ConnectCommentary: The sad fall of a giant

Updated: May 6

A recent article on the official website of Forbes Magazine destroys their credibility with factual errors, incorrect premises, and ethical blunders

I am stunned and more disappointed than i can remember being in a long time... and i have written a letter to Forbes stating so.

This article posted today on the Forbes website is the most irresponsible journalism I could possibly imagine from what I previously considered a reliable, non-political, unbiased and professional resource for business news.

There is NO excuse for their lack of thoroughness in their reporting of this, their selective use of data to push an agenda, nor the tone of the article, which does not toe up against the ethical line between reporting and editorializing... it drags jackbooted feet all the way across the line and then turns around and kicks the dirt a few times for good measure.

@Forbes.. you should be ASHAMED of yourself.

Let's start with the headline:

“The Risk of Exposure to Covid-19 In Georgia has Increased by more than 40% Since the State Reopened for Business.”

“Risk of Exposure” is different than “risk of being infected by the SARS CoV-2 virus,” which is what the article discusses (incorrectly and incompetently, but we’ll discuss that in a minute) and “Risk of Exposure” is a VERY different beast than “risk of serious outcomes of infection with the SARS CoV-2 Virus” - which is a distinction that Forbes, as a source of NEWS, had a responsibility to make clear.

So, we’ve started off with a headline that is both incorrect, and misleading.

Now let's look at the first paragraph:

“Kemp then abandoned his shelter-in-place order which was scheduled to expire on May 13 and reopened the state on May 1.”

First, the wording - the use of the word “abandoned” is Journalism 101 prof would have redlined it and given me that look I quickly learned to fear.

Secondly, it is inaccurate. As the following timelines show, it was the State of Emergency that was set to expire on May 13. The Shelter-in-Place Order was set to expire 11:59 p.m. on April 30, and was allowed to expire on schedule.

The original Public Health State of Emergency was enacted on March 14 and set to expire on April 13 On April 8, Gov. Kemp extended the PHSOE for 30 days, to expire on May 13. On April 30, Kemp extended the PHSOE for 30 days, to expire on June 12.

The original statewide shelter in place order was issued on April 3, and set to expire on April 13. On April 8, Gov. Kemp extended the SIP for 17 days, to expire on April 30.

On April 23, Gov. Kemp issued an Modified Shelter In Place Order that took effect on May 1. The MSIP Order limited the applicability of the mandates of the original SIP Order to at-risk populations, including the elderly and those with certain medical or immunity-related conditions. When you combine the populations that are still required to shelter in place under Kemp’s new order – the elderly, those with specific existing health and immunity issues) - more than 50 percent of the population, and up to 75 percent of the population, depending on how literal the order is read (Think smoking and obesity, both mentioned as “at risk”), are still under the same Shelter In Place Order as the one that expired on April 1 All other citizens must adhere to social distancing and hygiene guidelines. This MSIP will expire on June 12.

So, we now have a first paragraph that joins the headline in being inaccurate and misleading.

Let’s proceed.

Paragraph three states that, on April 21, "Georgia ranked “16th worst” in the US in terms of residents’ risk of exposure to the virus. The only source for this "ranking" was a previous article by this author posted on the Forbes website. The author explained the data used to determine that ranking was the Covid-19 Incident Rate (IR). “Five days later on April 26 Georgia’s IR had risen to 211.5, a 30.8% increase," the article states.

Let's start by looking at timing.

Working backwards:

It takes approximately one day for figures submitted to GDPH by local testing facilities to be added to the GDPH tallies on their update (Ive actually been seeing figures from a month ago being updated daily .. but that’s a topic for my next article);

Test results have a 24-48 hour turnaround once completed and sent to a lab for results;

Getting screened/approved and tested varies, in some locations you do not have to have prior authorization for testing, in others you do, so lets say, for a citizen to decide they want a test, and to go get the test, and for that test swab to be delivered to the lab for processing, between 12 and 36 hours.

