Nate Silver Points out the Flaws in Media Reporting of COVID-19 Data

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Brian Stelter


As we all know, one set of data can be manipulated to tell several different stories.

Political statistician Nate Silver, founder of, spoke to CNN’s Brian Stelter to explain what he believes the media is getting wrong in their coronavirus coverage. (The audio for the podcast is available here.)


In the Twitter thread below, Silver lays out the points he made during the podcast. While he thinks the media’s coverage has been “good in many respects,” he is frustrated by three things.

1. I think there’s not nearly enough recognition in the media that the data we have on coronavirus is highly imperfect and this sometimes leads to misleading conclusions.

2. The next major category is not accounting enough for uncertainty. I actually think the experts have done a very good job of accounting for the major traits of COVID-19, especially if you (literally) read the fine print on what they were saying rather through the media filter.

3. Finally—I think the media spends too much time worrying about knock-off effects of their coverage, i.e. worrying about scaring people or about making them complacent, and should instead try to report the facts as straightforwardly as possible, including the many uncertainties.

He warns the media to avoid attempts to influence behavior. As an example, look to media predictions of disaster when Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp began opening up his state recently. Ditto for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. The media saw doom and gloom because, in their opinion, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wasn’t doing enough to protect residents. The media should try to report the news without injecting their biases into it.


Another issue with the data is that it’s imperfect and incomplete. Silver believes the data understates the true number of cases and deaths because of lags. (I disagree.) He tells Stelter that even the day of the week that data is viewed can make a difference. Reporting of statistics over the weekends, for instance, may be on the lax side. The number of new deaths on a Tuesday can be expected to be worse than Mondays’ totals.

Silver points out that the media generally doesn’t explain in their broadcasts that the increased number of tests administered is responsible for the increased number of cases reported. So, many viewers are left with the perception that the situation is worsening even though every state is beyond their “peak.”

He concludes by saying “The point is: this is a long game. COVID-19 will be with us for a while. Maybe if we’re very smart/lucky, it will have become less of a problem by the fall or by next spring. But those are optimistic scenarios. It could take years. So maintaining reader trust will be essential.”

In other words, try being a little more truthful with your viewers or they will lose trust in you. Try to take politics out of it.




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