The Pandemic Creates A Classic And Difficult Ethics Conflict, But The Resolution Is Clear, Part II: The Amazing Vanishing Johns Hopkins Study [Corrected]

open-up-protest

Update and Introduction

The record shows that way back on May 5, Ethics Alarms published the post titled “The Pandemic Creates A Classic And Difficult Ethics Conflict, But The Resolution Is Clear, Part I: Stipulations.” That resolution was that the lockdown was wrong, indeed tragically wrong, and that a clear-eyed, unbiased examination of the facts made that conclusion inescapable. This, I note again, was in May. Nobody believed that we would still be strangling American society, commerce, education, culture and life as December approached.

I knew the analysis had to be lengthy, so it was planned as a two part post. One reason for this was that the information, data and scientific analysis was contradictory and still coming in as I began the post, and I needed time to review and sort it all out before beginning Part II. Incredibly, after seven months, the information, data and scientific analysis is still contradictory and still coming in. It is also, as this most recent episode demonstrates, still being unethically manipulated to mislead the American public. This is happening even now, after the election, although much of the manipulation of facts was designed and executed by the Axis of Unethical Conduct—Democrats, the “resistance” and the mainstream media– to derail the Trump Presidency, and ensure his defeat on November 3. (Congratulations, by the way! It worked!)

In Part I, I listed ten stipulations that drove my analysis. I assumed, being a fallible human being, that some would prove mistaken; I definitely assumed that some of them would no longer be accurate by now. I was wrong. Here are the ten:

  1. This is an ethics conflict, not an ethics dilemma.
  2. Many, too many, of those involved in the problem are going to approach it as an ethics dilemma…
  3. It is a cruel trick of fate…that this crisis is occurring in an election year…
  4. We still do not have adequate information to make a fully informed decision.
  5. Making important decisions without perfect information is what effective leaders have to do.
  6. No one can rely on “experts.”
  7. Experts have the biases of their own field and its priorities.
  8. The projections and models have been wrong more often than not, but are still being hyped as a valid basis for planning.
  9. The news media has politicized the lock-down, and most of it is actively lobbying for the lock-down to continue.
  10. We have to accept that the ethical system we have to employ here is Utilitarianism, the most brutal of them all.

As you can see, these haven’t changed.

While waiting for both some more definitive data and the time to do a competent analysis before completing Part 2, I posted a Prelude to Part 2. the next day, on May 8, the date Nazi Germany surrendered. It was a thorough fisking of a New York Time op-ed that perfectly represented the AUC’s arrogant and dead wrong attitude toward the pandemic, and that also pointed to the sinister un-American and totalitarian-leanings underlying the Left’s enthusiastic embrace of the lockdown and its consequences. The last paragraph of the “Prelude” pointed the way to what would be (and will be) the principle underlying the conclusion of the argument I started to unpack in May:

Freedom has always had a price. On this 75th Anniversary of V-E Day, it shouldn’t be hard to understand that lost lives aren’t acceptable just because the most rational, responsible policies involve unavoidable risk.

As attentive readers noticed, Part 2 never appeared. (Kudos to long-time commenter Michael Ejercito for repeatedly chiding me on this.) I have been constantly revising a draft, changing directions many times as new data arrived, followed by newer hype and distortions. Then came the Johns Hopkins report, the discussion of which today becomes Part 2, because it is a “smoking gun.”

And that means that what was Part 2 is now Part 3, still in progress, but I promise, Michael, coming soon.

Now here’s the post….

***

Retracted

Once again, we have a res ipsa loquitur. This thing, as the old Latin phrase says, speaks for itself, and what it says is ominous, indefensible. and indefensible.

What you see above is what was an article in a Johns Hopkins newsletter. Writer and blogger Robert Zimmerman flagged it first among the various sources I check, and wrote, correctly [the emphasis is his]…

A new analysis of the 2020 death statistics in the United States has revealed that despite the panic over COVID-19, the total number of deaths in all age groups — including the elderly — showed no change before or after the arrival of the virus.

This bears repeating, in bold and italics: There have been no excess deaths in 2020.

Surprisingly, the deaths of older people stayed the same before and after COVID-19. Since COVID-19 mainly affects the elderly, experts expected an increase in the percentage of deaths in older age groups. However, this increase is not seen from the CDC data. In fact, the percentages of deaths among all age groups remain relatively the same. “The reason we have a higher number of reported COVID-19 deaths among older individuals than younger individuals is simply because every day in the U.S. older individuals die in higher numbers than younger individuals,” Briand said.

