How Many Have Died?

Issues in Science and Technology (2020)
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I look at the two main approaches used to count COVID-19 deaths and show how each of those approaches can appear to both overcount COVID deaths (including deaths it should exclude) and undercount COVID deaths (excluding deaths it should include). I trace this to the fact - well-known to philosophers - that causal attribution is interest-relative. Which deaths we should attribute to COVID (as opposed to other causes) will depend on our particular interests and values. Contrary to what many journalists and researchers report, there is therefore no such thing as the "true" COVID death toll. Understanding this can help us to become more sophisticated consumers of COVID information. I conclude by suggesting that scientists, by reflecting on society's varied interests and values, are in a position to construct measures of COVID-caused mortality that are potentially as useful, or more useful, than the measures we currently have.



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S. Andrew Schroeder
Claremont McKenna College

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