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How Media Fear-Mongers Misrepresent COVID-19

by John Hartung

September 18, 2020, 12:03 AM

Accentuating the negative and eliminating the positive leads to irrational and ineffective responses.

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Today, like yesterday and tomorrow, news outlets will announce the number of new COVID-19 cases. "Cases," in this case, will be the number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 since yesterday's announcement. In the spirit of accentuate the negative and eliminate the positive, the number of people who tested negative for COVID-19 will not be announced. This matters because 300 new cases out of 3,000 tests is an alarming number, but 300 new cases out of 30,000 tests, while a cause for concern, is not alarming. In this case, as in most cases, context is what enables us to think about a number. Numerators without denominators are seldom informative.

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John Hartung is a Professor of Anesthesiology at the State University of New York. He served as the Associate Editor of the Journal of Neurosurgical Anesthesiology from 1989 through 2017

His Ph.D. is in anthropology from Harvard. About half of Dr. Hartung's publications are in social science, with the rest in medicine (Curriculum Vitae).

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