3.7 Graphical integrity: Example & exercise (1)

Global deaths

Figure 3.4: Global deaths

  • Figure 3.1 “allowed the government to say that, even after adding non-hospital deaths in England to its daily tally, the UK’s rate was below Belgium, Spain and Italy and almost in step with France” (McIntyre and Duncan 2020)
    • “the small print under the graphic proved important:”Differences between countries’ trajectories can reflect differences in determining cause of death, testing capacity, and interventions (eg social distancing measures) implemented." (McIntyre and Duncan 2020)
    • The devil was in the detail: the UK’s daily figures only included deaths where the patient tested positive for Covid-19. The Belgian figures included all suspected cases regardless of whether a test was carried out.
  • Chart by Guaridan below:
Global deaths

Figure 3.5: Global deaths

  • “if we strip out nursing home deaths in the UK and Belgian, things look a lot different.” (McIntyre and Duncan 2020)
  • “A total of 3,419 hospital deaths had been recorded in Belgium by 29 April, or 295 deaths per 1 million population. There were 22,286 hospital deaths in the UK recorded by the same day (excluding those who did not receive a positive test beforehand) or 328 deaths per 1 million population.”; “The deaths each government includes or excludes matter. France includes care home deaths in its total, whereas the UK only includes some care-home deaths as set out above.” (McIntyre and Duncan 2020)

Daily deaths

Figure 3.6: Daily deaths

  • “The daily death toll figures released by the government are not an accurate reflection of the number of deaths in the UK”
    • “Up to 28 April, the figures included only those hospital deaths where a patient had received a positive Covid-19 test. Since 29 April, the figures have included non-hospital deaths in England. Deaths in other settings in the devolved nations were already being counted in the daily government figure.” (McIntyre and Duncan 2020)
    • “However, the requirement for a positive test still stands, meaning hundreds of deaths are missing from the daily toll.” (McIntyre and Duncan 2020)
    • confusion as to whether the government figures are per date of reported death or date of actual death – the figures fluctuate day by day which could be due to corrections to the daily totals, making it hard to be sure.” (McIntyre and Duncan 2020)
    • “regardless of which metrics are being used, the figures in the bar chart on the government’s screen each day – including its use of a seven-day rolling average – is still not a fair reflection of the current situation.” (McIntyre and Duncan 2020)

New cases

Figure 3.7: New cases

  • “The briefing also contains an update on the number of new coronavirus cases confirmed each day. During the 4 May press conference 3,985 new cases were confirmed by lab testing. Despite the nice bar graph, we have no idea how many cases there are in the UK.” (McIntyre and Duncan 2020)
  • “Although testing capacity has increased substantially, the UK is nowhere near the widespread”test and trace" strategy recommended by the World Health Organization and followed by other countries such as Germany and South Korea." (McIntyre and Duncan 2020)

Another recent example (not sure if it’s true…).

  • Questions we should always ask…
    • How are these things measures (are measures valid)? Was every of the underlying data points measured in the same way?
    • What is the time period? Does time correspond to measurement?


McIntyre, Niamh, and Pamela Duncan. 2020. “Why No 10’s Covid-19 Death Toll Slides Don’t Tell the Whole Story.” The Guardian, May.