Saturday, 8 September 2007

What you should and shouldn't worry about

Here's an interesting article from a humorous but occasionally serious site (their movies section is the best if you want to laugh).

"The 6 Most Over-Hyped Threats to America (And What Should Scare You Instead)" are:
1. Al Qaeda in Iraq
2. Gay marriage
3. Gas prices
4. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad
5. Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez
6. SARS and bird flu, etc.

The things you should actually worry about, according to the article:
1. Shia militants (e.g. al-Sadr)
2. Radical leading homophobes/pedophiles/creeps like Mark Foley and Ted Haggard
3. Global warming (what's a few extra bucks if your planet's about to flood?)
4. Iran's real leader, Ayatollah Khamenei
5. North Korea's Kim Jong-Il
6. Tuberculosis and other current havoc-wreaking diseases

Fear is especially prevalent these days, isn't it?

One caveat of this article I would like to point out: bird flu is something companies, governments, and individuals should prepare for. While it has only killed a negligible amount of people at this point, if it mutates to the point where human-to-human transmission is possible there could be a serious, far-reaching pandemic. In the case of potential disasters like the H5N1 virus, be prepared, but not scared.

We do need to be prepared for a H5N1 pandemic; we need to continue research into vaccines, monitoring cases worldwide, and getting ready, just in case. However, panicking about something that might happen — i.e. the mass transmission of avian flu world-wide — is something we should refrain from.

The summer before last I spoke briefly to an official with the WHO or CDC (I cannot remember which; I just happened to meet her in a dining area before seeing a play) said that there is potential for H5N1 to mutate and cause a mass human pandemic. However steps are being taken and need to be continued to prevent the impact of such a pandemic. It's not the end of the world.

If we worry senselessly and constantly about H5N1, meteor strikes, or global warming, which all have the potential to wipe the human race from the earth, what's the point in living? What we can do is take action on those important issues, and press our governments to do the same. Fear leads to inaction, and if it's action people want, than it's best that the media and groups pushing action on pressing issues don't exaggerate issues to apocalyptic extremes.

Sometimes satire — like the Daily Show or the Colbert Report — can offer more insight and thought-provoking information than the mainstream (American) news, while remaining entertaining.

Updated to include more on the whole bird flu issue...


Anonymous said...

There has been human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 avian flu virus.

For example, Indonesia has had several clusters of human-to-human transmission.

One cluster that's been in the news lately is from northern Sumatra in April/May 2006. A 37 year old woman passed the virus to 6 of her family members. Six of the seven people infected died.

At this point, it does not appear that this is happening widely. But the virus is acquiring the changes needed to pass easily from person to person.

The fatality rate world wide is over 60% (with good medical care.)

The subtype in Indonesia has a fatality rate of 85% (with good medical care.)

Some people seem to think there was some sort of deadline for pandemic. "It's only killed 197 people. Why is everyone worried?"

The virus is circulating through Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It has time and plenty of opportunity to continue to mutate.


clearthought said...

Thank you for your comment.

I stress the need to not remain ignorant about the bird flu threat in my post — something the satirical article throws out the window.

I updated the post with a response to your points.

all_cats_are_ray said...

Hi clearthought,

Not sure if this is really on topic or not, but at what point does accurate reporting turn into sensationalism?

What I mean by this is that topical news stories need to be repeated in order to cover new developments. But I believe these "new developments" are generally just original stories spun with a new angle - that the situation is getting worse etc.

But what highlights the way the media sensationalises things is when they finally decide to drop a story and never mention it again. When the media providers finally decide that another topic (or cause for fear) deserves to be in the spotlight.

The media can induce viewers with what some call "cultural amnesia".

Who even remembers the last time the media covered the fighting between factions in Afghanistan? At what point did the war in Afghanistan "end"?

Who remembers SARS? Was it cured? Does 774 deaths and roughly 8000 infections constitute a worldwide pandemic? Who knows... but the media liked it.

In Australia the bird flu stories have dried up. The media can't say it is getting worse because as far as they can tell, it isn't. The bird flu story got replaced with Equine Influenza - something a lot more interesting to viewers because it happened in our own backyard and costed the racing and gambling industry so much money.

Maybe things move too fast for the media to report accurately. They like to imprint certain issues in our memory before they move onto the next.

clearthought said...

Those are some interesting thoughts, all_cats_are_ray (notably the bit about 'cultural amnesia').

It seems that the way a news outlet covers stories depends on its medium and readership. For example, here in the United States, most TV news is very entertainment and pop-culture oriented, providing the latest stories of 'interest' (e.g. murders, petty scandals, celebrities). However, when I look at an outlet like the BBC, I see much more balanced, worldly, and objective coverage.

Sensationalism is largely seen more in the tabloids and on Fox News than within the pages of The Economist and on the airwaves of NPR. Even more so, the 'infotainment' of the more popular, less respected outlets tends to err on the edge of the extreme, i.e. jumping to conclusions. Some news organizations give the people more of what they need (e.g. the latest at the UN), and some give them more of what they want (e.g. celeb gossip).

As far as more serious topics like bird flu and Afghanistan go, people as well as the media get bored with the same story day after day. War gets less suspenseful once its in its fifth year and it doesn't affect — in their minds — the readers of a newspaper. The same goes with less important news; even Hollywood sex scandals get old once a few weeks pass (assuming no new revelations are unearthed).

I try not to look at the media as one group, but sometimes its easier to generalize. The truth is, the vast majority of the respectable news media doesn't dig up scary stories to instill fear and increase readership — Channel 6 Local News may, so might The Daily Gossip. Afghanistan is not covered as much in the US because, right or wrong, most people don't see much happening there. Iraq on the other hand...

I hope I sort of touched upon your topic — a quite interesting one that will probably be explored in future posts.