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Critical Thinking & COVID-19 XII: Comparisons

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During the pandemic various public figures and private social media users have attempted to downplay the danger presented by COVID-19 by comparing the number of deaths caused by the virus to other causes of deaths.  For example, a common example notes that 21,297 people died from 1/2o202 to 3/25/200 from COVID-19 and that 113,000 people died from the flu during the same period. Downplaying is a rhetorical technique used to make something seem less important or serious. These comparisons seem aimed at dismissing the claims made by experts that the virus is a grave threat. The comparisons are also often used to persuade people that the response has been excessive and hence was and is unnecessary. While comparing causes of death is an important part of making judgments about how to use resources and accurately assessing threats, the comparisons must be done with a critical eye. Before even considering the comparison between COVID-19 deaths and other causes of death, it is important to determine the accuracy of the numbers claimed when such comparisons are made. If the numbers of deaths are exaggerated, downplayed or otherwise inaccurate, then this obviously affects the comparison. Even if the numbers are accurate, the comparison must be critically assessed. The methods I will discuss are those I use in my Critical Inquiry class and are drawn from Moore and Parker’s Critical Thinking text. When a comparison worth considering is made, they recommend asking four questions. These questions are as follows:   Is important information missing? Is the same standard of comparison being used? Are the same reporting and recording practices being used? Are the items comparable? Is the comparison expressed as an average?   While question 4 does not apply, the other three do. One important piece of missing information in such comparisons is that while the other causes of death tend to be stable over time, the deaths caused by COVID-19 have been growing exponentially. On. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

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