In his Nobel Prize Lecture, The Pretense of Knowledge, economist Friedrich von Hayek argued, “Unlike the position that exists in the physical sciences, in economics and other disciplines that deal with essentially complex phenomena, the aspects of the events to be accounted for about which we can get quantitative data are necessarily limited and may not include the important ones.”

It appears that Vox, a radical left media outlet, is reporting the results of a “disturbing new study” using “sophisticated new research” suggesting that Sean Hannity’s show helped spread the coronavirus.

But first a few facts…

(1) No matter how scientific the research appears, correlation does not immediately indicate causation.

(2) Researchers can control or distort the results of any research by omitting significant variables or statistically manipulating the results. In this research, there are multiple independent variables that do not seem to be controlled.

(3) Most statistical studies in the social sciences have large error bands surrounding their findings, but use the mathematical artifacts of division to report results with what appears to be decimal point precision.

(4) I could legitimately support the argument that Sean Hannity’s audience skews older and thus it;s more susceptible to the ravages of Covid-19. Or the equally ludicrous assertion that one is more likely to die from Covid-19 if you voted for a liberal governor since the “hotspot” concentrations of Covid-19 infections and deaths lies mostly within the geographical areas governed by progressive socialist democrats. Or even, corrupt progressive socialist democrats who have massive deficits and did not adequately prepare for a pandemic in the face of this well-known potential threat to their constituents. Assertions capable of producing the sensational headlines used by click-baiting media.

(5) And, I could suggest that those who listen to Fox also are greatly influenced by their peers and the overwhelming saturation of news and commentary coming from the large mainstream media whose audiences, when compared to the audiences of cable news, are significantly larger.

A look at Vox reporting…


A disturbing new study suggests Sean Hannity’s show helped spread the coronavirus
Sophisticated new research links Hannity’s coronavirus misinformation to “a greater number of Covid-19 cases and deaths.”

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, media critics have warned that the decision from leading Fox News hosts to downplay the outbreak could cost lives. A new study provides statistical evidence that, in the case of Sean Hannity, that’s exactly what happened.

[OCS: If by evidence, you mean “a body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid,” than the cited statistical “evidence” is little more than “statistical” inference, supposition, or conjecture.]

The paper — from economists Leonardo Bursztyn, Aakaash Rao, Christopher Roth, and David Yanagizawa-Drott — focused on Fox news programming in February and early March.

At the time, Hannity’s show was downplaying or ignoring the virus, while fellow Fox host Tucker Carlson was warning viewers about the disease’s risks.

[OCS: Let us not forget that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Donald Trump’s top adviser on matters related to the coronavirus, said on January 21, that the coronavirus  was “not a major threat” to the U.S.” More specifically, “Obviously, you need to take it seriously, and do the kinds of things that the CDC and the Department of Homeland Security are doing. But, this not a major threat for the people of the United States, and this is not something that the citizens of the United States right now should be worried about.”

And let us not forget Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, inviting people to congregate in San Francisco’s Chinatown. “I’m here today, particularly, to say thank you to the community for the sense of family values and sense of community that they provide. 

But also to say to everyone: we should come to Chinatown.  Precautions have been taken by our city.  We know that there is concern surrounding tourism, traveling all throughout the world, but we think it’s very safe to be in Chinatown and hope that others will come.

It’s lovely here.  The food is delicious, the shops are prospering, the parade was great.  Walking tours continue.  Please come and visit and enjoy Chinatown.”

This was a new virus, never seen in the animal or human population and most of the scientists were as clueless as to the degree of contagiousness and lethality of the virus as the common physician.

That many journalists and commentators – two separate animals – got it wrong initially is not an indictment of their motives or even politics.] 

Using both a poll of Fox News viewers over age 55 and publicly available data on television-watching patterns, they calculate that Fox viewers who watched Hannity rather than Carlson were less likely to adhere to social distancing rules, and that areas where more people watched Hannity relative to Carlson had higher local rates of infection and death.

[OCS: Polls? You mean those things that depend on how questions are framed and respondents selected? Considering the inherent errors in starting with such “data,” one is reminded of the old data processing adage, “Garbage In, Garbage Out.”]

