Booker and North posit a "scare phenomenon" by analysing a series of scares, starting with HIV/AIDS and salmonella in the 80s, though BSE, the Y2K bug and passive smoking amongst others, to the global warming scare of today. They identify a pattern that starts with scientists making exaggerated claims based on inadequate evidence, becoming so obsessed with their theories that they manufacture evidence to support them while excluding consideration of contradictory data, and then actively suppress those who oppose their "new orthodoxy". The media, finding such scares make good copy, further hype them up, often finding scientists to speak in support of them whose own areas of research were quite different. Politicians, unable to distinguish between good and bad science and reliant on officials who have in many cases become members of the new orthodoxy themselves, and faced with media hysteria, overreact under cover of the "precautionary principle" by implementing policies that are scientifically suspect and economically damaging.
I purchased the authors' first joint book, "The Mad Officials", some dozen years ago after hearing Richard North speak, very entertainingly, on the excesses of environmental health officers. I was greatly entertained by that book's humorous, "if you didn't laugh you would cry" style. This is a much more scholarly work, although, thankfully, still flavoured by a wry sense of amusement at the irrational behaviour of many of those who would tell us how to live.
The book's longest chapter is on global warming, the biggest of these scares and one that is still gaining momentum. The authors provide a short history of the development of the theory of the "greenhouse effect" (from 1827) and some alternative theories, reminding us that many of those who expounded the theory of man-made global warming in the 80s had, ten years previously, been warning of a coming ice age. They analyse the development of the IPCC and how as early as 1989 scientists whose research did not support this "new orthodoxy" were having their funding withdrawn and were, in due course, lumped together with "holocaust deniers". Al Gore comes in for much criticism. Much of material will not be new to those interested in the global warming debate, but it is summarised concisely and clearly. You would be correct in deducing that Booker & North are somewhat sceptical of MMGW; what they add to the debate is explaining the current furore over global warming as another example of the "scare phenomenon".
In the epilogue they suggest that subscribing to movements like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth in some way satisfies a human "need for religion" in a secular age. While there may be something in this, here Booker & North appeared to be moving out of their own area of expertise, the ideas were only lightly sketched out and there were, unusually, no references to those whose ideas were culled - e.g., Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens? They also betrayed their British orientation: the statement that, by the end of the C20, "the prevailing values of the West were as completely secularised as those of any society the world had ever known" may be true of the UK, but not, I would have thought, of the US. These criticisms aside, I would heartily recommend "Scared to Death" as a critique of contemporary western societies' tendency to indulge in "scares" and as a call to arms for a more intelligently sceptical approach.
Booker & North conclude cheerily by warning us that this century will probably deliver us a "real crisis" soon enough, and that there will then be little time, or need, for imaginary ones.
on 28 February 2008
.....then try reading the chapter on satanic child abuse when your children are in the same room watching the T.V. I did, and an icy chill went down my spine. Imagine at that point someone came into your house, took your children away, accused you of the most disgusting crimes and gagged any attempt you made to speak out. Orwell, Kafka? No. Cleveland, Rochdale and Nottingham in the Twentieth Century.
This book is not about denial. Booker and North do not try to deny or trivialise AIDS, BSE, smoking related diseases, E coli, Listeria or any of the issues raised. Indeed these are major issues that require a well thought out and appropriate response.
The authors take issue with the scientists who push their own research and exclude any notion that alternate research might show something to the contrary. They round on lazy jounalists who do not research facts for themselves and compete for the most sensational headline.
Mostly however, they condemn politicians who settle on the current orthodoxy and take disproportionate measures, cost millions or even billions to the taxpayer and yet fail to do any good whatsoever (what the authors call 'taking a sledgehammer and missing the nut')
What is most telling is that once the scare has been proved to be groundless, the powers that the authorities have taken for themselves to solve the problem are never given back.
An excellent read, concise and well referenced. A copy should be sent to evey politician bureucrat and pompous town hall official in the land.
on 21 December 2007
Journalist Christopher Booker and former food safety consultant Dr Richard North have written a fascinating book on the rash of scares in the last 20 years. They earlier worked together on a brilliant book on the European Union The great deception.
They study the food scares - salmonella in eggs (1988-9), listeria in cheese, BSE in beef (1996-9) and dioxins in Belgian poultry (1999). Other scares they discuss include the Millennium bug (1999), DDT, the satanic child abuse mania (1987-94), lead, passive smoking, asbestos, SARS, bird flu (2005) (which the World Health Organisation absurdly called `the greatest single health challenge'), organophosphorus, and global warming.
They note that banning DDT has killed two million people every year, because DDT had cut malaria deaths by 95%. The EU backed the ban on DDT.
