Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Panic That Wasn't

Jesse Walker writes in Reason Magazine about the media panic over the "panic":
The Time story offers thin gruel. It tells us that many Mexicans donned facemasks, as recommended by their government; that stores quickly sold out of masks and vitamin supplements; that schools in Mexico City shut down; that some people left the city and others stayed put. In other words, it tells us that ordinary Mexicans were taking ordinary precautions. The Bild report merely informs us that a few schools in New York had closed and that many children displaying flu-like symptoms were sent home. The Guardian timeline includes a series of links to Mexican photographs that allegedly "capture the sense of panic everywhere." Click through, and you'll see pictures of people calmly going about their business while wearing masks.
He quotes a "disaster researcher" who hints at the causes of the panic about panic, noting the perception driven by popular books and movies that any given group under stress is in grave danger of succumbing to blind panic. It's just not true, though. The sight of a planeload of travelers calmly filing out onto the wings of a jet slowly sinking into the Hudson a few months ago was a good reminder of how false that perception is.

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