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Friday, December 03, 2004

Scared of what?

Are you more fearful? Feel that the world is closing in and the bad things are beginning to overwhelm the good? Almost daily we are presented with the sordid details of a new disease, plane and car crashes, road rage incidents, or how teen pregnancy is destroying civilization. The antidote is a good dose of data.

Barry Glassner's The Culture of Fear presents a solid case for why and how the media exaggerates the "news." Remember all the stories of the epidemic of road rage? Glassner's analysis of the actual data reveals that in the past five years there were only five reported victims of road rage in the country. And according to the American Automobile Association, a study of automobile-related deaths between 1990 and 1997 showed that only one in one thousand could be directly attributed to "road rage."

Many people remain afraid of flying, a totally irrational fear. As Glassner reports, "In the entire history of commercial aviation. . . only 13,000 people have died in airplane crashes. Three times that many lose their lives in automobile accidents in a single year. The average person's probability of dying in an air crash is about 1 in 14 million, or roughly the same as winning the jackpot in a state lottery." In fact, the accident rate has been declining. Yet headlines warn of "steering clear of commuter planes with fewer than 30 seats." The FAA contrarily noted that once Alaskan bush flights, air taxis and helicopters are removed from the equation, that commuter flights are just as safe as larger planes.

The fear mongering prevents us from addressing real issues. For example, Glassner cites numerous reports in the media of an epidemic of youth violence. 48 percent of all reports about children on the major networks about children concerned violent behavior, while only 4 percent were concerned with the health and economic issues facing children. In reality, "youth homicide rates had declined by thirty percent in recent years and more than three times as many people were killed by lightning than by violence at schools." During a period when crime rates were dropping, media coverage of crime increased 600% creating an impression that crime was out of control.

Beware of "experts," be skeptical, and don't let ideologues sway you with fear. "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself."
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