Organophosphorus, used in sheep dip, was `MAFF-approved', and an HSE leaflet warned of its `cumulative toxicity' leading to `irreversible' damage to the nervous system, akin to ME and Gulf War Syndrome (which also never happened, according to the MoD). The government suppressed the whole story, because it was directly responsible.
A review in the Independent claimed that their chapter on global warming had scarcely any scientific references. It has 117, including important articles in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the Journal of Geophysical Research, Energy and Environment, the International Journal of Climatology, six from Nature and five from Science. The authors expose as exaggerated the claims of climate doom. They point out that historically rising CO2 levels are associated both with rising and falling temperatures and that the overall ice mass of the Antarctic, which has 89.5% of the world's ice, is increasing, as is Greenland's (10%).
They study the roles of scientists, the media, politicians, officials and non-governmental organisations, especially the `animal rights' groups. All these scares, and others from the witch craze to McCarthyism to the war scares over Iraq and Iran, always give the message - trust the government, pay the huge costs of protection. The real message of the scares for us must be - always look at the evidence not the spin, and seek the truth.
on 19 February 2008
...by the revelations in this book of how a toxic cocktail of publicity- and funding-hungry "scientists", sensation-seeking journalists and gutless, witless politicians leads to us being saddled with ludicrous restrictions and red-tape. Most of us are lucky enough to get away with that - this book relates the horrific experiences of the families caught up in the "satanic ritual abuse" nonsense whose children were removed by social workers obsessed with this non-existent phenomenon. Some were not even returned once the falsehood of these accusations had been exposed. Some of the people responsible for this appalling abuse were allowed to continue working in "child protection".
The book finishes with an examination of "The Scare that Never Was" - the appalling damage done to farmers and farm workers by the organo-phosphates that they were obliged by the British Government to use to dip their sheep. No prizes for guessing why this scare didn't hit the headlines in a big way.
Reading this one realises that the media made almost no effort to correct the impression that salmonella was ever found in eggs, vCJD was caused by BSE (Professor Lacey, who claimed that 500,000 of us a year would be dying of it, is still doing the scare-mongering rounds) or that there are groups of people sacrificing children to Satan and drinking their blood.
Farmers are still suffering the expense of dealing with regulations to limit nitrogen in large areas of the country deemed to be "Nitrate Vulnerable" on the basis of "science" which confused nitrates with nitrites and - once the first confusion was pointed out - nitrates with phosphates.
The biggest one of all is of course Global Warming. Whatever the science may really be, the devious behaviour of many of those plugging the orthodoxy - from Al Gore to various bigwigs in the IPCC - to suppress anything that might suggest it is not as simple as they would have us believe should set the alarm bells ringing.
Whilst this book is very readable it is very soberly written, with copious foot-notes and references - it will still make your blood boil!
Everyone who produces or consumes food, has children, uses fuel, votes, reads newspapers, watches television etc., etc. should read this book and hold to account those who have shafted us so comprehensively and try to limit the damage they do to society and the earth in future.
on 21 November 2007
Anyone with any interest at all about where this country is going should read this book, especially if you have kids. I worry about what life in Britain will be like for my kids when they're older - they certainly wont enjoy the freedom that we've had and are entitled to. This book sets out, one step at the time, what went wrong when the government sought to "Protect" the British public from "killer diseases" that didn't exist and "Life threatening events" that will never happen. All of this can be summed up as "More taxes" and an ever more paranoid nation - which is exactly where the government want us - if we're scared they have more power over us. The governments incompetence is astounding and it's cost us billions, it's destroyed some people completely. The media plays its own part in the deceptions by not reporting both sides of all stories - we don't get to know that science has all but turned its back on facts, only the bank account matters. Its quite honestly sickening but necessary reading. And, for you sceptics, all facts are carefully referenced and are freely available to check out.
on 27 December 2007
An excellent book that surgically dissect the mass hysteria phenomena, and how lazy journalism associated with knee jerk political reaction brings untold damage.
It is interesting to see how mass media always look forward, but conveniently never look back at the last scare story (Did Newsweek came back on their 'Global cooling' from the seventies ?'
The most dangerous of all scares, global warming is the only story for which we don't have a conclusion, since we are very much in the middle of it.
Looking at the previous financially disastrous decisions on other cases, one can only fear the next stage of this non sense mass hysteria.
The authors references to 1984 by George Orwel sounds ominiously correct when witnessing how any dissenting voice is being treated.
A courageous work, lucid and full of intellectual integrity by North and Booker.
