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Scary mountains

July 14, 2010 Leave a comment

From the startlingly talented David McCandless at the informationisbeautiful website comes this eye-catching visualisation of media scare stories 2000-2009.

graph of media scare stories(Click here for enlarged version)

The “No. of Stories” shown in the “Intensity” Y axis come from Google News, which I suppose is as good a source for counting as any. (Well, at least it’s a single, consistent source and he hasn’t tried to pull off any Michael Mann hockeystick-style “tricks” by counting half from Google and deriving the rest from Yamal tree rings, or whatever.)

The four highest peaks are, from left, the Y2K bug, the Sars quarantine in China, bird flu and (Dr Donald-duck-son’s greatest hit) swine flu. I would suspect that if the graph had started a little earlier – 1997, say – the Y2K scare would show a higher scare rating.

The thing to note is that all these media scares had no foundation in truth whatsoever. A fact emphasised by the way they all drop away at times of real scares: September 2001 and July 2005.

H/T Matt Ridley

The Swineageddon Industry – An Update

September 23, 2009 Leave a comment

“Swine flu ‘could kill millions unless rich nations give £900m'” the Observer’s “investigations editor” Rajeev Syal breathlessly reported on Sunday. This revealed that in a masterpiece of the investigative churnalism we have come to know and love from the Observer these days, Mr Syal had uncovered a press release from WHO (“leaked to the Observer”) which promises that “the swine flu pandemic could kill millions and cause anarchy in the world’s poorest nations”.

Blimey! Millions dying and anarchy reigning in the third world, eh? Who’d have thought? We’ll have to put a stop to that! But how? Read more…

Get a grip on the fertility figures

September 21, 2009 Leave a comment

Been to the doctor’s recently? Despite whatever illness or ailment you saw them for, you can be sure they will also have checked off one or more of the following boxes: Smoking, drinking, diet, exercise and probably swine flu. You can now add to that: don’t have more than two kids and save the planet!

No, you haven’t stepped back into India circa Indira Gandhi or even China today. The advice comes in the once august but now sadly looney-tunes British Medical Journal from John Guillebaud (emeritus professor of family planning at UCL) and Pip Hayes (a doctor). Doctors, they say, should advise patients against having a third child because it is the environmental equivalent of a patio heater or a gas-guzzling vehicle. Read more…

Spinning the Spanish Main

September 8, 2009 1 comment

Lord Peter Mandelson has been about a bit recently. Like the Scarlet Pimpernel, we seek him here, we seek him there and sure enough, there he is, with a pithy little sound bite to fit whatever the media has set for that week’s soundbite agenda.  Though sometimes you wonder if it’s not Mandy who’s setting the agenda. This week his compass was set fair for internet pirates. And the media dutifully walked the gangplank. Read more…