Bill the bard once penned, “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Along those lines I proffer that a lie by any other name is just as fact-less. While I’ve had occasion to know a few pathological people who like to lie, I’ve yet to meet someone who enjoys being lied to. If you pay close attention to most any form of media in the era of Covid, you can witness lies on a daily basis. I’m not alone in seeing them, nor am I the first to speak of it, which makes it all the more puzzling when I see how many people are still ingesting them like mother’s milk.
One of the most prevalent seems to be the false dichotomy. I recently witnessed one governor equate re-opening to death. When called out on the comparison he quickly shifted and guaranteed that while it may not mean your own death, it would certainly mean the death of someone else. While that is a distinct possibility for some who may cohabitate with members of the high risk groups, it’s not the inevitable outcome for the majority or even for the minority. In the most recent research I’ve studied, the mortality rate for those under age sixty-five is around 1.4 percent. The Washington Post published an article on April 28th by Joel Achenbach stating, “..when all the serological data is compiled and analyzed, the fatality rate among people who have been infected could be less than 1 percent.” One tiny kernel of truth slipped in the mix of bloated statistics stoking the flames of panic.
Another false dichotomy running rampant is the propensity for people to use death tolls from wars to show how much worse this illness is. This one on its face alone causes my blood to boil. First off, as a member of family who currently has a brave soldier deployed overseas in a war zone…stop acting like life here is more dangerous than what he faces on a daily basis. Less than half a percent of the US are currently enlisted in the military. If you want an accurate comparison, try taking the number who died in war time and dividing it by the number of people who were serving. For example, 16,000,000 soldiers served in WWII. 1, 076, 245 died. That’s a mortality rate of almost 7 percent. Compare that with 61,504 deaths in the US from the novel virus out of a population of 328,000,000. That’s .018%. Which would you rather face?
Since we’ve delved into the realm of numbers, another pretty little way of lying is by rigging statistics. One favorite quote of mine has been attributed to Benjamin Disraeli. In years since some believe this to be an erroneous attribution, but regardless of who said it the sentiment resonates. “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Statistics are actually very useful tools when wielded by honest hands. They condense large helpings of data into palatable morsels for the masses to consume. In essence, a straightforward statistical analysis allows any layman to understand a complex concept. The problem lies when experts find ways to skew those statistics in order to support the narrative they want you to believe. Much like the false dichotomy above about wartime casualties, many times an errant comparison is used to accomplish this task.
Early on in the coronavirus crisis this type of lie was aided by using global death rates to exacerbate fears. Hopes in this case were pinned on the fact that no one recognized that not every country has access to first world medical facilities. By adding in the number of deaths in developing countries and third world countries without access to cutting edge medical treatment, fear could be heightened. As the number of deaths have increased, that’s no longer necessary, so they’ve now chosen to merely withhold comparisons altogether. No one is pointing out, as I did above, the total number of deaths juxtaposed with the total population. Nor are they declaring what should be obvious but apparently is not, that population density is a key component. They’re focusing on the worst case scenario in the dense jungle of New York City rather than giving mean rates from across the entire country. If you live in New York City, it’s of course valid for you, but the majority of the US does not reside there or even in a similarly dense locale.
I was shocked earlier today by another manipulation that I came across when looking to the CDC for data surrounding the mortality rate of COVID in the US. The data currently being given is based on ILI or influenza-like illness. Those numbers include pneumonia, influenza, and COVID-19 rates. Despite trying to lump in more diseases to skew the statistics, percentages of cases are still decreasing and below baseline and mortality rates are decreasing as well. In correlation, recovery rates are increasing as more is discovered about treatment.
The last lie I want to discuss is the one with the least chance of exposure, or being admitted to: the lies people are telling themselves. In particular the ones people with good intentions are proliferating. Most of us want to be seen as compassionate people, some even want to put the welfare of others at the forefront of their day to day lives. However, if you are sitting from a position of financial comfort, whether it’s because you’ve been deemed essential, work remotely, or are wealthy, you cannot empathize with someone who is not in your position. You can attempt to sympathize, but without the bills piling up in front of you, the growl in your stomach caused by hunger, or the potential loss of the home you’ve established.. you cannot perceive the fear. Your world is largely unaltered, so preaching “musts” to those who aren’t as blessed needs to cease lest you become the new “one-percenters” in the era of COVID.
That’s not a condemnation without judgment against myself. I only recently became aware of my own culpability when a family member who had been essential was furloughed. Thankfully they have enough stashed away that they can ride it out for another few months, but my thoughts went immediately to those who didn’t have that luxury. Condemning someone for wanting to not have their family out on the streets when the worst of this passes is not something any of us should be participating in. As the saying goes, “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”
The truth of our situation is enough to come to terms with. We don’t need lies, exaggerations, and well-intended scolding to muddy up the waters and impair our perception. If you want people to stop being mistrustful, start by being honest with them.
As always, wishing you health, happiness, and the ability to spot a lie even if it’s wrapped up in a pretty little bow.