So, just from the point of a citizen starting the process to get tested, to the time it appears on the GDPH update, is a three- to five-day process.

This leaves me more than slightly confused as to how a policy change that went into effect, in part on April 24, and in part on April 27, impacted data posted to the GDPH daily update on April 26 to be used by the author in his article.

Even including the article's data chart that shows GDPH statistics through May 2, it is highly unlikely that anything more than a small percentage of any increase in confirmed cases seen between April 24 and May 2 resulted from exposure to the virus after the change in policies went into place on April 24.

In the text of his article, the author even acknowledges that his “more than 40 percent” stated in the article headline, is based on an increase from two days before the policy changes went into effect.

So, we now have an inaccurate, misleading and statistically flawed headline, a biased and false first paragraph, and second and third paragraph that are, by all logic, irrelevant and noncontributory to the headline’s proclamation.

Let’s proceed.

According to statements by the author, ”The number of confirmed cases is not a good metric for estimating risk of exposure because it doesn’t take population density into account. The author states that the “Incident Rate” - the number of confirmed cases per 100,000 – is a “much better metric” because it controls for population density. It is this Incident Rate (IR) that the Forbes article used to place Georgia as 16th worst on April 21, with an IR of 180.7 confirmed cases for every 100,000 residents, and it is the IR figure that is used to (falsely) claim that the reopening of Georgia has resulted in a 40 percent increased “exposure risk” for the virus.

The Forbes article is correct in in saying that IR figures do adjust the bulk number of confirmed cases for population.

However, the article fails to acknowledge that the number of confirmed cases within a population is a poor measuring stick by which to quantify the “risk of exposure” to a virus within certain population, and an even less appropriate measure with which to quantify the risk of overall adverse outcomes of the virus in a population, or to judge the impact of policy changes on the safety of that population.

No mention is made in the article of the fact that, between March 24 and April 21, when the article first referenced Georgia’s statistics, GDPH was reporting the results of an average of 2,952 tests per day. Between April 22 and today, that has increased to an average of 12,639 tests per day.

That change in procedure – the massive increased in testing – undoubtably plays a significant role in the increased number of confirmed positive cases in the state – surely enough of a role to warrant at least a mention in an article about the increase in confirmed cases.

Add to that factual discrepancy in the article, the fact that the rate of severe complications remains low in relation to the state’s population as a whole that the author claimed to be at “increased risk” due to the reopening of businesses.

GDPH is reporting that a total of 5,390 individuals have been hospitalized since late February for treatment of COVID-19 symptoms. That is 0.05276 percent of the population of Georgia, 2.9451 percent of those tested, and 18.4734 percent of those who have tested positive.

GDPH show a total of 1,211 deaths attributable to COVID-19. That is 0.01185 percent of the population of Georgia; 0.6617 percent of those tested, and about 4.1505 percent of those tested positive.

As a journalist, I find this level of "reporting" repugnant.

(In deference to full disclosure, the author of the Forbes article is identified on the posting as a “contributor.” If you click on the tiny link button next to the byline, a pop-up message states “Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.” However, nothing in the appearance of the post online indicates that this is an editorial piece, and likewise, nothing in the appearance of the post online indicates that the author is not affiliated with the publication. It is not located on a “non-affiliated contributor” page, it has no heading to separate it from official Forbes articles, and it is not labeled in any discernible way as non-official Forbes content. In addition, the author has written 831 articles on the Forbes website since March of 2016. Forbes must own responsibility for “contributors” to their official page.

According to author, Kevin Murnane’s biography on the Forbes website, he is a “cognitive scientist, retired professor, musician, gamer, and avid cyclist with a B.A in History, an M.S. in History and Philosophy of Science, and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology. In addition to papers in professional scientific journals, I’ve written the book Nutrition for Cyclists: Eating and Drinking Before, During and After the Ride, articles for Ars Technica, Priceonomics, Psychology Today and Massively, and the blogs The Info Monkey and Tuned In To Cycling.”)


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