Misinformed

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I ran across something that just disturbed me and so I’m going to do a mini rant.

This was a research project done by Franklin Templeton with help from Gallup looking at behavioral responses to the ‘rona. Now, this is not the first time I’ve come across something like this and it shouldn’t be too shocking that companies like this are doing things like this. Manage a lot of money and you kind of have to try to figure out where things are going.

One of the things they asked people was to estimate the distribution of deaths over various age groups. The responses were off by a pretty large margin. The perception is that deaths are more evenly spread over the age groups than they really are. For example, people thought that 40% of the deaths were in people 65 and over. It is actually 80%. (Or at least it was when this survey was conducted – it may have changed marginally).

They also thought that roughly 18% of the deaths were in people under 34 when the real figure is closer to 1%. In other words, a whole lot of people really have no clue about the real risks associated with this thing.

As a result, almost 60% of people in the 18-24 age range were afraid of serious health consequences if they got this thing. That number rose to 67% in the 25-34 year old group and 69% in the 35-44 year old group. This was serious consequences and not death but the fatality figures track with healt consequences. Bottom line is there is a whole lot of fear out there from people who are at almost no risk.

They also found that those who identify as Democrats tend to overstate the risk of death more than Republicans. And those who get their information primarily from social media were the worst at making good estimates.

This is not to imply that any one political group is better informed. I just think it is symptomatic of a much bigger problem. That we continue to live in our own little bubbles and echo chambers and so you most often just recycle the things you’ve heard from your “side”. It just gets amplified and reinforced as more and more people do this.

And the media certainly doesn’t help. It is all about keeping you scared and angry. Stories about younger people dying from this get more attention leading to the incorrect perception that the risk is higher than it is. Putting up an actual table showing the age distribution is boring and wouldn’t generate any clicks so we don’t do it.

The media is full of doom and gloom but they never come back to give you the rest of the story. Arizona hospitals were supposed to be overrun. Didn’t happen – did the media tell you that? Same with Texas. Florida was supposed to become the next New York. If you look at cases, yes. If you look at deaths or hospital capacity, no. But then the media just moves on to the next hot zone. Now it is all about college kids coming back to campus and testing positive. Again, they are in the lowest risk category but this is suddenly the new thing to panic over.

It is also why it is hard to have real conversations about lock downs and other things. If people are hyped up on fear and anger and believe the risk is much higher than it really is, then you can’t have a calm conversation. In so many ways, our media has failed. The problem is too many people tune into those channels and assume they are well informed.

Alright, rant over. Maybe I’m just too much of a numbers geek but I’ve come to believe that the best thing you can do is your own research and try to draw your own conclusions.

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