A Few Writerly Thoughts

I was over on one of the writer forums today and someone had made the comment that telling people to advertise their books was “predatory encouragement”.

I wrote up an entire post in response to this person and then I got to the end and realized that I had spent twenty minutes trying to provide a helpful, informed opinion in response to a bitter, angry person who didn’t deserve my time.

So, since I already wrote the response, I figured I’d come here and share it with you guys instead. Here goes:

Just my personal opinion, but telling someone they need to advertise to reach readers is not “predatory encouragement” it’s business. And if you self-publish and want to make money from that you are in fact running a business. It is the very rare unicorn who can just put a book out, do nothing else, and see good results.

For me, at least, publishing and then running ads to see if anyone had any interest in what I wrote was the best way for me to learn what people wanted and what they didn’t want. It’s a constant feedback loop between content creation, packaging (cover, price category, etc.), and advertising and the more I do all three the more I dial in on what works for what I can write and what readers want.

It doesn’t have to be expensive, though. I started running AMS ads with pennies spent a day and only scaled up when I found books that sold well enough for that to make sense. I didn’t pay anyone to learn AMS, I just put in the time and effort. Authors who don’t want to spend money can do the same.

Authors who’d rather spend money than time can pay for a course. It’s their choice about where their efforts are best spent. This year I paid for a FB ads course with Skye Warren that was not cheap, but I decided I’d rather learn from someone doing well with the ads than try to start from scratch. I haven’t paid off the cost of the course yet, but using what she showed me I’m steadily selling four copies a day of a fantasy novel published in 2015 and priced at $4.99 so I’m pleased. I just started an ad on a romance novel also priced at $4.99 and had two sales the first day which is also promising. I would not have ended up with the ads I did without that course.

There are always going to be people who see a market like self-publishing and try to make money off of providing services or advice to that market. Some of them are going to provide bad services or bad advice. And it’s a good idea to be skeptical about what someone tells you about their success. Earlier this year I took a course someone was offering on writing in one of my genres. Halfway through I realized that they were very likely getting their USA Today titles and good ranks by spending almost every penny they earned on ads. I’ll never take another course from that person again because I value making a profit over ranking well or getting my letters.

But some service providers are incredibly useful in helping authors do better. I love Vellum and Bookbub. I am highly grateful for their existence. I am grateful that when I choose to I can spend a small fortune for a gorgeous cover. And that there are tons of authors out there giving away knowledge for free even if I sometimes have to sort through the confusion or inconsistencies to get to the nuggets of truth that will work for me and how I write.

So there you go. The response I wrote for someone who didn’t deserve a response.

In other writerly thoughts, it occurred to me today that the writers who get the most attention from me are not always the ones that have the best things to say. But they are often the ones who talk the most. Because when I’m sitting here trying not to work and decide to go to Twitter or to check blog posts to kill that ten minutes, I usually go to the authors I know will have content. So that author who lives on Twitter daily and has new tweets every few hours is far more likely to be the one I visit than the one who says really interesting things once a month. Same with blog posts. I’ll hate-read someone who blogs daily before I go searching out that author who blogs irregularly but says really useful things.

(This could have something to do with the fact that I never subscribe to anything so I have to manually check blogs and also I no longer have a Twitter account so have to see tweets by looking people up one-by one. But still. Something to think about. Sometimes consistent production is better than quality production.)

Two Paperback Versions on Amazon

Just an FYI for anyone looking for my books. Right now Amazon seems to be showing a delay of five days to print and ship books that they distribute on my behalf. But most of my books also have another version distributed via IngramSpark that will ship sooner. The IngramSpark listing is rarely the primary listing, so you have to go looking for it.

Here’s how. This is the main page for Excel for Beginners. You can see on the right where it says it will normally ship within five days:

Main Amazon Page

Right above where all the prices are listed for the different formats it says “See all formats and editions.”

Click on that and you get another screen. There’s a little > next to the paperback listing. Click on that and it will become a downward pointing arrow instead and you’ll see two listings for the paperback.

