Fine-tune your skepticism

If the numbers are bad, here’s what you do: lie about the numbers.

Top Trump officials, huddled in the White House, itself the subject of a coronavirus outbreak, have according to reports begun questioning the number of deaths – and the president is among the skeptics.

He has a lot of practice being a “skeptic” about numbers. When he’s selling a thing, the value goes way up. When he’s reporting that thing to the tax people, the value goes way down. It’s magic.

One common claim is that hospitals receive more money from Medicare if they are treating a patient with the coronavirus compared with other illnesses, and so are inflating their numbers. Scott Jensen, a Minnesota state senator and family physician, began hawking this theory in early April, leading to an appearance on [Laura] Ingraham’s show.

“Right now Medicare has determined that if you have a Covid-19 admission to the hospital, you’ll get paid $13,000,” Jensen said.

“If that Covid-19 patient goes on a ventilator, you get $39,000, three times as much. Nobody can tell me after 35 years in the world of medicine that sometimes those kinds of things [don’t] impact on what we do.”

Factcheckers have found no evidence to support Jensen’s claims – in fact, some hospital revenues are expected to be down, due to the cancellation of elective procedures – but the idea of labeling illnesses as coronavirus for cash became a talking point on rightwing Facebook groups and beyond.

Worryingly, the disinformation push seems to be working. An Axios-Ipsos poll found that the death toll has become a political issue, 40% of Republicans believing fewer Americans are dying from coronavirus than the official toll says.

separate study, published at the end of April, revealed the stark consequences of prominent figures underplaying the impact of Covid-19. A group of researchers tracked the spread of coronavirus among viewers of Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, after Hannity spent weeks downplaying the threat.

So Sean Hannity’s lies are killing people. I bet he still sleeps well at night.

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