More disinformation about COVID policy in New Zealand
I have a piece up at Science Based Medicine responding to criticism of New Zealand’s zero COVID policy by Jay Bhattacharya, an author of the Great Barrington Declaration and an uncompromising critic of COVID restrictions. Here’s the intro:
Bhattacharya’s most compelling argument is that the zero COVID policy led to an increase in non-COVID mortality that substantially offset the COVID deaths the policy averted. If this were true, it would indeed be a powerful criticism of New Zealand’s policy. However, the best available estimates suggest that excess non-COVID mortality in New Zealand was negative during the pandemic – fewer people died than we would have expected based on historical data. New Zealand’s COVID policy appears to have prevented thousands of COVID deaths, with no offsetting increase in non-COVID mortality.
Bhattacharya got this wrong for a simple reason: he did not attempt to compare COVID deaths averted to estimates of excess non-COVID mortality. Instead, he used statistical innuendo to create the impression that the policy backfired. He also seems to have been misled by a chart of excess deaths based on a biased methodology, a mistake that would have become apparent to him if he had bothered to compare excess non-COVID mortality to COVID deaths avoided.
I was puzzled by this claim when I read it. It was immediately clear to me that Bhattacharya erred by not comparing COVID deaths averted to excess non-COVID mortality caused by the zero COVID policy. But things got confusing when I looked at the excess death data; eventually I figured out what was going on.
Worth a read if you’re interested in how empirical claims about policy can go awry; it’s not just garden-of-forking-paths, p-hacking, and file drawer problems that we have all (rightly) become much more aware of.
Previous posts about New Zealand here, here, here, here, here.
I believe that New Zealand particularly worries them because its government is both reasonably liberal and far more popular to its general public than most.
I mostly credit that difference to the influence of the Maori caucus within the NZ Labour Party. NZ politics in general are consistently practical and centrists, but Maoris are just better at that.
Who is “them” in your comment? Just Bhattacharya and his GBD colleagues? The assessment of New Zealand’s policy choices is pretty granular in the bigger global COVID scheme. Not sure how many people worry about it at all, let alone for the perceived popularity and ideology of the government there.
The conservatives that I know consider New Zealand the global incarnation of CA liberalism. They are wrong, but they are reactionary which is almost always wrong. Covid policy is just the fear tactic of the moment, but gun control turned the Right against Australia, whereas everything turns the Right against New Zealand. The economic impact of Covid policy gives it relevance to a broad audience, but the game is simply to manipulate public political opinion. Covid policy has long legs. Elites have social distanced to protect their wallets since the dawn of time. The Right does not object to big pharma, but there is no profit in general public social distancing and masks are cheap since production was scaled up.
New Zealand’s political realism is the contagion that the Right fears far more than Covid-19.
Gun control: New Zealand shows the way
Katie Kouchakji, Auckland
The Pacific nation has introduced swift and sweeping reforms of gun laws following the mass shooting in Christchurch in March – a move that highlights the continuing lack of action to tackle gun violence in the United States.
‘One of New Zealand’s darkest days,’ was how the country’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the mass shooting in Christchurch on 15 March. Fifty-one people were killed and 50 others wounded when a lone gunman opened fire at two mosques in the city, in the country’s worst peacetime shooting. The gunman livestreamed his actions on Facebook.
Less than a month later, New Zealand’s Parliament voted 119-1 to introduce a nationwide ban on semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles. In addition to the sweeping reform of gun laws, a special commission is being set up to explore broader issues around accessibility of weapons and the role of social media.
The rapid response to the Christchurch attack is in stark contrast to that of the United States. America has the highest rate of murder and manslaughter by firearms in the developed world and a high rate of mass shootings, yet even moderate reform of gun laws has been blocked for 25 years. Not even last year’s March for Our Lives (MFOL) demonstration in support of legislation to prevent gun violence – one of the largest protests in American history – could trigger political will for reform…
Nothing threatens the political Right more than the notion that government might be made to work in the best interests of its own general population.
Not particularly clear to me it was statistical innuendo. Looks like he saw a ripe cherry and picked it. On the first read.
Exactly. Pot shots at a favorite target.