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Are we addicted to coronavirus statistics?

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Figure1 A local medical staff member, left, hugs a member of a medical assistance team from Chongqing on March 23, before the team departed after helping with the COVID-19 recovery effort at Yunmeng county in Xiaogan city in China's central Hubei province. AFP
By Amanda Price

I am an information junkie. I admit it.

Turning down an offering of freshly picked information is hard for me. Stopping myself from indulging my obsession is even harder.

Information fills a void. It feels gratifying, except that the more you indulge, the more addicted you become.

There is sorely little help for this psychological disorder.

Sadly, as the coronavirus crisis has filled the media, both social and professional, many have begun to depend on their daily doses of facts and figures. And the media has been keen to keep up the supply.

Without those figures, many fear they will be more vulnerable.

In the midst of the unknown, numbers are the known ― the only way available to us to measure the need for calm or to justify us when we turn to panic.

When the coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan, I checked the figures on Worldometer.com every day. When it spread outside China, I checked the figures several times a day. I read articles from reliable sources, but in copious amounts that kept me suspended in a haze of over-information.

In between the rushes, data fatigue would sink it and I would promise myself I'd be better … until another surge of coronavirus figures hit the streets.

Then one morning, in what can only be described as a moment of revelation, my rational brain punched through the haze and made me look at what I'd become.

I had elevated numbers and statistics to a position of power and influence. But worse, I had awarded them a legitimacy that they neither earned, nor deserved.

Numbers and statistics had become my master and I their slave. I had begun to follow them as if they were worthy of my trust and deserving of my full attention.

John Allen Paulos, professor of mathematics and author of "A Numerate Life," explained in The New York Times: "Numbers have a certain mystique: They seem precise, exact, sometimes even beyond doubt. But outside of the field of pure mathematics, this reputation is rarely deserved. And when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, buying into that can be downright dangerous."

Part of ensuring that the public is kept safe, according to biological anthropologist Dr. Jennifer Cole, falls on officials who need to ensure that the media and the public understand that........

© The Korea Times