Coronavirus Case, Death Numbers Should Be Interpreted With Caution, Professor Writes In Opinion Piece
New York Times: We’re Reading the Coronavirus Numbers Wrong
John Allen Paulos, professor of mathematics at Temple University and author
“Numbers have a certain mystique: They seem precise, exact, sometimes even beyond doubt. But outside the field of pure mathematics, that reputation rarely is deserved. And when it comes to the coronavirus epidemic, buying into it can be downright dangerous. … [B]ased on what we know so far, COVID-19 seems to be much less fatal than other coronavirus infections and diseases that turned into major epidemics in recent decades. The operative words here are ‘based on what we know so far’ — meaning, both no more and no less than that, and also that our take on the situation might need to change as more data come in. … [E]ven if only a small percentage of the people infected with COVID-19 die in the end, the death toll in absolute numbers could still be dreadful if the total population of infected turns out to be very large. However much we would like to know all the relevant facts about the coronavirus, we don’t know them right now, and we should accept the discomfort of that uncertainty. Which is all the more reason to abide by one of the things we do know at this point: You should wash your hands regularly” (2/18).