A general observation post for you today. As I’ve watched some of the political debates being fought in the brutal modern-day trench warfare that is Facebook and Twitter these days, I’ve noticed a tendency toward using convenient statistics and science. This is nothing new. (100% of the people I polled for this post agreed with me, after all.) But a more disturbing trend is the approach where people will use outdated arguments to “prove” something, even though science has long since discredited those arguments.
A not-quite-so-current example of this would be centered around climate change. I feel like many people made their minds up around a decade ago that climate change was bogus. At the time, science had already strongly indicated that climate change was being caused by humans, but there was at least more debate around the subject, scientifically, than there is now. And so that problem was “solved” in some minds. Now, a decade later, they still cling to those past conclusions, despite the fact that we’ve got ten more years of studies and data. To me, trying to deny climate change now is like trying to insist the Boston Red Sox still haven’t won a World Series since 1918. I might wish that weren’t the case, and there might be a long string of data that supports it, historically, but that data has been rendered out of date due to evidence from the past 20 years.
For a more recent example, all you have to do is throw a dart pretty much anywhere in the vicinity of a COVID debate. How deadly is it? Do you need to wear a mask? Will there be a cure anytime soon? How contagious is it?
The problem with all of these issues is that the science on them hasn’t just been changing over years, it’s been changing over weeks. Over days, sometimes. And while I can try to sympathize with people who don’t handle change well (especially not under such trying circumstances), I have little patience for people who are willfully ignorant or who choose to ignore data to try and make their personal argument stronger.
Yes, experts waffled at first over whether or not masks were helpful for this disease. But the waffling is going away, as the scientific studies mount that masks really do help. You might not like that, but when even Donald Trump starts changing his tune, saying masks are now “patriotic,” I wonder how long it will be before people finally (finally!) start just wearing masks and moving on with their lives.
In the early days of COVID, several shared a graphic online, comparing COVID deaths to other various deaths. At the time, I could see how the data might make it seem to some that the world was overreacting to COVID. After all, as of March 25th, COVID had killed 21,297 people worldwide. Compare that to other deaths by that point: the seasonal flu (113,034), malaria (228,095), traffic fatalities (313,903) or HIV/AIDS (390,908). Why were we shutting the world down?
Well . . . none of those people have posted an updated chart, so I thought I’d go in and check how it’s looking now, four months later. As of today, COVID has killed 615,735 people worldwide. The seasonal flu (270,594), malaria (544,171), traffic fatalities (748,892), and HIV/AIDS (932,615). So it’s blown by the seasonal flu and malaria, and it’s only a matter of time before it passes the others as well, if we keep going the way we’re going. And that’s with a global shutdown. It doesn’t take a whiz kid to picture what it would have looked like if the shutdown hadn’t happened. Except maybe it does, because many people are still trying to compare COVID to the flu. They attack other data. The fatality rate. Or the recovery rate. Or they say too many deaths are being counted as COVID-related, and never mind that the same approach is used to tabulate seasonal flu deaths.
No matter how badly people might want to wish this virus was just like any number of other things, and that it’s far less worrisome than it is, the facts just don’t play that out. But if there’s one thing the past months have taught me, it’s the willingness of many to ignore facts if they’re inconvenient.
So I guess I’ll go with that approach. Just look at how awful the Red Sox are. They haven’t won a World Series since World War I! If we all just agree to believe that, it makes it magically true. Right?
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