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This just in: flu is contagious

May 5, 2009

I realize that the 24 hours news channels are running out of things to talk about and that newspapers are desperate for readers, but I must confess that I’m getting tired of the media attempting to start a panic around H1N1, the “swine flu”, just to get people to pay attention to them. Yes, the flu is contagious.  And yes, people do die from it (as NPR keeps quoting, approximately 36,000 per year in the U.S.).  Y’know what?  Against that metric, the swine flu is pretty tame.

Consider a recent headline in a Bay Area newpaper: “Now 24 cases of swine flu in California.”  I submit to you that if you remove the word swine from that sentence, the result (“Now 24 cases of flu in California”) would draw jeers rather than frantic attention.  Don’t people have more important things to worry about right now?

This whole situation strikes me as a reminder of how people are miserable at calculating risk. The number of people that died in the last few weeks from car accidents, heart disease, and probably even slipping and falling in their bathtubs significantly outweighs the number of swine flu deaths.  And yet from all of the breathless news coverage you’d think significantly swathes of the population were at immediate risk of death.

To quote Bruce Schneier, refuse to be terrorized people!

From → Musings

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