Hello Dominic. I suspect that if the general population becomes less easy to whip up into hysterical fear with stories about viruses, the media will simply move onto something else. Our brains are hardwired to respond to anecdote and have very little capacity to grasp large datasets, so we’re always going to be easy prey for those who make their money from terrifying us.

An example of how our brains don’t work well with data is contained in a recent Medium article on Bayesian statistics which sets the following problem: there’s a genetic disease that 0.5% of the population suffers from and there’s a test for this disease that is 99% accurate. So if you get tested and the result comes back positive, what’s the probability you really do have the disease? The naive (human brain) answer is 99%. But in fact the real answer is there’s only a 33% probability that you really have the disease. This is because 99.5% of the population doesn’t have the disease and therefore the incidence of false positives in a test that is 99% accurate will be much higher than the test’s stand-alone one-time accuracy rate.

If the average person makes this kind of basic error, it’s pretty clear we’re never going to “wise up” to what the media is doing with our hardwired mental capacities.

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.

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