Ben Goldacre's Bad Science blog which corrects many of the myths about science perpetuated by the media takes a look at the Swine Flu story today, linked to a piece Goldacre has written for The Guardian.
On his blog Goldacre says of the article: "This is possibly the most boring thing I’ve ever written in the Guardian, but I have been genuinely weirded out by the number of people inviting me to be a naysayer on the aporkalypse. I’m not, it’s a genuine risk."
In the article, he writes: "For so many people, their very first assumption on the story is that the media are lying. It is the story of the boy who cried wolf.
"We are poorly equipped to think around issues involving risk, and infectious diseases epidemiology is a tricky business: the error margins on the models are wide, and it’s extremely hard to make clear predictions."
He adds: "By Tuesday, pundit-seekers from the media were suddenly contacting me, a massive nobody, to say that swine flu is all nonsense and hype, like some kind of blind, automated naysaying device. "Will you come and talk about the media overhyping swine flu?" asked Case Notes on Radio 4. No. "We need someone to say it’s all been overhyped," said BBC Wales.
I assumed they were adhering, robotically, to the "balance" template, but no: he kept at it, even when I protested and explained. "Yeah, but you know, it could be like Sars and bird flu, they didn’t materialise, they were hype." Simon Jenkins suggested the same thing. It’s not true, I said. They were risks, risks that didn’t materialise, but they were still risks. That’s what a risk is. I’ve never been hit by a car, but it’s not idiotic to think about it. Simon Jenkins won’t be right if nobody dies, he’ll be lucky, like the rest of us. "