“Elderly” tag depends on context (73-year-old killed by Comfort Sheep)

A sad tale from Newsweek, with “elderly” in both the headline and URL… “Elderly Woman Killed by a Sheep While Volunteering at Massachusetts Farm” (12/6):

Kim Taylor, 73, of Wellesley, had been volunteering at Cultivate Care Farms when she was repeatedly rammed by a sheep on Saturday morning, according to NBC Boston, citing Bolton police.

According to police, all the livestock at Cultivate Care Farms are comfort animals and that the site assists people as part of an attempt to improve their mental health.

This post is not about the sad event, but about the choice of language.

Let’s consider a 79-year-old President of the United States? Not “elderly,” according to Newsweek (Google search for “joe biden elderly site:newsweek.com”).

How about a 73-year-old who dies with/from COVID-19? (9 years younger than the median age of a COVID-19 death in Maskachusetts) Would our media characterize this person as “elderly”? Or imply that he/she/ze/they would otherwise have looked forward to decades of health and vigor?

20 thoughts on ““Elderly” tag depends on context (73-year-old killed by Comfort Sheep)

  1. Got rammed in the head by a young sheep once. It hurt, despite it being small. It was the beginning of a lifetime butting heads with amerikan ideology.

    No-one ever got rammed by a lion. Comfort lions comment on blogs in an attempt to improve mental health.

  2. Hard to imagine that. Probably an example of journalist interpretation of the events.
    Was rammed by rams a few times, they seem to be very weak animals. Kids of age 5 are allowed in petting zoos featuring sheep and goats who ram sometimes, never seen an injury.

  3. Cher is 75 years old. Is she “elderly?”


    It would be very interesting to know if there are editorial guidelines promulgated by news organizations to their writers defining when to use certain terms and in what contexts? They must exist somewhere, but maybe they’re not written down. I’ve often wondered what the editorial rules for certain usages are at the New York Times, for instance? To my knowledge, nothing formal has ever been leaked over the years, which suggests to me that certain terms are used at the discretion of senior editors but is never explicitly codified, for plausible deniability reasons and also because it’s their “secret sauce.” The way certain terms are used is a fascinating intersection of Sociology, Political Science and Linguistics.

    We don’t hear enough about it, but someone should attempt an analysis.

  4. “Dr” Phil:

    I already corrected you on using the median age of Covid death as 82 — it is now more than 10 years younger. You acknowledged that fact. Yet you have continued to peddle this fake news.

    • Mike: The median age of a death in Maskachusetts is from the last dashboard that the state made available with this information (see https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2020/08/13/maskachusetts-when-people-arent-scared-enough-change-the-covid-19-dashboard/ ). If you can find a source with a more recent median age number for Massachusetts, I would love to see it! (i.e., please give us the URL)

      (The state does now seem to offer an “average age” number of 74 for recent deaths, which isn’t directly comparable to the former median number. That’s available at https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-response-reporting#covid-19-interactive-data-dashboard- Whether median or average, though, I hope that you’ll agree with me that a 74-year-old who dies from COVID-19 would likely have enjoyed an active healthy lifestyle right into her mid-90s while a 73-year-old who dies from some other cause is “elderly”. And do remember that the original post is about cumulative journalism characterizing COVID-19 deaths since early 2020, not about journalism that has been written just in the past few weeks. So the relevant number to look at would be the median age of all COVID-19-tagged deaths in Maskachusetts, going back to the start of coronapanic journalism.)

    • Thanks, Mike. If you want to say that there is no difference between median and average then I guess that works!

    • I now see you saw the same dashboard.

      Great job on finding an inconsistency in the use of age-specific adjectives amongst many tens of thousands of journalism articles. A win!

    • Mike, sadly Philip found not inconsistency but serious misunderstanding. Median age of 82 means that 50% of all “with covid” deaths are in people 82 years and older. Average means that you sum up ages of old dead with coronavirus from 0 to end of human lifespan and divide by number of people who died from coronavirus you get 74, akin to average temperature for all patients in a hospital.