Briand also noted that 50,000 to 70,000 deaths are seen both before and after COVID-19, indicating that this number of deaths was normal long before COVID-19 emerged. Therefore, according to Briand, not only has COVID-19 had no effect on the percentage of deaths of older people, but it has also not increased the total number of deaths.

These data analyses suggest that in contrast to most people’s assumptions, the number of deaths by COVID-19 is not alarming. In fact, it has relatively no effect on deaths in the United States.

And yet, there have been so many COVID-19 deaths! How can the total number of deaths not be higher? The researcher looked more closely, and discovered (surprise! surprise!) that there was an unreasonable drop in other causes, matching exactly the increase in coronavirus deaths.

When Briand looked at the 2020 data during that seasonal period, COVID-19-related deaths exceeded deaths from heart diseases. This was highly unusual since heart disease has always prevailed as the leading cause of deaths. However, when taking a closer look at the death numbers, she noted something strange. As Briand compared the number of deaths per cause during that period in 2020 to 2018, she noticed that instead of the expected drastic increase across all causes, there was a significant decrease in deaths due to heart disease. Even more surprising, as seen in the graph below, this sudden decline in deaths is observed for all other causes.

This trend is completely contrary to the pattern observed in all previous years. Interestingly, … the total decrease in deaths by other causes almost exactly equals the increase in deaths by COVID-19. This suggests, according to Briand, that the COVID-19 death toll is misleading. Briand believes that deaths due to heart diseases, respiratory diseases, influenza and pneumonia may instead be recategorized as being due to COVID-19.

Then he discovered that the article had been taken down minutes after he posted about it.

Who is Genevieve Briand? She is a Johns Hopkins professor and the an assistant program director of the Applied Economics masters degree program, meaning that she knows how to read and compare numbers. She has no apparent agenda, other than to reveal the truth and allow others to use facts to better understand the world and to make better decisions. Why, then, were the results of her analysis suddenly scrubbed from the web? Were they wrong?

No, they weren’t, at least not on their face. Here was the primary explanation the editors gave for the article about her presentation being taken down by the editors of the Johns Hopkins News-Letter:

After The News-Letter published this article on Nov. 22, it was brought to our attention that our coverage of Genevieve Briand’s presentation “COVID-19 Deaths: A Look at U.S. Data” has been used to support dangerous inaccuracies that minimize the impact of the pandemic. We decided on Nov. 26 to retract this article to stop the spread of misinformation….

The rest of the editors’ note is attempted tap-dancing and spin to avoid and cloud the natural and reasonable conclusions to be taken from the original article and Briand’s work. To the publication’s credit (sort of), prompted by criticism by Zimmerman and others, the editors provided a link to the original article (with RETRACTED printed across it) writing, that” it is our responsibility as journalists to provide a historical record. We have chosen to take down the article from our website, but it is available here as a PDF.

Nevertheless, what is important and damning is that the article was not retracted because it was factually incorrect, but because the information it revealed could be used to support arguments that opposed the editors’ own agenda and position.

Observations:

1 That is not merely the censorship of news and fact to distort public opinion, undermine legitimate dissent and cripple objective, competent and responsible analysis and decision-making. That is doing so shamelessly and obviously.

2. No mainstream media sources have reported either what Prof. Briand found in her analysis nor the fact that the Johns Hopkins publication buried her conclusions. None. NONE. This is the “enemy of the people” doing its worst. The professor’s study is newsworthy and the fact that Hopkins took action to repress it is newsworthy.

3. The only way to learn about this episode is from alternative sources, websites and blogs. Thus we have the dangerous depths to which journalism has fallen, and a horrific example of the damage this does, tangible damage, to the nation. The mainstream media wants the country shut down. It does not want facts that can be used to challenge that agenda available to critics and the public, nor does it want the public to realize how they are being manipulated and deceived.

Is there any other conclusion one can take from this sequence of events? Wrote conservative reporter Matt Margolis, “The article was deleted because it didn’t fit the proper narrative.”

4. Most of the conservative sources reporting the episode refer to “Hopkins” retracting the article. That is misleading; the News-Letter is a student publication and doesn’t speak for the university. However, the fact that students of a prestigious institution have learned that the way to prevail in a controversy is to censor and withhold relevant information bodes ill for the future of the United States. It also is one more piece of evidence of how universities are indoctrinating students to use information to advance political ends, and when the facts don’t cooperate, fix them.

5. The students’ mistake was their naive instinct to report Briand’s findings at all. Hopkins itself was satisfied to leave Briand’s counter-narrative unreported.

