How to Communicate COVID Stats in an Age of Misinformation

In the age of COVID, misinformation and disinformation have intensified. of completely unverified social media posts stating that 5G mobile networks increase the spread of COVID to false statements that leaving a cut onion in a room can “catch” germs; there is an almost endless supply of fake news circulating online.

Government data agencies and public health organizations have faced tremendous pressure to deal with an ever-developing pandemic. However, even with relatively minor missteps or errors in the presentation of data that can play into misinformation campaigns, it is of the utmost importance that all official data is clearly explained in a way that everyone can understand. .

Controversial figures

In recent months, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has come under scrutiny from data scientists, public health experts and the statistics regulator over unclear data methodology. When Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in December that the UKHSA had estimated there were around 200,000 omicron infections a day, a number of experts questioned the figure and wondered if it was really that high.

In reality, this figure was model-based, calculated using limited public information and was a rough estimate at best. To complicate matters further, the UKHSA continued to confirm the figure was correct within hours of its first statement, but did not provide a substantiation for the figures for almost three days.

It is not the first time that the UKHSA have found themselves in hot water around so much of the presentation of the day that they are cashing in. as well as the methodology behind these calculations.

Last year, the health body published a study that allegedly showed that COVID infection rates were higher in fully vaccinated people aged 40 and older than in unvaccinated people in the same age group. ‘age. The chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, called the numbers “misleading and false and we have made that very clear to the UKHSA.”

In a blog post in November, Mary Gregory, deputy director for regulation, Office for Statistics Regulation, noted that the UKHSA had made improvements to the way it reports data, but more needs to be done.

“This provides an important lesson about the harm that can be done if data is not clearly presented and well explained. Communicating data is about more than presenting numbers. Data producers must do all they can to minimize the risk of misinterpretation or misuse,” says Gregory.

Data Challenges

These examples illustrate some of the problems that arise when extraordinarily complex datasets are released to the general public. Even attempting to compare COVID-related statistics between countries presents challenges. With a range of different testing strategies in place across Europe alone, with access to testing varying widely, simply comparing high-level figures around COVID infections can be problematic.

For example, some countries like Israel have opted for rapid antigen tests, while Denmark uses a mixture of lateral flow and PCR tests. With different testing procedures leading to differing levels of effectiveness, direct comparison of these numbers can lead to conclusions that may be inaccurate.

business case

The challenges that public health agencies face when it comes to accurately conveying data to the public are similar to the issues companies face when working with data. According to research by an analyst firm Gartnerpoor data literacy is one of the biggest barriers to successfully using data to drive business value.

“While data and analytics managers, such as chief data officers, recognize that there is an inherent need for data-driven decision-making, linking that demand to measurable business goals and outcomes is a existing challenge,” said Alan D. Duncan, Distinguished Vice President. Analyst at Gartner.

Deploying cutting-edge data technologies is only part of the journey companies must take to ensure their organization gets the most out of the data they own. Because even relatively simple data results can be easily misunderstood, companies need to train data and analytics staff to be able to interpret the data and draw the right conclusions.

Any business that fails to approach data with a high level of skill and will open itself up to major problems. For example, if business leaders are told that survey data shows that customers are happy to pay a higher price for products, but they are not surveying enough customers in certain countries, act on these data and increasing prices could result in the unexpected loss of customers.

No matter what industry sector an organization operates in, data is sure to play a central role in virtually every area of ​​business. Investing in training and technology to empower employees to make the right data decisions is likely to pay off in the future.