Media

Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics and Journalism

Jack Weatherall

The mushrooming of ‘fact check’ offshoots within the maintream/legacy media (MSM)  has been conspicuous in shaping and defending prevailing narratives. On first blush, a fact-check service may seem a sound idea: the media, seeking to cut through claim and counter claim by examining the established facts behind a contentious debate, could represent a valuable addition to the wider public debate and help restore the media in its purported role of holding public policy and polity to account. However, based on evidence to date, it is by and large a case of the tail wagging the dog. This is to say the MSM decides on an agenda in relation to any given issue, then pursues a biased fact-check ‘investigation’ intended to confirm the existing editorial agenda.

As recently as January this year, Mumbrella reported the following (emphasis added)

Just one in two people trust the media, a new survey has shown, with feedback from more than 36,000 people in 28 markets globally. PR firm Edelman’s Annual Trust Barometer for 2022 found 56% of people said the media was a divisive force in society. And just one-third (35%) said the media contributed to making societies more cohesive.

Two-thirds (67%) of people globally said they believe journalists and reporters purposely try to mislead people by saying things they know are false or grossly exaggerated – up 8 per centage points on last year’s report. Faith in the media fell in 15 countries, with the US and Australia among those reporting the biggest drops.

There is no greater exemplar of this phenomenon than Their ABC, whose fact-check service, mediated by a leftist cabal at the RMIT headed by Russell Skelton, spouse of the ABC’s Virginia Trioli and author of numerous anti-conservative tweets, is laughable as a source of purportedly impartial information. It’s like handing the review of an NRL referees’ performance to the aggrieved fans of the club he is alleged to have robbed of victory. A public stoning is a given.

But the ‘fact check’ phenomenon is by no means restricted to Their ABC. The Australian Associated Press (AAP) describes itself as ‘Australia’s only independent national newswire’ and worryingly boasts of ‘influencing the agenda every day’. That last quote from the AAP website is a self-incriminating admission if ever there was one. It could easily and more accurately be rephrased as ‘imparting its agenda every day’.

The AAP FactCheck banner screams “Trusted, Accurate, Impartial”. On the first point, clearly AAP has not received the memo that survey after survey demonstrates Australians do not trust the MSM or, indeed, journalists in general, and that whatever level of faith remains has been getting continuously worse, not better, with the advent of fact checkers and the COVID pandemic. In regards to the last point, a quick glance over the AAP website content will leave most truly impartial readers with a distinct impression that this is a left-canted news organisation. For example, whenever AAP picks up wire copy about Donald Trump from its US counterpart, Associated Press (AP), there will be an obligatory sentence stating the former president’s complaints about the 2020 election are “unfounded”.

Beyond the bias inherent in deciding what to report and what narrative-ruffling stories to ignore, there is the matter of accuracy. After you have read the following, I’ll let you make up your own mind.

ON FEBRURY 4 this year, AAP FactCheck published an article titled; “NSW hospital data claim ignores vital COVID statistics”. The target of the fact check was an unsuspecting Instagram user who posted the following:

wow the more I look at the stats from official governmemt websites the more I realise how much the media and politicians are lying to us.

So here you can see I’ve highlighted the cases in NSW Hospitals and ICU from last week to this week.

The post shared a screenshot of the NSW Health COVID Dashboard and pointed out, correctly, that on January 25, 2022, the dashboard indicated that 71.8 per cent of hospitalised patients were at least double vaccinated. The AAP FactCheck debunked the Instagram poster’s claim with the following rationale

NSW Health’s COVID-19 Weekly Surveillance report on January 20 clearly lays out the higher risk of severe illness and death for the unvaccinated. Table 5 (page 7) of the report shows the clinical severity of COVID by vaccination status, including hospitalisations, ICU admissions and deaths. The data is from the beginning of the Omicron wave in NSW in November 2021 to the first week of January 2022.

AAP then displayed the following table from the stated Surveillance Report to support the above statement

So far so good, you may well be thinking. Clearly on the substance of the above data, vaccination is associated with the risk of hospitalisation, severe illness and death from COVID  – certainly not the panacea the media, so called health experts and the political class promised and continue to spruik. Furthermore, a week-on-week analysis of the NSW COVID-19 surveillance reports clearly shows a strong trend wherein vaccinated individuals were growing substantially, pro rata, among the ranks of the hospitalised, in ICU units and, unfortunately, featuring significantly in death statistics. The fact that a journalistic fact-check unit was unable to detect this trend, or unwilling to observe and expose it, says much about the capacity of AAP FactCheck to actually fulfil its stated values of trust, accuracy and impartiality. It’s as if the lives of double- and triple-vaccinated individuals in ICU don’t warrant csderation when you can focus instead on a hundred-or-so unvaccinated individuals.  

But here is the real rub. On February 4, when AAP sent out this article for subscriber organisations to republish, NSW Health had just released (COVID-19 weekly surveillance reports – COVID-19) the most up to date statistics from their weekly COVID surveillance data. AAP hails its experienced journalists and impeccable standards and insists the organisation exists to bring readers the truth, so there is no excuse I can imagine as to why the wire service didn’t avail itself of the most recent report before going to print (at a minimum, journalists covering the COVID beat should have known the updated report was imminent). Here is that second tranche of surveillance data in exactly the same format.