6. The question of how to ethically balance policy decisions with massive societal consequences when the objective is to avoid deaths from a particular cause without reducing deaths overall is a fascinating one, but I am not prepared to tackle it here and now. I will say it would seem strange to inflict disastrous wounds on society and the economy if the result is no net gain in lives saved, or just trading one set of maladies for another. Still, it’s a complex issue. However, there is no legitimate argument to be made that the facts should be withheld so the matter cannot even be considered.

62 thoughts on “The Pandemic Creates A Classic And Difficult Ethics Conflict, But The Resolution Is Clear, Part II: The Amazing Vanishing Johns Hopkins Study [Corrected]

  1. Very interesting. When I had my annual physical in May, my physician (Dr Jeff Elting) told me that we would not know the impact of COVID until someone did a year over year comparison of total deaths from all medical causes. He opined that we probably would not see any significant difference, even though COVID is a “worse” virus than others we have experienced. By the way, he is a retired military physician who was chosen to be one of the Presidential physicians during the Clinton years. It seems his non-data (at the time) speculation was correct, as was his opinion regarding comparison of all deaths from medical causes.

  2. Okay, so I’m confused.

    I’d always suspected that a thorough analysis would demonstrate that excess deaths this year would be minimal, and that all these 78 year olds dying of covid probably would have died within a year or two anyway, so it was surprising to me when I’d read articles that talked about excess deaths this year.

    Okay, I thought, so we had an extra amount of deaths, but what’s the standard deviation? If we’re within a standard deviation, it could just be a bad year but still completely predictable. Then I saw an article a few weeks ago that said the excess deaths were greater than 2 standard deviations away from the norm, which does put this year in a somewhat abnormal category. Of course, someone could still be playing statistical games with us, as I don’t know the particulars of that study, but taken at face value, it was an alarming piece of information.

    So how does this data fit in with all the (triumphant?) news articles pointing at deaths this year and how they were greater than average?

    I still suspect that someone is manipulating data in order to use 250k deaths as the metaphorical hammer it’s being used as, so I would love to understand what’s actually going on.

  3. Active Covid19 Cases
    Australian state of Victoria, Previous Mondays (announced Tuesday mornings):

    10 Aug: 6951
    17 Aug: 5283
    24 Aug: 3535
    31 Aug: 2326
    7 Sep: 1566
    14 Sep: 931
    21 Sep: 577
    28 Sep: 264
    5 Oct: 154
    12 Oct: 135
    19 Oct: 76
    26 Oct: 38
    2 Nov: 15
    9 Nov: 4
    16 Nov: 3
    23 Nov: 0

    It can be done. Victoria has a population of 6.5 million, 5 million of which are in one city.

    In both area and population, it’s comparable to Minnesota. (Currently around 45,000 cases, but in August, less than 5,000).

    This experimental data strongly suggests rapid lockdowns work.

    • 1. Lockdowns don’t work in the US, except to lose jobs and wreck businesses while making kids ignorant.
      2. Victoria is not analogous to Minn., because it’s not in the US, and not populated with Americans.
      3. It’s like arguing that because gun confiscation worked in Victoria, it would work in Minnesota.

    • Once again you ignore the data that does not support your narrative. If there is little to no change in the mortality rates then why are we being locked down. Quarantines are for the sick not for those who wish to live their lives with a minimum of social and political constraints. If you are afraid you can choose to quarantine and you will not get exposed to the virus. End of discussion. You do not have the right to say that everyone else must protect you.

      Based on your data everyone in Victoria no longer are threatened by the virus. How do they maintain that low infection rate? Do they stop all inbound flights? No, according to Ol’ Joe that would be xenophobic. Australia is a rather large continent as well as a country, Does Victoria ban travel into the state from others? We cannot.

      If lock downs work why are we letting prisoners out of their confined environs. What your data fails to show is the effects of the lockdown. What is the suicide rate, drug overdose rates, premature death from other causes due to lack of access to health care.

      Infection rates do not reflect mortality rates and you know that. Further it is unlikely that herd immunity will be had anytime in the near future. If you want to hunker down and lock yourself away until the bad disease goes away be my guest but what they do in Australia is of no consequence to me when I am only given one data set.

        • It’s also an island. A large one but an island none the less. It’s population is also incredibly homogeneous and prosperous (I’ve never figured out why or how- I think the prosperity comes from selling things [coal and apartments and office buildings] to China) and small. Approximately 25 million inhabitants in total. A little less than the population of Texas. Three hundred million more people make a difference. Size matters. Why are people from Commonwealth nations so damned smug?

            • Smug? No. Sorrowful, yes.

              We don’t have refrigerated trucks acting as temporary morgues, you do. No queues at foodbanks. You do.

