Coronavirus: Statistical Stupidity. Why were “smart” people so wrong about this pandemic?

Hayes

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes

Authored by Robert Stacy McCain

American Spectator

Two weeks ago, Dr. Deborah Birx warned against doomsday predictions that millions of Americans might die from coronavirus. At a White House press briefing on March 25, the coordinator of President Trump’s task force condemned media speculation based on claims that as much as half the country’s population might become infected with COVID-19. “I think the numbers that have been put out there are actually very frightening to people,” said Birx, adding that reported rates of infection in China, where the virus originated, were “nowhere close to the numbers that you see people putting out there. I think it has frightened the American people.”

Birx did not name MSNBC personality Chris Hayes, although he was one of the worst scaremongers in the media mob. On his March 23 program, Hayes warned that “millions of lives are on the line” if the economic lockdown response to the virus was not extended indefinitely: “There is no option to just let everyone go back out and go back to normal if a pandemic rages across the country and infects 50 percent of the population and kills a percentage point at the low end of those infected and also melts down all the hospitals.” Applying simple arithmetic to that sentence — treating it like one of those word problems we learned to do in middle-school math class — we find that 50 percent of the U.S. population is more than 160 million people infected with COVID-19. If just 1 percent of those infected died from the virus, that would mean a death toll of at least 1.6 million.

The word “if” signifies a hypothetical contingency, but the way Hayes used the word implied a predictive quality to his speculation about “millions of lives” at jeopardy in a rampaging coronavirus outbreak. And who can say, really, what might have happened in some imagined alternative scenario? As it happened in real life, however, Trump decided to extend the “social distancing” policy to April 30, most Americans took the recommended precautions seriously, and there is already evidence that we have begun to “flatten the curve,” so that the final U.S. death toll of COVID-19 will likely be a mere fraction of the “millions” about which Hayes warned last month.

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