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Swine Flu & Media Bias

  • Posted on October 26, 2009 at 3:36 AM

I haven’t been online much.  More accurately, my time online has centered on getting my finals done over the last few days.  I’ll be back in action this week!

But now I need to rant.  My son, Ben, may or may not have swine flu.  However his symptoms may parallel the e-mail that’s been circulating around, however his symptoms may incite worries of swine flu from a particularly qualified family member with medical training, the fact is his symptoms don’t make it swine flu.  The particular virus—which would have to be tested and identified by a microbiologist or similarly qualified individual with a sample of my son’s blood—makes it swine flu.  Not every sore throat is strep, not every nasty little flu bug going around in swine flu.

For most of my adult life, I’ve heard the news media scream and rave about the coming epidemic.  I remember when HIV was going to leave us with death camps that left infected people cordoned off in their own area away from “clean” people.  This wasn’t a science fiction doomsday scenario or posted on a conspiracy theorists’ blog.  I read this theory in a newspaper.

In grade school, in junior high, and in high school I remember journalism being described as an unbiased medium for informing our democratic nation.  Hooey!  Whoever said that either had an agenda or never read the guidelines for some of our top newspapers.  Unbiased?  Hardly!  They call it slant, but a slant is a bias – and slants/biases are required for publication.  News anchors face a similar fate.

So, once it was HIV – the great and terrible epidemic.  A few years ago it was avian flu.  I know there were some others between, but they left such an indelible impression that I cannot, for the life of me, recall their names.  Last year the new “devastating epidemic” was swine flu and it’s still raging, coursing through the papers more rapidly than its coursing through our nation.

What all these incidents have in common is two-fold:  First, the dangers of the virus are real.  Secondly, the news media overstates and exaggerates these real dangers for effect.

The effect they’re looking for is called “market share” which leads to revenues.  The more people watch or read the news, particularly their newspaper or television station, the more they can demand in ad revenues.  News media is a business.  Because news media is a business, the news that is reported is biased by the need for the news to “sell.”  Sensational news sells.  Mundane news doesn’t.  Stories sell.  Dry facts don’t.  Death tolls sell.  Recovery rates don’t.  Panic sells.  Common sense doesn’t.  This creates a very real and very bad bias in news reporting.

Perhaps my family faces swine flu.  Perhaps not.  The facts are that Ben is sick.  He’s been sick for days.  He’s fever goes up and it goes down.  He’s not drinking enough and is barely eating.  He’s coughing.  He needs prayers and he needs TLC.  He may need medical intervention.  Willy is sick again, too.  His seems like a different flu strain, which isn’t much of a consolation.  Alex is coughing, but not feverish.  I’m fighting it all off with a little bit of wooziness and lots of interrupted sleep.  Mark’s robust immune system seems to be staving it all off with little apparent effort.

We need your prayers.  We need real information on when and if to seek advanced medical help (good thing we have that qualified family member).  What we don’t need is panic.  We don’t need an ineffectual “national emergency.”  We certainly don’t need the news media’s biased reporting.  Swine flu is real and it’s dangerous.  It’s so much harder to protect ourselves when the news media is too busy selling its hype to report the facts.

Revealing Research

  • Posted on September 26, 2009 at 12:00 PM

I admit when it came to the “autism epidemic” I took the statistics pretty much at face value.  I didn’t interpret the situation as dire, but I assumed there was a causal factor other than broadened definitions and increased awareness that supported the growing number of autism diagnoses in children.  Left Brain/Right Brain of the UK was the first source I’d seen that convincingly shed both doubt and light on those statistics and raised issues of bias that I needed to consider.

Now, research also coming out of the UK sheds further light on this very important issue.  I read this article posted in Medical News Today:

This ground-breaking study shows for the first time an estimate of how many adults are living with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) in England. The study into the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders among adults shows that one in every hundred adults living in households has the condition - broadly the same rate as that cited for children.

The implications of this research are, in my opinion, nothing short of profound in their implications of the politics of autism.  Further relevance is revealed in these findings:

  • While 1.0 per cent of the adult population had an autism spectrum disorder, the rate for men was higher (1.8 per cent) than for women (0.2 per cent). This was in line with studies among child populations which show higher rates amongst boys.
  • People who were single were more likely to be assessed with an autism spectrum disorder than other marital statuses.
  • Among men, prevalence of an autism spectrum disorder was lower among those with a degree level qualification than among those with no qualifications.
  • Men renting their home from a social landlord were more likely than those living in other types of housing to have an autism spectrum disorder.
  • Adults with an autism spectrum disorder were no more likely to be using services for those with mental or emotional problems than the rest of the adult general population.

If I ever doubted we needed to take a serious look at how we, both in the US and internationally, approach autism this offers a never-before-seen glimpse that shows very clearly that we do.  Misinformation and assumptions having us looking for causes and solutions to this false “epidemic,” when what we really should be doing (and should have been doing all along) is using our resources to find ways to solve problems people with autism face every day.