On Puerto Rico, Trump Is Right (UPDATED)

This is all POWERLINE, but soo important for the “Mantra Busting” that …. here ya go:

…This is what is going on: Some “scientists”–read anti-Trump Democratic Party activists–constructed a theoretical baseline of how many deaths would be expected to occur in Puerto Rico during the months after Hurricane Maria. They then compared this baseline to the actual number of deaths, and voila! The actual number was higher than their hypothetical guess by 3,000. So all of those deaths–whether caused by cancer, car accidents, or whatever–are attributed to the hurricane. These activists have not made any attempt to count the actual number of hurricane-related deaths.

No one would use such a foolish methodology except for political reasons. This is more fake news propagated by anti-Trump activists. The fake news media, like CNN, have attacked President Trump for disputing the “scientists” who came up with the 3,000 number. Sadly, some Republicans have joined them, probably because they are ignorant about what is actually going on here.

For what it is worth, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September 2017, and Puerto Rico’s death rate declined in 2017, after years of increases:

(click to enlarge)

So, following the logic of the Left and the #NeverTrumpers, MORE hurricanes should hit Puerto Rico. Just sayin’ — I love the holes dug by these early reactors to the MSM. Some article to preserve:

Excess mortality studies have been used to measure everything from the life expectancy of smokers to “temperature-related stress” in the Netherlands. The problem is that such studies are inherently reliant on conjecture. There can be other problems as well, namely politics, as I learned a decade ago while poking holes in an excess mortality study in Iraq published by the Lancet.

An article in the British medical journal estimated some 650,000 “excess” Iraqi deaths in the 40 months following the U.S. invasion. This figure was seven times higher than the toll based on body counts. It was based on field surveys supposedly done by a former health official in Saddam Hussein’s government and was authored by outspoken critics of the Iraq war — and of George W. Bush. It was also timed to come out just before the 2006 midterm elections.

To some neutral observers, the controversy underscored the importance of actually documenting wartime casualties. I don’t know how much Donald Trump knows about this topic. But he apparently is aware that “excess mortality” is not how U.S. authorities have previously tallied storm deaths. The National Hurricane Center, for example, estimated that 1,833 people died in Hurricane Katrina, most from drowning.

In Puerto Rico, there were myriad problems getting accurate data, the biggest being that electricity was knocked out for so long. This inhibited the reporting ability of island health officials. It also led to deprivations that killed health-impaired residents months after the hurricane season ended. In that environment, excess mortality studies made sense. Inevitably, they would be imprecise, and perhaps just wrong. The first such study, by researchers at Penn State University, estimated the number of deaths at 1,085 – when the government in San Juan was still listing the official toll as 64. Days later, the New York Times, using island death certificates, produced an estimate of 1,052.

Harvard went next. Its study, trumpeted uncritically around the world, had problems. For one thing, its range of 793 to 8,498 excess deaths was unhelpful. So the media settled on the median figure, 4,645, which was little more than a guess. The bigger problem is that the methodology was a mish-mash. Harvard’s researchers compared actual deaths in 2016 to estimates based on interviews – polling surveys – in 2017. “The big thing is the methodology is so completely different, you don’t now what you’re dealing with,” said University of Texas biostatistics professor Donald Berry. “What you end up with is garbage.”

That’s the background when the governor of Puerto Rico tapped George Washington University’s school of public health to do another excess mortality survey. Like all such studies, it’s based on assumptions and guesswork – in this case assumptions complicated by the outward migration of tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans to the mainland after the hurricane. That said, I know of no evidence that would undermine its estimate of 2,975 excess deaths


Self Reporting is the worst!

The difference between survey results and demonstrable realities was also pointed out by the author of Hillbilly Elegy: “In a recent Gallup poll, Southerners and Midwesterners reported the highest rates of church attendance in the country. Yet actual church attendance is much lower in the South.”

Thomas Sowell, Discrimination and Disparities (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2018), 23-25 (added references).

As Twitchy reported, the media went wild last week when a report from Harvard University estimated that nearly 5,000 people in Puerto Rico had died from Hurricane Maria.

The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog, though, took a look at how Harvard, whose researchers admitted they conducted “a quick study on a limited budget,” came up with that number and found that the methodology was ridiculously flawed:

In effect, the researchers took one number — 15 deaths identified from a survey of 3,299 households — and extrapolated that to come up with 4,645 deaths across the island. That number came with a very large caveat, clearly identified in the report, but few news media accounts bothered to explain the nuances….


Flashback: Puerto Rican Gov. admitted higher ‘death toll is only an approximation, not a concrete list of names’

The death toll is ‘a very broad estimate for the number of people who died above what you’d expect to see in a normal year’ – ‘But that number is not a count of the death toll in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria. Instead, it’s just the midpoint of a wide-ranging estimate of the possible number of deaths’


It turns out there is no list of names.   There is no accounting of what causes of death were attributable to the aftermath of the devastating storm.  In fact, having now scanned the George Washington University report at the heart of this all, I have an itching feeling they missed a big statistical point.

The bottom line is that the researchers developed a model and made a projected estimate of the number of deaths to be expected on the island during the six months following the storm, based on previous year’s death numbers.   They then factored in the fact that a full 8 percent of the population, 280,000 people roughly, left the island following the storm.

With that population change factored in, the “expected” number of deaths was about 3,000 fewer than the 16,000 deaths which were recorded September through February.  Those 3,000 “excess” deaths above the projection are the one’s being attributed to the effects of the storm.  I’m rounding because their report admits the projection is not exact.  The chart I included above notes the higher death rate per 10,000 people.

There are not 3,000 death certificates noting hurricane-related causes (loss of electricity, stress, poor transportation response) and the authors chide the local medical community for not being sufficiently exact in filling out their death certificates.  So they are left with models and projections and estimates, which have translated into MSM-accepted Truth.

Here’s my question, the itch not addressed in the report, that I saw:   Who left?  Who departed following the storm?  Would the elderly, infirm and impoverished have been the ones to decamp to the mainland?  Or would they have been the one’s left behind?  Doesn’t the shift in the baseline also at least in part explain this?  The death rate really only jumped dramatically when you reduce the baseline population


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