Posted: December 18, 2009
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Article Summary In December 2009 I criticized the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on my website for (in my view) intentionally misinterpreting its own data on the severity of the swine flu pandemic and on which age cohorts were most at risk. These criticisms aroused surprisingly little media interest. But a couple of reporters did call for interviews. Here are some excerpts from my side of one telephone interview. No story based on this interview ever materialized. The details are no longer of much interest, except as a pristine case study of successful CDC dishonesty.

The CDC’s Pandemic Data versus
the CDC’s Pandemic Communications:
Outtakes from a Media Interview

In December 2009 I posted three “Swine Flu Pandemic Communication Updates” addressing what I see as important gaps between the CDC’s technical reports estimating the number of pandemic cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the U.S. and the CDC’s public communications on those topics:

  • It’s Official (sort of): The Swine Flu Pandemic Is Mild So Far (posted December 2). On November 12, the CDC reported estimates showing the pandemic to be much less deadly (so far) than the average seasonal flu. But its press briefing on those estimates interpreted them as alarming. This update discusses the gap.
  • Update on the December 2 Update (posted December 15). I got a lot of negative feedback on my December 2 “Update” from public health officials around the U.S. This “Update on the Update” focuses on their discomfort and their criticisms, as well as new developments in how the CDC and the media were addressing the "mildness" issue.
  • What the CDC Is Saying about Swine Flu Severity (also posted December 15). On December 10, the CDC updated its November 12 estimates. This update uses the new set of CDC numbers to focus on a different gap: the relative risk to children, adults, and seniors (children are least at risk) versus the CDC’s statements about relative risk (children are most at risk).

Below are some outtakes from my side of a telephone interview with a reporter on these issues. The interview was conducted after my December 2 update was posted but before the CDC’s December 10 estimates were released.

Each of these links launches an MP3 audio file. link is to an audio MP3 file

Play all 11 audio clips in the order listed
17.9 MB, 19 minutes

Can we rely on the CDC’s November 12 data?
1.5 MB, 1 min. 32 sec.

The gap between technical information and public information
861 kB, 55 sec.

Risk to children versus risk to seniors
2.6 MB, 2 min. 48 sec.
1.2 MB, 1 min. 17 sec.

Pandemic risk versus seasonal flu risk
2.9 MB, 3 min. 11 sec.

The CDC’s reasons and my concerns
969 kB, 1 min. 1 sec.
884 kB, 0 min. 54 sec.

What I think the CDC should say
2.0 MB, 2 min. 12 sec.

Seasonal flu misunderstanding
1.3 MB, 1 min. 22 sec.

Why honesty matters
1.4 MB, 1 min. 30 sec.

Trusting the public
1.9 MB, 2 min. 01 sec.


Copyright © 2009 by Peter M. Sandman

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