Kevin Freking and Linda A. Johnson from the Associated Press conduct a nice summary analysis of some of the larger facts and figures that litter Moore’s recent documentary, Sicko, on the American healthcare system. Unlike many, however, these two have really done their homework to try and put some of the numbers that Moore throws out into context. Because it’s telling not only what a filmmaker says, but what he doesn’t say. And Moore doesn’t say a lot.
For instance, it’s a nice headline to say that America ranks 37th in healthcare in the world (suggesting all sorts of room for improvement!), but the article puts this data into some much-needed context:
Moore does not say that one of the countries he highlighted, Cuba, is ranked 39th, below the U.S. Among the others, France is ranked No. 1, the United Kingdom ranked 18th and Canada ranked 30th. He does not give those rankings, either.
The report, based on 1997 data, measured not just the quality of care provided, but how well the countries prevented illness and how fairly the poor, minorities and other special populations are treated.
And his personal stories, while very interesting and an important part of the picture, don’t paint a complete canvas. For instance, here’s the real story behind wait times in these countries compared to the U.S., something Moore holds up as an example of how great healthcare is in countries like the UK and Canada:
Yet a recent report from the Commonwealth Fund indicates that wait times in the U.S. are clearly shorter than they are in Canada.
In all areas measured, the U.S. fared better than Canada. […]
The difference was more acute when it came time to see a specialist. 57 percent of Canadians waited four weeks or longer to see a specialist versus 23 percent in the U.S.
The Commonwealth Fund also monitored wait times in Britain, which has universal health care. The wait times for emergency room care were comparable to those in the U.S.
There was a big difference when it came time to see a specialist — 60 percent in Britain waited four weeks or longer.
Now of course Moore is a filmmaker first and foremost, so he can tell whatever story he wants. But a “documentary” definitely loses some of its luster (and strength) when it chooses to be very selective in the factoids it presents without trying to put these factoids into some kind of perspective.
In some ways, Moore’s style is endemic of American society (dare I say, Web 2.0?) in general — the explosion of factoids and personal storytelling with little regard for context, hard data, and trying to understand the complex relationships between all of these things.
Moore has a point, but it’s lost on me because I lose respect for anyone who can’t be upfront about their data. It may be good entertainment (see if for yourself to decide), but it’s not a documentary nor serious look at the U.S. healthcare system and its ills.