We’re All Gonna Die!!!!!!

I was going to write this post last week, but that was when there was so much tornado activity in Oklahoma City, and since I used to live there and still have lots of friends around town, it just didn’t seem right, not with a title like that.

Now that things have calmed down there, however….

Virus particle

 One of the things that got me started on The Eternity Plague was the first Asian bird flu epidemic, back in the early 2000s. It wasn’t the epidemic so much, but the way the news media covered it. It seemed like they were almost eager for a pandemic on the scale of the 1918 “Spanish” flu, so they could cover the big, worldwide tragedy.

Well, that was the first pandemic that never really was.

Then there was SARS. Another bust as a news event, as it turned out.

Then there was last winter’s H1N1 flu.

Now there are new panics. First there was the news of yet another avian flu. I first saw it in Science News, a biweekly journal that covers the world of science, based on reports in major journals and from big conventions and conferences. This flu is an H7N9 strain that can pass from person to person. Here’s the link to the story. As of the end of February, it had infected 131 people in China and killed 36, for a 27.5% mortality rate. Not good, but that’s also a 72.5% survival rate. And Chinese officials had shut down live bird markets in the affected cities, resulting in no new cases as of May 8.

Then, just last week, CNN.com carried two stories (you can read them here and here) about a SARS-like virus called Middle East Respiratory Symptom Coronavirus, or MERS-CoV. This time there were 49 known cases with 27 fatalities, for a 55% mortality rate. So, CNN got all excited, especially when Dr. Margaret Chan, the head of the World Health Organization, who ought to know better, called the virus “a threat to the entire world.” 

Based on fewer than 50 cases.

Then she goes on to say, according to the CNN reports, “We understand too little about this virus when viewed against the magnitude of its potential threat.” Well of course science knows little. It’s early days in the research on this thing. But CNN makes it sound like by the time we know enough to do anything about this disease, we’ll all be dead.

That’s just irresponsible, IMHO.

It’s those kinds of statements, and the breathless, hyperbolic reporting that follow, without so much as a “nevermind” when the latest potential tragedy fails to materialize, that sparked one element of The Eternity Plague. And while the story eventually moved away from that theme–somewhat, anyway–it still annoys the hell out of me.

The take-home lesson for all of us is to take everything the press reports with a grain of salt–a big one. Particularly when they say we’re all gonna die.

What do you think? Does the press overplay these reports? If so, why?

Image credit: © Arbistudio | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

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