Covid-19 Coronovirus Data and Statistical Literacy

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During the Covid-19 or Coronavirus pandemic our media, including social media, has presented many sub-optimal or plainly wrong statistical conclusions due to a lack of data or statistical literacy, and to justify libertarians’ and sovereign citizens’ beliefs placing the politics of economy and individuals’ freedom above the health of community and society.

From Wikipedia on statistical literacy:

Statistical literacy is the ability to understand and reason with statistics and data. The abilities to understand and reason with data, or arguments that use data, are necessary for citizens to understand material presented in publications such as newspapers, television, and the Internet.’

From The Conversation:

Now everyone’s a statistician. Here’s what armchair COVID experts are getting wrong.

If we don’t analyse statistics for a living, it’s easy to be taken in by misinformation about COVID-19 statistics on social media, especially if we don’t have the right context.

For instance, we may cherry pick statistics supporting our viewpoint and ignore statistics showing we are wrong. We also still need to correctly interpret these statistics.

It’s easy for us to share this misinformation. Many of these statistics are also interrelated, so misunderstandings can quickly multiply.

Here’s how we can avoid five common errors, and impress friends and family by getting the statistics right.

1. It’s the infection rate that’s scary, not the death rate

Social media posts comparing COVID-19 to other causes of death, such as the flu, imply COVID-19 isn’t really that deadly.

But these posts miss COVID-19’s infectiousness. For that, we need to look at the infection fatality rate (IFR) — the number of COVID-19 deaths divided by all those infected…..

2. Exponential growth and misleading graphs

A simple graph might plot the number of new COVID cases over time. But as new cases might be reported erratically, statisticians are more interested in the rate of growth of total cases over time. The steeper the upwards slope on the graph, the more we should be worried.

For COVID-19, statisticians look to track exponential growth in cases. Put simply, unrestrained COVID cases can lead to a continuously growing number of more cases. This gives us a graph that tracks slowly at the start, but then sharply curves upwards with time. This is the curve we want to flatten…..

3. Not all infections are cases

Then there’s the confusion about COVID-19 infections versus cases. In epidemiological terms, a “case” is a person who is diagnosed with COVID-19, mostly by a positive test result.

But there are many more infections than cases. Some infections don’t show symptoms, some symptoms are so minor people think it’s just a cold, testing is not always available to everyone who needs it, and testing does not pick up all infections.

4. We can’t compare deaths with cases from the same date

Estimates vary, but the time between infection and death could be as much as a month. And the variation in time to recovery is even greater. Some people get really ill and take a long time to recover, some show no symptoms.

So deaths recorded on a given date reflect deaths from cases recorded several weeks prior, when the case count may have been less than half the number of current cases.

5. Yes, the data are messy, incomplete and may change

Some social media users get angry when the statistics are adjusted, fuelling conspiracy theories.

But few realise how mammoth, chaotic and complex the task is of tracking statistics on a disease like this.

Countries and even states may count cases and deaths differently. It also takes time to gather the data, meaning retrospective adjustments are made.  We’ll only know the true figures for this pandemic in retrospect.

For more article and blogs on academic integrity, climate changeCOVID-19, critical thinking, economics, evaluationlibertarian economics, media, populist politics, science literacy and statistical analysis click through.

Conspiracy of Denial – COVID-19 and Climate Science

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Some would not be surprised with the doubts and confusion being created round the COVID-19 crisis, especially by those wanting all economic activity to continue and ignore the human costs.  

 

However, much of this agitprop, astro-turfing and junk science used by non experts has much in common with the information, media and political techniques used by radical right libertarian think tanks funded by the fossil fuel sector and related media, to influence society on climate science to avoid constraints and preserve income streams, with some eugenics in the background.

 

The following article from DeSmog explains the tactics in the UK, which also replicate those of elsewhere, especially the US and to a lesser extent Australia:

 

How the UK’s Climate Science Deniers Turned Their Attention to COVID-19

 

By Zak Derler Monday, August 10, 2020

 

On December 31, 2019 many of us were reflecting on the past year and thinking about what opportunities lay ahead. Few were paying close attention to early reports of unexplained cases of pneumonia thousands of miles away in Wuhan, the large capital city of China’s Hubei Province.

 

But less than three months later, on March 23, Boris Johnson was ordering a national lockdown to try and stop that virus, by then known worldwide as COVID-19, from raging across the UK. This came 52 days after the chief medical officer of England had confirmed the nation’s first two cases.

