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The CDC’s Job of Collecting Data

Does anybody know why we had such lousy CDC data collection in March and why it hasn’t improved? And don’t cite Trump: this is a problem deep within the CDC that has to be longstanding, so his only sin is in not doing massive demotion of the civil service leadership there. For example,some time back I looked up this weekly death data:


Date Covid deaths
4/18 17K
6/20 3
6/27 1

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/COVID19/index.htm

It looks like deaths are down over 90% from 17K to 3 to 1, right? But then I looked at the notes under the table and found that they report deaths as the files come in from the states and it takes up to 8 weeks for the weekly data to arrive. So, actually, this CDC webpage is useless for anything about deaths in the past 2 months. This has two bad parts: (a) they don’t collect the most basic, easy, relevant, data on covid-19 in time to be useful, and (b) they give us some other numbers that are irrelevant but will fool people who don’t read the fine print into thinking they have the real numbers.

I really would like to hear if anyone knows what’s going on down there in Atlanta. How can data collection be so bad? Washington DC economics statistics bureaucrats look like angels by comparison, so it isn’t something about the nature of government generally.

Reflecting further, I’m even more amazed by how bad the CDC is. Usually in statistics, the basic problem is too small a sample. Someone looks at 4 people dying in 20 cases of cancer, and says the fatality rate is 20%, and we laugh, because he’s estimating the population mean for the 100,000 cases using the sample mean from just 20 cases, and probably the sample isn’t even random. But the CDC is far worse than that. It’s like someone who says that 4 out of 100,000 people who get cancer die, because he’s only looked at 20 cases so far.

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