If Only Stupidity Had A Higher Short-Term Fatality Rate…

Maggie Fox, at NBC News:

Nearly 40 percent of Americans believe there will be a “large outbreak” of Ebola virus in the United States, and more than a quarter worry that someone in their immediate families will be infected within the next year.

The new survey shows that what people believe is not even close to the actual reality. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and just about every leading expert on infectious disease that you can find agrees: Ebola is very unlikely to spread in the United States. Even in a country affected by an outbreak, an individual’s chance of getting it are very low, but in the developed world, they’re virtually zero…

News media have done a good job of accurately reporting the threat of catching Ebola — it’s very high if you are a health care worker in a poor country with limited resources, working double shifts with inadequate equipment. It’s very low if you are not in prolonged, direct contact with someone who is infected, or with the body of someone recently dead from Ebola…

… surrounded by many, many paragraphs of experts explaining that scary headlines get more attention than explanations of facts & probabilities, fiction (Contagion, 24) is “stickier” than tedious reality, and Thinking Is Hard. Or, as Dan Savage puts it, One hundred percent of health officials believe that 40 percent and 25 percent of Americans are being ridiculous drama queens.”

The news from West Africa is bad enough on its own:

The World Health Organization issued a dire warning on the potential toll of the Ebola outbreak on Thursday, saying the virus could infect as many as 20,000 people in the next nine months. The bleak forecast comes as the organization continues to try to mobilize the global community to combat the outbreak in West Africa. The WHO released documents on Thursday indicating the spread of the virus continues to accelerate—with more than 40 percent of the reported cases occurring in the last three weeks—and that “the actual number of cases may be two to four times higher than that currently reported,” the New York Times reports. “According to the latest figures released by the health organization on Thursday, the total cases had risen to 3,069, with 1,552 deaths, in four West African countries: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria…

43 replies
  1. 1
    seaboogie says:

    Where did the extra 13% come from?

  2. 2
    KG says:

    @seaboogie: ignorance?

    ETA: 1 in 4 are fucking nuts. 1 in 10 don’t have a fucking clue… sounds about right. Might even be low.

  3. 3
    Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason says:

    I blame television.

  4. 4
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    I just cover everything in bleach. Even my food and drink. Ebola won’t get me.

  5. 5
    NotMax says:

    more than a quarter worry that someone in their immediate families will be infected within the next year.

    Families of a quarter of Americans have travel plans to swap spit in outlying areas of sub-Saharan west Africa within the next year?

    Who knew?

  6. 6
    StringOnAStick says:

    Meteor. Now.

  7. 7
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @NotMax: Sex tourism is more out of control than we thought.

  8. 8
    Mnemosyne says:

    I can’t help but wonder if this is tied into the various epidemics of contagious diseases that we’re experiencing right now — once again, California has an official epidemic of pertussis (whooping cough). And, as is usual for humans, people are ignoring the epidemic under their noses and focusing on the microscopic chance of something else bad happening.

  9. 9
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @StringOnAStick: Oh, come on. Do you really think that we are more stupid than our ancestors? Is the US really worse than previous great powers? I say no. We are moving forward, but by fits and starts and with some steps backwards thrown in. Forward nevertheless.

  10. 10
    Parmenides says:

    This is what we in politics deal with every day. There is nothing like a field campaign in persuasion to completely lose your faith in humanity. Most people look no further than their own noses as to the world. They have little interest in figuring out the vagaries of their condition and spend their life stifling any interest in anything that could bring their world any bit of contrast.

    This is what drives our world. Freak outs over bullshit. Quiescent in the face of true threats.

  11. 11
    scav says:

    @Mnemosyne: No epidemic of death by gunshot or police or unusual weather but chemtrails! Ebola! Fluoride-wielding illegal Muslim Martians!

  12. 12
    Mike J says:

    27% of Americans want a chance to say Obama did something horrible by repatriating medical professionals who have fallen ill.

  13. 13
    CaseyL says:

    Americans don’t seem to be happy unless they’re panicking over something.

    Is it because most peoples’ lives are so monotonously routine, they yearn for existential excitement?

    Or because most peoples’ lives are already so beset with problems they can’t do anything about, they fixate on panicking over an unrealistic, unlikely disaster to avoid having to look at the mess they’re already in?

  14. 14
    Hal says:

    Off topic, but I can’t hold it in any longer. That tan suit is terrible!

  15. 15
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason: I do too. Americans on average, particularly those who get their news pretty much exclusively from the boob tube, have warped perceptions of crime rates, due to the “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality of the local news. The networks are no different, with their sensationalism driven by demands for higher ratings. Then there’s the utter sewer that is cable, particularly Faux Noise.

  16. 16
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Hal: Politico is not fooled, Hal. They’re not going to offer you that position as WH Fashion Correspondent.

  17. 17
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @CaseyL: No, Americans, like everyone else, respond to their stimuli. Ours have been fear that and fear that for a good 30 years. Americans would respond just as well to a positive message if the media present one.

  18. 18
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name): Positive messages not good for ratings, no matter how much people think that they would be. The market has spoken on that, since the degenerate Holllywood product beats the stuffing out of Rick Santorum’s feel good “Christian” fare with both hands and one foot tied behind the back.

