Nate Silver’s dishonest critique of travel bans

ebola lagos airport

Nate Silver, of fivethirtyeight.com, has apparently received the White House memo asking its bootlicks in the media to push back on the demand sane people are making for a travel ban on countries with an active Ebola epidemic. To make his case, in the words of William F. Buckley, he acts like a pyromaniac in a field of strawmen.

Duncan’s case has sparked calls to ban flights to the United States from the countries hardest hit by the recent Ebola outbreak — Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — possibly along with others in West Africa. While some of these arguments have been measured, others seem to convey the impression there are thousands of passengers arriving in cities like Dallas each day from flights originating in these countries.

There aren’t. We searched on Kayak.com, ExpertFlyer.com and airline websites for direct flights from West African nations (as the United Nations defines the region) to destinations outside the African continent. Specifically, we looked for flights available for the week from Jan. 2 to Jan. 8, 2015, a time period far enough in advance that such flights are unlikely to have sold out.

There are no regularly scheduled direct flights to the U.S. from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone — and very few from other countries in West Africa. There are far more flights from West Africa to Western Europe instead. Duncan’s case was typical. Before arriving in the United States, he connected through Brussels.

Next we are told:

All of those cities, of course, offer abundant connections to the United States. There are about 280 flights each week from London to New York alone, and thousands more involving other transatlantic city pairs.

A traveler from West Africa could also connect through the Middle East. There are as many flights to Dubai from the region each week (37) as there are to the United States, along with regular connections to Istanbul, Doha and Beirut.

And from there we get to his conclusion

But for a ban to be even halfway effective, it would need to be much more sweeping than banning the handful of direct flights from West Africa to the United States. It seems unlikely that travel from Europe or the Middle East will be halted. But the next Ebola patient may be on a flight from London, not Liberia.

Silver has found 37 direct flights to the United States per week that originate in …read more    

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