 

The coronavirus crisis once again saw the UK divided — between those putting their trust in public health experts and their recommendations, and those quick to question the science on which the government claimed to base its decisions for controlling the pandemic. For those who have watched the decades-long efforts to slow climate action, this was a familiar phenomenon. And the coronavirus pandemic seemed to give fresh ammunition to some familiar faces.

 

A close look at commentary on both COVID-19 and climate change reveals significant crossover between unqualified voices casting doubt on experts recommending action.

 

Why?

 

“There’s nothing mysterious about this,” says Stephan Lewandowsky, a professor of cognitive science, who studies the persistence of misinformation in society at the University of Bristol.

 

“I think COVID is just climate change on steroids in a particle accelerator,” he says. “The same forces are happening: you have the inevitability of a virus which is the same as the inevitability of the physics. And opposing that you have politics which motivates some people to deny the inevitables and instead resort to bizarre claims.”

 

‘No need to panic’

 

Commentators with a history of casting doubt on established climate science first turned their attention to COVID in the days just after Chinese authorities ordered the 11 million residents of Wuhan, a city the size of London, into lockdown.

 

On January 24, Ross Clark, a columnist for The Spectator who has lamented “hysteria” around COVID-19, said there was “no need to panic about coronavirus” despite warnings from leading epidemiologists about the potential spread of the outbreak.

 

On January 29, British economist Roger Bate similarly argued on the website of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a climate science denying free-market lobby group, that news reports around COVID-19 were unnecessarily sparking a major political reaction.

 

“A contagion will happen at some point, and it’s important we recognize it and react. Unless the coronavirus mutates into something far more dangerous, this isn’t it,” he wrote.

 

The idea that governments and the media were overreacting to the coronavirus threat was echoed by libertarian online magazine Spiked, which has taken funding from notorious backers of climate science denial the Koch family, and has included Bate and other AEI scholars among its contributors. It published an article as early as January 30 saying there was “mass hysteria in the newsrooms” around COVID.

 

By mid-February, the World Health Organization had declared that the threat of COVID-19 spreading across the world was “high” — yet a relaxed attitude continued to prevail among some commentators.

 

On February 19, centre-right blog ConservativeHome published an article by Daniel Hannan, a columnist and former Tory MEP, claiming that COVID-19 was unlikely to be as lethal as the common flu.

 

Hannan, a leading figure in the UK’s campaign to leave the EU, has links to various American lobby groups that have spread misinformation on climate change including the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. He encouraged ConservativeHome readers to “cheer up” and discouraged “panic” over the virus. That message was taken up by Clark in another Spectator article, arguing that “coronavirus hysteria” was “the latest phenomenon to fulfil our weird and growing appetite for doom.”

 

Miracle cures and conspiracy theories

 

These commentators’ contributions to the debate haven’t been without consequence. Some have spread conspiracy theories that have had real-world impact, while others have admitted to ignoring official safety guidelines, putting the public at risk of catching the disease…..

 

…..Theories about miracle cures can take hold partly as a result of personal politics, Lewandowsky argues. Under lockdown, “you’re asked to stay at home and to look after other people by not doing what you’d like to do, and that is very challenging if you’re a believer in personal freedom and autonomy,” he says.

 

The same can be said of the motivations for spreading misinformation on climate change: “A lot of climate denial is very high-pitched, frenetic, emotional, angry, toxic – and that’s all triggered because people’s identity is at stake.”

 

The desire to reach for conspiracy theories may also stem from a need to feel that individuals still retain some control, says Evita March, a senior lecturer of psychology at Federation University Australia. “Conspiracy theories offer the believer some comfort in that there is still behavioural predictability,” she says.

 

And there were plenty of conspiracy theories flying around, pushed by long-time climate science deniers….

 

Distrusting modellers

 

Many commentators directed their fire at a familiar foe — scientific models.

 

On April 1, the same day the United Nations announced the postponement of the annual UN climate change conference, two prominent UK climate science deniers argued in The Wall Street Journal that the pandemic had “dramatically demonstrated the limits of scientific modelling to predict the future.”…

 

Attacking environmentalists

 

As well as attacking coronavirus experts on their response recommendations, many commentators who oppose climate action also attacked those looking further ahead by putting forward proposals to ensure recovery plans were consistent with governments’ environmental pledges.

 

For months, commentators who regularly question the veracity of mainstream climate science denounced environmental activists for supposedly distracting the world with climate change amid the threat of pandemics……

 

Political impact

 

Unlike in the EU referendum or Trump’s presidential campaign, pushing anti-expert rhetoric may no longer be a winning strategy in the wake of COVID-19. Polling shows that despite worry about the pandemic and its impacts, the public still wants governments to tackle climate change. And politicians attaching themselves to the anti-science bandwagon are now struggling in the polls.

