STUMP » Articles » Twitter Files Hits COVID Stats: Good Luck with Rebuilding Trust, CDC » 27 December 2022, 07:00

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Twitter Files Hits COVID Stats: Good Luck with Rebuilding Trust, CDC  


27 December 2022, 07:00

The timing could have been better.

Yesterday, as I was getting ready to do the errands delayed by super-cold weather and Christmas, I see this tweet:

The thread goes on a bit, but a few ones stood out to me for a particular reason:

Following a Twitter thread can be annoying, so here is David Zweig’s piece as an article:

The Free Press: How Twitter Rigged the Covid Debate

I had always thought a primary job of the press was to be skeptical of power—especially the power of the government. But during the Covid-19 pandemic, I and so many others found that the legacy media had shown itself to largely operate as a messaging platform for our public health institutions. Those institutions operated in near total lockstep, in part by purging internal dissidents and discrediting outside experts.

Twitter became an essential alternative. It was a place where those with public health expertise and perspectives at odds with official policy could air their views—and where curious citizens could find such information. This often included other countries’ responses to Covid that differed dramatically from our own.

But it quickly became clear that Twitter also seemed to promote content that reinforced the establishment narrative, and to suppress views and even scientific evidence that ran to the contrary.

More at the link.

My corner of this – checking Kelley’s stats

I will attest to what David Zweig writes, also because I checked some of Kelley’s stats over time.

Frankly, I never had to do much with Kelley’s stats. She did the leg work in finding the lies and pushing back against them. She would DM me, I would look over her shoulder and say “yup, they’re comparing TWO YEARS OF COVID DEATHS against one year of deaths” from accidental causes (or whatever).

I was mainly a sanity check, doing a second data pull from the CDC WONDER database, to make sure I was getting the same results as she was, that the parameters were correct. Most of the time she didn’t need my help at all.

And the results: COVID wasn’t much of anything for little kids.

I don’t have time to respond to people piecemeal on Twitter, in general, (nice sneerish “self-proclaimed public health fact checker” to describe Kelley, as if they aren’t all self-proclaimed) and I usually do a systematic look at death stats.

COVID as the cause of death in 2021 in the U.S. by age group – a ranking

Here are my ranking tables I made in July this year for 2021 — the worst year for COVID — I circled the pediatric rankings so you can’t miss them:



(no, age 15-24 is not pediatric, but even if you included them, it’s ranked only fourth).

The finalized data for 2021 should be coming in soon, and I’ll update those tables when the finalized data are uploaded to WONDER.

And no, those 0.000% rates are not errors. To that number of decimal places, that’s what the rate looks like.

Actuaries generally do not quote death rates in percentage terms, but this is for the general public, who are barely comfortable with percentages, much less rates per 100,000.

Mortality rates from anything for children are extremely low, and even for teens, the rates are pretty low — you notice their deaths because it’s generally external causes (suicide, homicide, accidents) but also because they’re rare.

In any case, those are the numbers.

But if you posted those in response to official COVID policies for young people (children, teens, young adults), you would be stamped as “misleading”.

That happened to Kelley many times, especially when she was pushing back at people who were claiming that COVID was a major risk for children.

Interlude: a podcast back in March 2022

In this podcast, Kelley and I are joining Jessica & Erich to discuss all sorts of data issues we were running into.

If I embedded this properly, the video will cue up at the end of the session, to this particular quote from me:

The really big ask is: could people stop lying…but that’s human nature

And this is what has been wearing me down throughout the pandemic — it’s not merely that the bureaucrats and politicians have had different policies than I preferred (and in some case, they had the same ones I preferred), but that they used lies to support these policies, and then blocked people using factual information who supported different policies.

Yes, yes, we could go down “This is just like 1984!” or “USSR!” route, but it doesn’t require that.

The truth has been peeking out in various places, and the control was never complete, unlike in 1984 or the USSR.

Stop lying to support your preferred policy

I have a common theme on STUMP, so let me give an easy exercise for the reader to see if they can catch on to that theme.

July 2020: Truth is My Highest Value

This is a theme running through my blog — I am trying to get at truth, and uncover deception (especially self-deception) from a variety of angles. The biggest concept, though, is trying to pass truth along to those who will hear it.

June 2021: An Elegy for the “Experts” and for Memory

This is the part that really annoys me in all the behavior of the past year.

People trying to change the historical record, so that they don’t have to be exposed for their blatant wrongness.

It was one thing when it was Stalin literally having history rewritten for his own purposes. And that people are still trying to uphold Stalin’s lies.

But now, in a futile attempt to hang onto relevancy, various media outlets are trying to edit their past in order to deny that there is no reason for anybody to trust them.

May 2017: The Murder-Suicide of Expertise

In my mind, Truth (yes, with a capital T) has been degraded, because people are stuck on a “BUT I WANT IT!” form of thinking, which is inherently a childish form of thinking. Many have claimed there is no objective truth, and devalue truth.