    • LSI: I don’t think that Mike is wrong. The age of people dying this week from COVID-19 should be lower than the age of people who died from COVID-19 in the first week of April 2020. We can infer that from the principle that a person cannot be killed twice by COVID-19 (Thank Fauci for that!). But, as noted above, for the purpose of my article about psychological effect of American media coverage of coronaplague, it is the median age at death for all deaths 2020-2021 that matters. I don’t think that statistic is easily available, but I think it is probably still close to 82 in MA, just because there were a lot of deaths in the first wave in MA. I can’t find a good source for a nationwide median either. The CDC lumps people into big groups, e.g., “85 and older” or “50-64” (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid_weekly/index.htm ).

      As you imply, the median age is a more useful number than the average age because it gives us a picture of the typical victim of COVID-19 and we can then decide how closely we resemble this picture. Once we’ve made that decision we can use it to decide how deeply to burrow into a bunker!

    • Philip, I agree with your logic and “from covid”. However statistics does not support it and statistics has only info for those who died “with covid”, which includes those who died from covid itself and from other conditions or old age while being tested positive for coronavirus infection whatever it means. Growth of average age of those who died from 69 o 74 surely does not provide support for your logic that I agree with, neither it allows conclusive inferences that age of those who died while testing positive for coronavirus infection increases but makes likelihood of this course of events greater. And we do have better treatments for coronavirus infection now then same time last year, not just “”vaccines”” in the sense of flu “vaccines”

    • LSI: I think the fluctuation from 69 to 74 in “average age of a recent COVID-19-tagged death” isn’t surprising. There were only about 10 COVID-tagged people dying each day in MA two months ago. Right now it is about 25 per day (compare to 50 per day a year ago, which is how we know that vaccines are 90% effective at preventing death). I’m not sure that we should expect smooth data from this small a sample.

    • Yes Philip. Another factor that virus is mutating toward being less deadly, according to classic theory and to Xi strain self-identifying as Omicron strain data so far.
      But if masking / forced shutdowns were effective they would prolong the mutation process. Luckily it seems they were not effective Leaky “vaccines” too had potential to make coronavirus deadlier for non-vaccinated, if they worked as advertised. But if treat influenza of 1918 pandemic timelines as a baseline then less severe Omicron variant is just on time, is if there were no leaky vaccines or lock-downs or $10 trillion + and Bidenflation expenses to keep it up longer.

  5. I’m sorry I give you a hard time sometimes, I just want my old Phil back. Instead I have this Covid-obsessed right-wing veering guy I see now, who is far less interesting. After pointing out your 246th Covid mask post a few days ago after you claimed no one in Florida cares about Covid, I now see you’ve stepped it up and are publishing three Covid posts a day.

    I’m a very, very long time reader, used to take frequent work trips to Hanscom, and it is very frustrating to see the lack of unique takes on various aspects of life that I used to love. Rather now it is “Can you believe this same thing I whined about yesterday is still happening?” times 250. Maybe it is best, as some of your fellow commentators have suggested, for me to hang up my “Dr” Phil bookmark and ride into the sunset. Then you can all exist in this small media bubble, where everyone can high five each other for teaching your young children to automatically call Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas.” That’s how we spread joy and make the world a better place.

    • Mike: You’re entitled to think it isn’t interesting that we chose to spend $10 trillion, shut down our schools, keep our marijuana stores open, and (for rich white people) hide in our houses for 2 years all to fight a battle against a respiratory virus that all pre-2020 wisdom said could not be won (and that, judging by our position on https://www.statista.com/statistics/1104709/coronavirus-deaths-worldwide-per-million-inhabitants/ relative to countries that did next to nothing, we did not win). There were certainly Americans in the late 1960s who didn’t think that the Vietnam War was interesting, though with time I think that most Americans have come to see that, other than perhaps Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society expansion of the welfare state, the Vietnam War was the most significant event in the past 75 years of U.S. history.

      Let’s agree to look back in 2031 (if neither of us has been killed by COVID-19 Delta Delta Delta variant) and see if coronapanic turns out to have been similarly transformative.

    • I would like Mike to “hang up my “Dr” Phil bookmark and ride into the sunset”! I think Mike is a big dumb dumb. I prefer to argue with the many Alexes. Sometimes I like to sit back and watch Alex argue with himself.

    • Mike: If you don’t see how left authoritarians have taken over the world since around 2010, you are the one living in a bubble.