“Greater exposure to Hannity relative to Tucker Carlson Tonight leads to a greater number of COVID-19 cases and deaths,” they write. “A one-standard deviation increase in relative viewership of Hannity relative to Carlson is associated with approximately 30 percent more COVID-19 cases on March 14, and 21 percent more COVID-19 deaths on March 28.”

[OCS: Looks very scientific – until you examine the methodology and spot all of the limitations and assumptions that render the research useless.]

This is a working paper; it hasn’t been peer reviewed or accepted for publication at a journal. However, it’s consistent with a wide body of research finding that media consumption in general, and Fox News viewership in particular, can have a pretty powerful effect on individual behavior.

[OCS: This is an example of the chicken and the egg – and which one came first dilemma. Do the viewers watch Fox because it supports their viewpoint or do they watch Fox commentators (not journalists) for hard news? Do the viewers watch Fox because it appears more fair and balanced or because they found programs on CNN and MSNBC are one-note anti-Trump sources who lie without shame? I might suggest that older individuals, in particular, are already somewhat set in their ways and patterns of life and are less likely to change long-term behavior based on what any commentator might say.]

It seems that people really do see media as a guide to some of their most intimate life choices. Given how much a certain segment of older, white, conservative Americans trust Fox, it seems very plausible that they took cues from their favorite anchors on how to handle the coronavirus outbreak.

[OCS: “Very plausible” does not sound like “evidence” to me.]

For some Americans, that choice may well have been a fatal one.

[OCS: The same might be said of Dr. Fauci’s and Nancy Pelosi’s early advice.]

To read this article in full and in context, it can be found <here>.  Or better yet, read the actual research, “Misinformation During a Pandemic” and decide for yourself whether the authors’ research has merit.


We study the effects of news coverage of the novel coronavirus by the two most widely-viewed cable news shows in the United States – Hannity and Tucker Carlson Tonight, both on Fox News – on viewers' behavior and downstream health outcomes. Carlson warned viewers about the threat posed by the coronavirus from early February, while Hannity originally dismissed the risks associated with the virus before gradually adjusting his position starting late February. We first validate these differences in content with independent coding of show transcripts. In line with the differences in content, we present novel survey evidence that Hannity's viewers changed behavior in response to the virus later than other Fox News viewers, while Carlson's viewers changed behavior earlier. We then turn to the effects on the pandemic itself, examining health outcomes across counties. First, we document that greater viewership of Hannity relative to Tucker Carlson Tonight is strongly associated with a greater number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the early stages of the pandemic. The relationship is stable across an expansive set of robustness tests. To better identify the effect of differential viewership of the two shows, we employ a novel instrumental variable strategy exploiting variation in when shows are broadcast in relation to local sunset times. These estimates also show that greater exposure to Hannity relative to Tucker Carlson Tonight is associated with a greater number of county-level cases and deaths. Furthermore, the results suggest that in mid-March, after Hannity's shift in tone, the diverging trajectories on COVID-19 cases begin to revert. We provide additional evidence consistent with misinformation being an important mechanism driving the effects in the data. While our findings cannot yet speak to long-term effects, they indicate that provision of misinformation in the early stages of a pandemic can have important consequences for how a disease ultimately affects the population.

[OCS: I wonder if the researchers really considered that cable news is a minor segment, audience-wise, of the mainstream media outlets and that cross-pollution between the various information sources renders their study as specious conjecture.]

Bottom line...

I am always reminded of an old adage: “any discipline which puts ‘science’ in its title is not science at all: social science, political science, library science, domestic science, and so on. All these ‘sciences’ deal with chaotic systems where a controlled experiment is often impossible.” One might rightfully label them pseudo-sciences. 

This paper will live in the archives and on the resumes of the authors -- but otherwise will be buried in the sands of time. Unless some other researcher needs to pull quotes to justify their own work.

With "science" like this, we are majorly screwed.

-- steve

“Nullius in verba.”-- take nobody's word for it!

“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”-- George Bernard Shaw

“Progressive, liberal, Socialist, Marxist, Democratic Socialist -- they are all COMMUNISTS.”

“The key to fighting the craziness of the progressives is to hold them responsible for their actions, not their intentions.” – OCS

"The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." -- Marcus Aurelius

“A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves, and traitors are not victims... but accomplices” -- George Orwell

“Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt." (The people gladly believe what they wish to.) ~Julius Caesar

“Describing the problem is quite different from knowing the solution. Except in politics." ~ OCS