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« Flu: Don't panic, but pay attention | Main | Rock stars »

Sunday, April 26, 2009


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Jeff Tompkins

I'm firmly in the "relax, wait and see" camp. It's early yet, and there's still time for the 24-hour news channels to find a car chase or a celebrity outburst or some other shiny object to report.

Yesterday afternoon, on a popular political message board, it was reported that Canadian officials were preparing to close their borders and restrict international flights. The source? Some douchebag on Twitter. Thousands of people saw the post on the message board and one can only guess how many times this "breaking story" was relayed to others.

Perhaps this entire story will go the way of previous panics: "summer of the shark" (which turned out to see fewer shark attacks than usual); "summer of kidnappings" (which turned out to see fewer kidnappings than usual); killer bees; a bee shortage; mad cow; SARS; bird flu; Y2K....

Heather Solos

I look at these headlines as a fire drill. It's not time to panic, but it's a time to look and see how prepared I am as an individual. If things go bad, then I'll be one less person standing in line if panic sets in. This year, I'll just make sure I'm ready for hurricane season a few weeks earlier than usual.


Well, those media memes have little to do with this one. I'm watching the NFL draft, not the news channels. But I'm reading Effect Measure and following the CDC, and this is a real threat.

There's no doubt we'll have another pandemic. The question is which one will go global.

This one? Who knows?

And the best thing to protect yourself? Wash your hands obsessively. OCD is good for you!

Jeff Tompkins

Dan, I'm not dismissing it entirely. I'm just skeptical when these things come up, based on the history of (somewhat) similar stories. Sorry if my comment came across as snarky.


No apology needed whatsoever! Just continuing the discussion. No snark detected or inferred! Thanks for the comments.


"We'll be susceptible to anxieties and we will naturally retreat to our homes where we feel safe ... and isolated."

This is the "polio season" of its decade. Back then, our parents kept us home. We played in the back yard on our swingset. We didn't go to movies or restaurants for the duration. We never felt isolated. And we didn't have the Internet.

I have no problem for those who feel isolated to tweet, blog and interact all they want. Being conscientious with your children and family simply doesn't have to be isolationist.


~35,000 folks die from the 'regular' flu each year...it's always so interesting to see how we fully accept the norm, but can be made to feel fearful so quickly when something like this comes along. As a microbiologist, I respect any flu virus - and this one does look quite contagious - but think about the number of cancer deaths due to poor air or water quality that we accept each year - I don't know, it always bugs me.


That's right. And we accept ~55-60k in car crash fatalities as background noise.

For those of you who've heard me natter on about quorum sensing in the abstract sense, I should point out that quorum sensing is a bacterial behavior and that Pam is the person who taught me the concept. And ever since then I've thought of civilization like a slime mold (and that's not a bad thing, btw).

We live and act in the world in response to stimulus from our environment, just like bacteria do, only instead of receiving our messages via chemical signals, we tend to receive them via media -- particularly mass media. The point of this post is to encourage people to participate in that media ecosystem in a deliberate and useful way.

Part of that is understanding fear, and the way our brains are hardwired to prioritize threat messages. We pay attention to threats, and since mass media is in the business of renting out our attention to advertisers, our mass media has a pro-threat bias.

I watched cable news this morning, and even though there was some good flu information in the segments, the promos -- with dramatic music and ominous montages -- were ALL designed to convey the message that we're under attack and you'd better stay right here if you want to live.

Twitter, being the latest whipping boy of the MSM, is being criticized as a channel for misinformation. I'm more interested in its ability to act as a collective immune system to mass-media fear messages.

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