July 19, 2020

While Claiming To Deliver Her Audience "The Truth" Wendy Bell Misleads It Instead

In her monologue this past Thursday KDKA Radio's Angel of Death delivers a case study in, to use a figure of speech, cherry picking the data in order to illustrate something that doesn't exist.

It's a rather complicated dishonesty that furthers my over all point about Wendy and her audience: the more her audience believes her, the more she puts us all at risk.

Let me get the stupid stuff out of the way first: KDKA Radio's Wendy Bell doesn't seem understand that a figure of speech is not a literal statement. That should be enough to undermine her credibility but if the whole "on the fence" thing didn't do it, this certainly won't.

Back to Wendy's oratorical ignorance. She spends a few incredulous moments on Pennsylvania Governor Wolf saying that "The virus makes the rules."

The actual quotation can be found at KDKA:
“This is the virus speaking,” he says. “The virus is making the rules here, we’re just trying to anticipate what those rules are and doing what we can to reduce the risk that virus is going to do a lot of damage to Pennsylvania.”
On air she curiously responds with: "Wow. Can you completely absolve yourself of all responsibility?" and then goes with a family metaphor, "That's my 12yr old son...who spilled milk everywhere and blamed the milk for jumping out of the jug."

I am not really sure how Wolf's figure of speech leads to Wendy's objection but then again I'm not doing Afternoon Drive on KDKA Radio. I live in a reality-based community where people understand metaphors and their usage. In any event, her objection to the figure of speech blocks her from seeing the rest of the passage (where Wolf says he's trying to reduce the risk of a virus that's still going to do a lot of damage).

As part of the rant, Wendy cherry-picks the recent histories of Sweden and Finland in order to show that school closings don't raise the risk to the children in those schools (and in doing so, she leaves out a big part of the story).

As she uses some very specific numbers she makes it so easy to dig down to the shallows of her research. As best I can tell, her entire Sweden/Finland argument is based on this one piece in Reuters. Everything she said on the air is found here:

The report, which has not been peer-reviewed, found that during the period of February 24 to June 14, there were 1,124 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among children in Sweden, around 0.05% of the total number of children aged 1-19.

Finland recorded 584 cases in the same period, also equivalent to around 0.05%.

“In conclusion, (the) closure or not of schools had no measurable direct impact on the number of laboratory confirmed cases in school-aged children in Finland or Sweden,” the agencies said in the report, published last week.

Before we continue we should point out that Wendy leaves out this part:
Sweden’s death toll of 5,572, when compared relative to population size, far outstripped those of its Nordic neighbours...
Sweden has a population of about 10 million and Finland about 4 million. Indeed, using the Coronavirus data at Johns Hopkins for Finland and Sweden and compare them to population size we get for overall Covid-19 deaths:
Sweden: 549 deaths/million
Finland:   59 deaths/million
So, unless I am mistaken, while the different reactions of Sweden and Finland to the virus (mandatory masks, social distancing, school closings, etc) had little if any effect on the health of the children, it did bring about a 9-fold increase in overall death in the population.

KDKA Radio's Angel of Death left that part out when pushing for school openings, didn't she?

How is this OK with KDKA Radio?

Then there's the big part of the argument - how the uptick in cases is due to the fact that there's been more testing. We already dealt with this for Allegheny County, the last time we heard Wendy use this Trump talking point.

The Washington Post has dealt with this question nationally:
But a closer look at the state of testing in the United States shows that this theory is dangerously wrong. To understand why, we have to look not just at the number of tests each state is doing, but at the positivity rate of those tests. In combination, those two metrics give a sense of whether infections are rising, declining or holding steady. And in too many states, the dispiriting answer is that the virus is racing ahead of public health measures to contain it.
But let's look at Wendy's data. She compares two discrete days (always a red-flag for cherry picking, by the way): June 5 and July 15.
  • June 5: 7,259 tests and 449 positives (abt 6%)
  • July 15: 20,372 tests and 994 positives (abt 5%)
As with the Sweden/Finland data above, Wendy uses some very specific numbers. A google search points to a single source: a newspaper in Erie County. But take a look at each:

June 5:

In Pennsylvania, there were 443 additional positive cases reported today, for a total of 74,385 total cases. So far, there have been 5,886 deaths statewide, with 69 occurring since yesterday. 424,201 patients have tested negative to date, with 7,259 tests since the previous day. So far, 70% of PA's positive cases have recovered (up one percent since yesterday).

So far so good. But look at the same summary page from July 15:
Outside of Erie County's statistics, Pennsylvania, saw 994 additional positive cases reported today, for a total of 97,665. So far, there have been 6,957 deaths statewide, with 26 deaths reported in the last 24 hours. 870,984 Pennsylvanians have tested negative to date, with 20,372 negative tests yesterday.[Emphasis added.]
You'll note that she got the number wrong. 20,372 was just the number of negative tests, not the total number of tests.

It's a minor point, to be sure. But Wendy, if you're promoting yourself as a source for "the truth" don't you think your numbers should be solid? And why are you picking off numbers from an newspaper in Erie County anyway instead of a more official source?
However, had you looked at the data from John Hopkins (a more official source) you'd've found this:

See that blue line that goes way up the page in April and then heads down until early June and then starts to rise in the middle of June? That's the seven-day rolling average of positive tests. Take the number of positive tests and divide it by the total number of tests and do a 7 day rolling average you'll get that line.

And look, Wendy. The rate is going up.  From a low of 3.3% on June18, the rolling average rises to a rate of 5.4% on July 15.

By cherry picking from a date with a higher rate than that low point, you're effectively hiding the upward motion of that blue line, aren't you?

And that means you're lying to your audience. Again.

How many people in your audience will believe you when you say that you're giving them the truth (in this case that there's no "uptick" in the positivity rate) and how many of those will be putting their lives and the lives of their families at risk because of it?

How are you OK with that?

How is KDKA Radio with you?