Sunday, August 5, 2007

Get your news elsewhere

When I studied criminology there was a standard joke (with serious intent). If somebody asked you: what would you say as a criminologist - what can be done about the ever rising crime figures? The answer was: Read another newspaper.

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast features an interview with sociologist Barry Glassner, who touches exactly on the same issue. He speaks of it as the Culture of Fear, which is also the title of a book he has written. He extends the scope of aforementioned joke to the way news media and politicians communicate in general. The point staying the same: among them there is the strong tendency (not to say interest) of painting a picture of reality with exceptional dangers blown out of proportion. News media generate the kind of exposure they need and politicians whip up the support they need - so it is to say they do so out of their own interest after all.

Barry says: if only the public would have a beginning understanding of statistics. If only people could tell absolute figures from percentages. I would add: if only they could understand expressions of chances and increased chances in the right proportions.

Apart from the book he has written about the culture of fear, he has recently written a book about food, and the many misconceptions the public has about its food. The same problems with ignorance and misinformation hold. So, if you want to be freed from your fears and stop worrying about the food you eat: go get your news elsewhere.
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