Harvard Study Explodes Puerto Rico Death Rate to Bash Trump

And ‘Deathers’ demand more dead Puerto Ricans.

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.

Ever since Hurricane Maria hit, there was one thing that the left wanted. And it wanted it now.

More dead Puerto Ricans.

The low death toll undermined efforts by the media to transform the hurricane into a Trump scandal. It made a mockery of Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz warning about genocide before sending her aide over to the nearest t-shirt printing shop, miraculously left standing, to print up another slogan shirt for CNN.

The media spread urban legends of morgues packed with thousands of corpses. But they never materialized. Congressional Democrats demanded an investigation to expose the full death toll.

The ‘Deathers’ weren’t satisfied with the official death toll of 64 dead.

Now Harvard has delivered. “Hurricane Maria killed more than 4,600 in Puerto Rico, not 64,” USA Today blares. “A New Study Says Nearly 6,000 Died In Puerto Rico,” BuzzFeed shouts. “Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Maria Death Toll Could Exceed 4,000,” the New York Times reports slightly more cautiously.

4,000, 4,600 or 6,000. Which is it? 

This is what comes of a media monopoly that thinks fact checks are only for Republicans.

“Hurricane Maria: 4,645 Died In Puerto Rico From Storm In 2017,” NPR claims. That’s more specific. It’s also the number that Mayor Cruz is wearing on her hat. 

Except that the margin of error is “plus or minus 3,852.” That’s a sizable margin. Maybe 793 people or 8,498 people died. It’s hard to find room on a hat for all those numbers. And where do they come from?

Did researchers from the hallowed halls of Harvard actually count graves and assemble a list of all the people who died in Hurricane Maria? 

Come on. That’s too much work. So the Harvard researchers took it easy

Instead they surveyed 3,299 random Puerto Rican households, used the survey results to generate a death rate of 14.3 per 1,000 between September 20, the date the hurricane hit, and December 31. 

That’s over 100 days after the hurricane hit.

Then they compared those numbers to the same period in 2016 and produced 4,645 deaths.

This is not a verified list of deaths due to Hurricane Maria. It’s a pile of conjectures, assumptions and statistical bunny hops. It also leapfrogs Puerto Rico’s actual review being conducted by George Washington University researchers under a GWU dean that will review actual death certificates.

‘Deathers’ insist that death certificates are not meaningful. Their own numbers take into account anyone who might have died indirectly due to the impact of the hurricane. Power failures. Communications outages. Roads being washed out. But we can’t actually know whether an ill person would have died if the hurricane hadn’t hit. Or if any amount of infrastructure would have made it possible for the entire island to maintain power when being hit by a hurricane. Probably not.

New York City has some of the densest infrastructure in the world, but after Hurricane Sandy hit it still took months to restore power to some residents. 

The official death toll, sneered at by the media, counts the number of people actually killed by the hurricane. The ‘Deathers’ want to count everyone who might have possibly lived otherwise.

But we’ll never know.

The Harvard study rejects birth certificates but compares its survey generated death rate to “official vital-statistics data for 2016” and then it “calculated excess deaths in Puerto Rico.” 

That’s what their estimated death toll is based on. But that’s comparing apples to oranges. 

Statistics actually show that the death toll in Puerto Rico dropped slightly in 2017. (But rose quite sharply from 2011 onwards.) The Harvard study distrusts the vital stats for 2017, but trusts them for 2016. Its huge death toll depends entirely on the reliability of the same data that it distrusts.

Personal surveys usually produce higher reporting rates. That’s why rape statistics are endlessly debated. There’s a huge discrepancy between official rape rates and anecdotal survey results.

If the Harvard study wanted a consistent point of comparison, its researchers should have done a twin of its survey that would have asked about deaths for the same period in 2016. That way at least both sets of data would have been gathered using the same methodology. 

Instead apples are being compared to oranges. And the discrepancy between the two fruits is being used to generate a huge death toll.

The 4,645 death toll was projected based on an estimate of the total population of Puerto Rico. But what’s the population of Puerto Rico? The study went with 3,030,307. The researchers admit, “use of different numbers for the population estimate in either 2016 or 2017, or different vintages of the census estimate, would change the estimate of excess deaths. Here we use our survey estimate, rather than census predictions.” They claim that, “this population estimate is roughly consistent with the Population Estimates Program statistic of 3,406,520 in 2016.” The excess is presumed to be due to migration.


Also, strangely enough, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, its ongoing estimate, and the Harvard survey had major discrepancies in one key area: the number of senior citizens. That’s significant because mortality rates are at their highest in the survey among people in the 70 to 90 age range. 

Why would the Harvard survey have found around 25% more people in the 60-69 age group? Or around 50% more in the 70-79 age group?

Either they were prematurely aged by the hurricane. Or one set of numbers is significantly off.

If the hurricane actually disproportionately affected people in their 70s and 80s leading to, what the survey estimates is a four-fold increase in the death rates of the 80-90 age group and a five-fold increase in deaths in the 70-80 age group, shouldn’t they have encountered fewer seniors, rather than more?

Like Sam Cooke, I don’t know much about trigonometry, algebra or math. I’m not an expert on statistics and my numbers and my interpretation of them in this article could be completely wrong. But I do know something about other areas of life. Like human behavior.

And I could hazard a guess as to why people in a disaster area might have inflated death rates and ages to a group identified with a respected institution from the mainland. Probably, so could you.

That’s the problem with anecdotal surveys. They’re not facts.

Deathers sneer at Puerto Rico’s effort to confirm the death toll as an objective fact. They prefer the ambiguity of easily massaged statistics that can be used to support any outcome they believe is right.

They are certain that President Trump’s actions killed thousands of Puerto Ricans. And, in the scientific community of the media era, supply usually meets up with demand. That’s why there are so many contradictory claims about healthy diets. Studies that can never be duplicated, but make good copy.

People die in every natural disaster. 

The cynical exploitation of death tolls has become another leftist industry. The extensive reporting on casualties in Iraq under Bush gave way to apathy in the face of shocking numbers coming out of Afghanistan under Obama. Bernie Sanders claimed that Israel killed 10,000 innocent people in Gaza. The actual death toll for the conflict on both sides was many times smaller. 

Numbers matter. Except when they don’t. 

When Hurricane Georges hit Puerto Rico in ‘98, Bill Clinton was in the White House and the media had no interest in inflating the death toll. Today’s Deathers are invariably Obama and Clinton supporters. 

They don’t care about Puerto Rico. They just want dead Puerto Ricans to use as ammo against Trump.