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Scaring us to death – how “scientists”, the media, politicians and bureaucrats increase their power over us

Hopefully you all know about a book called SCARED TO DEATH by Christopher Booker and Richard North. In it they examine many of the great scares that the “scientists”, media, politicians and bureaucrats have foisted on us. From DDT, Asian Bird Flu, SARS, Swine Flu, Mad Cow Disease, Satanic Child Abuse, the Millennium Bug to Global Warming, the authors demonstrate how each of these great scares developed and then faded away.

Most great scares seem to go through seven main phases: 1. They appear to be based on scientific evidence which is accepted at the time. 2. They get obsessive, often hysterical media coverage. 3. There is a massive response from politicians and officials. 4. They impose new laws that inflict enormous economic and social damage. 5. The scare then fades away as it is found to have been flawed or wildly exaggerated. 6. Nobody ever admits they got it wrong. 7. The “scientists”, media, politicians and bureaucrats move on to the next big scare and the whole process starts again.

I found quite a nice example of this from a talk given by Michael Crichton. He was looking for a disaster on which to base a novel. But every time he found a supposed disaster which was predicted to kill thousands, when he examined what really happened, he discovered that very few people had actually been killed. The cxample Crichton gives in his talk is Chernobyl. Here’s what he said:

“But the shock that I had experienced reverberated in me for a while, because what I’d been led to believe about Chernobyl was not merely wrong. It was astonishingly wrong. Let’s review that for a minute.

These are the low estimates of immediate Chernobyl deaths as a consequence of the actual incident, and you see here the UPI in 1986, at the time of the disaster, predicted that there would be 2,000 immediate deaths. The New York Post thought there would be 16,000. The Canadian Broadcasting Company in ’91 thought there would be that many, and you see the BBC and The New York Times predicting at the low end 15,000 deaths. Their actual estimates were 15,000 to 30,000 deaths.

Now, there was a UN commission in 2000 that suggested that the catastrophe was nowhere near that proportion, and as you can see, the next UN commission in 2005 doesn’t really show up on the graph, because the total numbers are 56.

Now, to report that 15,000 to 30,000 people are dead when the actual number is 56 represents a very large error.

To get some idea of just how big, let’s imagine that we lined all the victims up in a row. If 56 people are each represented by one foot of space, then that’s probably the distance from me to about the second table here, something like that. Fifteen thousand people is three miles away. It seems difficult to make a mistake of that scale.

But of course, you’re probably thinking, we’re talking about radiation. What about long-term consequences? Unfortunately for the media, their reports are even less accurate here. Here you see CNN in 1996 was predicting future Chernobyl-related illness and death in a large swath that would go from Sweden to the Baltic to the Black Sea. It estimated three and a half million. The BBC, much more conservatively, estimated 50,000. Agence Press thought half a million. The Ukrainian Victim’s Group in 2002 estimated 150,000. The UN commission in 2005 decided that there would be about 4,000. That’s the number of Americans who die of adverse drug reactions in this country every six weeks. Again, a huge error”.

So, next time you see a “scientist”, reporter, politician or bureaucrat hyperventilating about Global Warming or Climate Change or Ocean Warming or whatever – just remember, it’s only the latest in a long line of scares that are hugely exaggerated, scientifically flawed and pushed by those whose self-interest is served by riding on the scare bandwagon.

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