Thursday, September 13, 2018


Yeah, he's really doing this -- he's challenging Puerto Rico's recent declaration that the death toll from Hurricane Maria was 2,975 rather than 64:

Of course this is completely wrong. The Atlantic's Vann Newkirk explained how the number was arrived at last month.
... researchers from the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health released a series of studies on Hurricane Maria’s impact in Puerto Rico. The mortality study [was] completed at the official request of Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossell√≥ and administered in conjunction with the University of Puerto Rico.

... the GW researchers essentially modeled what the death rate in Puerto Rico would’ve looked like if Maria hadn’t hit, and then used that number from September to the following February as a baseline. The estimate of real-life deaths above that baseline are the “excess deaths” estimated throughout that period.
The study, Newkirk tells us, "used official death certificates from Puerto Rico’s health department" to arrive at its estimates.
“The official government estimate of 64 deaths from the hurricane is low primarily because the conventions used for causal attribution only allowed for classification of deaths attributable directly to the storm, e.g., those caused by structural collapse, flying debris, floods and drownings,” the report notes. “During our broader study, we found that many physicians were not oriented in the appropriate certification protocol.This translated into an inadequate indicator for monitoring mortality in the hurricane’s aftermath.”

... while the storm did create a major lag in filing death certificates, physicians did eventually file records thoroughly and consistently.
So the method used to arrive at the estimate was careful and reality-based. It doesn't resemble Trump's caricature at all.

But it's still an estimate. Researchers can't brandish precisely 2,975 death certificates and say, "Here are dead people who wouldn't have died if the hurricane hadn't hit" (although it's clear that they've identified a significant number of such people).

Right-wingers don't believe in statistics. Oh, sure, they like the unemployment and GDP numbers now, because they're good and Trump is president. But they don't believe good numbers (economic or otherwise) when Democrats are in charge and they don't believe bad numbers when Republicans are in charge. Also, they don't believe numbers that challenge firmly held opinions -- they think undocumented immigrants are criminal-minded, so don't even bother telling them that the numbers contradict their feelings.

Right-wingers believe in anecdotes -- they point to the individual deaths of Mollie Tibbetts and Kate Steinle as "proof" that the undocumented are dangerous. They like to keep their arguments on the level of individual outrages. Trump doesn't have a specific outrage here, so he makes one up ("If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list").

Conscientious people applying appropriate methodology are always at risk of ridicule from right-wingers -- it's an extension of the right's anti-science, anti-expertise bias. Conservatives regularly suspect researchers and experts of bad faith and political bias -- see the climate change debate, or the smearing of the inspectors who correctly determined that Iraq lacked weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

Trump is wrong and the George Washington researchers are right -- but they're researchers, so of course they're an easy target for conservative know-nothings.


UPDATE: Rush Limbaugh is also a Hurricane Maria truther. From his show today:
Do you know that researchers at George Washington University did not go down there and count bodies? George Washington University, their finding was not the result of a death toll accounting. Nobody, researcher or otherwise from George Washington University went to Puerto Rico to count bodies on the ground, in the morgue, or wherever. Instead, you know what they did? They used a public health study that compared mortality in the six months following the storm with the number of deaths that would have been expected if the storm had not hit. They used a computer model!

Researchers at George Washington University reached their conclusion via a computer model, and the way they did it, they did a study that compared death in the six months following the storm with the number of deaths that would have been expected if it had not hit. And they come out magically with a number of 2,975 excess deaths that nobody chronicled, nobody reported, nobody counted, there are no bodies to confirm this.

... It’s just a bogus research study to go along with the fake news that Trump and the U.S. didn’t care about Puerto Rico ’cause they’re people of color because Trump is racist and all that and didn’t do anything to help the island.

They’re just lying through their teeth! They’re making it up as they go! The only thing different is that we have a president who’s pushing back against it when they lie about him. And that’s what they can’t digest.
Rush, do you know that the people who put together the GDP numbers Trump likes to brag about don't personally count all the money in America? And the people at the Bureau of Labor Statistics who've been producing those good jobs reports don't personally check the payrolls of every company in America to count every person who has a job?

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