Johns Hopkins apologizes after retracting article claiming Covid did not cause excessive deaths

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The gravity of the coronavirus death toll in the United States has been the subject of much debate – and the Johns Hopkins University student journal found itself at the heart of the controversy last week.

The university’s News-Letter published an article claiming there was “no evidence COVID-19 created excess deaths on November 22, then retracted and deleted four days later.

Members of the editorial board tweeted that the article was removed because it was being used out of context to spread false information about the severity of the pandemic.

The retraction was criticized on charges of “censorship”, because the controversial article had been withdrawn completely.

Johns Hopkins has since released a larger editor’s note, apologizing, not only explaining why the article was problematic, but providing insight into why it was inaccurate.

But the dust points to continued frustration and problem in the fight against the pandemic in the United States: Nine months later, even scientists are struggling to determine what is or is not a death from COVID-19 and estimate the actual toll of the virus.

The article claimed there had been no excessive deaths from COVID-19 in the United States – but was retracted after it was allegedly used to spread disinformation. The editors later explained that, out of context, the use of percentages of deaths this year created an inaccurate picture of the pandemi.

And even the same data can be interpreted very differently, leaving Americans confused and divided over the coronavirus.

At the time of the retraction, the Johns Hopkins News-Letter simply took the article, titled “A Closer Look at US Deaths From COVID-19,” announcing it had been deleted, but offering little explanation, via Twitter.

Some social media users and some outlets like Just the News and Retraction Watch accused the News-Letter of censorship after the retraction.

The article focused on the work of Genevieve Briand, a researcher and professor at Hopkins, who graphed the total number of deaths from all causes in the United States in 2020 by age group and compared them to previous years. .

Based on her analysis, Briand, deputy director of Hopkins’ master’s program in applied economics, claimed that deaths in the United States in 2020 were on par with deaths in other years.

But – as the News-Letter pointed out in its editor’s latest note – Briand focused on the proportion of deaths in each age group in 2020, compared to previous years.

According to the CDC, there have been more than 300,000 additional deaths this year between January and September, with a peak of one-third more deaths per week than expected in April.

According to the CDC, there have been more than 300,000 additional deaths this year between January and September, with a peak of one-third more deaths per week than expected in April.

According to the CDC, there have been more than 300,000 additional deaths this year between January and September, with a peak of one-third more deaths per week than expected in April.

It has become clear that older people are among the most at risk of dying from COVID-19, while the virus proves fatal for young people relatively rarely.

So, according to the article, one would expect the elderly to account for a higher percentage of all deaths in the United States this year, compared to previous ones.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) it compiled, Americans aged 85 and over accounted for 30% of deaths each week each week between the week ending February 1 and the week ending September 5, 2020.

In 2018, people 85 and older accounted for 31% of all deaths that year, according to the CDC’s own final report on deaths for that year.

The proportions line up, and Briand used that to conclude, “The reason we have a higher number of reported COVID-19 deaths in older people than younger people is simply because in the United States , older people die in greater numbers than younger people. ”

Referring to Briand, the article, written by German researcher and neuroscientist and double major Yahni Gu, also pointed out that the total number of weekly deaths in 2020 was between the supposedly expected range of 50,000 to 70,000.

So far, data showed 62,374 people were dying per week.

In 2018, the CDC’s analysis, which was only completed and released in 2020, showed that there were around 52,852 deaths per week in total, not taking into account seasonal fluctuations.

The CDC’s own report on deaths between January and September 2020 concluded that there had been nearly 300,000 excess deaths this year, compared to what the national health agency expected.

Graphics in the report show the CDC would expect about 60,000 deaths per week, with higher numbers in the winter and lower tolls in the summer.

During the spring peak in deaths from COVID-19, an estimated 80,000 Americans died in a week. That’s 20,000 – or about a third – more than what would be considered normal.

The claim that there is no evidence of excess death from COVID-19, the News-Letter editors wrote in their November 27 retraction note, was “incorrect and does not address counts the increase in the gross number of deaths from all causes compared to previous years. ‘

They also noted that Briand is “neither a health professional nor a disease researcher”.

“During her speech, she herself said that more research and data is needed to understand the effects of COVID-19,” they wrote.

Many states still have death certificate backlogs from the coronavirus pandemic. It may be months, if not years, before we have a clearer picture of the number of lives lost to coronavirus in the United States and the world in general.

Nonetheless, a lack of transparency has been widely blamed for the global fight to control the spread of the coronavirus, with various sides blaming the Chinese government, the U.S. government and the World Health Organization, to name a few. some.

A week after its initial retraction, the News-Letter apologized for its own lack of transparency.

“The article shouldn’t have been deleted in the first place. Instead of temporarily removing it from our website, The News-Letter should have immediately withdrawn and provided a detailed explanation of the inaccuracies in Briand’s research, the editors wrote in a follow-up note Thursday.

“We had no intention of silencing Briand; instead, we sought to put his claims into conversation with the findings of Hopkins, the World Health Organization, and the CDC.

“We sincerely apologize for the handling of this article and invite you to provide us with your comments on our coverage.

Not everyone was happy with the response, including one Twitter user who replied, “This is a poorly worded and flawed response to an allegedly flawed report.”

They continued, “But it’s better than no answer. It seems to try to appease, rather than actually criticize his study. Are his numbers incorrect or do they just question the projected models?

While the editors have addressed the issue of accuracy, as data continues to flow and be interpreted, the answer to this question could change both ways.

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