 

For the Centre for Countering Digital Hate’s Imran Ahmed, attacking the concept of expertise around COVID-19 is “the first truly great strategic mistake by those who espouse this radical world view.”

 

For more related blogs and articles on climate change, COVID-19, critical thinking, environment, fossil fuel pollution, libertarian economics, media, political strategy, populist politics, science literacy and statistical analysis.

 

Covid-19 Conspiracy Theories and Radical Right Libertarians

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Covid-19 restrictions have seen a rise in those viewing any measures e.g. wearing face masks, lock downs etc. as unnecessary, not supported by their view of ‘science’ and constraining their democratic rights.  However, while many of those who support this view have no expertise in medical science, nor data, they seem to be inadvertently suggesting a deep seated radical right libertarian movement, masquerading as ‘common sense’ or scepticism that favours the business or the economy over society or humanity.  

 

Whether they are anti-maskers, sovereign citizens, conspiracy theorists, climate science denialists, QAnon or white nationalist alt right, the common underlying denominator and outcome is both promotion of libertarian views or actions, disrupting the status quo (upturning the sensible centre consensus giving way to radical right ideas aka Brexit and Trump), denigration of both science and education, and dismissal of duty of care, especially of vulnerable people.

 

In the Anglo world, parts of Europe, Asia and the Americas there seems to have been a quiet push to benefit radical right libertarians and their conservative political partners (or PR sock puppets) to not just promote religion or white nationalism for citizens to worship or follow, but now conspiracy theories to confuse issues and disrupt any logical policy making e.g. climate change.

 

The threads that don’t connect: Covid gives Australian conspiracy theorists a common home

 

‘Sovereign citizens’, anti-vaxxers, mask refuseniks and far-right extremists see all their wildly disparate beliefs confirmed by coronavirus restrictions

 

Michael McGowan  Sat 1 Aug 2020 21.00 BST

 

In the remote border town of Texas, Queensland last month, a police officer pulled over a truck driver after he allegedly crossed into the state without providing identification.

 

In footage posted online, the 33-year-old can be heard asking the officer whether he worked “for the corporation known as the Queensland police in all capital letters?”

 

He then asks: “Am I a man?”

 

The officer’s deadpan response – “It’s 2020 mate. What do you identify as?” – got him his own thread on Reddit, but the bizarre interaction is not unique.

 

Viral footage of people defying restrictions on borders, large gatherings and, in Victoria, the use of face masks, have increasingly peppered Australian news as the Covid-19 pandemic stretches into its eighth month.

 

This past week a woman who refused to wear a face mask in a Bunnings hardware store in Melbourne became the latest fodder for the news cycle after she described herself as “a living woman” to a bemused employee. A few days earlier, footage of a woman reading from a script as she asked an officer “have I disturbed the peace today?” while refusing to answer questions at a border stop in Victoria also made headlines.

 

Footage of these encounters and others like them share a similar characteristic: in them, the people challenging police appear to be reading from the same script, a pdf file that has been shared widely across various Facebook groups loosely affiliated with the so-called “sovereign citizen” conspiracy movement.

 

Described by the Southern Poverty Law Centre in the US as an extremist group, the sovereign citizen movement is a haphazard collection of pseudo-legal beliefs broadly coalesced around the notion that modern government is illegitimate.

 

“Sovereign citizens believe that they get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore, and they don’t think they should have to pay taxes,” the SPLC says.

 

In extreme cases, sovereign citizens in the US have been linked to violence. In 2010 a father and son linked to the movement shot to death two police officers in West Memphis, Arkansas, who had pulled them over in a routine traffic stop. The two men were later killed in a shootout with police.

 

The movement is rooted in racism and antisemitism, though, as the SPLC acknowledges, many followers are unaware of its origins. Acts of deadly violence have usually directed against government officials.

 

The Australian wing of the bizarre movement, transplanted here with a few tweaks, is not new. One of its most well-known proponents, a Western Australian, Wayne Glew, had his property and assets seized in 2018 after refusing to pay $300,000 in council rates and legal fees because of a belief local government was unconstitutional.

 

But in the time of Covid-19 its adherents have found themselves a niche. As governments impose unprecedented restrictions on civil liberties in an effort to control the spread of the virus, sovereign citizens appear to be attempting to take advantage of broad community uncertainty to push their confused agenda.

