Aisle Of Wit

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Unmasking the truth?

Disclaimer:  I am fully vaccinated and own nearly 50 masks, none I wear prouder than my color-coordinated New York Mets triple-layer with deodorized filter resting on cap attachments that allow it to be worn without pulling on my ears.

Reality: I currently live in Los Angeles, where masks have recently been reinstated for all adults in indoor situations due to the “alarming” upsurge in cases due to the rapid spread of the Delta variant strain of COVID-19.

Count me as among those who are dejected and at times even despondent upon the return of fearful eyes peeking over masks worn even outdoors under ideal weather circumstances by people clearly disturbed by the prospect of even being outside at all.  Whenever I’m obnoxious enough to make small talk as to their choice to mask up outside, those that will engage me cite these “alarming numbers” as justification for both the hiding of their lips and their desire to engage in conversation at all.

When I ran research for TV distribution companies I and my competitors would regularly design two-page display ads for trade publications that would be carefully designed tables of plus signs and impressive percentages showing growth in particular demographics in dozens of cities large and small.  At first blush it would appear that our show was a smash hit with the data points to back it up.

Then one would look at the fine print.  We’d regularly intermix variations with small font size asterisks to denote tweaks to the overall story–using a different baseline for comparison for some cities, using an alternative ratings service (back in the day, Nielsen and Arbitron both supplied data for local markets), using share of audience vs. rating points.  In many cases the “+300%” gain was a 4 share vs. a 1 share–statistically insignificant in many smaller markets.  As long as the disclaimer provided the key to our confounding narrative, we could say almost anything we’d want.  I  eventually devised the succinct “Subject to the limitiations of the methodologies employed” as an umbrella that gave my companies practical carte blanche.

We often attempted to one-up our more aggressive competitors with increasingly subjective comparisons that would belie their superiority claim against our show with an equally half-true statement to the contrary.   The net result: few of our intended readers–those that determined what shows would be purchased–believed either company.  They’d make the best deal they thought they could get–sometimes depending upon howmany strokes they were spotted on the golf course by the salesmen–and had a nice laugh over the nerds trying to get our attention.   This was Leblanguage at its best–careful crafting of specific words and facts to convey a point of view.

But little was at stake then beyond money and bragging rights.  Current narrative of coronavirus case increases uses a similar tactic with far more at stake.  Yes, cases may be up more than +40% over a prior four-week span, and +200% over a spring nadir.  Those trajectories sound large and indeed worrisome.  But when compared to peak levels, these actual trajectories are often more signficantly well below prior levels.    And we are reminded by many top level scientists that so long as one is vaccinated the chance of breakthrough invention is little more than the chance of being injured in a car crash.

Look at freeway traffic lately–we’re clearly no longer in pandemic mode there.  No one is driving any slower or more hesitantly.  So why are many of these same people cowering through their out-of-car experience staring at people who dare to bare their lips outdoors?  I can’t get an answer.  And often if one is attempted it’s muffled.  Apologetically.  But we still don’t hear each other.

No one should construe the questioning of universal remasking as a sign of political affiliation or brainwashing.  I fully support the personal choices of people to treat themselves as safely as they believe they should be.   I do question the motives of organizations using this data to ignite this fear and the hope that those feeling it will be motivated to set the record straight for anti-vaxxers.  They see the same polls we do–those that remain unvaccianted are much more likely to remain that way than that cross-section was four weeks ago.  So what practical purpose does providing these disturbing data points represent?

I struggle to find a comprehensive answer these days.  I struggle with lots of answers to even simpler questions.  I do know that I recognize Leblanguage when I see it, and I urge anyone who comes into contact with it to ask the same questions.  At least acknowledge that this too is subject to the limitiations of the methodology emoployed.

Until next time…