Another way of counting

My previous post was in regards to another way of counting. I figured it was a matter of time before somebody posted an article about it. The above article uses a method that I was espousing. Keep in mind, I was not suggesting that the current method was overstating or understating the number of deaths due to COVID-19. I was simply advocating for a “backup” system; a method that might ‘tease out’ the number of deaths by COVID-19. This article implies that (for 11 countries, anyway) the number of COVID-19 deaths is highly understated.

Let’s keep a few things in mind. First, we really do not know that this information is accurate. Like it or not, many people (or entities) have an agenda, and we can’t necessarily take an article (even if it is a reputable newspaper) as gospel.

Secondly, this method has its drawbacks, and is largely dependent on the volatility of the citizens in that area.

Let me give an illustration. Remember, Whoville, the town created by Dr. Seuss? Well, let’s assume that 10,000 people live there, and they live fairly healthy lives, and they do not do drugs, and they do not take crazy risks on the highway, and they don’t get in fights in bars, etc. A great majority live to be in their 80’s or 90’s. Let’s assume that typically 100 die per year. (For the sake of illustration, let’s assume the birth rate is about the same as the death rate, so that the number of people living there at any time is about 10,000). Perhaps over a five-year stretch, the number of deaths is always between 90 and 110. We would call this a non-volatile situation, and one that is generally easy to model. If 200 died one year, we would know that something is up, and it was in the midst of COVID-19, then we can be pretty sure that roughly 100 died from COVID-19.

Getting back to the 11 countries, the accuracy depends a lot on the volatility. For example, did any of them go through an economic crisis, whereby there may be a number of reasons why there is a higher death rate: not taking care of one’s health, suicide, murder, taking unnecessary risks, etc.? To truly ‘tease out’ the number of deaths that would be expected would require a model. And as we have seen models can be drastically off (at least it looks that way). That said, I think this article makes a good point. And I will reiterate what I said last time. Why don’t the media and experts give both methods when reporting the death toll. And let us decide which one might be more accurate. Studies have shown by the way (maybe I will make it a post someday) that very often the average of two or more models is best!


2 thoughts on “Another way of counting

  1. Bob Hazy May 7, 2020 / 10:39 pm

    The site employee that method, advertising the results of multiple polls. They also apply analysis of factors driving those polls to adjust their relative contribution.


    • Bob Hazy May 7, 2020 / 10:42 pm

      I wish I could edit my comment!

      FiveThirtyEight employs the averaging technique and averages the results of polls.


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