Everybody Panic!

When reading or watching the news, beware the phrase “a new study today revealed,” or its myriad variations. One of the many sad things about the news media today is that they will go out of their way to find studies to get you freaked out. What’s particularly sad is not the goofy science they find (studies that only correlate things, which the news media then present in such a way as to assume causality), but the alarmism that the newsfolks want to generate, because that’s what makes them money.

Let this be your mantra: correlation does not equal causality. If a study finds that eating baby seal liver is linked to a longer lifespan, it may only mean that the experiment was conducted using Eskimos, who just happened to be eating a lot of fish oil or something else that gives them a greater life expectancy. You don’t know the methods because the articles often conveniently leave them out.

What I’m noticing even more today is that, as all these studies proliferate and contradict each other over time (1980: margarine is great, butter sucks! 2000: holy crap are you still eating margarine?), people trust science and scientific studies less, when the people they really need to stop trusting are the alarmist/money-grubbing news media who profit by your fear. Scientific studies at an individual level will always produce varying results, and only over long spans of time do we really gain knowledge that we can rely upon with confidence. So the next time you read about a study that links an activity with a particular outcome, don’t assume that one causes the other. They may just be correlated somehow.

One thought on “Everybody Panic!”

  1. You would really like “The Culture of Fear” by Barry Glassner if you haven’t read it already.

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