              That’s not because we are super intelligent (howls of derisive laughter, Bruce), our politicians are almost as incompetent at the Federal level, we are if anything less respectful of Authoritah than you guys are.

              The most inhabited parts of the country, where 95% of the population live, have similar population densities to many parts of the US.

              Sydney and Melbourne would be the 4th and 5th largest cities in the US, if they were relocated there.

              We screwed up twice, at least, once in Victoria, once in South Australia. At one stage, Victoria had more cases per head than similar sized (in area and population) states in the US. They went hard, and it took 16 weeks to eradicate it.

              South Australia went hard 2 days after first signs of outbreak. Currently there are 23 cases, and steady, with restrictions largely eased. We shall see.

              Oh yes, the economy is doing rather better than we hoped. Stimulus and Relief packages work, tax base makes up for cost.

      • ” Based on your data everyone in Victoria no longer are threatened by the virus.”

        Nope. Not quite. There are still essential services being provided, some of which cross borders.

        But pretty close. No new cases for 28 days now. No viral RNA in wastewater.

        “How do they maintain that low infection rate? Do they stop all inbound flights? ”

        OF COURSE. Up till August, Victoria was accepting 3000 international passengers per week, who went into quarantine on arrival.
        The lockdown put a stop to that. And the handful of non military domestic flights too.

        “Does Victoria ban travel into the state from others? ”

        YES OF COURSE. And other states ban anyone from Victoria. Some do allow essential services, but there is a 14 day quarantine period.

        “We cannot.”
        Yes you can – WWII Travel I seem to remember reading about roadblocks preventing Okies from travelling there even earlier.

          • Until we get almost universal vaccination.

            Until then, mask up on public transport, keep 1.5m social distancing, wash hands regularly, go out rarely, and never in large groups indoors.

            Our GDP is up by 3% this quarter, but down 6% for the year. The economy took a severe hit, but is now recovering slowly, despite these measures.

            The US recorded over 5000 deaths in the last 2 days, but many of these are catch ups due to under reporting in the Thanksgiving period.

            Our models predict you are still under 2,000 deaths daily on a 7 day average, that barrier won’t be broken till next week. But don’t put too much credence in them, too many imponderables. Might be 350,000 by inauguration day, might be 400,000.

              • Yes, we learned and changed tactics in view of changed circumstances.

                Flattening the curve doesn’t work on its own, we know that now. But you better do it now or you’ll have half a million excess deaths soon from healthcare meltdown.

                • Lockdowns do not flatten the curve, or else France would not have had to do a lockdown a second time.

                  This InstaGram post makes the point.

                  (h/t to Samantha Justine Rice for sharing it on her InstaGram story).

                  If the first lockdown failed to flatten the curve, why would a second one do so?

                  If the first lockdown flattened the curve, why the need for a second one?

                  And it is not as if the French could blame the failure of the first lockdown on the public health establishment forfeiting any presumption of trust; I am unaware of a letter from a French university, signed by 1200 public health experts , expressly declining to condemn yellow vest protests as risky for COVID-19 transmission.

                  And Jack did learn in view of changed circumstances. That is why he wrote above “that the lockdown was wrong, indeed tragically wrong”

                  • No country in Europe has implemented a real lockdown for months,
                    Close national borders.
                    Close province/state/department borders.
                    No going more than 3 miles from home.
                    Only essential retail outlets open.
                    Only essent8al services and industries open.
                    Enforce social distancing.
                    Enforce masking.

                    Security theatre is inadequate. Common sense required for essential workers, where the nearest store is 5 miles away etc.

                    And you do it for 100 days.

                    Halfway measures just prolong the agony, and the time you have to do this.

      • Because they went at it “half assed”. Too little, too late. Emphasis on the too little, even now.

        Only Italy, and to a lesser extent, Spain, did it right 6 months ago. Spain was way too restrictive in many ways, but too lax in others.

        Singapore, Australia, and if they are to be believed(HA!), China did it right. Recovered from a major breakout.

        Other countries such as NZ were more pro active, and haven’t had a major breakout. An oz of prevention is worth a lb of cure, as they say, but it’s more like a kilo vs 2 kilos. A pound won’t cut it even as prevention.

        Go in early, go in hard, keep at it for 100 days, 8 lifecycles of the virus. That eradicates it in the community. You’ll still get outbreaks after eradication, but minor ones, that can be contained by 3 degrees of contact tracing. So you never get out of double figures.

        If by some chance you do, close down again, instantly, till eradication is achieved again.

        NZ has been reopened for months now. Most states in Australia ditto. All are prepared to shut down at a day’s notice, and social distancing, washing hands, masks on publuc transport, and staying home at the first sign of a sniffle are permanent.

