Shock! Horror! Corona Virus Kills… Hardly Anyone

How the media scares us for profit.

Image credit: Philadelphia Inquirer

Most people will be aware that the latest sensation being pushed by the media is the new coronavirus that started to spread among humans in the Wuhan province of China. Now lots of people are happily terrified they’re going to die of this terrible disease, so sales of face masks are soaring and companies are pulling employees out of supposedly high-risk locations.

Just like with SARS and H5N1, the media is busy pushing out a narrative designed to terrify people because it’s profitable to do so. The more frightened eyeballs that can be attracted to stare at a screen, the greater the advertising revenues that result. So the media amplifies what is in reality a trivial matter until it assumes global proportions and hundreds of millions of naïve citizens are scared out of their wits.

But let’s step back a moment and look at reality. Because reality is very, very different.

To date (Feb 1st 2020) fewer than 300 people have died worldwide from illness resulting from infection by the latest coronavirus. It’s taken nearly six weeks for the death toll to reach this level.

During the same six weeks, 127,000 people have died in road traffic accidents.

3,800 US citizens have died from gunshot wounds.

418,000 have died from obesity-related diseases.

5,818,000 people have died from other causes.

Or to put it another way, over the last six weeks the percentage of worldwide deaths attributable to the new coronavirus has been 0.0047%.

So why aren’t we terrified of being shot, crashing our car, being fat, or dying from any one of a number of other issues?

Because those things are all old news. No media story about old news is going to terrify people and generate fat ad revenues. Something new and mysterious, however, does the job nicely. Which is why everywhere we look we see fear-mongering stories about this new global pandemic.

But it’s unreal.

Remember SARS? Remember H5N1? Each in its own time was the new global pandemic that was going to kill millions. And each fizzled out after a small number of deaths.

Sure, for the people who died, these illnesses were devastating. But no more devastating than the hundreds of thousands who died during the same period from more obvious causes.

So instead of rushing out to buy face masks and having nightmares about a pandemic that will kill us all, maybe we should remember that the media isn’t there to inform us but rather to make money out of our credulity and ignorance. It’s not nice, and it’s not helpful, but it’s the cold hard truth.

The coronavirus isn’t going to kill you. But texting while driving probably will.

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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