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Archive for October, 2014

An Epidemic of Fear

Posted by prof e on October 19, 2014

about-ebolaI watched a few Sunday news shows today and, thanks to the DVR, was able to fast-forward through their Ebola coverage. It’s not that I don’t want to know what’s going on in the world. Rather it is precisely because the coverage that I have seen this past week has been long on sensationalism and short on useful information.

Journalists have a difficult job and I don’t want to Monday-morning quarterback their attempt to cover this fast-moving and emotional story. But I also don’t want to defend the fear-mongering and ratings-whoring that is being pawned off as journalism.

There’s always a delicate balance between keeping people informed and keeping things in proper perspective. For example, Ebola is a deadly disease that does not have a vaccine or a cure. It is spread by contact with bodily fluids of an infected carrier. And because of modern air transportation, any viral disease can travel around the world in a matter of hours. On the other hand, as of October 19th only two individuals have contracted Ebola in the US and both were healthcare workers who were treating a patient who had carried the disease from Liberia to the US. Most medical experts are confident that modern treatment and aggressive containment can prevent the virus from becoming an epidemic.

If you saw the movie Contagion (2011), you may recall that this fictional account of a global pandemic shares some similarities with the Ebola crisis. Hollywood loves a narrative because we, the viewing public, love narratives. A story allows us to make sense of the onslaught of information that is frequently confusing and contradictory. In this case the storyline is simple: a deadly disease appears (usually in some dark corner of the globe) because of mankind’s lack of respect for nature. It quickly spreads and threatens population centers in the western world. Science comes to the rescue and the hero is usually someone who defies conventional wisdom to save the day.

Sadly, life doesn’t follow the script. While we obsess over the fate of folks on a plane or cruise ship who MAY have come in contact with someone who MAY have been exposed to Ebola, fear keeps people from living life.  And meanwhile, in Western Africa, the true crisis continues out of the glare of the media spotlight.


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