 

They are far from alone. Experts say the pandemic has offered an umbrella under which a bevy of fringe conspiracy groups and far-right actors have found common cause. Cam Smith, an independent researcher who focuses on conspiracy theorists and the far right, says links between previously discrete groups including the sovereign citizens, anti-vaxxers, QAnon and anti-5G groups have increasingly blurred during the pandemic.

 

“It’s a weird moment where all of these groups who usually have their own thing have come together with Covid,” he says. “It doesn’t even really seem to matter if they don’t necessarily meld – they find ways to smooth it over.”

 

…..Prof Axel Bruns, a leading internet researcher from the Queensland University of Technology, has been researching misinformation related to the planned 5G network during the Covid-19 pandemic. He agrees that under the umbrella of the pandemic, the borders between different corners of internet conspiracy have begun to vanish……

 

….For the most part these online groupings have negligible impact on the real word. But the new outbreak of a pushback against Covid-19 restrictions poses a new challenge for authorities grappling with the consequences of people indifferent to the potency of the virus……

 

….The public health academic Prof Julie Leask from the University of Sydney is one of Australia’s leading experts on vaccination uptake. She says she has lost count of the number of interviews she’s done on the anti-vaxx movement, and is frustrated by what she see’s as the media’s outsized focus on its hardcore proponents.

 

“Even the fact you’re doing this story is part of the game,” she says. “It feels like society is obsessed with conspiracy theorists and I still haven’t figured out why. I almost wonder if we’re all attracted to these neat attributions for problems in the same way conspiracy theorists are. If you have a conspiracy theorist who doesn’t want to lock down or wear a mask, you don’t have to acknowledge more complex problems like gaps in our healthcare system.”……

 

When fringe beliefs become destructive

 

The challenge for media organisation lies somewhere in the tipping point: that is, when fringe beliefs and their proponents begin to slip into the mainstream. In the US, opposition to face masks has found its way into mainstream discourse as an issue of individual freedom in some cases peddled by Republican figures including Donald Trump.

 

In Australia that rhetoric has so far been confined to the fringes of the debate, with some notable exceptions: when Victoria mandated face masks in public, the Herald Sun columnist, Sky News host and rightwing pundit Andrew Bolt labelled it “virus hysteria”…..

 

…..While it’s hard to know the extent to which anti-mask sentiment has crept into Australia, Leask said the danger was when an issue became divided along “ideological gradients”.

 

“In the same way that climate change in the 1970s and 80s started to become an issue of, not just do we believe in global warming but ‘by the way this is a lefty idea so if you’re conservative you’re not going to agree with it’,” she said.

 

“You start to see those leading commentators influencing a larger group of people. If part of belonging to whichever tribe is to also believe ‘it is my right to not wear a mask’ then you might see a greater amount of non-compliance”.

 

For more articles and blogs about Australian politics, climate change, Covid-19, critical thinking, digital literacy, environment, fossil fuel pollution, libertarian economics, marketing strategy, media, political strategy, populist politics, science literacy, statistical analysis and white nationalism.

Libertarian Conservative Propaganda Promoted in US and Anglo Media

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With Coronavirus or Covid-19 different governments and parts of the world have had different degrees of success in handling the spread and containing the virus but not parts of the Anglo world namely the US, UK and Australia.

 

All three have experienced aggressive neo-liberalism or radical right libertarian ideology applied to government agencies, budgets, planning and potential responses; now it’s right wing media attacking critics and creating confusion, or inappropriate responses.  

 

The following article in The Week US highlights and blames both the Trump administration and conservatism including mainstream media outlets.  However, it could also be blamed upon long term pressure on taxes, budgets, investment, government services and government being fit for purpose in ‘black swan’ events; from The Week:

 

Conservative propaganda has crippled the U.S. coronavirus response

 

Ryan Cooper

 

Why does the United States have the worst coronavirus outbreak in the developed world?

 

Part of the answer is surely that our basic state functions have been allowed to rot, or been deliberately destroyed, over the years. State capacity and competence have been shown around the world to be a key factor in whether nations can get a handle on the pandemic.

 

But another reason is conservative media. A small but nevertheless very loud and angry minority of Americans have had their ability to reason dissolved in a corrosive bath of crack-brained propaganda.

 

The flood tide of conservative lunacy is so overwhelming that it can be hard to process or even notice. A dozen things that would be a major scandal in any other rich country, or the U.S. itself in previous ages, fly by practically every day……

 

….Most of those other factors, however, would also be true in other rich countries. While there are fringe websites and various conspiracy loons in all of them, none have this problem to nearly the same degree, much less a full-blown crackpot as the leader of the country. 

