Numbers Are Hard

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The hysteria around the Chinese coronavirus continues to astound me. Apparently the leftist education establishment has spent the last 30 years turning out people who can neither understand statistics nor assess risk. To wit:



As of today, March 23, 2020, there are around 32,000 cases of the virus confirmed in the U.S. (Thanks to Darth 641’s nightly report) That means that nine thousandths of one percent of the U.S. population officially has Chinese coronavirus. That’s 0.000088889 out of every hundred. For those who like round numbers, it’s close enough to one out of every 10,000.

In the U.S., of metropolitan areas with more than one million residents, the average sized city, town, or whatnot has a population of around 20,000. Which is to say, on average, most U.S. cities have, at most, two infected people in them. For this, some states have closed all schools, banned gatherings of any size, and essentially declared marshal law.


Putting the risk in perspective

Let’s put this in perspective. As of last night, there had been 416 deaths reported as being caused by the virus since the first death on 29 February. So in twenty three days, there have been 416 deaths.

In this U.S. in 2018 (the latest year with full statistics available) there were 15,498 murders. That works out to about 1290 murders per month. In other words, there are likely to be more people murdered this month than are killed by the Chinese coronavirus… yet somehow that murder rate didn’t cause the entire country to collectively lose its mind like the current situation has. Think about that for a moment: you’re more likely to get murdered in March 2020 than to die of coronavirus. How worried are you, exactly, about that possibility? Are you grocery shopping in a bullet-proof vest?

Or look at this another way. If the death rate for the virus is one half of one percent (a number that’s certainly an overestimate in a first-world country) and half the population of the U.S. caught it, it would kill roughly the same number of people this year as will die from cancer (around 600,000). Again, how worried are you, exactly, about that possibility? Are you a vegan fitness fanatic who gets monthly cancer screenings?

Another way to look at it is the absolutely-impossible worst case scenario: if the virus has a one percent death rate and everyone in the U.S. were infected, that would be around 3.5 million deaths. That’s a bit over twice the number of people who die in car accidents, equal to the number injured in automobile wrecks, and half the number involved in any car accident each year. What steps to you take to mitigate that risk? Are you locking yourself inside your house so you don’t get in an accident?


What do the numbers mean?

None of this is to say you shouldn’t wash your hands, or cover your mouth when you cough, or take other reasonable measures. You lock your doors at night and wear a seat belt, after all. But the hysteria is completely irrational and uncalled for.