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Review: Let’s Stop Scaring Ourselves

Crichton, M. (5 December, 2004) “Let’s Stop Scaring Ourselves,” Parade Magazine

Summary

Crichton advocates a new breed of common-sense skepticism when it comes to highly publicized fears about the end of the world. Think Y2K, Climate Change, Population Explosion, or Killer Bees.

His first case in point is a 1972 point of view that warned of a coming ice age. Then, within a decade, the fears turned to a global warming trend that threatened to raise temperatures as much as 30 degrees in the 21st century. By 1995 the estimates came down to about 4 degrees over the next 100 years.

He goes on to document a similar cycle of scientifically-driven fear morphing into general revisions in the case of population explosion and coming famines. The claim was made in the 1960s that the world of the 1970s would experience famines in which hundreds of millions of people would starve to death. On top of this, it was thought that the world population would pass 14 billion by 2030. Then again, says Crichton, fertility rates at the end of the 20th century fell to half what they were in 1950, and the world population is now expected to peak at 9 billion. Meanwhile, per capita food production increased through the end of the century.

Crichton cites more examples, such as the magnet craze of the 1970s and the power-line cancer scare of the 1980s, but his driving theme is that we have an addiction to fear, doom, catastrophe, and so on. And that such fears never seem justified:

“So many fears have turned out to be untrue or wildly exaggerated that I no longer get so excited about the latest one. Keeping fears in perspective leads me to ignore most of the frightening things I read and hear – or at least to take them with a pillar of salt.”  

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

1.      Do you agree with Crichton?
2.      Have you experienced panic over certain predictions of coming doom?
3.      What do you think is the source of these fears?
4.      What is the danger in accepting Crichton’s position of complacency?

Implications

There is little question American culture savors the drama of coming doom. It is possible scientists and public officials mislead us when they publish dire predictions. Of course, even if many predictions prove to be overstated, this does not imply that our current way of life is safe and sound. If we become willfully inured to climate change, predictions, for example, we may very well miss a vital message.

Christopher S. Yates
© 2018 CYS

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