Friday, April 10, 2009

DOOM CRAZIES & SUNNY OPTIMISTS EQUALLY BAD

Today DD points you directly at an essay in the Ottawa Citizen here.

In "Pessimists don't get a free pass" it touches upon themes which have been common to this blog since its inception in 2006. The reader will observe its critique of an 'expert' who believes the pessimists in society haven't been listened to enough.

Choke back the laughter.

"Over the last several decades ... developed nations have evolved into what [are called] 'risk societies,'" writes the Citizen's columnist.

"We worry. We worry about the future. We worry about threats to health and safety. We worry about science and technology. Wall Street and neo-con economists certainly embraced gung-ho optimism -- until recently -- but in society at large, that attitude seems much more a relic of the 1950s than anything contemporary.

"Undue pessimism ... can also produce over-reactions of the sort we became all too familiar with after the 9/11 terrorist attacks," it continues. "If even a fraction of the vast sums poured into counter-terrorism had gone to other priorities -- the fight against child malnutrition, for example -- far more would have been done for human welfare. Opportunity costs of this sort are routinely inflicted by undue pessimism ... Irrational fear can also produce dangerous responses.

"Following the 9/11 and anthrax attacks of 2001, perceptions of the threat of bioterrorism were so inflated that more than half of Americans worried that the next attack would involve smallpox -- even though the virus existed nowhere on the planet aside from two secure laboratories. The Bush administration responded with a plan for voluntary smallpox inoculations of some 10 million health care workers. There were was even talk of vaccinating the whole country.

"But few health care workers volunteered and the plan came to nothing -- which is fortunate because the vaccine's rare side-effects include encephalitis and death. Very simply, undue pessimism nearly took the health and lives of many people."

It produces a sophisticated argument -- one well worth your time.

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