Lies, damn lies and statistics

A front-page story in today’s New York Times suggests that Sweden hasn’t paid much of a price for its blasé attitude toward COVID-19. Here is the key paragraph supporting that premise:

Sweden’s death rate of 22 per 100,000 people is the same as that of Ireland, which has earned accolades for its handling of the pandemic, and far better than in Britain or France.

Yet Times columnist Thomas Friedman tells a completely different story:

As USA Today noted: “Sweden has a population of 10 million people, about twice as large as its nearest Scandinavian neighbors. As of April 28, the country’s Covid-19 death toll reached 2,274, about five times higher than in Denmark and 11 times higher than in Norway.” Nursing home residents account for more than a third of all deaths.

And get this: Friedman supports the Swedish approach, arguing that it’s the only way we’re going to build herd immunity. Yet the World Health Organization recently reported that we don’t know whether people who’ve recovered from COVID can get it again. Needless to say, if there’s no immunity, there will be no herd immunity.

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Tom Friedman, MBS and a McKinsey metaphor gone horribly wrong

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman enthusing over Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, Nov. 7, 2017:

He is much more McKinsey than Wahhabi — much more a numbers cruncher than a Quran thumper.

The New York Times reporting on Saudi Arabia’s brutal crackdown on dissidents under Salman, Oct. 20, 2018:

After the country [Saudi Arabia] announced economic austerity measures in 2015 to offset low oil prices and control a widening budget gap, McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm, measured the public reception of those policies.

In a nine-page report, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, McKinsey found that the measures received twice as much coverage on Twitter than in the country’s traditional news media or blogs, and that negative sentiment far outweighed positive reactions on social media.

Three people were driving the conversation on Twitter, the firm found: the writer Khalid al-Alkami; Mr. Abdulaziz, the young dissident living in Canada; and an anonymous user who went by Ahmad.

After the report was issued, Mr. Alkami was arrested, the human rights group ALQST said. Mr. Abdulaziz said that Saudi government officials imprisoned two of his brothers and hacked his cellphone, an account supported by a researcher at Citizen Lab. Ahmad, the anonymous account, was shut down.

McKinsey said the austerity report was an internal document based on publicly available information and not prepared for any government entity.

“We are horrified by the possibility, however remote, that it could have been misused,” a McKinsey spokesman said in a statement. “We have seen no evidence to suggest that it was misused, but we are urgently investigating how and with whom the document was shared.”

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Unoriginal thoughts from Tom Friedman

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 11.43.41 AM
Click on chart for the full interactive version at Infogr.am.

Today’s column by Thomas Friedman of The New York Times may have set some sort of record. In a 1,200-word piece with the unpromising headline “Obama’s Homework Assignment,” Friedman managed to type just 343 words, or 29 percent of the total. The remainder was given over to:

  • A speech by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; 358 words, or 30 percent.
  • An email to The Washington Post from an anonymous teacher; 287 words, or 24 percent. I have called her Anonymous Teacher No. 1 in the chart above.
  • A letter to Friedman from Anonymous Teacher No. 2; 212 words, or 18 percent.

Given Friedman’s clip-paste-and-run approach, it seems worth pointing out that the theme of his (I realize I’m misusing “his” to describe a collective effort) column is that these damn kids are just too lazy. He — yes, this is really him, not one of his co-contributors — writes:

Are we falling behind as a country in education not just because we fail to recruit the smartest college students to become teachers or reform-resistant teachers’ unions, but because of our culture today: too many parents and too many kids just don’t take education seriously enough and don’t want to put in the work needed today to really excel?

Well, I don’t know. But I can think of a certain op-ed columnist for the Times who is acting as a poor role model.

I leave you with this: