Ben Goldacre on Swine Flu - people's poor anylsis of risk

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  1. LondonGirl profile image81
    LondonGirlposted 14 years ago

    Goldacre's a great writer, on science and maths and stats. Here he writes about poor perception of risk many are showing:

    ""Yeah, but you know, it could be like Sars and bird flu, they didn't materialise, they were hype." Simon Jenkins suggested the same thing. It's not true, I said. They were risks, risks that didn't materialise, but they were still risks. That's what a risk is. I've never been hit by a car, but it's not idiotic to think about it. Simon Jenkins won't be right if nobody dies, he'll be lucky, like the rest of us. Do people think this flappily in casinos? The terrible truth is yes."

    1. profile image0
      pgrundyposted 14 years agoin reply to this

      Yes I wish people would quit minimizing Swine Flu and joking about it. It brings out the superstitious side of me--like, hey, let's not tempt fate here, OK? A little humility in the face of the killer plague please? Just a little?

      Personally I find it frightening. My worst fear is losing people I love to illness. Both of my parents died young, and I have three kids, a man, and a grandson. I've had a great full life, but I'm very protective of my loved ones. A global pandemic is one of a handful of things I find truly scary.

      1. Lissie profile image74
        Lissieposted 14 years agoin reply to this

        Pam you sound just like a good friend of mine whom I worked with in 1999 - I ignored the millenium bug - knowing that it wouldn't happen, we worked the same job, she had the same information to come to the same conclusions  but she spend a fortune stockpiling water/food etc. She lost sleep over it.  i watched the city's fireworks at midnight on 31/12/99 and waited for the lights to go out ....

        I've often thought about the difference of risk perception between her and I - she, like you had 2 kids and a husband at the time. But I had a partner (who thought we should at least get some water containers) and family on the other side of the world. I'm terribly protective when they are sick and I'd shoot anyone who threatened them - but global "threats" leave me cold unless there are some cold hard facts behind them. Now if those kids in NZ with swine were very sick - yes I'd be worried because most of my friends and my partner's family are there - but the fact is that NOT ONE of them is very sick, yet they all have the virus. Yes people have died - the Mexican figures are suspect, but the toddler in Texas is probably real - but he may have had a complication - sad but true.

        I am deeply cynical about everything and rational and fairly immune to fashionable causes. My girlfriend was very respectful of authority - the fact that the government told her to take precautions meant something to her.

        I don't know what the answer is  but I do know that the way we perceive risk is something to do more with our personalities than anything else - including knowledge

        Must go and check the holiday prices to Mexico now ...

  2. LondonGirl profile image81
    LondonGirlposted 14 years ago

    I agree with you - here is the link I forgot to add earlier … e-flu-hype

  3. Dolores Monet profile image94
    Dolores Monetposted 14 years ago

    In general, flue comes in two waves, in spring then later the following fall and winter. The spring strain is usually a milder version with the fall/winter version more virulent with worse symptoms. So it may behoove us to catch it now in spring when it's not so deadly.

  4. composed profile image61
    composedposted 14 years ago

    Nobody is saying we should not do anything... nobody is saying we should not do we can re: mutation.

    BUT... it could mutate into something weaker as opposed to stronger...

    the numbers being impacted are small, relatively speaking.

    most people infected don't even need to see a doctor.

    these are the things the mass media stays away from because it does not serve their purpose.

    being hysterical about this thing does not equate to being smart.  it can be attended to without taking over aspects of our society and our lives.

  5. Maddie Ruud profile image72
    Maddie Ruudposted 14 years ago

    Awareness and caution are importance.  Fear-mongering is not.  It's great to look both ways when you cross the street, but it wouldn't be helpful to never cross a street because you're afraid of getting hit.

    1. composed profile image61
      composedposted 14 years agoin reply to this

      Good post.  I completely agree.

      What people overlook is that unfortunately we live in a society where the corporate media does two interrelated things:  they induce and perpetuate anxiety and they dictate how we act socially and culturally.  They control us.  They create the narratives.  If we let them... and enough of us do.

      Someone on another board I go to - and this is a moderate person - made a good point that this is just an example of something being overblown so the gov't can show how effective it is at protecting us from evil.  Another way to condition us to fall in line.

      1. Lissie profile image74
        Lissieposted 14 years agoin reply to this

        It amazes me how Americans, uniquely in my experience, see the government behind everything :-) Most of this actually comes from the media, the status of a pandemic is defined by and announced by the WHO. IT is a pandemic level 4 -because there has been confirmed human-to-human transmission in 2 countries (Mexico and the US). That's a fact. The fact is to that in general very few people are getting very sick. The group of kids who brought it back to NZ were so bored in isolation they were calling for school books - that's not very sick! The death rate seems much,much higher in Mexico than elsewhere - almost certainly because of the statistics.

        You can't prove that someone has died from the disease until you do blood tests - even in Australia it takes over 48hours for the tests to come thru - how long does it take in Mexico? Or were they even doing the test and they are just assuming that people with flu-like symptons died of Swine flu?

        1. LondonGirl profile image81
          LondonGirlposted 14 years agoin reply to this

          WHO upped it to level 5 yesterday.

  6. Herald Daily profile image58
    Herald Dailyposted 14 years ago

    I understand people with frail immune systems being concerned, but all of the media attention seems to be building a panic and that never helps anything, I don't think.

    I also think that if people believe that they'll get sick, they probably will.  If for no other reason than because they've worried themselves sick.

    This whole thing has put me in mind somewhat of SARS when it came around. People walked around in masks and were afraid to be too near others.  In the end, not that many people were affected in comparison to the dire consequences that we were told to prepare for.

    There are always people who get bad cases of flu and the person next to them, exposed to the same thing, may not get it at all.

    I know that doesn't make you feel any better, PGrundy, but I hope that you can feel optimistic for your family, even if it's only so you aren't so stressed about it.

  7. profile image0
    Leta Sposted 14 years ago

    I have been reading and analyzing the online news coverage of swine flu over the work day (do not tell my boss, wink).  What is curious to me is that the first stories on swine flu that come up on a Google search are two from, the financial periodical.

    On CNN last night, Obama did a very weird segue in his press conference from "Fighting the swine flu together" to literally, a little, odd treatise on credit card usage making us sick to the greater financial crisis.  I felt it was seriously bad script writing (and also don't think Obama wrote it--he actually writes much of his own material, as many may know--but this did not seem like him).  It also felt curiously flat--or disingenuous. 

    I for one cannot NOT speculate on the meaning behind this--whether it be government and/or pandemic business interests, or just the media's own over blowing a story since the economy stuff has been such a drag (yep, there are 'slow' news days, or weeks, and although fair coverage still exists, I think, if you know how to read, the media IS a business, too. And sensationalism does exist on issues other than say, Paris Hilton.).

    I definitely think this has been over exaggerated and is causing panic.  In reality, 35,000 to 40,000 people die of flu every year.  These are usually people whose health is already weak--the old and very young.  And of course, it goes without saying that caution should be rule.

    But the truth is that there are anti viral vaccines for this mutation of flu, and that most strong, healthy people will not have to worry.  Even if you do get it, from all the information I have read, most in the West will recover from it as they would from any other flu.

    1. LondonGirl profile image81
      LondonGirlposted 14 years agoin reply to this

      There is no vaccine at all. Anti-viral drugs can help treat it.

      1. profile image0
        Leta Sposted 14 years agoin reply to this

        All right, then maybe I read they were creating a vaccine...will check it out again...

  8. LondonGirl profile image81
    LondonGirlposted 14 years ago

    I agree with both you and Lissie that there's no need to panic. Anti-virals do seem to help. Flu is a nasty illness in its normal form.

    BUT, there is still a risk. Ignoring that doesn't make it go away.

  9. profile image0
    Leta Sposted 14 years ago

    Yes.  I can attest.  I had a 'Super' flu a few years back.  I was sick for weeks.  I went to the doctor and they kept saying it was just a virus.  But seriously, I lost so much weight...and as an added result, then had a bad sinus infection (only time I've ever had one).

    Of course there is a need for caution.  But that and what I see being stirred up are definitely two different things.

  10. composed profile image61
    composedposted 14 years ago

    Life is a risk.

    50,000 people a year die in auto accidents each year in the US.  How often does CNN talk about that?  It's chalked up as the cost of doing business.  This thing doesn't even require a doctor's visit - it just MIGHT get worse - and they are all over it.

    We are pathetic priority-wise in these parts.

  11. Dame Scribe profile image57
    Dame Scribeposted 14 years ago

    There is no cure for the flu. It's preventing secondary infections like pneumonia or other infection that may cause respiratory arrest that's such a concern hmm get lots rest, drink lots fluids n stay away from people with a cold should help some tongue no guarantees.

  12. profile image0
    pgrundyposted 14 years ago

    "Pam you sound just like a good friend of mine whom I worked with in 1999 - I ignored the millenium bug - knowing that it wouldn't happen, we worked the same job, she had the same information to come to the same conclusions  but she spend a fortune stockpiling water/food etc. She lost sleep over it."

    I think you're being a bit unfair, taking it to a personal level like this and passing a negative judgment. I'm not losing sleep, and I too thought the Y2K thing was ridiculous. As for authority, my problems with authority speak for themselves. (Why do you think I work at home?) So I understand what you are saying about your girlfriend, but it's wrong for you to assume I'm your girlfriend. (Wow, that came out wrong! LOL!)

    People do have different perceptions of risk. But there's a condescension in your tone that I think is unwarranted. I wouldn't even point it out, except I notice it happens on these forums all the time--people start to judge other people instead of issues. Another thing that happens all the time is this constant reading and rereading of information for what is 'really true' even when it is just factual information, not political opinion or spin. I mean, WHO did raise the risk level to 5, something never seen before. That's a fact. The panic is completely optional.

    I'm not panicked, I'm not losing sleep, but I do find it frightening. We've had so many 'false alarms' in the past eight years that now, if we get a real one, no one will listen. I hope it does blow over. That would be great.

  13. profile image0
    Leta Sposted 14 years ago

    As far as the 'rereading' of information--no, stuff IS changing as the days go by--I'm not kidding.  Yes--the so-called "factual information," or what the conveyors of said information would put out there.

    It is no lie that I read at the beginning of the week that there were 4 meds. effective against swine flu.  Later, it was 2. 

    I could stake my 'what is ur qualification' M.A. and B.A.s in English and journalism on it, LOL.  But I don't need to.  Noam Chomsky, linguist and professor emeritus at MIT has always been keen to this kind of stuff:

    "Keep the people passive and obedient so as to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion and allow a very lively debate to occur within the allowed spectrum...this gives people the sense that there is free thinking going on while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate."

    I may be 'paranoid,' but no more so than he is, and certainly no more so than people who are in panic mode over the swine flu.  Sources need to be read and re-read, checked and cross referenced.  That is the only way I have ever read or research. (My statement above was also a nod that I am being modest with what I know, or may not know wink).

    And hey--being sick can be very scary.  I understand that, as you see above.  Another thing is that the doctors don't know everything and have not identified every virus.  Also, some viruses are so rare, that they commonly have trouble identifying them.  In my personal experience with that 'super' flu, I maintain that it may have been cytolomegalovirus, due to factors surrounding my case.

    I personally don't mean to sound condescending or 'addled,' either, concerning the interpretation of information and spin.  But once through experience and inclination, your eyes have been opened, it is sort of difficult to turn back to innocence. I maintain that he who controls the media controls the minds of the public.

    1. profile image0
      pgrundyposted 14 years agoin reply to this

      No, I was more ruffled by Lissie painting me as some kind of wimpy 'girl' or something. Ouch. Geez Lissie!

      As to dissecting information in the news, you're right of course. I didn't mean to imply we should just suck up whatever we are spoon fed by the media, only that that swinging to the other extreme isn't all that rational either.

      It does make sense to ask questions about conflicting information such as the meds thing you mention here. What I see a lot though is just this immediate uncritical assumption that if its in the news pumped up as a threat it's probably a big fat lie or even part of a conspiracy. It's the uncritical part that bothers me, not the questioning part. smile

      At this point, we're so used to constant 'shock and awe' that if something really WAS a threat, it would be hard to get that across because so many people would poo-poo it. It's like here in the midwest, we get a tornado warning, we all run out in the yard to see if we can see the tornado.

  14. Sufidreamer profile image78
    Sufidreamerposted 14 years ago

    Not losing too much sleep about it - if it happens it happens. I have seen very little to suggest that it is as bad as the media makes out, although the point about reasonable caution is a very good one.

    Fear sells - a tried and tested advertising trick.

    1. Amanda Severn profile image93
      Amanda Severnposted 14 years agoin reply to this

      The media is getting bored by the economy. The house-price crash is old news. But a killer virus will improve the circulation figures, guaranteed. I'm hoping that this will all blow over without too many casualties. If it does sweep the nation it will be quite hard to avoid in this over-crowded corner of the globe, but until it starts to take hold hereabouts, I shan't be panicking.

  15. morrisonspeaks profile image60
    morrisonspeaksposted 14 years ago

    For all of you who are concerned about the spread of swine flu, I was able to find face (dust) masks at Home Depot.  Drug Fair, Shop Rite& CVS were all sold out.  Then it dawned on me to call a hardware store, since these masks are often used when wood working, and sure enough, right there in aisle 7 of my HD, in the paint section, were all types of masks.

    I bought some basic ones, and then a couple that allow for venting, which keeps one cooler, they say. While I don't tend to panic in these circumstances, I am a planner.  So, IF I would need one of these, and any one of my friends or family need masks too, I have a supply.  Presuming we all escape this viral strain, I'll use them while sanding my next project, or simply return them.

    I would advise calling any store you are intending to purchase masks from, as many are sold out, and you surely don't want to be wasting your two most valuable assets--time and health on dry runs.  So, do your homework, and be prepared yet continue to live your lives.

    Good luck and great health to all of you!

    Ms. Morrison


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