False “Despite” and Games with Models, 6/23/20 Data

In conservative circles, “Fox Butterfield, Call Your Office” is a cliché (or meme) used to characterize news stories with a false “despite.”  In the case that led columnist James Taranto to coin the phrase, one might paraphrase it as, “prison populations continue to rise despite falling crime.”

A variation on the theme can be found in a tweet from NPR:

At his rally on Saturday, President Trump said “it’s time to open up” — despite the fact that new coronavirus cases are on the rise in almost half the country.

One can debate the significance of the “on the rise” part, but yes, as the country continues opening up, there may be an increase in new cases.  Oddly, a Boston Globe article reporting that “fewer than 3 percent of the thousands of demonstrators who visited a free state testing site last week tested positive for the novel coronavirus” does not contain the word “despite.”  Instead, this is a “hopeful sign that waves of protests against police brutality aren’t feeding a new spike.”

Indeed, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker noted that the 2.5% infection rate in this group is (per the article) “consistent with statewide positive test results.”  So, one might say “despite continuing dire warnings against large gatherings, they do not increase infection rates.”  Of course, that doesn’t fit the narrative.

Somebody should coin a phrase for the apparent imperviousness of progressive protesters to disease and criticism.  Maybe, “implied immunity.”

To return to the NPR tweet, though, we should demand the writers answer a simple question: Should we remain locked down until there is no chance that opening up will increase the number of cases?  That would be absurd, and avoiding the question gives propaganda outlets the ability to imply the standard without articulating it.

It is time to open up, and we may see increased cases of the disease.  Preventing all sickness was never part of the deal, and the shutdown is causing real harm, including death.

Turning to today’s report of RI COVID-19 data:  The 14-day infection rate continues to be around 5%, meaning that it takes 20 people walking around with COVID-19 for two weeks to infect one additional person.  Generally, the trends toward improvement continue in Rhode Island… despite people out and about, following the governor’s rules or following her demonstrated practices.


(See here for my original methodology and here for a subsequent modification I made.)

Projections versus actuals (date of report).

  • Cases:
    • Projection for 6/23: 16,496
    • Actual for 6/23: 16,533
    • Projection for 6/24: 16,570
  • Hospitalizations:
    • Projection for 6/23: 107
    • Actual for 6/23: 105
    • Projection for 6/24: 103
  • Deaths:
    • Projection for 6/23: 905
    • Actual for 6/23: 906
    • Projection for 6/24: 908


Of the following two issues related to Rhode Island’s public schools, which one is a greater concern?

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