This data, current at the time of the AAP FactCheck, demonstrates the following facts by utilising exactly the same data source for AAP’s conclusions from above. (Remember these are the statistics for the entire period of 26 November 2021 through to 22 January 2022, the peak of the Omicron wave).

♦ 1.5% of all triple-vaccinated individuals who are COVID positive (PCR) are hospitalised.

♦ 1.2% of all double-vaccinated individuals who are COVID positive (PCR) are hospitalised.

♦ 1.1% of all unvaccinated individuals testing PCR positive who are COVID positive (PCR) are hospitalised.

Now the report notes the following caveats in relation to these statistics

The notes reproduced above refer us to table 6 of the same report, and we will look at that in a moment. However, note that in point two of the above caveat states that 

…the proportion of cases with two effective doses who experience severe outcomes is still lower than that for cases with less than two effective doses (authors emphasis) in every age group, demonstrating the effectiveness of vaccines to protect against severe outcomes.

This is followed by the third point, which directly undermines the second point — i.e. data for no effective doses over 60 can’t be trusted because the denominator in relative terms is tiny. Then there is the elephant in the room – the ‘less than two effective doses’ category in table 6 has merged into the ‘one effective dose’ status, thereby muddying the waters. Instead of comparing apples with apples, apples are now being compared with an apples-oranges mix.

Furthermore, note that it is not the case that “the proportion of cases with two effective doses who experience severe outcomes is still lower than that for cases with less than two effective doses in every age group, demonstrating the effectiveness of vaccines to protect against severe outcomes”, as stated in the report.  Add this to the fact that the denominator for those over 50 with no effective dose is small, and tiny for those above 60 in relative terms (as highlighted in point 3 above), meaning that skewing of statistics overstating proportionality likely warrants caution in analysing such figures. Curiously, in the ‘no effective dose age group 30-39’, the data of 11 out of 2123  is represented as 1%. I’m not sure about you, but my primary school maths makes the correct percentage 0.518% A reliable and trusted fact check would have examined such detail with greater specificity.

For those who think the above data represents an aberration, the latest NSW COVID 19 Surveillance Report was released online on February 17. Here is the same data analysis updated and laid out again.

There it is, in black and white from the same source of updated weekly epidemiological reports AAP used to supposedly debunk the claim. Furthermore, these statistics are likely to be even more heavily weighted for vaccinated individuals in the next report – that is the unmistakable and undeniable trend evident since the reporting period began in November 2021. Again, something decent journalism would have detected and questioned.

However, here is the final ‘kicker’ from the above NSW data: note the large number of cases categorised as ‘unknown’.

No matter how you spin the above data, it is unambiguously the fact, based on NSW official numbers, that the vaccines offer a poor level of lasting protection, irrespective of two or three doses. To argue otherwise would be to describe white as black. Any additional benefit to the vaccinated, over and above unvaccinated individuals since the onset of Omicron in respect to hospitalisation, admission to ICU or death as an outcome is simply arguing at the margins. Add to this that the mRNA vaccines have zero demonstrated benefit in relation to restricting transmission and infection and it is fair to conclude that ranking of COVID mRNA vaccines as the least effective widely administered vaccine in the entire history of vaccines is beyond dispute. I hereby invite any fact-check organisation anywhere in the world to demonstrate otherwise.

And that fact brings me to a more general and personal reflection on journalists.

A NUMBER of years ago, I undertook a post-graduate course in journalism. What I encountered was a cohort of students who had no technical grasp of any field outside their fledgling grasp of journalism. What I also found was a large percentage of fellow students who saw journalism as a pathway to activism. And while I would be reticent to tar all journalists with this brush, it may go some way to explaining the substandard level of journalism so many in the broader community have identified. As the MSM has moved away from news reporting and presenting the competing sides of a story towards more ‘opinion’ and agenda-driven activist ‘journalism’ we are bombarded by opinionistas who are least well placed to have an informed opinion on the complex science that underpins such areas as human pathophysiology, immunology and virology; yet, undaunted by their ignorance, they are quick to venture what they epect their readers to swallow as a magisterial analysis of the pandemic and its numbers.

There has been a plethora of such journalism. It backed lockdown measures without questioning the wisfom and motives of those imposed them. All the evidence now points to such measures’ futility and the severe collateral damage that will take years before it is played out. How many fact-checking deep dive into excess mortality in Australia over the last two years, for instance, has AAP conducted? How many fact-checks comparing and contrasting Florida’s and California’s COVID public policies and outcomes? This is why, more and more, media outlets like Quadrant represent a healthy counter point to MSM and legacy media. The eclectic mix of contributors on this site often come from people with broad, worldly experience in many diverse walks of life, as opposed to the politically homogenised, hermetically sealed and largely monolithic world of MSM journalists. This is also why the ‘trust barometer’ displays the results it does in respect of journalists and MSM more generally.

My advice here is next time you see a supposed “unquestionable fact check” from the MSM, by all means read it but do keep a large grain of salt close at hand. Instead, do your own research because, if it comes from the MSM, you will only get “facts” that fit the narrative.

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Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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