Recently on the Australian “Sunrise” TV program co-presenter David Koch said: “There have only been 3000 deaths from COVID, far less than that from influenza in the same period, so we should oppose the lockdowns”. This statement ignored the fact that prior to and during the vaccination rollout, lockdowns are likely to have prevented many thousands more deaths.
Similarly, some people argue against counter-terrorism measures on the grounds that there have been relatively few successful terrorist attacks in Australia, ignoring the fact that counter-terrorism has deterred and disrupted many more terrorist plots than those that have been carried out.
Several years ago, I was working as a regulatory consultant helping to remake sunsetting Victorian water regulations. Amongst other things, these regulations require the installation of backflow prevention devices on the customer’s water service pipe, just after the water meter. Backflow can result in contaminants being drawn into the drinking water system if the mains pressure suddenly drops as the result of a burst water main. If a customer leaves a hose running in a chlorinated swimming pool or attached to a container of “hose-on” fertiliser, weedicide or insecticide, or worse still in an industrial chemical bath, risks to public health can occur. A Treasury official asked me how many Victorians have died as a result of such backflow incidents. When I answered “none yet” he said “so what is the problem?”. This ignored the fact that backflow prevention devices have been installed for many decades, thus preventing backflow from occurring.
These examples all make the logical error of confusing cause and effect, which is also known as the reverse causation fallacy. The low numbers of cases are caused, at least in part, by the preventative measures in place – they do not demonstrate that such measures are unnecessary. Without such measures, the numbers of cases would be likely to be many times higher.