Sick of Fearmongering

Kenneth Moreland photo By Kenneth Moreland Comment

As of this writing, China is battling a fierce outbreak of a new coronavirus, which is also threatening to spread to other parts of the world.

It’s scary.

And that means it is also very important to keep things in perspective. Panicking and overreacting will make things worse for everyone, including yourself.

Which brings me to this map showing the spread of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus.

Fearmongering Coronavirus

This and several more like it have been featured in articles from The Sun. These graphics paint a dire portrait of 2019-nCoV are very exaggerated. The data are about a week old as of this writing, but the representation of the data makes the spread look far worse than it actually is.

The main problem with this map is that there is no relative proportion to the number of infected cases. Whether there is one case or hundreds, the entire containing country is colored the same deep red (with the exception of Australia for no apparent reason). The amount of red is proportional to the landmass of the country, not the danger in the region (a common problem for this type of visualization). And since the United States and Mexico alone have a larger area than China, it makes the spread look hundreds of times worse than it is.

To make matters worse, the map uses a strong black label to report the number of deaths in China and then uses the same type of black label to report unconfirmed cases in the US. Being dead and being under observation are about as different can be, but it is another trick to make the spread look worse than it is.

And just to ratchet up the fear another notch, the map has random pictures of people in medical masks.

Although 2019-nCoV is currently mostly contained in China, this map makes it look like it’s well on its way to infecting the entire world. Paired with sensational headlines like BUG UNLEASHED Coronavirus spread may be unstoppable as Chinese New Year sparks THREE BILLION trips and ‘super-spreaders’ fuel crisis and PANDEMIC THREAT Coronavirus ‘could’ve infected 10,000 already’ amid warning it’s ‘as deadly as Spanish flu – that killed 50 million’ and WORLD WAR FLU Deadly coronavirus could have ALREADY spread to UK after killing 17 and infecting 10,000 in China alone, The Sun is intentionally spreading fear in the interest of selling more papers.

Before we close, let’s take a better look at the same data. Here is my attempt to more accurately represent the same data.


We see that when the 2019-nCoV cases are shown proportionally, we see that the cases in the rest of the world are pales in comparison with China.

As a final word, the 2019-nCoV coronavirus is indeed a big deal. It is a dangerous infectious disease responsible for many deaths. But so far the evidence points to 2019-nCoV not being a civilization ending threat. Fortunately, 2019-nCoV appears to have a lower mortality rate than the recent SARS and MERS outbreaks.

For now, the best advice is standard prevention.

  1. Keep good hygiene. Wash your hands often. Avoid touching your face.
  2. Avoid close contact with sick people.
  3. If you get sick, stay home. Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. Contact your healthcare provider if you think you have contracted something serious.