How Media Fear-Mongers Misrepresent COVID-19

Accentuating the negative and eliminating the positive leads to irrational and ineffective responses.

Today, like yesterday and tomorrow, news outlets will announce the number of new COVID-19 cases. “Cases,” in this case, will be the number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 since yesterday’s announcement. In the spirit of accentuate the negative and eliminate the positive, the number of people who tested negative for COVID-19 will not be announced. This matters because 300 new cases out of 3,000 tests is an alarming number, but 300 new cases out of 30,000 tests, while a cause for concern, is not alarming. In this case, as in most cases, context is what enables us to think about a number. Numerators without denominators are seldom informative.

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