The Panic du Jour

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The Panic du Jour

Every day, the news is filled with one major crisis after another. Consider these recent headlines:

“Is Economy Headed for Depression?”, March 18, 2007

“One Third of Businesses. . . Fear Terror Attack”2Reuters, May 9, 2007

“Federal Watchdog Says Wall Street Isn’t Prepared for a Pandemic”3Computerworld, May 1, 2007

“Climate study: Eastern U.S. ‘going to get a lot hotter’ [by 2080]”, May 11, 2007

“Slowing Productivity Growth, Higher Labor Costs Spur Fears”5The Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2007

“America’s Food Supply in Danger”6Associated Press, May 3, 2007

“Dangers Lurk Inside Medicine Cabinets”7Reuters, March 15, 2007

“Flood Threat Looms, but So Does Fire Danger”8Boston Globe, April 24, 2007

“West Nile [Virus] Hitting Harder Than Believed”9Chicago Tribune, May 17, 2007

“Contingencies for Nuclear Terrorist Attack: Government Working Up Plan to Prevent Chaos in Wake of Bombing of Major City”10San Francisco Chronicle, May 11, 2007

What do all of these potential “catastrophes” have in common? Four things:

There is data indicating that there is at least a very remote chance that these threats will materialize.

The threats are large enough that if they did materialize, they could threaten our way of life or even man’s ability to survive.

The certainty of these cataclysmic events occurring is actually much smaller than most people are being led to believe.

So-called solutions to the problems will empower and/or enrich those who exploit the fears of others.

To spot an exaggerated threat or an outright fraud, consider who benefits from setting off a panic. Authors of books profit from best-sellers about economic collapses. Publishers of newspapers and magazines increase their revenues with must-read stories about pandemics. Movies about disasters that destroy cities earn big profits at the box office. Astronomers acquire fame when they identify a cosmic threat allegedly speeding our way from beyond the solar system. Scientists are rewarded with research funding when they warn of natural resource shortages. Pharmaceutical companies boost their revenues with each new threat of a disease. Software security firms attract new business with every highly publicized Internet virus or attack by hackers...

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