E4B Paperback options

The May 2019 version is the version that’s coming from IngramSpark. If you click on “Paperback, May 9, 2019” you will be taken to that version’s listing.

And voila, there are six left in stock and you can get a copy in your hands within as little as two days.

IS Version Listing

It will also have text on the spine which the Amazon version doesn’t.

Amazon does allow resellers to do weird things on their site so I always approach book listings there with a certain amount of caution. But for any listing of my book that’s coming from IngramSpark you can scroll down to product details and if it’s mine you should see a publisher name of M.L. Humphrey and an ISBN-13 that starts with 978-1950902 and then three numbers that are specific to that particular book, in this case 002.

Product Details

And, of course, you can also order the books from other fine retailers that carry print books like Barnes & Noble.

 

 

 

 

On Posthumous College Degrees

There’s been some chatter on Twitter today about the fact that a university recently published to its site its policy about issuing college degrees to people who die before they can complete the degree.

One of the cynical hot takes I saw on this practice was that it was to boost the college’s ranking with US News.

Seriously, to that person who said that, fuck you. Just because you’ve never actually been in the situation of having someone you love die before completing their degree doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen and doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter to that person’s loved ones to be able to get that degree for them.

When my father passed away he was completing his final semester of college. He’d tried getting a degree when he was 18 but dropped out and only went back for his degree in his 40s.

He worked hard for that degree. I remember the night he stayed up all night trying to work on some problem set for his logic class that had him–a normally brilliant man–stumped. And I remember reading his short stories he wrote because he was in a creative writing class that finally gave him an excuse to focus more on his writing. And I remember how much he loved studying Russian history. (I toted those text books of his around with me for twenty years after he died because they reminded me of him even though I really had no interest in peasant life in Russia in the 1800s.)

Pursuing that degree was something vitally important to my father. It was an opportunity he had been denied when he was younger but that he fully embraced when life finally gave him the chance to pursue it.

But he died before he could complete his degree.

And I, at the age of 18, and my brother , at the age of 22, were swamped with trying to unravel the remains of his life. We had no idea that it was even possible to get his degree granted posthumously and, honestly, it was the last thing on our minds at the time.

Fortunately, he’d been very close with one of his history professors and that professor made it happen.

I will forever be thankful to that person. Because after the fog of grief cleared I had that degree to help remember him by.

He was a tremendous father, a good man, a business owner who provided jobs to others, but that degree was one of the few things he did in his life that our society puts value upon. And I am so so grateful that his school granted that degree to him even though he died before he could walk the stage with all the other graduates.

Seriously people not everything is about cynicism and nihilism, you know.

Penguin Random House Rewards

Right up front: This is only something open to U.S. Residents, so sorry about that, but I just wanted to give a little shout out to the Penguin Random House Rewards program because today I was able to redeem my first reward to get a free copy of a hard cover book that was just released and costs $30.

How cool is that?

(I am not being paid for this, by the way, I just happen to be a reader first and foremost and I figured if anyone following this blog was as well then they should know about this.)

Here’s how it works:

Sign up here: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/rewards/?

Then, when you buy PRH trade paperbacks (that would be the larger size ones) or hard covers, report your sales to them. For each qualifying book you get 10 points.

When you reach 120 points you get a code for a free book with a value of up to $30 that they ship you for free.

If you’re not sure if your books qualify, just type in the ISBNs of all of them you buy and it will let you know. I honestly have no idea when I’m buying a book who the publisher is, but it’s easy enough to type in each number and see if it takes it.

(As a side note to the PRH folks, I would personally collect all ISBNs from members and maybe give half a point or 1 point for non-qualifying titles because understanding what books other than yours your customers are purchasing is marketing gold. For every book I entered that was a qualifying PRH book I probably entered three that weren’t either because of format or publisher. But that’s me.)

Since I was going to buy the books I bought this year already it was a no-brainer for me to sign-up because all I had to do was log my purchases and now after six months I have a free book on its way to me. A book that I would not have bought in hard cover so get to read a year earlier than I would’ve otherwise.

