Why we can’t trust covid death statistics

The plural of anecdote is data.

The above line comes from a story that, according to my former colleague Greg Jarrell at the University of Rochester, George Stigler told him in the 1970s.

If you have a lot of anecdotes, beyond some point they become data.

I thought of this based on a story I heard a few days ago about a death attributed to covid. I’m going to withhold some details because I’m not allowed to tell the story with names and places.

Here’s the story:

A friend who is a very careful empirical economist told me that a relative’s wife recently died. The cause is obviously a heart attack. But when they tested him, they found covid. The widow was told that FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, pays for funerals if a person dies of Covid. So he wanted to write the cause of death as covid.

What do you think he answered?

I wonder how many more such cases there are.

Here is an excerpt from the June 6, 2022 press release from FEMA:

WASHINGTON – FEMA has awarded more than $2.5 billion to more than 389,000 individuals and families to help with COVID-19-related funeral expenses for deaths that occurred on or after January 20, 2020. Died of covid-19.

By June 6, 398,000 were close to 40% of the total number of Covid deaths in the US. What fraction of these deaths were really due to covid? I don’t know, maybe we don’t know. But the answer is very important.

Oh and, by the way, why should we make taxpayers pay for those funerals?

Note: Image above by George Stigler.

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