What Are the Coming Decade's Most Overblown Fears?
Newsweek is running an online retrospective of the new millennium’s first decade. My favorite section to date is the “Overblown Fears” list. Here they are, in order:
2. Shoe Bombs
3. Vaccines Cause Autism
6. SARS, Mad Cow, Bird Flu
7. Web Predators
8. Teen Oral Sex Epidemic
One could quibble all day long with inclusions and omissions but to be sure it is a very entertaining list. I’d be tempted to remove SARS and Bird Flu from the “most overblown” category, and I’m not sure who was ever so frightened of bloggers. Also: when a given fear doesn’t make the list, it’s hard to say whether that’s because it wasn’t so overblown or because it wasn’t so scary.
It was interesting to look back to see how many of these topics have appeared on this blog over the years — e.g., here and here and here.
And in a section of SuperFreakonomics dealing with the trickle-down costs of terrorism, we write about the would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid:
Think about the last time you went through an airport security line and were forced to remove your shoes, shuffle through the metal detector in stocking feet, and then hobble about while gathering up your belongings.
The beauty of terrorism — if you’re a terrorist — is that you can succeed even by failing. We perform this shoe routine thanks to a bumbling British national named Richard Reid, who, even though he couldn’t ignite his shoe bomb, exacted a huge price. Let’s say it takes an average of one minute to remove and replace your shoes in the airport security line. In the United States alone, this procedure happens roughly 560 million times per year. Five hundred and sixty million minutes equals more than 1,065 years — which, divided by 77.8 years (the average U.S. life expectancy at birth), yields a total of nearly 14 person-lives. So even though Richard Reid failed to kill a single person, he levied a tax that is the time equivalent of 14 lives per year.
Jason Kottke, who wrote the Y2K entry in the Newsweek list, offers this trenchant assessment:
According to Forbes, AT&T reportedly spent $500 million to fix their Y2K issues. Meanwhile, the U.S. government expressed concern about the lack of preparation undertaken by K-12 schools, small businesses, China, and Russia; none reported significant problems after Jan. 1.
I would be remiss to not ask all of you: what will turn out to be the most overblown fears of the coming decade?