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How to lie with statistics
WA and VIC lead the pack in data obfuscation and threat inflation (and unfortunately, people are buying it)
When the data don’t support the narrative, some fancy footwork is required.
WA Premier Mark McGowan was caught lying about the number of unvaccinated West Australians in hospital, which I posted about last week. WA Health now confirms that yes, they have been labelling all Unknown cases as Not Vaccinated the whole time. As detailed in my post below, the fine print disclaimer “includes unknown vaccination status” was added to WA Covid update reports in brackets after the Not Vaccinated category label from 10 June 2022 onwards.
The disclaimer was added due to a high volume of phone calls to the department asking whether Unknowns were being buried in the Not Vaccinated group. A good lesson that an old school public pressure campaign can result in government action (even if tiny).
WA Health’s official line on the classification of Unknowns as Not Vaccinated below:
This statement is characteristically unclear, but we can glean that Unknown cases are non-WA residents, and/or people who have not updated their Medicare address, and/or people who have been vaccinated overseas. Most significantly, the Unknown group includes vaccinated hospital admissions. Therefore, the combined Not Vaccinated group in WA Health report clearly includes people with 1 or more doses of vaccination.
If it seems that I’m labouring this, that’s because it’s a big lie with big implications. This tactic artificially inflates the rate of Not Vaccinated cases in Covid hospitalisations and deaths. In NSW last reported week, 0% of hospitalisations were 0 dosed, and, 20.5% were Unknown. Combine them together in a category titled Not Vaccinated and you get the headline:
1 in 5 hospitalisations Not Vaccinated!
Despite there being 0 unvaccinated hospitalisations.
And that’s exactly the kind of headline we’re seeing all over the country, week in, week out. The oligarchal nature of media ownership in Australia means that the key talking points in our major broadsheets and tabloids filter down, often word for word, into our regional publications too. Headlines like the below litter cafe tables from Denmark to Dampier.
These faulty stats are proffered to pressure the under-vaccinated (because the goalposts are shifting from ‘fully vaxxed’ to ‘up to date’) to get ever more doses as they roll out. Booster uptake is lagging Down Under, and one of the most effective ways to push uptake is the threat of hospitalisation or death, as we’ve seen from the pandemic playbook since vaccine roll out in February 2021.
The other very effective way to drive uptake is vaccine mandates, which Australian state and territory leaders wielded with iron fist while the myth of transmission prevention still had legs. Today, that myth hangs by a thread thanks to headlines like this:
And admissions like this:
Without claim to the prevention of transmission, all our leaders have to fall back on for justification of vaccine mandates is the common good argument: Mandates are justified so as to relieve the strain on our healthcare system.
(Never mind that we’ve had 2 years and 4 months to prepare for this. Never mind that there are willing and able healthcare workers who would love to return to work, but cannot due to mandates, or that billions of dollars were chucked at interventions that don’t work and newly built resilience centres that are sitting empty.)
Those who’ve been able to work over the past 12 months without limitation may not rub up against the effects of mandates in their day-to-day life, and so may not be aware of the full extent of the damage to livelihoods, mental health, healthcare systems and the economy that is still in play. Mandates are in place in many Australian industries and businesses, either by government directive or by discriminatory policies implemented by the businesses themselves.1
For mandates to maintain (and possibly be brought back in full force as new variants ramp up) by edict of corporation or of government, there must be popular support. And in the absence of evidence that mandates are reducing the spread of Covid (they’re clearly not), the only tool left in the kit is a blunt hammer to belt home the necessity of mandates to save our healthcare system. Everyone wants to support our beleaguered healthcare system. Many will even support the stripping of basic civil rights of anyone who might pose a threat to said healthcare system, by dint of getting sick from a virus that everyone is catching.
And so, governments and shilling media outlets must prove to the public, unequivocally, that booster uptake and mandates are necessary and justified.
Unfortunately, they can’t do this with the unadulterated data, so they adulterate it.
Readers of this Substack already know that the data do not support the message that more jabs leads to reduced strain on the healthcare system. NSW is the only state (as far as I’m aware) to publish hospitalisation rates by vaccine dosage from 0 through to 4+ in separate categories, and the data show the anti-narrative. More doses correlates with higher rates of hospitalisation, and those higher rates are increasing in margin week on week. 3 and 4+ dosed are also consistently overrepresented in NSW Covid deaths.
In WA, official reports show that the 64.4% of the population that has received 3 or more doses of Covid vaccine is making up 62-66% of hospital admissions every week. In Tasmania’s last reporting period, the 89.3% of the population that has received 2 or more doses (bizarrely, they don’t break out 2, 3, 4+ in the data) accounted for 76.6% of hospital admissions and 72.5% of ICU admissions due to Covid (as opposed to with Covid. Pretty sure Tasmania is the only state to make this distinction).2 The real story here is the incredibly high numbers of vaccinated and boosted Australians in hospital with Covid.
This trend has similarly been observed in Canada, the USA , Portugal, West Germany, The Netherlands, and various other highly vaccinated European countries.
What do you do when the data don’t support the narrative?
You lie with statistics.
