Statistical and Numerical Errors Made by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention During the COVID-19 Pandemic

17 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2023 Last revised: 17 Apr 2023

See all articles by Kelley Krohnert

Kelley Krohnert

Independent Analyst

Alyson Haslam

University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)

Tracy Beth Høeg

University of California-San Francisco, Dept of Epidemiology & Biostatistics

Vinay Prasad

University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) - Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics

Date Written: March 7, 2023

Abstract

Background: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been a major source of information during the COVID-19 pandemic, guiding policies and practices in many aspects of life. As such, it is imperative that the information be free of errors, or, if errors are made, that they are corrected quickly.

Methods: We sought to compile instances of numerical and statistical errors made by the CDC during the COVID-19 pandemic by reviewing CDC publications, press releases, interviews, meetings, and Twitter accounts. Further, we catalogued mortality data from both the National Center for Health Statistics and the CDC COVID Data Tracker and compared reported results.

Results: We documented 25 instances when the CDC reported statistical or numerical errors. Twenty (80%) of these instances exaggerated the severity of the COVID-19 situation, 3 (12%) instances simultaneously exaggerated and downplayed the severity of the situation, one error was neutral, and one error exaggerated COVID-19 vaccine risks. The CDC was notified about the errors in 16 (64%) instances, and later corrected the errors, at least partially, in 13 (52%) instances.

Conclusion: A basic prerequisite for making informed policy decisions is accurate and reliable statistics, even during times of uncertainty. Our investigation revealed 25 instances of numerical or statistical errors made by the CDC. Our investigation suggests 1) the need for greater diligence in data collection and reporting, and 2) that the federal entity responsible for reporting health statistics should be firewalled from the entity setting policy due to concerns of real or perceived systematic bias in errors.

Note:
Funding Information: None. VP is funded by Arnold Ventures to study Low Value Care. This study received no specific funding.

Conflict of Interests: Vinay Prasad’s Disclosures: (Research funding) Arnold Ventures (Royalties) Johns Hopkins Press, Medscape, and MedPage (Honoraria) Grand Rounds/lectures from universities, medical centers, non-profits, and professional societies. (Consulting) UnitedHealthcare and OptumRX. (Other) Plenary Session podcast has Patreon backers, YouTube, and Substack. All other authors have no financial or non-financial conflicts of interest to report.

Keywords: covid-19, health policy, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Suggested Citation

Krohnert, Kelley and Haslam, Alyson and Høeg, Tracy Beth and Prasad, Vinay, Statistical and Numerical Errors Made by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention During the COVID-19 Pandemic (March 7, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4381627 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4381627

Kelley Krohnert

Independent Analyst

Alyson Haslam

University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) ( email )

Third Avenue and Parnassus
San Francisco, CA CA 94143
United States

Tracy Beth Høeg

University of California-San Francisco, Dept of Epidemiology & Biostatistics ( email )

1701 Divisadero St
unit 5
San Francisco, CA CA 94115-3011
United States

Vinay Prasad (Contact Author)

University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) - Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics ( email )

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