Science watch: WaPo attempts to connect the dots on age and coronavirus, fails bigly

Science watch: WaPo attempts to connect the dots on age and coronavirus, fails bigly
The Villages at Sumter Landing, Fla. (Image: YouTube screen grab)

As is inevitable whenever there is a health scare, the liberal media promptly flex their scientific muscles. On Friday, Bina Venkataraman, Barack Obama’s former senior advisor for climate change and current Boston Globe and current editorial page editor of The Boston Globe, went on public radio to explain how vastly superior a job her boss did handling the Ebola outbreak than Donald Trump has done with the coronavirus.

But even if we concede that Obama’s handling of that disease was superior to Trump’s handling of the current one, which is debatable, Venkataraman’s comparison is of apples and oranges. As I wrote Saturday:

When the Ebola epidemic broke out in 2014, the disease had been known of for 38 years. Inroads into treatment and containment had already been made. COVID-19, in contrast, is a brand new and poorly understood viral agent.

In addition, it should be emphasized that the symptoms of COVID-19 are more subtle than those of Ebola, which also include diarrhea and vomiting.

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On the same day I filed that post, a new even more profound example of the Left’s abuse of science emerged in the form of an op-ed by the Washington Post’s Philip Bump. The piece is titled “Older Americans are more worried about coronavirus — unless they’re Republican.”

Bump starts his argument anecdotally. He quotes a 71-year-old man living at The Villages, a retirement community in central Florida, as saying, “Yep, I have a pacemaker and recent fusion; however my love for quality of life is more important to me than being rattled by a TV station.”

The man, Bump clarifies, “is one of the Americans most at risk from the virus.” He adds:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned those 60 and older and those with medical conditions to be particularly wary of its spread, given the higher mortality rates associated with those factors.

Yet, despite being in two high-risk categories, this man and others at the Villages profiled by the Post don’t seem fazed. What is the explanation? Here’s Bump:

Part of the issue may be that The Villages isn’t necessarily as representative of America’s older population as it may seem.

Earlier this week, Quinnipiac University released polling showing that older Americans are, in fact, more likely to express concern about they or someone they know being infected with the virus. Sixty-two percent of those age 65 and older expressed at least come concern about that happening compared to only 47 percent of those under age 35. Older respondents were also about nine points more likely to express concern about their daily lives being disrupted.

Why might The Villages be an outlier? Because it’s more heavily Republican.

Republicans outnumber Democrats by a 2-to-1 margin in that community, a much more conservative composition than older Americans in general. [Emphasis added]

Any scientist (or journalist for that matter) worth his salt would click the link in the last sentence above to ascertain the source of that claim, which it turns out is the Tampa Bay Times. That’s all well and good, but what was their source? Did they systematically interview all 51,000-odd residents of The Villages? Does the management collect data on political party affiliation as part of the application process? In the interests of doing due diligence, why didn’t Bump inquire?

But let’s concede the point and assume the data are valid. We still have an 800-pound gorilla in the room. That is Bump’s confusion of correlation with causation. In other words, how does he know that the residents’ apparently devil-may-care attitude about getting sick can be ascribed in part or whole to their conservative leanings? How does he know some other factor — or set of factors — isn’t at work?

Notice also that the lone example Bump leads with is a man who might best be described as a low-information individual. He is quoted summarizing his alternatives as enjoying life or “being rattled by a TV station,” which suggests he believe reports on the virus are nothing more than propaganda. This fits in conveniently with the Left’s view of the Right as “less cerebral.” Certainly that is how Bump’s column is viewed by another liberal “journalist” on MSNBC. In the video below, she reinterprets his thesis, saying, “We now have a situation where Trump’s own people are actually in greater danger, but those of us who live in this Earth can’t even reach them.”

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy has written for The Blaze, HotAir, NewsBusters, Weasel Zippers, Conservative Firing Line, RedCounty, and New York’s Daily News. He has one published novel, Hot Rain, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons), and has been a guest on Radio Vice Online with Jim Vicevich, The Alana Burke Show, Smart Life with Dr. Gina, and The George Espenlaub Show.