(And, yes, if you do the math that means that I’ve bought about 50 books so far this year. What can I say? My coping mechanisms are books, bacon, ice cream, and Coke.)

If I hadn’t been able to order this one (Calling Bullshit by Carl T Bergstrom and Jevin D West), I had my eye on another one (Sword of Fire by Katherine Kerr) that I also probably won’t end up buying in hard cover but will eventually. So well worth the effort for me.

Of course, as I said at the top, this appears to be a U.S.-only program and you need to be purchasing not only print books but the trade paperback or hard cover size. Still. A good deal if you fall under that.

Would I Attend In-Person College This Fall?

If I were of college age right now would I choose to attend college this year?

Short answer: No. I’d take a year off.

Why?

Obviously there are the health risks of placing yourself in an environment with a bunch of young people known to make stupid decisions on a regular basis during the midst of a health crisis of unknown proportions. (If you doubt that young people make stupid decisions on a regular basis let me point you to pretty much any college party that involved alcohol that I’ve ever attended.)

Sure the fatality rate for younger individuals is pretty low, but the long-term health effects of getting this thing are not well known yet and some of them are not looking good at all.

(A recent study showed an incident of pretty high heart impact even for asymptomatic patients. That’s on top of all the respiratory, kidney, brain, blood clotting, general energy-level, etc. issues that have already been talked about elsewhere. And just yesterday I saw a tweet about a woman who’d had this four months ago, been released from the ICU, and then succumbed to the long-term effects months later.)

But it’s not actually the health impacts that would keep me at home. It’s how college is going to be structured this year.

At some point I may actually get around to writing a book on choosing whether to go to college and what type of college, etc. (I’ve been thinking about writing it for about three years now but just never have.) One of the key points I was going to make in that book is that the value of an elite education is only about 50% the actual education you receive.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the fact that I was able to study the Quiche Maya language for a year and I even sort of kind of used it that one time I went to Guatemala and it’s a great party trick to be able to say “I went to market to buy a cow” in a language that has glottal stops. But, honestly, once I graduated I used maybe 10% of my class knowledge in the real world. (Have I ever used any of the calculus they required for my Econ degree? No. No, I have not.)

Completing my degrees showed that I was capable of discipline and intellectual rigor and learning and sticking to a challenging task for an extended period of time. But for my degrees (anthropology, psychology, and economics) the actual knowledge I learned was not needed for my career (securities regulation, consulting, writing).

I learned what I needed to know on the job. All my degrees did was tell my employers I’d be able to do that.

(For other degrees and careers that can work differently. This was just my experience. Even my writing training came from high school not college.)

I would say that another 25% of the value of a college degree from an elite school is in the reflected reputation of that school. People notice when someone says they went to Harvard or Princeton or Yale.

My freshman year I went to Rice University, which is an excellent school. When I told people that’s where I went they made a joke about rice being a food. When I transferred to Stanford and told people where I went to school they said, “Ooh, you must be smart.” (The only time that changed was when Chelsea Clinton was there and then they asked me if I’d ever met her.)

I got my first job out of college even though I was missing a key qualification because I’d graduated from Stanford. When I told my potential employer I’d fill in that missing accounting class they gave me the benefit of the doubt. If I’d gone to Joe Blow Community College they wouldn’t have even interviewed me with that qualification missing.

But for this conversation it’s the other 25% of the value that I think matters.

And that’s the connections you make during college with your fellow students. Those people in your classes and in your dorm and in your extracurricular activities. The ones you have a beer or a coffee with. The ones you observe and who observe you over the course of four years.

Some of it can be informal connections. You now know a person who does X and you can give them a call a few years later when you need access to someone who does X.

That happened with my MBA program. A few years after graduation someone I knew but wasn’t close friends with at school called with a consulting opportunity. They called me solely because of that school connection. Because they went looking for someone who knew X and I was part of their network.

But some of it can be much more profound. I have a number of friends who met their spouse during undergrad or grad school. Most of whom are still married to that person twenty years later.