 

Our ultra-consolidated media industry, which gives enormous sway to a handful of right-wing media barons like Rupert Murdoch and Christopher Ripley, probably enables it. The structure of behemoth social media companies, which have little incentive to police dangerous misinformation, and are so large that they probably couldn’t do it well even if they tried, probably enables it further.

 

Whatever the reason, the conservative propaganda machine is going to make this country very difficult to govern so long as it continues to operate in its current fashion. Just as economic markets do not work when they are under the thumb of monopolist robber barons, perhaps it is time to bring some regulation back to the marketplace of ideas.

 

Nations like Australia have even more consolidated media dominated by Murdoch and NewsCorp, small coterie of corporate players have undue influence, and conservative libertarian ideology, including cuts to taxes, health and education, is aggressively promoted by Koch linked think tanks through the same media and directly to politicians.

 

For more blogs and articles about Australian politics, climate change, conservative, COVID-19, critical thinking, government budgets, libertarian economics, media, political strategy, populist politics, science literacy and taxation.

 

Climate Change Science Attitudes Australia and Koch in USA

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Climate science or climate change denialism have been apparent for some decades since the 1970s with Koch Industries being central along with ‘big oil’ of Exxon Mobil etc. in funding through ‘Dark Money’ academia, research, think tanks, media, politicians and PR techniques to influence society.  Now we see the results including wide-spread climate denialism, avoidance of environmental protections and negative media PR campaigns; meanwhile the roots of this strategy have become more transparent with legal action following. 

 

Climate Lawsuits Are Coming for Koch Industries

 

Dharna Noor June 25, 2020

 

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced on Wednesday that he’s suing ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute because the three firms deceived customers about the climate crisis. This is the first lawsuit of its kind to name API and Koch Industries, and it takes a novel approach by suing them solely for the lies they told.

 

The consumer fraud lawsuit alleges that the companies engaged in a multi-decade “campaign of deception,” hiding the fact that they understood as early as the 1950s that oil and gas production contributes to climate breakdown and still chose to extract, market, and sell the fuels. It includes claims for fraud, failure to warn and violations of Minnesota statutes on consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices and false statements in advertising. As retribution, it calls for Minnesotans to be compensated for their losses and for the defendants to fund a public education campaign about the dangers of climate change.

 

“We’re here suing these defendants, API, ExxonMobil and Koch, for hiding the truth, confusing the facts and muddling the water to devastating effect,” Ellison said at a news conference…..

 

….. But while other lawsuits have targeted ExxonMobil and other major oil producers, Ellison’s groundbreaking suit targets not just the polluting companies but also fossil fuel lobbyists who also deceived consumers. The multinational Koch Industries’ does produce fossil fuel products — in fact, it owns a large Minnesota refinery that manufactures about 80% of the gasoline used in the state — but it is also heavily involved in lobbying for the fossil fuel industry’s interests. And API is the largest U.S. trade association for oil and natural gas companies. Naming these representatives, rather than just fossil fuel producers themselves, lays out that they had a role in the deception as well.

 

Meanwhile in Australia, from SBS on climate change attitudes:

 

The number of climate deniers in Australia is more than double the global average, new study finds

 

News consumers in Australia are more likely to believe climate change is “not at all” serious compared to news consumers in other countries, according to new research.

 

16/06/2020 by Caroline Fisher & Sora Park

 

Australian news consumers are far more likely to believe climate change is “not at all” serious compared to news users in other countries. That’s according to new research that surveyed 2,131 Australians about their news consumption in relation to climate change.

 

The Digital News Report: Australia 2020 was conducted by the University of Canberra at the end of the severe bushfire season during 17 January and 8 February, 2020.

 

It also found the level of climate change concern varies considerably depending on age, gender, education, place of residence, political orientation and the type of news consumed.

 

Young people are much more concerned than older generations, women are more concerned than men, and city-dwellers think it’s more serious than news consumers in regional and rural Australia.

 

Strident critics in commercial media

 

There’s a strong connection between the brands people use and whether they think climate change is serious.

 

More than one-third (35 per cent) of people who listen to commercial AM radio (such as 2GB, 2UE, 3AW) or watch Sky News consider climate change to be “not at all” or “not very” serious, followed by Fox News consumers (32 per cent).

 

This is perhaps not surprising when some of the most strident critics of climate change science can be found on commercial AM radio, Sky and Fox News.

 

For more articles and blogs about Australian politics, climate change, critical thinking, digital or e-consumer behaviour, environment, fossil fuel pollution, marketing & communications, political strategy, populist politics, science literacy, strategic management, WOM word of mouth and younger generations.