Numbers without context or bad context = propaganda, marketing or con job

It’s good to see Nate Silver calling out the media’s poor use of context when reporting numbers:

I’ve been driving my family and friends nuts with this complaint since March. Sorry family and friends! But, when you spend a good deal of your life reporting numbers, this stuff tends to get under your skin.

In the first chart in this post of mine, it’s easy to see the close relation between growth in tests given in March and positive cases, and, was rarely that mentioned by media.

Instead, media focused on the growth in positive cases and let folks assume that growth represented the spread of the virus, rather than the spread of testing.

A better stat to watch at the time was the percent of tests that came back positive, the second graph on the post I linked to above. While not perfect (it could be heavily influenced by testing criteria), it at least would have been an indication not to mistake the growth in testing for the spread rate of the virus.

No context or bad context is propaganda, marketing, or a con job. I wrote about it here in this post about lottery marketing. Your antennae should go up when anyone gives you numbers with no or bad context.


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