numbers and logic of the corona crisis

Image: niaid/cc by-2.0

Patterns in reporting and political reactions

It has become a daily ritual: i open the browser in the morning and immediately see headings like “1.000 new corona infections”, “over 100.000 infected in germany” or “nearly 2000 corona deaths within 24 hours in the usa”. These headlines have two things in common: first, they sound dramatic and are likely to generate fear; second, they are misleading and speculative.

The statements about new infections suggest that there was someone like a mrs. Corona who could be questioned at the end of the day: “well, how many have you infected today so?” in reality, the numbers reported are only confirmed infections, which are distorted by many factors, such as how rigorously tests are performed, how reliable they are, and how carefully and carefully the results are processed.

Sensational representations

Compare for yourself the impact of the headlines “1.000 new corona infections”, placed in the here and now, day after day, with the alternative: “1.000 new confirmed corona infections”, which, after all, are about events in the past that were only transported into the present by human action.

With a little background knowledge, one knows that – because of the incubation period up to the medical-institutionalized reaction – one is looking a good one to three weeks into the past. Let me remind you once again of paragraph 14 of the german press code:

Medical reporting when reporting on medical topics, it is important to avoid inappropriately sensationalistic presentation that could arouse unfounded fears or hopes in the reader. Research results, which are in an early stage, should not be presented as completed or nearly completed.

German press code, 2017

With the death traps it is now so that the occurrence of the event can be determined more directly than a virus infection. However, the devil lurks in the details of the infections cause of deaththe importance of the coronavirus can on the one hand be overestimated by paying all deceased persons after a positive test and symptoms of, for example, severe pneumonia; this is of course daring, especially in the case of very old people, some of whom have severe pre-existing conditions. However, the importance of the virus can also be underestimated for example, when people actually die from covid-19 but were not detected due to lack of testing.

No matter how you look at it: the numbers with which the media feed us on a daily basis are not only dependent on medical-technical possibilities and bureaucratic rules, but in many ways on human actions. This insecurity must be taken into account and should be communicated more strongly by the media, especially when put in relation to the unprecedented restrictions on public life and economy since the end of the second world war.

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