Monday, 12 November 2007


Two articles, about the cult of fear, appear on the same day from two different parts of the world, on different newspapers, in two different languages. Is this a coincidence or is it a welcome sign that more and more people have had it with the fear mongering industry and are speaking out in ever growing numbers?

In the first article, published in the daily mail in the UK, from which we offer excerpts below, the author points out to the many scares society worldwide was served and how none materialized to even a fraction of the prophecies.

In the second article on the next French post, our Quebec constitutionalist and protector of civil liberties, Me Julius Grey, discusses how the cult of fear keeps the focus away from what really matters and how giving in to those fears without rationalizing them subtracts us of our freedom and individual liberties. He describes how certain unfortunate psychopathic phenomena such as pedophilia that have been afflicting societies for centuries, are suddenly, without justified bases, looked upon as worse than ever, how certain unproven factoids are now looked at as truths, how some modern fears such as the fear of second hand smoke and pornography, have become excessive.

Rational fear is essential to survival, but fear brought about by manufactured hype, very often created to serve the financial interests of those who spew it, is destructive to the individual and society as a whole.

Frightened to death: Why it's the scare stories that are the REAL menace


Again and again we have seen supposed threats to our health and well-being which, in retrospect, can be seen to have been exaggerated out of all proportion - from Edwina Currie putting us all in a panic over salmonella in eggs; to the bird flu which we were officially told in 2005 would soon kill "150 million people"; to the Millennium Bug which was going to cause half the world's computers to crash, reducing cities to chaos and causing airliners to fall out of the sky.


As with BSE, many scares begin with a genuine problem. However, where the supposed experts go off the rails is when they try to explain the problem and misread the scientific evidence - usually by putting two things together and theorising, wrongly, that one is the cause of the other.


The "tipping point" of any scare comes when it is taken up by the politicians.

Confronted by the apparent threat, they and their officials invariably come up with what turns out to be an absurdly over-the-top response - and it is this which causes the real damage, leaving us all with a colossal bill which may well run into many billions of pounds.

We first became familiar with the modern scare phenomenon with Mrs Currie's gaffe about eggs in 1988.

As so often, this started with a genuine problem, an explosion in Britain's cases of food poisoning from salmonella.

At the same time, it was noted that there was a serious problem with salmonella infecting broiler chickens, bred for eating.

How this took off into a fully-fledged scare began when a senior government scientist became convinced that the rise in salmonella poisoning must somehow be caused by the bacteria getting inside chickens' eggs.

Edwina Currie, as an ambitious but not very bright junior health minister, fell for his theory and made a fateful announcement on TV which sent the egg scare into orbit.

Only four years later, after millions of chickens had been slaughtered and thousands of small egg producers put out of business, did the Government reverse its policy, tacitly acknowledging that eggs had not been the problem after all.

A similar scientific blunder lay at the heart of the BSE scare in the mid 1990s.

Already the possibility that humans might catch "mad cow disease" had attracted obsessive speculation in the media, and when government scientists thought they had discovered a new form of CJD, this panicked them into agreeing that it might after all be caused by eating beef.
By the time it emerged that they had got it wrong, the damage was done, leaving Britain with a bill for £7 billion.

Far more damaging than these food scares, however, have been some of the more general scares which have caused havoc in recent years.

In the late 1990s, top industrialists and politicians, led by Tony Blair, predicted that "2YK", the Millennium Bug, was facing civilisation with a crisis which, according to learned academics, would cost £150 billion to fix.

Yet minutes after midnight on January 1, 2000, it became clear that the threat had been grotesquely exaggerated and hardly anyone affected.

One of the first of many environmental scares was that over the pesticide DDT.

Everyone was rightly shocked at revelations of how much harm it was doing to wildlife, but what blew it up into a scare was the suggestion, defying all the evidence, that DDT might also cause cancer in humans.

The resulting ban on DDT, even for its controlled use indoors, removed our most effective protection against malaria and has been estimated to have cost up to 50 million lives across the Third World.

In human terms, one of the most chilling scares of all was the hysteria which swept through many of our social services departments in the late 1980s and early 1990s, centring on the belief that huge numbers of children were being subjected to "Satanic" or ritual abuse by groups of adults.

