As they say, “There are three types of lies – lies, damn lies, and statistics”, and you have to tread carefully to determine how much stock you will place on the current tsunami of “facts” coming in through the press and social media these days.
I got something the other day, which when I first looked at it I did the old “hand covering the mouth, letting out a shriek of despair” reaction.
Someone emailed me a graph showing the rates of death in the U.S. and Europe during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. It shows a first spike in July from whence the graph wriggles along for a bit and then takes a mammoth leap in October to over four times in the second wave. An ominous arrow points to the first bump, under which is written “we are here, making the same mistakes. Buckle up.”
See – you covered your mouth, and shrieked, didn’t you?
But hold on a second here. You have to remember back in 1918 we were coming to the final days of World War I. There’s a start. Can you imagine what the media was like in those days? None of this instant gratification supplied by the internet and 24/7 (ad nauseum, ad infinitum) news.
No, back then they had ships to convey news, the odd carrier pigeon, and the telegraph – possibly a bit of frantic semaphoring as well thrown in. If you got mail, it would’ve taken up to eight weeks to get to you.
It wasn’t until the late 1800s that anyone actually pinned a name on the first identified virus, so our knowledge of Berty Germs was not well-known nor as widespread.
Our troops in the trenches in France in 1918 wouldn’t have had the remotest inkling of why they felt cruddier than they normally did lying in the mud and filth, as dodging cannon fire was probably uppermost in their minds, as was deemed most prudent.
The citizens of war-torn Europe would’ve chalked their aches and fever to yet another ague and would have stalwartly battled on trying to scrounge enough to eat.
In both cases, fresh water and soap were probably pretty hard to come by, and the poor souls wouldn’t have had a clue about hand sanitizers or the correct way to wash hands for 20 seconds. Hell, even the surgeons of the time probably didn’t either, up to their elbows as they were with more urgent matters.
Here in the U.S. it was slightly better as nobody was lobbing cannon fire at anyone, and people were urged to wash their hands, wear a mask, and keep their distance – but the people were not bombarded with this as we are now, and likely would’ve largely ignored the advice, not really understanding the severity of the situation.
So, do beware, gentle reader, of what you read. Step back a little, and don’t necessarily feel you have to charge off to Dorothy’s storm shelter in order to shield yourself from life. It goes on – or it’s cut short. C’est la vie. All we can do is do our best – by ourselves, and those around us.
As Mark Twain so eloquently put it: “Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.”
Annie Dear lives in Lee’s Summit. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.