  4. The retraction was to be expected given that Michael Bloomberg supports Hopkins with billions and at the bottom of the article it showcases the Hokins alumni and staff that are becoming part of Biden’s Covid 19 team.

  5. This is what I can’t wrap my head around. Jack wrote,

    “The mainstream media wants the country shut down. It does not want facts that can be used to challenge that agenda available to critics and the public, no[r] does it want the public [to] reali[ize] how they are being manipulated and deceived.”

    What drives that position? I don’t disagree, mind you; if it is true, then their actions are sinister. But, does this mean that Big Media wants to destroy liberty? Or does it mean that Big Media is the weaponized information arm of a new totalitarianism?

    jvb

  6. I just saw an hour interview about all this and the “plandemic” and it’s scary and not a conspiracy theory but an actual conspiracy to mislead us and the man who was interviewed predicted the pandemic based on the database of 80 million patents his company has and monitors. (He uncovers corporate crimes and works even with our government) he’s worked in over 100 countries exposing corporate crimes.

    The way he predicted the pandemic was with the information of companies applying for patents for the SARS coronavirus vaccine BEFORE we had a pandemic. (Moderna applied in March of 2019. Big tech start up company never produced one product)

    The interview was like watching the guy who predicted the loan collapse (movie Big Short) who predicted it because “HE LOOKED!”

    All the info Dr. David Martin used was accessible to ANYONE (still is) but no one looked because they had no need to.

    That’s the nutshell but Jacks article backs up completely what he has said since about deaths, etc.

    Look up his interview on London Real and his proof in the documentary “indoctornation” which goes into fetal ANd shows how google curates what we can search for, and removes things which have been lied about by big MSM to keep us from seeing the truth.

    Big tech, big pharma, big government are all working together and it’s exciting people are waking up worldwide.

    Thank you Jack!!!

    If you want the links they are on LondonReal(for the documentary and then interview with David Martin.

    It’s amazing what this guy knows and does. Can see him on YouTube too where he guests on CBS, abc, Talking about stocks. He’s not a nut though the MSM has tried to say the movie he is in is a dangerous misinformation thing.

    it was fact checked before release by Nobel Lauriet scholars and has a standing reward of 10k to anyone who will prove anything in it wrong. No one has taken up the offer to disprove… crazy times!

  7. There is a great OpEd by THE David Mamet in today’s WSJ:

    When the Experts Fail, Everyone Else Pays the Price
    What happens when the most respected authorities get it wrong and ruin lives and economies? Not much.

    “The wealthy and powerful must constantly expand their operations. But even if they let their capital sit, they will need accountants, auditors, stockbrokers and consultants. How will they choose these subordinates? According to the opinions of other advisers. Those closest to the boss will have the most influence—and they can keep it, even in failure, by flattery and deference.
    This is the case with governmental power. We are all, in a sense, fools, since no one person can know everything. We all have to trust others for their expertise, and we all make mistakes. The horror of a command economy is not that officials will make mistakes, but that those mistakes will never be acknowledged or corrected…
    …consider Joseph Stalin’s science adviser, Trofim Lysenko. He, too, had complete access to the boss. He believed that plants, like good Communists, could be educated—that peas and wheat could be trained to grow in winter. The Soviet ministry of agriculture, acting on Lysenko’s bogus theories, managed to ruin crops all over Eurasia and starve as many as 10 million people. Later his ideas influenced agriculture policy in Mao’s China and killed several million more.
    Lysenko was a talented flatterer. He outlived Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev, dying peacefully in 1976.
    …Most recently we have Covid-19. The New England Journal of Medicine reports that masks are useless outside health-care facilities, that there is little possibility of catching the virus from a “passing interaction in a public place.” Happy news, save that they, one week later, issued a squishy semiretraction, saying, in effect, “It couldn’t hurt.”
    What could the shutdown hurt? A pandemic was allowed to destroy the American economy. Tens of millions are driven out of work, cover their faces, and walk down the streets in fear of their neighbors.
    A friend owns a restaurant. He is going broke. He had seating outside, but winter approaches and heaters are back-ordered until next spring. He is holding on. One is “permitted” to sit at his tables and eat without a mask. Indeed, how would one eat while wearing one? Does the virus know that one is sitting down?
    He greeted two regular customers the other night, and sat at their table to chat. He took off his mask. The customer informed him that the regulations stated that employees of a restaurant are required by law to wear masks at all times. The owner put his mask on and rose. But does the virus know he is an employee of the restaurant? With whom would he argue, being an employee and a proprietor? With the virus?
    The virus here is government—or at least the incompetents who advise our rulers and cannot admit the legitimacy of dissension. Absent intervention, this virus may eventually kill the host organism.”