I personally believe that someone’s choice of spouse is probably the most significant decision they will make in terms of career and wealth trajectory. Stable relationships support career progress. Unstable ones, can really set someone back. I have seen more than one career derailed by a bad divorce. And more than one divorce due to a mismatch between spouses.

I’ve also seen more than one career derailed by inappropriate behavior by someone who was single and looking in the wrong places for relationships.

College is one of the best times in your life for meeting people who are at the same level and headed in the same direction. The admissions board has pre-selected a promising pool of people for you to form both friendships and relationships with.

But given the current situation I think those kinds of informal networks will be crushed. No dropping by someone’s dorm room to hang out. No last-minute everyone pile into a car to go on a late-night adventure. No big parties to attend. (Or at least, there shouldn’t be. Not in the U.S. right now. Not unless you want to roll the dice on a double-lung transplant.)

So if it were me with a kid who was college-age right now, I’d say take the year off. Go back when you can have that full college experience. With the internet the world is full of opportunities even for someone who isn’t at college. Take some fun courses. Read books that have nothing to do with anything. Start a vlog. Start a Twitch channel. Whatever.

Pursue your passions this year, go to campus next year.

And if we’re in this same boat again next year? Well, the world will be a fundamentally different place at that point.

(Heck, I suspect that the world as Americans know it is going to be a fundamentally different place no matter what six months from now. So maybe that changes the whole calculation anyway.)

Amazon Taketh, Amazon Giveth

I logged onto my AMS dashboard today to find that I now have the option to show Kindle Unlimited page reads attributed to an ad, something people have been asking for for ages and ages. You can add it by customizing your columns and going to the very bottom of the list, assuming it’s available to you. I mentioned it on Kboards and someone said they didn’t see it, so it may be rolling out.

I don’t know how well it works or how timely it is because I’m not currently advertising any books that are in KU and it doesn’t look to be retroactive. I had ads running in the past on books that were in KU but activating that option didn’t display results for those old ads.

Nice that they added that since they took away displaying any associated sales that weren’t for the formats specifically listed in an ad. I get that a lot of people complained to them about that, but it would’ve been nice to leave the information available in a separate column somewhere.

(Maybe they’re trying to discourage people from using ad copy? Because the only way to list multiple formats, I believe, is to have an ad with no ad copy, but I could be wrong and am too lazy to go check right now.)

On one hand I’m glad that Amazon keeps trying to improve AMS. On the other hand, this is exactly why I ended up unpublishing my books on AMS ads. Because all of the practical, here’s how it works sections became outdated almost as soon as I wrote them.

One guarantee in this business: it is constantly changing.

Hm

I keep trying to write posts for this blog and then deleting the posts. Because there’s so much going on and I have opinions about so much of it, but I just…Eh.

One of the reasons I write is to explore what I feel or think about the world. That goes for blog posts as well as novels and short stories. So there’s value to me in writing those posts. But I can’t convince myself that there’s value for me in sharing them right now.

I’m about to hit the nine year mark of trying to write with the intent of publishing.

Each year I make progress. This year my profits were more than double the poverty level for my state and I was a semi-finalist for WOTF.

Each year I also think I’m an idiot for continuing to try to do this because the writing life and all its inherent criticisms, conflicts, and uncertainties is a recipe for poor mental health and there are far easier ways to make money in this world.

But at this point I only have one more year until I hit the decade mark, so I might as well keep going. I’ve come so far already. And I like being home with my pup. And not dealing with office politics.

I just need to avoid Twitter…Ugh.

Ah, Amazon…

It took six days but the paperback version of Data Analysis for Self-Publishers is now live on Amazon. Or at least it was when I checked this morning.

This was the first time they ever managed to link the ebook and print versions of one of my M.L. Humphrey titles without my asking them to do so. But it didn’t help much when the book wasn’t available for purchase and no price was listed. I wrote them about it and they told me that was the standard publishing process. No, no it isn’t. But thanks for playing.

I had to wait two more days to politely email again and say, “Hey, this isn’t right” and then it finally got fixed.

