Numbers as a Mask

We tend to think of numbers as be-all, end-all solutions. Data doesn’t lie, as the common phrase goes.

Unfortunately, while data might not lie, humans can, and they can also shift the story around the numbers to prove a point.

For example, regarding COVID, I could consider that COVID’s most current fatality rate in the US is about 1.6% and think it’s not a big deal. After all, it’s easy to think that gambling with your life is fine for a 99.4% chance of survival. 

That said, we tend to do poorly when considering really high and really low percentages when assessing risk. Because 1.6% of America’s population dying is actually 5,280,000 dead people.  

Or to bring it home, I could consider that 1.6% of my facebook friends dying of COVID means 26 dead friends and family. 

Or I could consider that the chances of dying of COVID while vaccinated are 0.00082%, which is about 24 thousand times smaller than 1.6%, which is a fair impact given that the vaccine is free to anyone in the US who wants it. 

It’s actually surprising that given how much we like free things, that more people aren’t vaccinated.

Anyway, it’s always worth digging into the numbers and the stories behind them so we’re not being blinded by the fact that it’s “hard data.”

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