My suspicion that maybe The Great Hysteria panic over coronavirus deaths was overblown started when I began to compare data from the coronavirus to previous years. Since the virus was new, I had to use something else in those comparisons, and influenza seemed like a reasonable substitute. Similar symptoms, method of spread, and other characteristics made it the most straightforward comparison. The results were truly stunning.

Context matters. If I tell you 7000 people are going to die in America today and your first reaction is “that’s like another 9/11”, a common response to such figures during the peak hysteria, you are acting out of total ignorance. You don’t know how that figure compares to a normal day. You don’t know that such a number is perfectly average. Everyone is mortal, everyone is going to die, and 350,000,000 people means a lot of death in total numbers.

The right response when you hear scary numbers is to ask “how does this compare?”.

One phenomena I’ve seen develop since the heady days of panic is a dichotomy between Left and Right over what to panic about. The Left panics about whatever their TV’s tell them to panic about, and the Right panics about whatever they don’t hear on TV. I’m all for distrusting the media, and I’m all for turning the things off. But when you merely play the same game as the Left, finding new things to worry about based on lack of contextual knowledge, I think you’re going to lose.

The latest example of this has been the destruction of food manufacturing buildings and the slaughter of animals in the US. Here’s an example of the kind of panic-inducing post I’m talking about:

Scary numbers, no? That’s a lot of dead birds. Lots of burned out buildings. Can you imagine 50 buildings on fire in the US? Or ten million slaughtered chickens? We’re in for a crisis, right?

Not exactly. This information is utterly meaningless without context. What does a normal year look like? A graph of the past ten years would be useful. I had trouble coming up with one, but I could find figures for a few specific years. For example, there are over 518,000,000 chickens in America, over 6,700,000 turkeys, and in 2019 over 27,000,000 ducks were slaughtered for meat here alone.

10,000,000 out of 518,000,000 is a small percentage. And given how quickly chickens can reproduce to build back up their numbers, it’s trivial. Losing ten million chickens in a year, as it turns out, is about average.

What about fires and agricultural buildings? It’s hard to pin the numbers down exactly for such a narrow type of building, but in the US there are nearly 40,000 fires in industrial buildings every year, and over 20,000 agricultural fires each year. How does a list of 50 such fires compare? Favorably, I’d think. That seems low. It’s probably not a complete list. It doesn’t run to the end of the year yet, but the rate seems below average.

What about train derailments, another popular thing to be concerned with? Well, there are between 4000 and 5000 each year. This year, like all years, seems to be on track (yes, I know) for just as many. And yet people are panicking when they see a few of these happen in a single week. You should expect nearly 100 every week.

I don’t mean to say there can never be coordinated efforts to cause death, destruction, and suffering. The Great Hysteria was just such an event and it’s not even finished in some places. Biden’s bizarre limitations on drilling permits, his closure of pipelines, and the Trump-Biden money printing bonanza of 2020-2021 along with profound economic damage from fear and mandatory house arrest all contributed to an economic crisis. There are plenty of other factors as well.

My main point should be uncontroversial: When you hear scary numbers, do the work to put them in context. If you don’t, know that you are willingly letting yourself be manipulated.