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/when-the-experts-fail-everyone-else-pays-the-price-11606519279

    Note: apologies in advance if the tags don’t work properly. It’s my first attempt at using them.

  8. Here’s the thing: I’ve been monitoring the CDC’s “All causes” mortality statistics almost since the pandemic began. They quite clearly show an excess of total deaths coinciding with the pandemic. Now, what was a major increase in mortality back in April has died down to a rather modest 5-10% increase over baseline, hardly the stuff of apocalypses. But still, it’s clearly there, and this researcher was supposedly using CDC mortality data. So what gives?

    • I’d love it if you would read her report and either rebut it or explain it. My issue is burying it because “Genevieve Briand’s presentation “COVID-19 Deaths: A Look at U.S. Data” has been used to support dangerous inaccuracies that minimize the impact of the pandemic.”

      Her charts look good to me, but this is not my field. I hate charts.

    • David, on the CDC page you link to, go to the 13th dashboard (Total number above average by jurisdiction/cause), in the “jurisdiction menu” click on United States, and the US will appear on the left above the Texas Stats, Click on the words “United States” and a mini-menu will appear, interesting numbers, no? 114,124 deaths above average this year, without accounting for population growth, aging of population, or deaths due to lockdown=lack of medical care. A large number, to be sure, but less than half of the reported 270,000 deaths. They do not make this number easily searchable, why I wonder?

  9. On March 24, 2020 the National Center for Health Statistics issued Covid-19 Alert No. 2 which resulted in extremely broad reporting of Covid as a cause of death. When this wide criteria is coupled with Federal financial relief for reporting patients as being Covid patients, the result is large numbers of cases that would have been reported as, say, renal failure, being reported as Covid. Here is the Alert:

    Click to access Alert-2-New-ICD-code-introduced-for-COVID-19-deaths.pdf


    It’s just one page, and the impact on public reporting has been extraordinary. Why has this virus been politicized is the question. Who decided to change cause of death reporting criteria well beyond what has ever been used? Cui bono?

      • That’s the trillion dollar question, Joe. Do doctors even give much thought to cause of death when filling out death certificates? The cause of death listed on my father’s death certificate was Alzheimer’s. Go figure. If the facility gets an extra $20K if covid is listed as the cause of death, what’s the big deal? Since when do people walk out of nursing homes and long term care facilities to return to a healthy and vital life? I think the covid deaths are WAY overstated. For fun and profit. This whole panicdemic has smelled fishy from the start.

        • It has smelled fishy, OB. I began crunching the numbers from the beginning, with the Diamond Princess cruise ship (remember that? Almost a perfect lab experiment due to circumstances.), and have been spending way too much time on Covid calculations since. I’ve watched public health officials exaggerate, obfuscate and outright lie on national tv. Competent researchers and statisticians have thrown up their hands in despair at the inconsistent quality of the data, nationally and internationally. The general public has been cheerfully and fearfully led around by the nose. Idiot reporters who didn’t make it through high-school chemistry report cases as infections (Case Fatality Rate is not Infection Fatality Rate), and mislead instead of informing. The innumeracy of our society, and the ability to easily tweak public perception with a fear-inducing chart has been exploited by politicians, the news media and most of the people on Facebook. I ask myself Why? and the answers are well outside the probability that this is a massive, worldwide example of Hanlon’s Razor. I assume that in 100 years people will look at this farce as many (myself included) look at WW1: unnecessary, stupid, incalculably costly and pointless.

          • Unlike you, I’m not a numbers guy. Thanks for the hard insight.

            This thing is so weird. People are so terrified. A high school buddy, second in our class and an RPI electrical engineering undergrad and University of Miami MBA who sold and maintained Siemens medical equipment (X-ray, MRI, you name it) is terrified of getting the disease and dying. And this is a numbers guy who can look at the odds and all the other data. Weird. Why are people so un-skeptical?

            • If you went up to people on the street and offered them $100 if they could express the fraction 3/8 as a decimal in the next 30 seconds, how many out of ten do you think could do it? They don’t understand basic arithmetic, much less science or data analysis, forget Prob and Stat. People are afraid because they have been carefully made fearful by their various governments, the mainstream media loves panic (Tune in at 11 to hear how your garden hose may be killing you!), and the panic has proven politically useful.

  10. Nevertheless, what is important and damning is that the article was not retracted because it was factually incorrect, but because the information it revealed could be used to support arguments that opposed the editors’ own agenda and position.

    This is definitely alarming.

    The mainstream media wants the country shut down. It does not want facts that can be used to challenge that agenda available to critics and the public, not does it want the public realis how they are being manipulated and deceived.

