This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.
Just finished "Scared to Death" and I had quite an experience.
Needless to say that I will not see all the alarms and warnings in TV, radio, etc... under the same light I used to any more.
Short from verifying all the quotes, links and references, I think what is explained and detailed makes sense; to me at least.
The authors show a very sensible approach on how genuine health/environmental concerns are escalated and taken out of proportion to become a scare.
It has to be taken with a grain of salt though; otherwise your liver will explode.
It presents how we, the public and most affected by these scares, are nothing more than spectators. How policy has been made based on flawed science and how things taken out of context and proportion lead to these policies.
In my personal case, I know I am a little biased and see things in a different light than most people around me where I am at.
Even before I immigrated to a "1st world country" in North America I had some perceptions that are the same that the book presents (might be the ‘I lie they verify’ case).
I might be chewed on for this, but here they are:
• People need to find something to complain about since most of them (us now for me) have the basic needs already met and secured (and a little more if you get picky). When the daily struggle is to make ends meet and your worry is you own welfare and that of your loved ones, it is pretty hard to start worrying about something you do not really understand. If you have lived all your life in a 1st world country, you might have no clue what really is opening your front door (assuming you are upper middle class and have a roof over your head), seeing your children and having no clue whether you will be able to provide what they need next month (careful, these are the BASIC NEEDS, not the wii that all their friends have and not them). Needless to say that people less fortunate than you will not even have exposure to these scares.
• Bad news sell, period. If it is the press, they will see their numbers soar. If it is a political group, they can gain adepts. If it is an environmental group, well… they also need to eat, cannot afford to loose their source of income.
• Just as with a sex video of Britney with Pamela Anderson making headlines and grasping everybody’s attention span (in spite of the fact that this will not affect their lives in the least bit), morbidity will grab people’s attention. Bad news, scares, etc… give a legal and socially acceptable morbidity for small talk and more.
• There is some unconscious need (I guess) to feel threatened, especially when the concept is so vague or complex that the normal Joe (or Jane… no chauvinism here) cannot fully grasp. The threat has to seem remote but with a sense of closeness. Something along the lines that it is happening all around you but cannot conceive it happening to you (yeah, hard to grasp what I am trying to explain here, but it is the best I could do).
• People’s minds are very relaxed, and as a group, can be easily manipulated.
• There is no conceivable way, in our democratic worlds, to overrule what politicians and power groups do. No matter what the theory of democracy says.
The one I have not seen but, I think, is another factor here (and could also explain the stock market reactions)
• The speed in which news can reach us and information can travel leads to overreaction. The INTERNET is like a double edged sword, but the point is stabbing.
I think technology has advanced much faster than people’s education has. There is too much information and not every person with access to it can understand causes and consequences. It is unreal how an event in one side of the world can have such strong consequences on the opposite side (assuming both happened in developed countries).
There are more far more personal and I am pretty sure easily debatable.
• People have short, very short, memories. At least when applied to the collective memories.
• Most scientists are shy. They are not the media type and will not jump up and fight. And the few that have, well, have been labeled. The typical scientist will avoid confrontation with the publicity if he can help it. He can fight data; she can fight the cosmos, but will NOT fight public exposure.
• People are very willing to hear/learn about everything except what is really worth learning.
Many people like to believe that the times they live in are special, the End of Days, a pre-Apocalyptic era. This belief offers escape and reassurance for those who feel powerless. Few want to believe that their period in history is rather ordinary and that their life is of no special significance beyond itself.
I'm just reading this book. Very, very good. So far, it's been a real eye opener giving the lie to those major events that I (and many others) have lived through.
From what I have read so far I'm reminded of the saying from the last war: "Careless talk costs lives". In the cases discussed in "Scared to Death" careless talk costs millions (or billions) of pounds, peoples livelihoods, massive resources and much worry (perhaps we could even say that because the "talk" places a proportion of the population in a state of fear and terror that it is a form of terrorism - or is that going too far?).
However, like Francisco I am disinclined to believe anything that the media or politicians say in relation to these "end of the world" scares.
Perhaps it is not surprising when it appears that 1% of our politicians have a scientific background (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/09/17/richard_pike_rcs_interview/ on 3rd page).
That "statistic" (if true) is appalling and reinforces my feeling that we are entering a time of "unreason" (but I don't mean to scare anyone .