Butterfield Epidemiology

We all knew this was going to happen. At the very beginning of our vast national social-distancing experiment, we said that we would know it was working if it all seemed like an overreaction.

This is the great paradox of any preventive measure. If it works, it prevents the danger that makes it necessary—which, in turn, allows people to be complacent and dismissive about that danger. There’s even a name for this: the Butterfield Effect. It was coined back in the 2000s by James Taranto as a play on the name of New York Times reporter Fox Butterfield and the title of the 2004 film The Butterfly Effect. Taranto was criticizing Butterfield for headlines like “Despite Drop in Crime, an Increase in Inmates,” which failed to consider whether crime was going down precisely because we were putting more criminals in prison.

The Butterfield Effect refers to any argument that presents a cause-and-effect relationship—more criminals in prison causes crime rates to go down—as if it were a paradox.

You can see where I’m going with this. We’re already starting to see a lot of arguments along the lines of “Despite Drop in COVID-19 Cases, Lockdowns Continue.”

Read the rest at The Bulwark.

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