While I was at it I noticed that my YA fantasy books which are about 400 printed pages as is were showing as 700+ pages because of the large print edition I did at one point. I’d actually gotten them to fix that six months or so ago and unpublished the large print editions to make sure it wouldn’t happen again, but there it was.

I do find that they generally fix things when I ask them to, so kudos for that, but it’s just one added level of angst on everything else especially when you have a lot of books and can’t possibly sit on top of each one all the time.

Like sometimes I forget that they require you to use HTML coding if you want paragraphs on your print book description. Or that you often have to email to ask them to add a new book to a series page listing. Or that they will often only do so for ebooks and not print books. Or the stupid linking of book formats if you use initials in your pen name. Or, or, or…

But they’re the big player so we’re all stuck with them and their many, varied quirks.

Skydiving and COVID-19

A few friends have pointed out to me the comment going around that stopping the shelter in place orders right now is a lot like saying, “Hey, this parachute worked so well to slow me down, let me cut it away at 2,000 feet.” And I think it’s a good analogy.

But I have a different lesson I pull from my skydiving experience when dealing with this whole COVID-19 issue.

When I started skydiving I was in my early 30s, single, with a good income, no real debts I’d leave behind, no kids, no pets, and no family members that needed me to care for them. In some respects my dying would’ve been more beneficial to my family than my living, at least monetarily.

So the risk of skydiving that I perceived at the time, which was that I would die, wasn’t a big risk to me. I figured it would go fast if it happened and then it would be over. And, sure, living longer would be nice, but if that’s how things were I wasn’t too worried about it.

But as I got more into the sport, I realized that the true risk of skydiving was not dying. It was being severely injured and requiring months of rehab and depending on others to take care of me during that time.

One of my AFF instructors had a bad opening on his parachute and it fractured his pelvis, tore his aorta, and punctured his bowel. He was in the hospital for weeks and in rehab for months. Another girl I knew got caught in the prop wash from a plane that was on the tarmac and broke her leg. There’s even a term in skydiving called “femuring” because it’s common enough to hear that someone broke a femur during a bad landing. That’s the hardest bone in the body and yet skydivers break it often enough that it’s a sports term.

That was when I really had to sit down and reconsider my risk assessment. Because it wasn’t about potentially dying. It was about potentially having long-term pain. Or potentially needing in-home care when I had no one to give that care during rehab.

When I did that I also realized that I was only as safe as the stupidest person in the plane. Or the stupidest person on the jump with me.

Only so much you can do to avoid a canopy collision. And if some idiot launches wrong out of the plane or with a loose handle that leads to an early deployment that takes out the tail of that plane you’re going down with them whether you did everything right or not.

That change in my risk assessment isn’t the full reason I quit jumping. But it definitely had an impact. I was okay with dying. I was not okay with being a living burden on my family. They didn’t deserve to pay for my risky choices.

Which brings me back around to how this ties into COVID-19.

There’s been a lot of focus on the fatality rate. And on who actually dies. In Colorado over 50% of the fatalities are people over 80 years old. The death rate in Colorado for someone in their 20s is about a quarter of one percent. Pretty negligible.

Which makes it tempting for someone in their 20s to say, “The fatality rate on this thing is so small why should I stop living my life over this?”

Now, I’m not going to rant again about how overwhelming the healthcare system impacts everyone not just those with COVID-19 and how helping to spread this illness can mean that someone with an appendicitis or a stroke or a bad accident could end up not getting life-saving care, but that’s something to consider as well.

What I want to focus on instead is what happens if you get COVID-19 and don’t actually die from it.

We don’t know enough right now to know the long-term impacts of this illness. But there are a few things about it that make me think about rheumatic fever, so I want to talk about that for a second.

I am by no means claiming that the two illnesses are related. But I’m familiar with rheumatic fever because both of my parents were impacted by it when they were children.

For my father it damaged his kidneys when he was probably five or six years old. That damage was severe enough that he ultimately lost his kidneys in his early 20s which meant dialysis or transplants to stay alive. That one illness–that did not kill him–is the reason he died at 45 instead of living a long, healthy life. It also impacted everything he did. Every moment of his life from that point forward was colored by his illness.

