How COVID-19 Rankings Are All Wrong

What does the world look like if you remove Africa and China? That’s how it looks to Foreign Policy

Complicated COVID-19 rankings are about as useful as a weather report for yesterday. We looked at 100 variables and can confidently say that it was sunny in France. But it rained you dumbasses. Just look outside.

You don’t need to predict things that have already happened. You don’t need a report on what pandemic responses should have been like. You can just look at deaths and cases per capita and see what actually happened.

Rather than looking at the world and learning something, however, western media are just painting racism by numbers. The same old biases, dressed up in bad statistics. The west is the best, China is the worst, darkies don’t exist, blah blah blah. This has all been comprehensively run over by reality, but still a pale hand rises from the grave, clutching a PDF. Subscribe for more actionable insight, for the low price of $450.

But these rankings are all wrong. I mean, just look around.

What’s Wrong

I’ll get into why these rankings are wrong, but first here they are.

Here’s Foreign Policy, to whom the entire world is literally a foreign concept, unless it contains white people.

Foreign Policy

As you can see, much of the world doesn’t exist because it does not contain rich/white people. China gets a ZERO because CHINA BAD. VERY BAD. Meanwhile, Belgium has had an EXCELLENT response, killing an excellent 854 people per million. For reference, Vietnam has 0.36 deaths/million, but unfortunately does not exist. The truth is that Belgium has the 3rd worst death rate in the world but, you know, excellent.

This list is complete nonsense.

Foreign Policy is ranking the shambolic UK (612 deaths/million) higher than hyper-competent South Korea (6.55 deaths/million). The death rate is literally 100x higher in the UK but Foreign Policy is like 🤷🏻‍♂️. Taiwan, with 7 deaths total, is ranked lower than Germany, with over 9,300. Like seriously, how many points is whiteness in this index? Foreign Policy is just painting racism by numbers, with a fig leaf over Senegal and, inexplicably, South Africa

As I said, this whole exercise is pointless. We don’t have to model reality because reality has already happened. Foreign Policy has just drawn a map of how dumb and racist they are. Makes you question their other coverage.

Forbes

Ah Forbes, the Internet equivalent of a public restroom wall. They will literally publish anything. Here is some clickbait called 100 Safest Countries for COVID-19, produced by some big data grifters I won’t advertise. Let’s call them Deep Fart.

Here are their rankings at left and the same countries sorted by 7-day rolling average (ie, scale of current outbreak) at right. The rankings are completely useless, and it’s like this for every metric. It’s just a list of rich/white countries with COVID slapped on top for clickbait.

Right now, according to Deep Fart, Germany is the safest place in the world, despite literally having an epidemic the size of Iraq’s, with over 800 cases yesterday. However, in an earlier report, they ranked Israel #1, which their Prime Minister proudly crowed about. Now Israel is having the worst outbreak in the world. Germany should be worried, as the predictive value of this report is negative.

Then there’s the casual racism of dumping poorer, darker countries like Vietnam, Cuba, or Rwanda at the bottom because that’s where you expect them. Take Mongolia, which never had local transmission at all. They’re ranked at #94, below Brazil, the United States, you know, places that actually have COVID-19.

It’s not just that these rankings are wrong, it’s that they can’t be right. It’s statistical garbage, laundered through a tech-bro journalist that doesn’t check anything. The article says this, and proudly:

All told, [Deep Fart] says they looked at more than 140 parameters and considered more than 35,000 data points, both up significantly from June’s report.

THIS IS NOT A GOOD THING. A basic statistical principle is propagation of error, if you add more variables the error rate increases, and you’re less and less likely to be measuring what you think. In this case it’s not even clear what they’re measuring, since COVID safety doesn’t correlate with cases or deaths or anything in the real world.

The model simple ranks its own biases, and Forbes is happy to launder this as fact. As the article says:

The ranking isn’t what most people expect: it’s not just about how many infections there are right now, or how many deaths COVID-19 has caused.

Yes, this report is not what people expect. They’d expect it to be a ranking of COVID safety. It’s not.

Bad Statistics

These reports are all rendered useless by one simple statistical fact. If you take 100 different metrics each with an error of 5%, congratulations, you have a combined error of 100%. Your data is garbage. You can’t just keep adding different data points. There’s no control, the error increases and you’re not even answering your question anymore.

Even worse, if you have human beings weight this garbage, then you’re just guessing. These guys are literally just taking a bunch of random data, multiplying by 🤷🏽‍♂️, and producing 🤮.

Foreign Policy is saying that infant mortality correlates to pandemic response. OK, how much? Does it account for 1 or 2% of the variance? How does it interact with other variables? Is this even knowable? And you’re doing this hundreds of times? This is complete statistical vomit.

In Forbes, Deep Dreck is even worse, though I guess I’d give them both zero. They’re using an estimate of vulnerability when the event has already happened. This is like a doctor saying you don’t have cancer because you’re unlikely to have cancer. OK, then what’s this lump?

Again, more data does not mean more accuracy. This is basic statistics. One variable is hard to control, but 100 is just impossible. Error propagates, it doesn’t reduce. But these guys don’t care. They’re just selling something, so they slap 25% MORE DATA on the tin. And people publish it.

All told, [Deep Dreck] says they looked at more than 140 parameters and considered more than 35,000 data points, both up significantly from June’s report.

You dumbasses, you just introduced more error. These models are all error.

Bad Racism

You don’t even have to believe in math. These are predictions so you can just check. Are they right?

Foreign Policy

Foreign Policy gives China a zero. Literally, the worst possible response. Zero. Is this true? China crushed their epidemic, returned to normal and has sent help around the world. Is this zero, or is an American publication just regurgitating propaganda?

Forbes

Forbes is publishing that Sri Lanka is the 92nd worst place in the world, but I live in Sri Lanka. We’ve eliminated COVID-19 (as much as you can) and our borders are sealed. My kids are in school and everything is back to normal. How are we less safe than the USA, where a thousand people are dying every day? Is my lived experience an illusion, or is perhaps your data wrong?

Racism

What these reports produce is not a representation of reality. We have reality for that. What they produce is simply the racist bias of their authors (and our economies), laundered through bad statistics. Statistics is garbage in garbage out, but I won’t even call this statistics. This is just racism in racism out.

For once, however, your racism isn’t killing brown or poor people abroad. It offends us, but we’re not dying. Stupid thinking like this is precisely how the west is killing itself.

Bad Religion

As Bad Religion said (via Sublime), we’re only gonna die from our own arrogance. These reports are offered as a guide to policy makers, but it is arrogant, ignorant reports like this that got everyone killed. White people spent so much time modelling COVID-19 that they literally got run over. You don’t need to model a tsunami. Just follow everybody else and run.

As the lyrics continue,

So, he built his great empire
And he slaughtered his own kind
He died a confused man
Killed himself with his own mind

The western empire is confused. You are slaughtering your own kind. You are killing yourselves with your own mind.

Again, you don’t need to model pandemic responses. We are the model. The poor, dark people that you look down on. Your mortal enemies in China. Not bad data about the world but us, the actual world.

You guys need to put down your bullshit rankings and look at where you are. You’re at the bottom. Put down your pride, put down your arrogance and put down these stupid reports. I understand that we’re not rich or white, but we’re rich in health, and we’re right. Let us help you up. Put down your fucking racism and live.

Written by

A writer living in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He/him. indi@indi.ca. Videos: tiny.cc/indication and podcast: anchor.fm/indication. patreon.com/indication

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