    Because of this, too many people do not have an honest risk assessment.

    And that means that what was Part 2 is now Part 3, still in progress, but I promise, Michael, coming soon.

    I await Part III. Perhaps you can ask us for help.

  11. I am really happy that this question has been taken up here. Especially because I have suspected it for some time. Our State and County Officials have introduced a “backlog” on COVID death. That is, someone died a week ago and they have just discovered it is COVID related. Seriously? To me, this is data falsification of the worst sort.

    • Like most people, you probably made the reasonable assumption that if a Covid death was reported on 11/8, for example, it happened on that day, or within a day or two. That is not, and has not been the case for most States. Many deaths are reported as Covid deaths six months or more after they actually occurred. Some due to reclassification, some due to reporting backlogs, and some for no reason that I can discern. When a news report tells you that “89 Covid deaths were reported Monday”, bear in mind that an indeterminate number of those deaths occurred on other days, so a ‘spike’ in deaths can simply be a spike in reported numbers. I believe that North Dakota actually breaks that down, as they do with “Deaths Due to Covid” and “Deaths with Covid”, most States don’t make these distinctions public. They also tend to bury the age breakdown and comorbidity status of those who die, as well as whether the deaths occur in nursing homes. One must ask why?

  12. Late to the game, but statistics and biostatistics is an area where we do unfortunately need experts. I can’t call myself an expert, but I can understand her reasoning and interpret her graphs.

    First off: I agree that appending am editor’s note would be a better way of handling this.

    Also important: note the original newsletter article was a student’s reporting on Dr Briand’s talk.

    The redacted article quotes Briand as saying that “Total death numbers are not above normal death numbers.” I mean, she doesn’t say “in the US in 2020”, so I can’t say she is wrong, but even commentators here have agreed that CDC numbers show there ARE excess deaths. This claim is made with no citation. I charitably suspect a misquote.

    As for the rest of it, the bulk of Briand’s argument is that percentages of death per age category haven’t changed; this is shown in the graph thumbnailed here and for the original newsletter article (let’s call it Graph 1) . It’s certainly INTERESTING that older people haven’t been disproportionately dying this year, but it says nothing about whether or not there have been excess deaths. If we were to draw any conclusions from this, we should at least look at whether it’s old folks not dying more or it’s young folks also dying more and keeping things equal.

    Graph 2: time scales cannot be read and three lines are not labelled. I think it shows that 3 common causes of death are falling while influenza and pneumonia deaths are increasing. Makes sense to me, and as shown by the same graph, happens every winter when flu kills people before other reasons get to them. Says nothing about excess deaths.

    Table 1 is a mystery. 3 consecutive weeks are chosen with no justification. For each week, categories for reduced death ONLY are added with no justification. There were extra strokes, for example, in the middle week, or a whopping 800+ EXTRA cardiovascular deaths in the first week — didn’t matter. This summed number of deaths in an arbitrary collection of categories for 3 arbitrary weeks happens to be closely approximated by “COVID – Heart Diseases”. Hopefully it is clear that the table approaches meaninglessness.

    • “we should at least look at whether it’s old folks not dying more or it’s young folks also dying more and keeping things equal.”
      That’s easily done…nope. The Covid deaths reported consistently show 80-90% are in the 65+ age group. This is consistent across Counties, States and Nations. Of course, it’s mostly older people who die of anything. So, if the 250,000 (let’s use this for easy math) Covid deaths (U.S.) regularly reported in the media are actually EXCESS deaths, we should see about 200,000 deaths in the 65+ age cohort ABOVE the expected number. So, do we? Briand says nope, that the Covid deaths are simply the usual and expected deaths re-labeled Covid. Others have pointed out that there is a ‘pull forward’ factor, and elderly patients are dying somewhat sooner than expected, so their deaths are counted now instead of in a few months.
      You should be aware that Covid deaths are absolutely not evenly spread throughout age groups, that so many appear to believe that a healthy person under age 70 has any significant risk of death is astonishing.

      • My understanding also is that most COVID deaths occur in the elderly. We are confronted with the fact that 1) there are excess deaths (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/excess_deaths.htm) and 2) proportional deaths by age group do not appear to have changed (Dr Briand). I leave that to someone else to reconcile.

        As for pull-forward, that definitely exists. Certainly doesn’t account for everyone and I would argue still an undesirable outcome.

