Increasing mortality baseline

There was a time not that long ago when a hundred covid deaths seemed like a lot, but now the United States is getting closer to one million deaths with over a thousand deaths per day. The country is unmasking and re-opening. For The Atlantic, Ed Yong discusses the shifting baseline and our perception of these big numbers:

The United States reported more deaths from COVID-19 last Friday than deaths from Hurricane Katrina, more on any two recent weekdays than deaths during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, more last month than deaths from flu in a bad season, and more in two years than deaths from HIV during the four decades of the AIDS epidemic. At least 953,000 Americans have died from COVID, and the true toll is likely even higher because many deaths went uncounted. COVID is now the third leading cause of death in the U.S., after only heart disease and cancer, which are both catchall terms for many distinct diseases. The sheer scale of the tragedy strains the moral imagination. On May 24, 2020, as the United States passed 100,000 recorded deaths, The New York Times filled its front page with the names of the dead, describing their loss as “incalculable.” Now the nation hurtles toward a milestone of 1 million. What is 10 times incalculable?

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Americans are dying too much

Derek Thompson for The Atlantic highlights recent research comparing mortality in America against rates in Europe:

According to a new working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Americans now die earlier than their European counterparts, no matter what age you’re looking at. Compared with Europeans, American babies are more likely to die before they turn 5, American teens are more likely to die before they turn 20, and American adults are more likely to die before they turn 65. At every age, living in the United States carries a higher risk of mortality. This is America’s unsung death penalty, and it adds up. Average life expectancy surged above 80 years old in just about every Western European country in the 2010s, including Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, the U.K., Denmark, and Switzerland. In the U.S., by contrast, the average life span has never exceeded 79—and now it’s just taken a historic tumble.

Find the full NBER paper here.

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Not so likely life of The Simpsons

For The Atlantic, Dani Alexis Ryskamp compares the financials of The Simpsons against present day medians, arguing that the fictional family’s lifestyle is no longer attainable:

The purchasing power of Homer’s paycheck, moreover, has shrunk dramatically. The median house costs 2.4 times what it did in the mid-’90s. Health-care expenses for one person are three times what they were 25 years ago. The median tuition for a four-year college is 1.8 times what it was then. In today’s world, Marge would have to get a job too. But even then, they would struggle. Inflation and stagnant wages have led to a rise in two-income households, but to an erosion of economic stability for the people who occupy them.

Someone should take this a step further and look at distributions and time series to show the shift, with The Simpsons as baseline.

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Bad denominator

With coronavirus testing, many governments have used the percentage of tests that came back positive over time to gauge progress and decide whether or not it’s time to reopen. To calculate percentage, they divide confirmed cases by total tests. The denominator — total tests — often comes from the CDC, which apparently hasn’t done a good job calculating that denominator, because not all tests are the same.

Alexis C. Madrigal and Robinson Meyer for The Atlantic:

Mixing the two tests makes it much harder to understand the meaning of positive tests, and it clouds important information about the U.S. response to the pandemic, Jha said. “The viral testing is to understand how many people are getting infected, while antibody testing is like looking in the rearview mirror. The two tests are totally different signals,” he told us. By combining the two types of results, the CDC has made them both “uninterpretable,” he said.

Oh.

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Rise of data art

Data art is on the rise. Jacoba Urist for the Atlantic gets into the beginnings and its current prevalence.

Art is a constant march of expansion, according to Harvey Molotch, a professor of sociology and metropolitan studies at New York University, whose research includes the sociology of art. Pop art incorporated comic books and ordinary soup cans. Edvard Munch's expressionist painting, The Scream captured the anxiety and isolation of modern life. "Now there's the digital self, the newest kid on the block and so of course, artists are there," he explained. "Art and environment are very much in cahoots."

A lot of good stuff and worth the read.

Although I'm not sure about the categorization of data artists in either the scientific data arena or quantified self one. I'm pretty sure it's a much wider and continuous spectrum.

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