According to some recent news stories a significant percentage of Americans believe the coronavirus has something to do with Corona beer. Turns out these stories aren’t accurate and I found out through exhaustive research with consisted of Googling “corona beer sales” and reading one article.
According to what I read, sales of all brands of beer (not just Corona) in China were down because people were freaked out by the virus and public activities (like going out and having a beer) were down as well.
A sloppy survey and sloppy reporting about that survey led to news stories that said people were not drinking Corona beer because they thought it had a connection to the virus.
It’s a pretty good story even if it’s not true and I’ve told a few of those myself. If you want to read more about how the media screwed up, here’s the link:
The article winds up with a bit from The Atlantic magazine asking why people were so willing to believe questionable results from an obscure poll and here’s their answer:
We like to think we’re smarter than everyone else, so a story that said our fellow citizens are morons appealed to our preconceived notions.
Con jobs work best when the person being conned wants to believe there actually is an African prince who wants to put money in their bank account. (Which is completely untrue; it’s actually semi-retired political cartoonists who are giving millions away so send me your bank account number and just wait for the bucks to roll in.)
Polls and surveys
People are constantly starting a conversation by quoting some poll or survey that supports their point of view, which totally ignores how often polls and surveys are wrong.
Before Super Tuesday how many polls were saying Joe Biden was going to kick ass?
Afterwards, the people who got it wrong try to spin the results and claim their inaccurate polls were not their fault.
Here’s what some of them are now saying about Super Tuesday in hindsight: a large number of voters decided late, so it’s not our fault our polls were wrong, it’s yours you wishy-washy jerks. (I added the wishy-washy jerks part for emphasis, but they are trying to blame the voters for their inability to predict what those voters would do.)
The people who conduct polls and surveys can’t come out and say it’s actually impossible to predict the future because predicting the future is what they do for a living.
If they were actually sure of what they were predicting you’d think some of them would place enormous bets in Vegas and walk away millionaires, but if that’s happening it hasn’t made the news.
It’s amazing how many people want to give us investing advice which kinda makes me think if their advice was any good they wouldn’t need our money; they’d invest their own. But at this late date, why bring logic into it?
Here’s a link to an article that reminds us of how wrong most of the polls were about the 2016 presidential election:
The real question is why we continue to believe in polls and surveys and I think The Atlantic provided us with the answer which I’ll state in the form of a question: how many people quote a poll or survey that says they’re wrong?
We believe in certain polls and surveys because we want to believe in them, which is pretty much the same basic structure of every major religion.
The government is incoherent and the media isn’t helping
If I recall correctly – a risky assumption – I read that unless people show symptoms they did not need to get tested for the virus and that the Army was testing all new inductees for the virus in the same issue of a newspaper.
The government’s response to the coronavirus has been at best, incoherent.
Health organizations are telling people they shouldn’t overwhelm hospitals with demands to be tested while Vice President Mike Pence – the guy who supposed to have a handle on this stuff – is saying “any American” can be tested.
While some authorities are suggesting cancelling unnecessary travel and public gatherings, President Trump is on Sean Hannity’s show suggesting it’s OK to show up for work even if you have the coronavirus.
The people in charge are saying all kinds of contradictory stuff so it’s hard to know what to believe and the media isn’t doing much to sort things out.
And all this panic totally ignores the fact that the regular, old-fashioned flu – the kind that comes around every year – killed 61,000 people during the 2017-2018 flu season, which makes me wonder when the “flu season” actually begins and if they have an Opening Day.
If so, ticket sales must be terrible.
So if the regular, old flu kills an NFL stadium worth of people every year why doesn’t the media go nuts about that?
It’s old news and the coronavirus is something new.
How we decide what news we get
Back when I started working for newspapers the only indicator we had of what people thought of our product was circulation. Once in a while we’d hire some expert to conduct a survey of readers and under that method of measurement political cartoons always did well – people like to look at cartoons.
Now newspapers can see what articles you click on, how far down you scroll and how long you spend looking at the article in question.
Under this new method of measurement political cartoons suck; if you see a cartoon online there’s nothing to click on, nowhere to scroll and it takes about three seconds to look at one.
I still think people like to look at cartoons, but newspapers changed the way they measure reader engagement and different methods of measurement yield different results. And with the new method of measurement, employing a political cartoonist was no longer important to newspapers.
(And if you think I’ve gotten off track to grind my own personal axe, you’re not as dumb as that Corona beer story indicates.)
Once we could measure what kind of articles people clicked on editors began assuring their employees they didn’t want “clickbait” while simultaneously firing employees who didn’t provide it. Demands for “page views” – which is how newspapers now measure success – skyrocketed.
And that’s where you come in.
If every story about the coronavirus gets a lot of page views – and I think we’re all anxious for the latest information – we’re going to get a lot more stories about the coronavirus, even when those stories contradict each other and make us even more confused than we were before we tried to inform ourselves.
So what should we do?
One part of me wants to cancel an upcoming trip – pretty sure I caught the flu after my last plane flight – and another part of me thinks avoiding other people is just about impossible.
I’m still going to get takeout food, eat in restaurants, shop in grocery stores and once the baseball season begins for real I’ll join about 38,000 people to watch the Kansas City Royals play on Opening Day.
If you’re looking for definitive answers, here’s one: you’ve definitely come to the wrong place.
Right now I think I’m going to wait for the dust to settle, see where things end up once everyone quits running around like headless chickens with a meth habit and in order to relax, have a beer.
And it’s going to be a Corona.