The terrifying scar this left on hundreds of families persists to this day. Only recently has it been possible to reconstruct the full horror of those episodes in Nottingham, Rochdale, Orkney and elsewhere, as children snatched from their parents without reason are now old enough to talk about what really happened to them all those years ago.

Perhaps the most alarming scares, however, have been those based not just on misreading the scientific evidence but on its deliberate manipulation, as they have become politically driven by powerful pressure groups.

Most people, for instance, probably assume that when the United States and the EU banned leaded petrol in the 1990s, at a cost of hundreds of billions of pounds, this decision was taken on the basis of sound science.

They might be shocked to read of how the ban was introduced, after a determined campaign by environmentalists, following the findings of a single study by a U.S. academic, which other experts showed he had only arrived at by suppressing the 90 per cent of his evidence which contradicted his theory.

Despite numerous other studies showing that the tiny quantities of lead added to petrol to improve engine efficiency posed no danger to health, the scare whipped up by campaigners had become so powerful that bogus science won the day.

An even more blatant case of suppression of embarrassing evidence was the bizarre story behind the campaign to ban "passive smoking".

For years, despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars on trying to prove that smokers not only harmed themselves but also the health of those around them, the anti-smoking campaigners found the evidence they wanted frustratingly elusive.

So when the two most comprehensive studies of passive smoking ever carried out each came up with findings that non-smokers living with smokers faced no significantly increased risk of cancer, their antismoking sponsors did all they could to get the reports suppressed.

In a pattern familiar from other scares, the researchers were subjected to a torrent of personal vilification.

By the time a wave of smoking bans swept through Europe and America in the early 21st century, the official statistics used to justify them had become not just exaggerated but wholly fictitious.

In cash terms, probably the single most damaging scare to date is that which has been that whipped up over asbestos, once one of our commonest building materials.

So successful has this campaign been that most people probably now imagine that "killer" asbestos is one of the most dangerous materials known to man.

What they don't realise is that the word "asbestos" is used to describe two quite different minerals. One is genuinely dangerous, its hard, sharp fibres causing cancer in the lungs. The other form, "white asbestos", usually mixed with cement and representing more than 90 per cent of all the asbestos there is, poses no measurable threat to health at all.

Fifty years ago, when scientists first began to uncover the major health disaster which had befallen thousands of shipyard and factory workers exposed over many years to very high concentrations of asbestos, they failed to draw a sufficient distinction between one type of asbestos and the other.

When this confusion was then deliberately perpetuated by those who stood to exploit it financially, it led to two of the most successful scams of modern times.

In America, 700,000 compensation claims brought by lawyers on behalf of anyone they could find who had ever been near any form of asbestos - the vast majority showing no signs of injury - led to what was dubbed the $200 Billion Miscarriage Of Justice.
In the 1990s, this famously brought Lloyd's of London, the most prestigious insurance body in the world, to its knees, and has continued to inflate the insurance premiums paid by all of us ever since.

But this has been accompanied by a second massive scam on both sides of the Atlantic, whereby laws perpetuating the confusion over the different types of asbestos have allowed a new army of "licensed asbestos removal contractors" to charge almost any sums they like to businesses and homeowners panicked by the scare, costing billions more.

Even this, however, is being dwarfed by what now threatens to become easily the greatest, and most costly, scare of all - the belief in man-made global warming, which is prompting an unprecedented avalanche of absurdly unrealistic measures proposed by our politicians in response.

Far from there being a "consensus" over global warming, this supposedly laudable cause has for years been promoted with the aid of some of the most shameless distortion of evidence in the history of science: from the notorious 'hockey stick' graph supposedly showing global temperatures suddenly rising in recent years to their highest levels on record to the blizzard of factual errors in Al Gore's Oscarwinning propaganda film, An Inconvenient Truth.

In fact, the latest evidence shows that, while CO2 levels are still rising, global temperatures are lower than they were ten years ago and may soon even fall.

Even those not yet sceptical about the great crusade to "save the planet" from global warming should be disturbed to see just how many awkward parallels it presents to the pattern of other scares before it.

It really is time we woke up to the true nature of our weakness for scares - our own version of that belief in witches that we scorn in our 16th century ancestors - and recognised just what appalling damage it is doing to us all.

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