If you don’t think Truth is important, then why not be dishonest as an expert? As long as you’re aiming for a “good” result?

Note that the last post was from 2017.

I have similar posts from earlier, but the problem was becoming very obvious during the Trump years, as people were just blatantly contradicting simple facts, just to get to the result they wanted.

And that’s what we’re seeing here.

Rather than suck it up and admit that COVID was not a top killer of small children, which would make it more difficult for various groups to argue for their preferred policies, they just pretended that it was.

And then used their political power to shut down people who were pointing to the actual facts.

This was driving me nuts.

Getting the facts straight and honestly arguing for preferred policies

This particular problem is not unique to the pandemic, but the new twist is banning people from Twitter (and Facebook and google search results and…) when they point out inconvenient facts. Or slapping a “misleading” label on these facts.

This is how I got started in blogging about public pensions. Those who are here to read about Twitter Files and COVID may be thinking “Huh?”, and that’s just fine — none of the stuff re: public pensions has gotten anybody banned from Twitter (yet). I will drop that subject for the rest of this post.

But this has been really crazy-making.

It has been excluding all sorts of people from policy debate, because when you can’t even point to common facts for supporting your preferred policies, you can’t participate in public policy at all.

Here is something you may wonder — why was there an actuarial group in the UK providing weekly COVID (and other excess mortality) updates, but no such group in the U.S.?

During the pandemic, I tried to encourage other actuaries to join me on Twitter, but this was kind of the response:

[if you can’t see the gif, this is the episode of Community where Troy comes back with pizzas, and everything is on fire]

Yes, there are a few others on with me there, and it’s the usual crew. Some are pseudonymous. Many of us have been on Twitter for a long time, so know how to roll with it. There are the organizations, and one of my organizations did have a lot of research out there, but we never really got much coverage. And not on Twitter.

Most actuaries, if they get slapped with “misleading info” if they simply note that the highest COVID risk factors are age and obesity, and then give death rates/counts, will repeat the wise woman’s words: ain’t nobody got time for that.

I don’t know if any of my tweets got so slapped, mainly because I don’t have time to hang out on twitter all the time, and I don’t check. I never got banned. But some of the people I helped with stats did get banned, and, as you see above, Kelley kept getting her tweets labeled even when she was the one pushing back against misinformation.

What happens when you have no opposition in argument

The CDC, Biden administration, etc. are just fine with pushing out everybody who will contradict their preferred line, but when there is no corrective, there are two results that have happened, both of which they should have known were possibilities:

1. As they blocked out all opposition, when they were wrong, they went really wrong.

2. They stood alone in their wrongness, people stopped trusting them, and they are not going to earn that trust back — not with these people, at any rate.

To be sure, those who agreed with their policies may think the outcomes – learning loss, higher homicide rates for teens, higher drug OD rates, etc – are trade-offs they are fine with. Or perhaps they think these were unavoidable outcomes.

They’re not really allowing others to argue, so they can shout into the wind. I don’t care.

I’m not listening.

You’re not listening to us, after all.

Good luck on rebuilding trust, CDC

Back in August, there was a story that CDC Director Rochelle Walensky was having a review conducted of the CDC, stuff about how much trust in the CDC had fallen, yadda yadda.

A quote from the linked story:

The fallout over messaging has cost the agency some public trust: In an NBC poll from January, only 44% of Americans said they trust the CDC’s information about COVID-19. According to Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive, dwindling public trust in the CDC has a trickle-down effect, jeopardizing the authority of public health messaging across the board.

“When the public doesn’t trust what the CDC is saying, that also affects the public trust that we have at the state level and that our local health departments have with their communities,” Bagdasarian told HealthDay News. “And I’m also hearing from medical providers, from my colleagues who are practicing clinically, that it’s affected their clinical relationships with patients. It becomes just a lack of public trust in healthcare recommendations.”

Part of that lack of trust comes from y’all flat-out lying (mainly pretending to certainty when they didn’t have it). Or blocking true messages that you don’t like. (which is what the above story is about)

Stop doing that.

That would be a good start, okay?

Yes, I know it makes your preferred political messaging more difficult, but LEARN TO DEAL WITH THAT.

That is my one piece of advice.

It will take a long time to rebuild the trust, and it took very little time for you to destroy it.

Related links

STUMP podcast episode September 2022: Advice on the CDC 2021 Life Expectancy Report – in the 2nd half, I mention that the CDC needs to stop with media clickbait to re-build their credibility.

STATnews: Restoring trust in public health: There are no shortcuts

STUMP Sept 2022: We Get Results! The Bogus Death Spike of NC and CT are Now Gone!

STUMP July 2022: Top Causes of Death in U.S. for 2021 by Age Group

STUMP June 2022: