Fear Appeals Fear Mongering and the Culture of Fear "It’s a campaign of fear and consumption…keep people afraid and they’ll consume.”Marilyn Manson
Scare tactics are common • Fear mongering increases during “Sweeps” periods (February, May, July, and November), when Nielson ratings are taken. • “Sexual predators on myspace.com” • “Is household mold quietly killing you?” • “What your nail salon operator won’t tell you.” • “Thongs and skin cancer! Film at 11.”
Swine Flu: Oh s*#t, we’re all gonna die! • It’s a global pandemic • It could kill millions • WHO raised the risk level to 5 on a scale of 6
Or maybe not • L.A. Times, April 30, 2009: “Swine flu spread may be mild” • regular flu (influenza) kills about 30,00 people per year.
Bird flu: Death from Above? • “bird flu is "a time bomb waiting to go off," • Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, • regarding a serious avian flu pandemic, Dr. Julie Gerberding stated "it's not a question of if, it's a question of when.” • Dr. Julie Godlberg, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention • "society just can't accept the idea that 50% of the population could die." • Dr. Robert Webster, virologist
Or media hype? • bird flu virus is still multiple mutations away from being able to pass easily among humans.” • “bird flu appears to be better absorbed by the deep pockets of bird lungs, whereas human flu is absorbed by the cells of our upper airways.” • Dr. Marc Siegel, New York University School of Medicine, author of Bird Flu: Everything You Need to Know About the Next Pandemic. Los Angeles Times, April 6, 2006
Mad cow disease West Nile virus Sars Anthrax Ebola Flesh eating virus Yet, no one has died from exposure to BSE within the U.S. No one has died from bird flu in the U.S. Other exotic diseases
Political fear mongering • Terrorism, terrorist alerts • Social security • Illegal immigrants • Outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries
Is the purple pill right for you? Serafem for premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), (prozac for PMS) Pharmaceutical firms claim they are “empowering consumers” by running ads But are they creating unnecessary demand? U.S. drug makers spend 2.5 times as much on marketing and administration as they do on research. 75 percent of new drugs approved by the FDA are me-too drugs “no better than drugs already on the market to treat the same condition.” Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine Pharmaceutical industry and fear mongering
High profile abductions spur fear Polly Klass, Amber Hagerman, Elizabeth Smart, Samantha Runnion News stories on child abductions have increased 10-fold in the past five years Abduction prevention is a big business GPS tracking, DNA samples The actual risk of a child being abducted and murdered is 1 in 1.3 million (Ropeak, 2005) Child abductions have decreased in the past five years 75% of child abductions are not by strangers (e.g., they involve custody disputes) By comparison, the risk of a child dying from the flu is 1 in 130,000. Child abductions
Other fear-laden topics • school shootings • cell phones and brain cancer • identity theft • genetically engineered food • road rage • child abductions • sexual predators • violent crime
Selling the fear of fear • A number of popular best sellers decrying fear-mongering have appeared in print.
School shootings Total school-related violent deaths, August 1, 2005, July 31, 2007: Shooting: 13Suicides: 6 Murder-Suicide: 8 Fight-Related: 1 Stabbing: 4 Other: 0 Total = 27 Compared to drownings and car crashes In 2003, 782 children ages 0 to 14 years died from drowning (CDC 2005). In the United States during 2004, 1,638 children ages 14 years and younger died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes, Keep the numbers in perspective
35,000 injuries per year from nail guns Food allergy fatalities 100-200 per year Bathtubs: 337 fatalities Dog bites: 15 fatalities Fireworks: 13 fatalities Hornets, wasps, and bees: 46 fatalities Lightning: 63 fatalities Keeping the numbers in perspective
What really is dangerous? • Forty percent of all deaths in the US are due to heart disease - to the tune of 950,000 people lost every year. • Cancer is our second most common cause of death; 550,000 people die from cancer every year. • The number one cause of preventable deaths. There are 46.5 million American smokers. About 440,000 of them will die this year. • There is an alcohol-related death every 30 minutes in the US. • Obesity is a major contributor to heart disease and diabetes, it afflicts 61% of all Americans. • Sexually Transmitted Diseases: There will be 40,000 new cases of HIV diagnosed in the US this year.
Caveats and cautions • Use central processing when analyzing fear appeals • Keep the numbers in perspective • Road rage: 40 deaths per year versus failing to wear a seatbelt 9,200 preventable fatalities per year • Shark attack 3 deaths per year in the U.S. versus skin cancer 8,000 cases per year • West Nile 100 deaths per year in the U.S., versus drowning in a bathtub 300 cases per year