fear appeals fear mongering and the culture of fear "it’s a campaign of fear and...
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Fear Mongering and theCulture 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
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
• It is “totally misleading" to suggest the flu virus in birds would inevitably mutate into a form that could be transmitted between humans. Sir David King, Chief Science Officer, Financial Times, London, April 10, 2006
• “There is no selective [genetic] pressure to drive [H5N1] toward humans. It could just as easily move away.“
– Dr. Elizabeth Krushinskie, president of the American Assn. of Avian Pathologists,
Other exotic diseases
• Mad cow disease
• West Nile virus
• Sars• Anthrax• Ebola• Flesh
• Yet, no one has died from exposure to BSE within the U.S.
• No one has died from bird flu in the U.S.
Political fear mongering
• Terrorism, terrorist alerts• Social security• Illegal immigrants• Outsourcing of jobs to
Pharmaceutical industry and fear mongering
• 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
• 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
• 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.
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.
Keep the numbers in perspective
• 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,
Keeping 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
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