Friday, June 26, 2009

Hype Dissection 101

Here’s how it all went down last night:

Thursday, June 25, 6:45 p.m.


“Dr. Staat, you’re wanted in the ER, stat!”

(rushing in) “What seems to be the problem, nurse?”

“We have a breaking news story that just came in with massive factual hemorrhaging; the propaganda is severely bloated, agenda’s exposed, and the fear-factor is 7.5 and rising!”

“I’m going in.”

“But doctor, you haven’t scrubbed . . .”

“No time. And stand back; this may get messy.”


Okay, maybe it didn’t happen quite like that, but it probably should have. The patient in question is yet another AP news story about the H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic that is sweeping the world and not killing near as many people as pharmaceutical investors would like.

Lest we – the unwashed masses – become complacent about getting that flu shot when it becomes available simply because we don’t know anyone who has died from it (or indeed, anyone who has even gotten the sniffles from it), the corporate controlled media continues to remind us about the looming danger. Not the danger to public health, mind you, but the danger to a whole lot of money that will be left on the table if we don’t get those shots when they’re ready.

Here’s the story in question should you care to read it: US Swine Flu Cases May Have Hit 1 Million

You don’t have to read it if you don’t want to, though; for your convenience I’ll take you through the parts that caught my attention, the first of which is the very title itself.

My diagnosis: pure fear-mongering.

When you say that flu cases “may have hit 1 million”, it can just as easily be said that flu cases “may not have hit 1 million”. Of course, the latter doesn’t have quite as much “zip” to it, and when you’re trying to drive the spike of fear into people, it always helps to describe the glass as half-empty. Half-full, and we might not panic.

Ankle deep into the article we are shown this:

“The estimate voiced by a government flu scientist Thursday was no surprise to the experts who have been closely watching the virus. "We knew diagnosed cases were just the tip of the iceberg," said Dr. William Schaffner . . .”

Did you see what just happened there? The 1 million number is clearly stated as an estimate that has been given by a government source (tingles of credibility are running up and down my spine already), but immediately afterward, this estimate is then treated as if it were a categorical fact by Dr. Quackner . . . er, Schaffner.

Sorry, this fish has seen that bait before, and it didn’t smell good the first time either.

A short hop & a skip later and we arrive here:

“The United States has roughly half the world's swine flu cases, with nearly 28,000 reported to the CDC so far.”

Now, I’m no Jethro Bodine when it comes to ciphering, but by my calculations, if the U.S. has half of the world’s reported cases, then that means there’s about 56,000 cases worldwide that we know about. Is it just me, or does it seem like we’re taking a pretty liberal jump to get that number up to 1 million? I tried to figure out what percentage increase that is, but I ran out of toes.

Then: “The U.S. count includes 3,065 hospitalizations and 127 deaths.”

Ciphering again, if there’s 28,000 U.S. cases and 127 deaths, then that means that the dreaded swine flu has a death rate of less than one-half of 1 percent. Far better odds than you’ll get in Vegas. And that’s only if you believe that those 127 deaths were actually from the flu, which may or may not be the case.

Finally, my favorite passages:

“The numbers again highlight how the young seem to be particularly at risk of catching the new virus. But data also show that the flu has been more dangerous to adults who catch it.

The average age of swine flu patients is 12, the average age for hospitalized patients is 20, and for people who died, it was 37. It seems to be deadliest to people 65 and older, with deaths in more than 2 percent of elderly people infected, Finelli said.”


So, if I’m reading this right, everybody is particularly at risk. If you’re young you need to be scared because you’re going to catch it. If you’re old you need to be scared because for you the mortality rate is highest. And if you’re anywhere in between you need to be scared because the average age of people who die is 37 years old.

Yup. That pretty much covers everybody alright.

This is “spin” at a hyper-ridiculous level, intended to get your attention regardless of your age group.

Averages are so notoriously misused today I don’t even think most people really even know what they are anymore.

Weather forecasters, for instance, consistently compare the day’s temperature to the “average” temperature for that day in history, always making a big show about how much higher or lower the temperature is to that average. Most take it a step further by calling the average temperature the “normal” temperature.

Pure drivel.

An average is not a “norm”; it is an average. What’s normal is that the day’s temperature would be some amount higher or lower than the average since THAT IS HOW AVERAGES ARE DETERMINED IN THE FIRST PLACE. It would be rare for the day’s temperature to actually be the same as the average.

To understand how badly averages can misrepresent reality, consider this: If you’re sitting naked on a block of ice and your hair is on fire, on average, you feel pretty good. So take the averages in the article for what they are (which, just in case you’re still confused, are averages).

beep . . .beep . . . beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep

Well, unfortunately, my patient has flat-lined; time to put my surgical instruments away. Please believe me when I tell you that I did everything I could to save it. In this case, though, the integrity was just too far gone already for me to help. It happens.

I’m 100% sure of that.

1 comment:

MamaHen said...

ROFL!!!!! Sometimes I think the media, and our government just think we are all idiots...oh wait....they do!