Warmly recommanded to anyone who wants more than the lobotomized, ready to digest version served daily by the mass media.
on 8 September 2008
We are all familiar with recent media-driven hysteria such as foot-and-mouth disease, BSE/madcow disease, dioxin poisoning in Belgium, child-abuse in the UK etc. The question is, what is the anatomy and the psychosis of such scares? What drives scares in today's enlightened, Post-religious modern Western society?
In this riveting book, Christopher Booker and Richard North take a deeper look into recent scares and reveal an intriguing pattern:
- The scare is usually based on genuine concern that some chemical/bacteria or phenomenon has endangered human life
- Thereafter, the evidence for the scare is blown out of proportion
- The media get on board and without bothering to check the evidence drive a mass hysteria campaign
- Various interest groups get on board on one side of the argument or the other. (They authors call them 'resisters' and 'pushers')
- The pushers - usually scientists - do all in their power to frustrate the legitimate views of dissenters, including ad hominem attacks
- Politicians, who don't want to seem out of touch, respond disproportionately
- The result is overkill and ruined lives.
The authors do an excellent job of dissecting the evidence in past scares such as asbestos poisoning, salmonella and BSE in the UK to reveal a disturbing pattern of behaviour on the part of scientists, governments and the media.
However, Messrs North and Brooke are less exacting when they describe the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the Millennium Bug "scares". As an African, I beg to differ that HIV is a not a scare. What do you call disease that wipes out the productive class of a developing country? One can argue that it is precisely because the Millennium Bug and HIV received so much attention ( that they were resolved in the first place (at least in the West).
The book's epilogue, for my money, is perhaps the best part of the book. The authors attempt to explain why modern society has become susceptible to mass hysteria. They conclude that mass hysteria is only an expression of man's deeply-ingrained religous instinct. Since modern society has demystified religion, people need other righteous causes; they need to define the 'goodies' and the 'baddies' and need to stand up for a cause. Now, what cause is worthier than saving the planet from the greed of global capitalism or saving children from Satan-worshipping parents?
Fortunately, mass hysteria in our modern society, unlike religion's transcendental claims, is still amenable to scientific evidence. Therefore, the evidence will eventually undermine the basis for the hysteria. Alas, it may do so after countless lives have been ruined and billions of dollars wasted. The current global warming debate, therefore, is one to watch.
In conclusion, this book is an excellent reminder to always question the evidence. It deserves my 4 stars.
on 6 June 2008
This is the most serious book I have ever read - and I am over 70 and relatively well-educated and informed. The Epilogue - and especially the third from final paragraph - should be read, marked, learned and inwardly digested by all thinking people from sixth-formers to geriatrics like me. If I am left with one thought after reading this meticulously documented catalogue of ignorant and disgraceful behaviour, it is how badly our UK legislators and officials have performed over the past 30-40 years and how little they deserve, or have deserved, their salaries, expenses and pensions. All these things have happened on their watch - a watch we relied on them to keep faithfully and conscientously. Perhaps in this story lies the real reason why we have, maybe unconsciously until now, come to despise and mistrust them all.
on 17 March 2008
The content has been reviewed excellently here already - I can't add anything to those reviews.
However, the thing that struck me about the book, which was as compulsive as any I can remember, was the level-headedness with which the facts were revealed. Only knowing a couple of these case studies in any depth (including the 'climate crisis' nonsense), I was shocked at how often basic corroboration of science or proclamations has been missing, and have been particularly concerned at the absence of investigative journalism. (I was delighted that they included the BBC's coverage of Live Earth - I was horrified that the BBC chose its role as that of 'advocate' instead of balanced and challenging news carrier.)
The book carefully avoids seeming like a conspiracy-theorists' manifesto, carefully unpicking the anatomy of scares.
If only this book, instead of An Inconvenient Truth, were to be circulated to all schools in the UK.
on 12 March 2008
I cannot impress on you how important it is that you and everyone that you know must read this book. You will be outraged many times before you finish reading and will want to share the contents with all the open minded people that you know. you will want to discuss it and read what other people think about it.You may not want to believe the things that you will read but it is so rigorous in its approach that you will struggle to refute the contents. Scared to death is the most significant book that i have read and it should be compulsory reading for all mps, local councillors and social workers.
Once you understand the sequence of events which lead to a scare, you will be able to listen to the news with more objectivity and possibly recognise that iran is the current scare which george bush is inflicting on the world and the eu will no doubt give him the green light to persue whatever policy that he deems appropriate. Its all in this book, read it *PLEASE* and you will see for yourself.
Having read the other rewiews of this work, i agree with every word that the reviewers have written.
If you read this book, then the question that will linger in your mind as it has in mine, will be..... why have we allowed all of this to happen.