This brings us back to the tactic used by various governments including Western Australia and Victoria, whereby the 0 dose cohort are lumped in with Unknowns (including those vaccinated overseas and anyone who didn’t update Medicare when they moved house) in one big ol’ group called Not Vaccinated. Respective health departments disseminate punchy one-liners such as ‘25% of those in hospital are not vaccinated’, or ‘one in three Covid hospitalisations are not vaccinated’, and on a technicality, they avoid legal entanglement. The category is indeed called Not Vaccinated, despite including a potential multitude of vaccinated cases.
I’ve previously noted that with the use of that other trick of framing hospitalisation rates with eligible population vaccination rates instead of all population vaccination rates, government and media are painting a picture that is, unfortunately for us, fairly divorced from reality.
And then there’s the fact that in most state reports, key information is simply left out. It’s nigh impossible to review a data set that is missing chunks of data. An example of this is WA reports listing vaccination status for hospitalisations but not deaths or ICU, or Tasmanian reports breaking out 0 and 1 dose hospitalisations, but mixing the data for 2+ doses.
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It is of concern to me that when trustworthy sources (government, legacy media) report false and misleading statistics, the general reader is inclined to take the misrepresentation as fact, to the point of denying all evidence (or possibility) of the contrary. Take John, who I found lurking in the comments thread under a WA Government post pushing Covid vaccines:
It’s highly likely that John is referencing this article, or a version of it. The journalist reports,
”Newly released mortality data shows one-third of Victorians who died with COVID-19 in the first half of this year were unvaccinated, despite the unvaccinated cohort making up just 4 per cent of the state's over-12 population.”
You can probably see where this is going. Might I draw your attention to the word underlined in red on the table below, which accompanies the text of the article3:
As for 4% figure (eligible unvaccinated population), this is misleading on two counts. First, to frame all population death statistics, we should use all population vaccination statistics. The all population percentage of unvaccinated Victorians is 13.7%. Second, these deaths occurred throughout the first half of the year. The proportion of the Victorian population that is 0 dosed will have changed over the course of this 6 month period. The journalist compared a cumulative 6 month figure against today’s vaccination rates.
I tried to engage John in a discussion of facts, but he proved a closed mind. And this really is the problem. Independent journalists, Substackers and Facebook commenters can pound the keyboard all we like, and it will make a dent. But John is representative of the large majority who still trust government, public health institutions and legacy media to tell the truth. As long as people like John eat up everything they’re fed, false and misleading though it may be, public support will prevail for bad and unjustifiable policies.
The question is, why the obfuscation in government record keeping and news media reporting? Why don’t WA and VIC simply record 0 doses in the manner that NSW and TAS do, and as states do for all other dose rates? Why don’t states make their data open source so that the public and relevant experts can assess their governments’ performance? If government officials are the public servants they purport to be, then they will make no bones about being accountable to the people who voted them into their nice offices and handsome salaries.
It is perhaps encouraging that WA Health and the like are resorting to such underhanded tactics in their handling and presentation of Covid data. It signals that the house of cards may well be about to collapse. And the sooner we get to the truth of things, the sooner we can commando crawl our way out of this hot mess.
Only last week, the 4th jab was mandated for employees of the Queensland Police Service aged over 50. A longtime acquaintance of mine who has worked in the WA justice system for more than a decade was served notice of termination last month for the reason of ‘failing to follow an order’, that order being to submit to an unecessary medical procedure. Hero to Zero is a collective of healthcare workers who want to work, but are not allowed to due to mandates. A swathe of big businesses including RAC, Bendigo Bank and BHP have opted to keep vaccination requirements in place even though the government no longer requires them to do so.
I have not yet dug into Tasmanian data in detail (due only to time constraints) but I think it’s important to note that while Tasmania does show high rates of hopsitalisation for the 2+ dosed cohort, it also shows disproportionately high rates of hospitalisation for the 0 dosed cohort. I don’t have a working hypothesis for the disparity between TAS and NSW as yet. If anyone has an educated opinion on this, I’d love to hear it in the comments. At the very least, what the Australian data show at this point in time is that the hypothesis that vaccines prevent hospitalisation (and hence, strain on the healthcare system) is not supported by the 2+ dosed hospitalisation data. The 0 dosed data is inconclusive due to obfuscation in state reporting, and due to showing conversely underrepresentation (NSW) and overrepresentation (TAS) in the states that do not obfuscate the data.
Though John did not differentiate between Unvaccinated and Unknowns, the journalist notes that, “The department said that people whose vaccination status was categorised as "unknown" until it's established, usually make up about 3 per cent of deaths.” I would like to know how the department knows this, and if they know it, why don’t they report Unvaccinated and Unknown as separate line items.
How to Lie with Statistic, NSW edition: NSW might be the most transparent state when it comes to Surveillance Reporting, but they’ve got plenty of other tricks up their sleeve. See the below from Dr Ah Kahn Syed for more lying with statistics (as if we haven’t had enough of it already):
How to Lie with Statistics, OG edition: My sister recommended this book to me, and in lieu of legacy media applying any critical lens whatseover to government press releases in the past couple of years, I’ve bought myself a copy too. Here is a neat summary of what you can expect to learn. Note - highly recommended by Bill Gates (see cover).