For my mother rheumatic fever caused heart damage which may have ultimately lead to her needing open heart surgery and a valve replacement in her early 50s.

It took over a decade from that illness for my father’s kidneys to fail. And many decades for my mom to need heart surgery. But the initial damage was done by the rheumatic fever.

So turning back to COVID-19. We do not yet know what the long-term impacts of this illness are, but they could potentially be very significant.

It is clear that this illness impacts the lungs. It is also clear that for some patients they don’t even know their lungs are being affected.

Do you want to struggle with breathing for the rest of your life every time your neighbors decide to use their fireplace? Or when your neighbor engages in probably illegal home repairs that kick dust or chemicals into the air?

That could maybe happen if you get COVID-19. (Maybe not, but we don’t know enough yet to rule it out.)

Also with COVID-19 there are a non-trivial number of patients whose kidneys are affected by the illness. I’ve read more than one report of seriously ill patients who had to be dialysed because of it. Again, maybe it’s temporary. Not every patient in a hospital setting who requires dialysis requires it for life.

But what if the illness causes lasting kidney damage? Patients who receive kidney transplants do not have a full life expectancy. You get more years than dialysis in general, but not a full life. And if that kidney damage is a long-term effect of this illness, there probably won’t be enough kidneys to go around for everyone to get a transplant, which means dialysis. My dad made it 20+ years on dialysis, but the average is closer to five years.

COVID-19 has also been shown to cause clots which if they don’t kill you can cause strokes, heart attacks, and loss of limbs. The long-term effects of having a stroke can be incredibly challenging. Or what about losing a limb due to a clot. Trust me, you don’t want to go through that.

There may also be a potential for liver damage.

Again, we don’t know exactly what we’re dealing with yet. And some of these other health implications may not become clear for years. We may only see that they were COVID-19 related when we look at the incidence of X in the population prior to COVID-19 versus after.

For all we know those “asymptomatic” patients people love to talk about could just be people with lung involvement who don’t notice the symptom. We may only know they were impacted when they go in for breathing issues a year or five or ten down the road.

So don’t be binary in how you think about this illness. It is not a choice between dying or being fine. For the younger members of the population the main outcome of this could actually be long-term health impacts to lungs, kidneys, liver, and heart.

If you won’t limit your activities because someone else might die, then limit them because you might be permanently impacted if you get this. My dad had a good life, but I’m pretty sure he would’ve rather had a life without kidney disease if he’d been given the choice.

 

 

You Can’t See What You Don’t Track or Look At

One of the key points I tried to make in Data Principles for Beginners is that if you want to work with data you first need to track the right information. Some data can never be recovered if you don’t track it up front. And some is just impossibly difficult to obtain after the fact.

I want to say that the the example I used in that book, since I’m a writer, was how many hours it takes me to write each title I publish. This is crucial for me because it takes far less time to write a non-fiction book about Excel than it does to write a 120K-word YA fantasy novel. So if I earn the same amount on those two titles it turns out my time is much better spent writing another non-fiction book than another YA fantasy novel because I get the same return with far less time spent to get there.

The reason I bring this up today is because this COVID-19 situation is a perfect example of how important data analysis is to understanding the situation. And many of the concepts I discussed in that book are playing out right now in real life.

For example, it looks like it may be important how those who analyze fatality data bucket age groups. Here, for example, is a chart from New York state:

NY State Fatality Data

Here is similar data from Colorado:

CO fatality data 20200410 morning

Note how Colorado groups anyone over the age of 80 into one bucket whereas New York splits out those over 90 into their own category? And note how in New York that seems to be important. I haven’t run a statistical analysis on those numbers to see if the difference in fatality rate between those two groups is material or not, but it looks like it might be.

