Fumento's Latest Barrage

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

The American news consumer could be forgiven for thinking the guy who couldn't see the forest for the trees was in an enviable position. (Image by Zbysiu Rodak, via Unsplash, license.)
In an age when it seems that every major media outlet, left or right, politicizes everything, it can be helpful to follow the odd contrarian -- in addition to hearing both "sides" and paying attention to experts, of course.

Regarding the corona pandemic, which is neither the left's Armageddon nor the right's hoax, my favorite contrarian has been Michael Fumento, and he recently put out three new columns focusing on various aspects of media coverage of the epidemic.

Of these, my personal favorite is the one linked above at three, which appeared a few days ago in Townhall Finance. It discusses the recent upsurge in cases, as well as some of the lurid coverage of complications alleged to be due to the new disease:
We also saw lots of attention given to, as a Washington Post headline put it, "Young and middle-aged people, barely sick with covid-19 ... dying of strokes." Turns out it was essentially based on a study comprising five (5) people. A later wider analysis concluded (translated from Spanish) "Stroke does not appear to be a major manifestation of Covid-19...

As testing has expanded from the clearly sick to persons with no symptoms, we're getting more headlines like: "Coronavirus is infecting more young people in their 20s and 30s... " Right. That's the way it works.

And the game continues. Now the Florida Sun-Sentinel breathlessly informs us that two people who tested positive for COVID-19 have appendicitis. With "only" 250,000 Americans getting that disease annually and 2.3 million positive for coronavirus, it cannot possibly be sheer overlap. [links in original, format edits]
Regarding that five-person study: Three of those had comorbidities that put them at risk of stroke. Fumento notes another couple of egregious cases of the media incorrectly attributing the deaths of young people to the disease. These are all helpful reminders of the poor quality of American journalism overall.

That said, Fumento isn't flawless or completely objective. I've already dinged him for pooh-poohing models as such -- which FiveThirtyEight has since started making available for perusal. And regarding this last batch of articles, my main reservation is that his discussion of how lockdowns may or may not be effective is flawed in a similar way to his discussion of models. From the piece linked at column above, we have:
And inevitably the media ignore rising testing in favor of the explanation they presumed from the start, as with "Alarming Rise in Coronavirus Cases as States Roll Back Lockdowns." It's merely synchronous. They were convinced through confirmation bias or whatever that lifting lockdowns would lead to increased cases and their bias has been seemingly confirmed. [link omitted, bold added]
I oppose lockdowns (and agree with this editorial), but strongly suspect that they probably overall reduced transmission rates.

One could more effectively critique coverage of the increased number of cases by conceding this point and noting that case number increases should lag the end of the lockdowns -- and note that the increased number of cases is, in many places, among a younger (and less at-risk) population and would likely have been missed altogether without the better testing availability we have now.

And speaking of lagging indicators, hospitalizations and deaths from the localized outbreaks will be the proof in the pudding. I wouldn't feel entirely comfortable calling the "second wave" a "scam" (as Fumento does at column above) -- although I wouldn't call it a "second wave," either.

I have reasons enough based on my age and family background to be concerned about this virus, and will be especially interested in seeing how the outbreak in my home state of Florida plays out. Whatever his faults, I am grateful to Michael Fumento for exposing some of the more ridiculous claims about this disease I keep hearing.

In the meantime, I'll continue adding my own grains of salt to whatever I hear from him, the media, and even the experts -- many of whom really undermined their own credibility by changing their tune about social distancing the moment there came a left-wing cause masquerading as a call for racial equality.

-- CAV


Steve D said...

'I suspect that they probably overall reduced transmission rates.'

Does that mean that the end of the day, they saved lives? It seems likely to me that the lockdowns drew out the disease over time (flattened the curve) and once we started to open up (as we had to or cease existing), infections would rise again and that in the end (unless we locked down for a long time), they did not prevent but only delayed infections and deaths and we would eventually end up at approximately the same spot.

BTW, unless this is a mutated virus, it is not really correct to call this a second wave in the sense that H1N1 (Spanish flu) mutated and then the new more virulent strain swept across the world months after the first strain was finished. This is just the same wave spreading to areas it hasn't affected so far.

Gus Van Horn said...


Did it save lives overall? That's a great question. For it to have saved lives overall (above lives lost due to delayed medical procedures or suicides due to businesses being crushed), the death rate from the steeper curve would have had to be very high and all at once, which I don't think would have happened. I'd guess deaths were mostly delayed, with probably some lives being saved by advances in care and possibly (but not likely) some being saved by not having to be triaged.

Regarding the mutation issue, I was not aware of that, and had used the term to mean a second surge in cases in the same way I take most journalists have been using the term.


Steve D said...

One other issue wrt the lockdowns is that we need to be careful of our definitions and comparisons. Do we mean the effect of the voluntary measures which business and individuals were already taking or any additional effect the government orders may have had? Did the government mandates even change behavior?

For example, St. Louis County was essentially locked down well before the county order. Most non essential (and even some later deemed essential) businesses had voluntarily closed their doors and even now some places are still not in full operating mode (like my favorite Sushi restaurant). I didn't notice any change on the day of the order at any place I frequented. OTOH, most restaurants opened up 3-4 days before they were allowed to. For another example, the recent county mask order hasn't changed the percentage of people wearing masks as far as I can tell. I can say with certainty that there is no possibility that the police will enforce it.

We can't do a controlled experiment and so I expect we will be arguing about many of these points for years. At least the difficulty of making a conclusion highlights the advantages of experimental vs. observational science.

Gus Van Horn said...


That's a good point, and reminds me that mobile phone data showed people in the Southeast moving around a lot less before the stay-at-home-orders.

And I noticed today at Walmart that practically everyone had a mask. There is no order and there didn't have to be: Everyone knows that Florida is a hot spot and is acting accordingly.

It would be interesting to look at cases vs. lockdown orders -- except that nobody knows how many cases there actually are, and lots of the things we were ordered to do resemble what we might have done anyway.