      In the software business for example, they have gradually tightened the thumbscrews and the classic liberal-left nerds have let it happen because they had better things to do. Now the unproductive authoritarian left controls FAANG, hiring positions, firing positions, censor positions, search prioritization positions, “open” source projects, etc.

      We know that the higher ups in the authoritarian left are fake, but that does not make the situation any better.

      And you advocate to continue looking the other way and focusing on more pleasant issues, so they can take over the entire country and every state.

      When dealing with overwhelming mainstream propaganda, repetitive counter-propaganda is necessary to an extent. Initially I didn’t believe in philg’s Church Of Sweden, after several repetitions, studying graphs and seeing the winter 2021 numbers, I think he was correct all along.

      FYI, I started out a s a European left-liberal, who since 2016 would do anything including voting for Trump to stop all this nonsense. Your impression of a right wing echo chamber is patently false.

    • TS, Anon: I’m grateful to Mike for reading/criticizing. With no critics, it is easy to fool oneself. Just look at the lockdown Karens!

      One thing that is an enduring source of fascination for me is the certainty level of the lockdowners. A friend is a professor at University of California (in actual science, so he doesn’t know anything about biology or medicine). Despite the tent cities and poverty all around him in Berkeley, after 50+ years of lavish welfare and intense government-run do-gooding, he is a true believer in anything put forward by Democrats and a righteous hater of anything that he considers to be Republican (and anything that he hates, therefore, is almost certainly Republican-inspired). From a conversation a couple of nights ago:

      1) he is 100% confident that lockdowns and masks have been super effective in dramatically reducing deaths from COVID-19 (Peru, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Slovenia are not interesting to him, with their police- and military-enforced lockdowns and masks and world-leading death rates) Florida, by contrast, has killed maybe millions of people (hard to say, since, in his view, Florida is hiding deaths) with its state law banning mask orders by county/city/local tyrants.

      2) when I told him about my 50ish friend who got a terrible case of COVID 5.5 months after Moderna vaccination, he expressed certainty that the guy would have died and/or been in the ICU if he’d not been vaccinated

      3) he is 100% confident that the current crop of vaccines have no long-term side effects because there is no vaccine that has ever had a negative long-term effect

      4) he is 100% confident that mass vaccination, including of children who were not at risk from COVID-19, was a smart plan and that it cannot have any unintended consequences due to, e.g., evolutionary pressure on the virus.

      Perhaps he is right about all of the above, but why does he think he has enough data to say that he cannot be wrong about any of the above? He is certain that the experimental use authorized vaccines for 5-year-olds will not have some bad effects that we’ll only know about when the kids are 10? How can anyone know that given that the kids have not aged an additional 5 years yet?

      I need to avoid falling into that certainty trap from the other direction. I suspected that lockdowns and mask orders for the American public wouldn’t work back in the spring of 2020 (see https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2020/05/28/train-americans-to-use-masks-the-way-that-surgeons-do-or-restructure-the-physical-environment/ for example). Now that we’ve had so many natural experiments, e.g., Karen-rich schools-shut California versus Deplorable schools-open Florida (see https://twitter.com/DrJBhattacharya/status/1442656553845334016 for age-adjusted stats from a Stanford Medical School prof), I think I have been proved correct, but I couldn’t know that in May 2020.

      I think I was right in April 2020 when I said we needed to build specialized treatment centers for COVID ( https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2020/04/02/if-we-could-build-renal-dialysis-capacity-why-not-covid-19-treatment-centers/ ). After handing over 20% of our income to the health care industry, we are constantly being told that a small number of COVID patients has overwhelmed our legacy hospitals.

      But I have been dead wrong about a lot of stuff too. In April 2020 I guessed that we’d have a useful treatment for COVID-19 no later than March 2021 ( https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2020/04/06/best-guess-as-to-when-the-first-successful-covid-19-therapy-will-be-widely-available/ ). I’m glad that I admitted it was just a guess!

  6. We need Mike here to keep Phil in check 🙂 especially if Mike is a pilot flying out of Hansom! Pilots are good breed 🙂

    • I agree with you that we need Mike. “Work trips to Hanscom” usually means government worker or government contractor, though, rather than pilot. Hanscom Field is an airport, but “Hanscom” by itself usually means the Air Force Base.

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