        • The excess deaths remain to be totaled, and accurately assigned. I expect by March of 2021 we’ll have actual 2020 deaths, and be able to reconcile for population growth, at which point I think one can say whether there are excess deaths or not. I have little confidence that deaths caused by lockdown will ever be accurately totaled, with the possible exception of a suicide spike in 2020. The deaths due to delayed care, including missed diagnoses, unloved Alzheimer’s patients, and alcohol and drug abuse will simply be more collateral damage of this Covid panic.

  13. I found an article on the John’s Hopkins article this afternoon on a conservative online news site and attempted to share it on Facebook. Johnny-on-the-spot, it was immediately tagged with the “Missing Context. Independent fact-checkers say this information could mislead people.” warning. Thank goodness for the watchful protection of those fact-checkers!

    • So I watched Dr. Briand’s webinar; it’s only 40 minutes if anyone else wishes to. (Disclaimer, I am not a medical nor public health professional, but neither is Dr. Briand).

      I am not convinced by her analysis. I checked her original data sources, and found serious issues. Dr. Briand states that there is no evidence in the data that COVID is causing “excessive deaths”, but a chart I developed from the same data shows hundreds of thousands more deaths in 2020 compared to prior years. While COVID may not be the immediate cause of all these deaths, it appears to be a significant contributing factor.

      The first chart in the PDF of the article about her work shows that the relative ages of people who died are consistent week to week from before and through the pandemic. I don’t take any issue with that conclusion. She states in the webinar there is an average of roughly 60K deaths week-to-week; this average seems reasonable.

      However, this chart is misleading; while the percentage week-to-week is not changing, the total numbers of deaths do change considerably week-to-week, as I will show in a chart of my own developed from the same data.

      One thing I really appreciated about her webinar is that she showed exactly where she got her data from the CDC website. So I downloaded the exact same dataset (possibly a few weeks newer). I focused on her second analysis reexamining the chart titled “US Deaths per Week and Causes”, (the second chart in the pdf).

      The focus of her analysis was on whether deaths were being reclassified as COVID. Some of her points are valid and worthy of further analysis. The field of ecomonics, her area of expertise, is to look at data for new trends in hopes of benefiting from the new knowledge. Looking at the minutia of data can reveal important insights.

      However looking at data at too low a level can blind you bigger trends. So I took a step away and looked at total deaths due to all causes. My interest is in the week-to-week variations in deaths.

      This is the chart I produced, using the same raw data as Dr. Briand’s second chart:

      The chart focuses on Total Deaths due to “All Causes” in the United States. The years 2014-2019 are shown in various colors; 2020 is shown in bright pink. (2020 Data is of course incomplete due to the year not being complete). It is organized by week number, which is how the data is presented. I added the approximate month breaks for reference.

      What we see is from 2014-2019, average deaths peaked in the winter, at or near 60K and dip in the summer to about 50K. Each year, there are slightly more deaths for each equivalent week.

      What is sharply notable about 2020 is that weekly total deaths in 2020 are higher every week than every other year except for roughly January 2018. The number of deaths in 2020 is dramatically higher from mid-March until the present day (November 2020). There was a peak of 79K deaths in mid-April, and a plateau of 64K in late summer; these are +24K and +12K more deaths per week compared to the same weeks in 2019.

      One quote from the article about Dr. Briand just does not hold up to scrutiny:

      Briand also noted that 50,000 to 70,000 deaths are seen both before and after COVID-19, indicating that this number of
      deaths was normal long before COVID-19 emerged. Therefore, according to Briand, not only has COVID-19 had no effect on
      the percentage of deaths of older people, but it has also not increased the total number of deaths.

      I am using the same data as Dr. Briand, and I am not seeing those numbers. Deaths in 2020 are clearly anomalous compared to the past 6 years. That statement seems to be erroneous.

      Based on data available to date, my non-scientific projection is that 2020 will have at least 280K more deaths from all causes than 2019 (see notes). This is number is consistent with “excess mortality” of 300K calculated to date by the CDC. The 280K is also similar to the the current number of deaths to date attributed to COVID according to current CDC criteria (the subject of another post by Jack).

      Based on my reading of the data, something is causing nearly 300K more deaths in 2020 compared to prior years. According to Dr. Briand’s numbers, this trend effects all ages equally, as the percentage of deaths haven’t changed.

      COVID may not be the immediate cause of death, but it certainly appears to be a significant factor increasing total deaths.

      Notes:

      The 280K increase compared to 2019 is an underestimate, as it holds the last 7 weeks constant, and does not account for the seasonal increase seen in November-December of previous years.

      I created a similar analysis for “All Natural Causes”, but the trends are substantially similar. There are roughly 5K “non-natural” deaths every week, reducting the chart lines by the same amount each week. However, 2020 would have approximately 350K more “natural deaths” compared to 2019.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.