Of course, then you need to figure out why that difference exists. Maybe there was a virus that circulated for those 90+ when they were children that has given them partial immunity. Or there’s some commonality among those who live to 90+ that makes them more resilient when dealing with this. Or maybe when you’re 90+ you only bother to go to the hospital for treatment of something like this if you’re generally more healthy, and if we were to account for those who died at home during the same period the difference would go away.

But there’s no way to see that difference if that data isn’t, first, collected and, second, used for analysis. This is why it’s often very important to chart data before you create your categories so you can visually see what you’re dealing with. (I believe in the book the example I used revolved around annual income categories for bank customers. If you’re dealing with high net worth individuals using a top category of $100,000+ isn’t going to work well.)

Now maybe what we’re seeing above is just a quirk in the New York data and if you were to separate out the 90+ age range from the 80-89 age range in Colorado there’d be no difference. But the key is to be able to do so if needed (which means setting the right ranges for your dataset) and then actually attempting to do so.

(There’ve been articles about potential racial difference in outcomes as well. But without information on living situation, health care status, neighborhood pollution levels, income, etc. it’s hard to say whether it’s because of economic disadvantage, systemic racism, or something genetic. Same with the fact that more men than women seem to be dying. Without information on things like smoking history, which was one of the early suggestions that I think has since been disproven, you can’t parse out the actual cause for the differences.)

Another issue I’ve noted is the problem of comparing apples to oranges. I admire Johns Hopkins for what they’ve been doing with their dashboard but it also makes me want a strong drink. Here it is as of this morning:

Johns Hopkins 20200410

What annoys me about it is the Total Confirmed numbers on the left-hand side cannot be readily compared to the Total Deaths numbers on the right-hand side. If you look at the bottom of the total confirmed numbers you’ll see Admin0, Admin1, Admin2. These used to be better labeled. What they do is allow you to toggle between a country-level view and a more granular level of data.

By default for confirmed cases you get country-level case data.

Problem is that the death values on the right-hand side are NOT country-level data. You can now see this clearly when you look at the fifth entry in the image above which is not even for New York state, but is instead for New York city. Scroll down further and you’ll see additional entries for New York state.

There is no easy way to find the total values for the U.S. nor for the most-impacted states. It’s very frustrating. And until CNN published their U.S. tracker and Stat News published theirs (and got it working so it’s current and not weirdly delayed) I was highly annoyed by this situation. Because the data was there but it was being presented in a very ineffective and perhaps even misleading manner. (Most people don’t dig into the data they’re shown, they just take what they see on the surface so it was easy to look at the death values and assume the U.S. wasn’t as high up on the list as it actually was.)

It should be easy enough to put the same Admin0, Admin1, Admin2 category options on the death data as it was to put it on the confirmed cases data. And then the user could easily compare cases to deaths with just a glance.

Of course, as I’ve discussed before, we’re not testing enough for this data to actually be a full picture of what’s happening anyway.

There are people who have died at home who were never tested so are not part of the fatality data. There are people who very clearly have had it who also were never tested. There are people who are going to die from something else because they will either choose to stay home rather than seek care or because they won’t able to get the care they need to save their lives.

At some point in time someone with good data skills is going to have to go back and look at baseline fatality levels for a similar timeframe over say the last five years, adjust for the current year trend for the last six months or so before the virus hit, and then extrapolate the number of direct and indirect deaths caused by COVID-19 to give us a legitimate picture of the actual impact of the virus. (And of course if we’re going to give the virus blame for the indirect deaths due to lack of care we also need to give it credit for lower traffic fatalities, etc.)

Whoever does that will then have to probably back into total infection numbers once we have some idea of infection vs. fatality/hospitalization rates by region. If that’s even possible.

Of course, no good data, no good analysis. The key starting point to be able to do any of that is the data. Data is key. You have to collect the right information and in the right format. And then you have to use it effectively and ask the right questions. (Which is why one of the first chapters in that book was also about how you need subject matter experts who understand the data you’re working with not just smart people who can run a regression analysis.)

Anyway. Data and how you use it matters.

For anyone looking for the sources I referenced above:

New York

Colorado

Johns Hopkins

CNN Tracker

Stat News Tracker