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Sayles: 'Figures don't lie, but liars figure'
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Sayles: 'Figures don't lie, but liars figure'

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"Figures don't lie, but liars figure." 

-Mark Twain

Through this early quote, Mark Twain ruminates about deceptions run rampant; numbers used by phony wizards as illusions of truth, while feeding people's hunger for answers prescribing the calming paregoric of snaky prevarications.

Are you being overwhelmed with the parade of numbers delivered to you daily, under the cover of "What you need to know about things that are going to kill you?"

Fill in the blanks as to what our world is dishing out to you that requires your immediate mathematical assessment in determining your or our country's likely odds for longevity.

Can I ask how many of you ever said to yourselves or others, when faced with the intricacies of Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, or Calculus, "I am never going to use this crap? How come I have to learn this? I can't learn this!"

And so we didn't.

By the time we hit 30, making the attempt to use rational common sense metric logic, that we never learned, analyzing every day real life problems becomes a Herculean effort.

Just when we were reaching the age when we are supposed to start really making a difference in the direction and condition of humanity, we surrendered to chronic arithmophobia.

With arithmophobia comes a lethal dose of numerophobia, symptomatic of a trance-like belief of every phony number spewed by any source or politician, on any subject, at any time, because we decided to skip that class in an earlier life.

The reverential treatment given numbers used to convince us of something that is exaggerated or simply untrue can be seen in every public opinion poll, especially in an election year.

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However, the grand poobah of numbers intended to make us as dizzy and sick to our stomachs as a carnival ride, has to be metrics attributed to COVID-19 infections, testing and mortality.

Let's take a random visit of some recent numbers claimed to be COVID-19 "truths" and you can choose how you plan to deal with them, or not.

• During team COVID-19 testing, the Minnesota Vikings had 12 presumptive positive tests, all of which turned out to be false. The lab, which performs all tests for the NFL, said, "Oops."

• Thinking that maybe the Vikings were not the only team with testing snafus, the NFL confirms a total of 77 false positive COVID-19 tests throughout the league. The NFL says, "Oops."

• One of the first COVID-19 tests to gain FDA/CDC/WHO authorization was developed by Cellex Labs. If you have COVID-19 their test will tell you this correctly 93.8% of the time (this is the test’s “sensitivity”). If you don’t have or have not had COVID-19, it will get this correct 95.6% of the time (this is the test’s “specificity”).

That looks pretty good in a report provided to desperate people, yet mathematicians will tell you what the report does not say. Christian Yates, mathematical biologist, in his book, "Maths of Life and Death," shows us the ugly metric reality that the proportion of correct positives equals 40%. Cellex says, "Oops."

• LabCorp America was granted Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA for use of their COVID-19 RT-PCR test for upper and lower respiratory specimens of patients suspected of coronavirus infection. The numbers reported by LabCorp are nearly identical to those reported above, by Cellex Labs. So the proportion of correct positives for the LabCorp test equals 40%. LabCorp says, "Oops."

• The Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced that 95% of COVID-19 deaths were patients with underlying conditions and known co-morbidities. Of the 160,000 deaths in the US to date, 152,000 come from that know population of which I and many of you are part of. So, if you are part of the 95%, and are not taking every possible measure for safety and isolation, "Oops."

We must question the numbers. If you are good at math or not, is irrelevant. We are and always have been talking about life and death, be it in 2020, 1918, 2002, or 2050 and beyond.

My man Mr. Twain was right on the money during his time and ours as well.

We are all scared for the safety of others and ourselves. Let's prove it by our actions and precautions. Let's prove it by questioning the numbers.

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