April 06, 2006


Writing about web page http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/bjkeates/entry/have_your_say/

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Thinking about Ben’s post, among others, accusing the media of over hyping today’s Bird Flu announcement, got me annoyed at the extreme, unneccessary overuse of the phrase “The deadly strain of Bird Flu”when referring to all things avian flu.

It begins or appears in every report on TV and radio. Aside from the fact all journalists seem to have given up coming up with new ways to introduce bird flu stories, it’s just completely out of proportion to emphasise the “deadly” element of bird flu. Yes people have died from it but not enough to justify the prefix.

If we’re going to start calling something that has killed (on average) 36 people a year since 2003, then surely everything else that kills as many or more deserves the title too. So, newswriters and readers of the world, are we to start hearing any of the following?

  • “The deadly activity of driving” (which kills 44,000 a year in US)
  • “The deadly task of taking the bus” (which kills 43 people a year)
  • “The deadly action of getting out of bed” (which kills 785 people a year)
  • “The deadly bee” (which kills 40 people a year)

Any more suggestions are gladly welcome. Bird Flu is potentially deadly, but it amazes me (as well as many others on here) that the media seem intent on scaremongering the public.

….Or maybe they know something we don’t…oooh-errr, spooky!

- 8 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. We'll all have to give up *"The Deadly practice of masturbation" (which kills 14 inuit per year).

    06 Apr 2006, 17:22

  2. Golly!

    06 Apr 2006, 21:27

  3. Hm… the Deadly Practice of Living…

    07 Apr 2006, 01:29

  4. If we have a H5N1 pandemic instead of the current endemic threat though, the worst case scenario is around 150 million deaths directly due to infection (source Wikipedia). It's nothing to worry about this second, but if it does become a pandemic (and we just don't know if it will or not) then we're looking at a death count that puts any other known event in history in the shade.

    07 Apr 2006, 17:41

  5. …and if an giant meteor hit the planet we would all die, and I dare say if the media harped on about that enough then people would want a million and one telescopes trained on the sky. We're at about step one of a hundred and there's no immediate danger. There are however peoples livelyhoods under threat because of the media over-hyping the 'deadly'-ness of bird flu, tourism will be damaged and agriculture will be hit by panic avoidance of some produces.

    07 Apr 2006, 19:30

  6. Colin – I don't know how much you know about avian influenza, but it may interest you to note that it has mutated into a form easily passable between humans before, for example the 1918–19 "Spanish Flu", which killed an estimated 50 to 100 million people. H5N1, having the H5 Hemagglutinin antigen, is one of the most likely to mutate into a form of human influenza (along with influenzas with the H7 Hemagglutinin antigen). H5N1 is just one antigenin shift mutation or a couple of antigenic drift mutations from being an avian influenza virus to a human influenza virus. I'm not trying to instill panic here, but a complacent "ahhh it's only a health scare it's just a bunch of media hype" attitude towards avian flu is really beginning to irritate me. It's important that people face facts about it, and the facts are that an influenza pandemic is a very real threat and plans for coping with this on a large and individual scale should be thought out in advance.

    07 Apr 2006, 22:29

  7. The scientist inside me is bubbling, because non scientists learning their information from wikipedia isn't really helping the situation either, and this would be irrelevant if science based news (of the non-sensationalist variety) was more accessible to the masses. (after all, wikipedia is a wiki, but it's a popular one, and the general public are more likely to be reading that and other unsanctioned information and opinion, rather than e.g. New Scientist, Nature, a Virology journal etc etc)

    Proper scientists might disagree with me, but maybe combining my science head and my media head (shocking that they both are), means that I can say that yes, they are being clearly sensationalist, and they've taken advantage of the broad meaning of deadly. Deadly doesn't even need a statistic to back it up, because it's all relative – a piece of chocolate cake could be deadly to someone, or something, but not to everyone or everything. It's still deadly though.

    I see that Chris is an engineer, but I don't know how far his biological knowledge goes. But from mine: we're well overdue a flu pandemic, and we're well overdue and ice age and probably numerous other things. The constant shift in the environment and in technology means that you have to take things on a case by case basis. Planning for a flu pandemic of any kind (whether it turns out to be a strain derived from H5N1 or otherwise) is vital because as with anything, you have to plan for the worst case scenario.

    As it stands, it IS media hype. Heads and sells in the red tops and elsewhere are wildly misleading. But I agree wholeheartedly with what I think Adam is saying – often it's not the facts that are wrong, but the way that they're presented.

    Planning based on facts and science, as I expect the government have done (if only to cover their own backs) is one thing, but the public will be reacting to the media sensation, not the hard facts, and one bit of exaggeration is enough to set of a chinese-whisper style alteration of the facts and the realities.

    And I'm going to stop because I'm not sure how much sense this is making…. I've lost some of my sharpness to days on end discussing pop and celebrity gossip. And doing endless piles of admin.

    10 Apr 2006, 00:31

  8. Well said Shall!

    11 Apr 2006, 11:26

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Warwick graduate, slowly morphing into a broadcast journalist at City University in London. Expect articles about media and world affairs on this page, plus my futile attempts at get-rich-quick schemes.

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