14/05/09

Bursting the bubbles of swine flu media coverage

Further to yesterday’s post, stats-are-fun superstar Hans Rosling has calculated a coverage-per-death ratio for swine flu and TB. It clearly points to an under-reporting of the boring old pandemics that we’ve grown used to ignoring. But it also begs the question that plagues prevention efforts in health as well as in other areas — terrorism, climate change, conflict. Do we have to wait until we fail to prevent something before it becomes worth covering? How many deaths do we need to justify the media hype?

We need to concede that we might get a more effective response BECAUSE of the media hype. But if the coverage does encourage (or allow) policy-makers to swing into effective action, and tens of thousands of deaths a prevented, analysis such as Roslings will be more problematic than ever. Because you see, despite all the hype, there never were that many deaths after all….

Thanks to Basia for pointing me to the video.

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This post was published on 14/05/09 in Science, Videos.

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  1. Comment by NE1, 14/05/09, 02:02:

    I’m less sensitive to the hyping this time around for two reasons: 1) They actually typed sick people’s viruses and matched them to the swine flu, like, in my home state. If nothing else, it’s a more obvious example than usual of the interconnectedness/cause-and-effect of living in a dense society. 2) Everyone in my workplace in the past year has had an absolutely horrendous cold (flu?); I had a cough for a month, have to wonder if this was just swine flu before it flew under the radar (I guess probably not). It’s out of sympathy that maybe this time around it really is or could easily be a little worse.

  2. Comment by secondlastwish, 15/05/09, 06:33:

    Off topic a bit, but did you see the Hans Rosling TED talk?

    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/hans_rosling_the_truth_about_hiv.html

    I’m still undecided about the hype of swine flu. I agree with the one official who responded that it would have been better to over-hype Hurricane Katrina then to under-react like they did.

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