but still favours Clinton with 77.8% to Trump’s 22.2%.

However it is too soon to tell how much effect the FBI announcement on Friday might have. Polls may swing more in favour of Trump, but a bounce back to Clinton could also happen as it becomes clear to voters that there is nothing in the FBI that incriminates Clinton, it just reminds voters of her email indiscretions.

And there’s still a week to go so there could be more twists and turns in this bizarre campaign.

Like Wikileaks Announces Imminent Launch of “Phase 3” of Coverage

Perhaps one of the worst possible outcomes could happen, where Trump wins the popular vote overall but Clinton becomes president through the Electoral College numbers (similar to how GW Bush beat Al Gore in 2000).

This would make a very grump electorate even grumpier.

US polls closing pre-FBI effect

The US presidential election has been rocked by a vague FBI announcement of an investigation into emails that may have some link to Hillary Clinton’s controversial email server.

The FBI asnnouncing an investigation in advance is unusual, and announcing it less than two weeks before an election with early voting already under way in many states is unprecedented.

There has been no claim of proof of wrongdoing. FBI director James Comey stated “…the FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant”.

However Donald Trump is claiming charged and convicted, and his chanting crowds have sentenced Clinton already.

Nate Silver: Election Update: The FBI Is Back — This Time With Anthony Weiner

The emails apparently came from electronic devices belonging to Anthony Weiner, the former congressman, and his wife, Huma Abedin, an aide to Clinton, and surfaced as part of an investigation into lewd text messages that Weiner sent to underage women. It isn’t clear that the emails directly implicate Clinton, and the reporting I’ve followed so far suggests that in a legal sense, Comey’s decision to inform Congress may be something done out of an “abundance of caution.”

But in a political sense, there’s certainly some downside for Clinton in the appearance of headlines containing the words “FBI,” “investigation” and “email” just 11 days before the election.

But it’s too soon to tell what level of ‘downside’ there is for Clinton via polls, although they have been closing up prior to the FBI bombshell of bugger all.

We’ve reached the point in the campaign in which there are so many polls coming in — state polls, national polls, tracking polls, one-off polls — that it’s really nice to have a model to sort out all the data. A couple of days ago, the model was beginning to detect tenuous signs that the presidential race was tightening.

Now, that seems a bit clearer. Clinton’s lead over Donald Trump is now 5.7 percentage points in our polls-only model, down from 7.1 points on Oct. 17.

The RealClear Politics rolling average is now +4.6% in Clinton’s favour.

And Trump’s chances of winning the election have recovered to 18 percent from a low of 12 percent. Trump’s chances in our polls-plus forecast are 21 percent, improved from a low of 15 percent.

A number of sources have reported that Clinton’s support had remained fairy stable at around 46/47%, but Trump’s had been creeping up in the low forties.

FiveThirtyEight prediction trend:


The Clinton camp will be following polls more anxiously over the next few days.