    Mind you, the MSM won’t even try to change the tone, because to take such a risk MIGHT result in a ratings dip and you’re out of a gig faster than Dancin’ Dave getting tossed from Meet the McCain.

  19. 19
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:


    That tan suit is terrible!

    You went to the wrong schools. No offense.

  20. 20
    Mandalay says:

    Even in a country affected by an outbreak, an individual’s chance of getting it are very low…

    Any apparent ignorance on the part of Americans about the dangers of becoming infected is surely partly due to stupid and irresponsible reporting like that on the FP.

    Sure your chances of getting it in an infected country are low statistically, but so what? Your chances of causing an accident after six beers, or of being struck by lightning while playing golf in a thunderstorm are also statistically low.

    Unless you are a trained medical worker with protective gear following strict procedures, being in contact with an infected person means that your chances of becoming infected by the ebola virus suddenly become “somewhat likely”. There’s a very good reason that medical workers wear space suits when they are anywhere near an infected patient; ebola virus spreads through all body fluids including blood, semen, saliva, sweat, urine, fecal matter and vomit of infected individuals.

    A Harvard press release also makes the same basic error as the FP journalist:

    Two-thirds of people (68%) surveyed believe Ebola spreads “easily” (“very easily” or “somewhat easily”) from those who are sick with it. This perception may contrast with CDC, World Health Organization (WHO), and other health experts who note that Ebola is not an airborne illness, and is transmitted through direct contact with infected bodily fluids, infected objects, or infected animals.

    But the 68% are more correct than the writer at the Harvard School of Public Health – Ebola DOES spread “somewhat easily” from those who are sick with it.

    Some of bozos writing this nonsense need to take a basic class in risk analysis.


    The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has taken an unprecedented toll on health care workers, infecting more than 240 and killing more than 120, the World Health Organization says.

    “In many cases, medical staff are at risk because no protective equipment is available – not even gloves and face masks,” the agency says in its latest update on the outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.


  21. 21
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: You were in Germany during the 80s, right? Radical leftist bombing and such? One just knew not to walk more than 10′ from one’s baggage at a train station. It isn’t a big deal. We aren’t in danger and the MSM shouldn’t suggest that we are. But, then, ratings….

  22. 22
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @Mandalay: Eek! Let’s fucking panic!

  23. 23
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Hal: See last thread, for further discussion.

  24. 24
    John Revolta says:

    Anything to keep from thinking about the stuff that’sreally killing them.
    Hey, dummy, put down the triple cheeseburger and the s’mores and maybe walk around the block a couple times. Ebola my ass.

  25. 25
    KG says:

    @Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name): I wonder if there has been big money in the wig business over the last 15 years or so… I mean, with so many people lighting their hair on fire

  26. 26
    KG says:

    Odds of South Carolina being in the top 25 next week? Got to be close to zero right? You can’t give up half a hundred at home and stay ranked, right?

  27. 27
    Mike J says:

    Completely off topic, but if you’re going to be awake at 1am, TCM will be showing the movie Kisses for my President. It has the ridiculous premise that a woman somehow becomes president (elected VP iirc, since even in this wild ass fantasy they couldn’t imagine a woman being elected president).

    In the end, fur unf gb erfvta gur cerfvqrapl jura fur orpbzrf certanag.

  28. 28
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @Mike J:

    n the end, fur unf gb erfvta gur cerfvqrapl jura fur orpbzrf certanag.

    Fucking aye!

  29. 29
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name): Not only was I in Germany in the early 80’s, I was there when BG Dozier was kidnapped by the Red Brigades in Italy, and GEN Kroesen, the USAREUR commander was ambushed by the RAF. THEN I was in San Salvador in ’85 for a week, and did all sorts of crazy things that were not advised, like taking a taxi across town to do some souvenir shopping for some of the other officers back in Honduras.

    Yeah, you’re supposed to take all these precautions, but geeze, the odds are pretty long. Best to take the sort of precautions you take as a routine, like looking both ways before crossing the street. The precautions taken re baggage are ones you should be taking anyways to avoid them getting stolen!

    Mostly just common sense.

  30. 30
    Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name) says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Yeah, you’re supposed to take all these precautions, but geeze, the odds are pretty long.


  31. 31
    magurakurin says:


    You needn’t have held back your opinion. You’re entitled to it….just know that you are wrong.

    tan is stylish

  32. 32
    MattF says:

    It’s clear from the stuff presented in movies and on TV that there’s a hunger for disaster. For those folks who wanna be spectators at the Apocalypse, Ebola is a little more newsy than Sharknado, but the same general concept.

  33. 33
    Matt McIrvin says:

    I could actually see Ebola eventually spreading in the US… among the same Americans who are already at risk for Chagas disease and dengue fever. The poorest of the poor, rural poor particularly, who are effectively living in a less-developed country and don’t have things like health care or safe drinking water. And the ways to prevent it are pretty clear (no, not “close the borders”).

  34. 34
    Just One More Canuck says:

    @Omnes Omnibus (the first of his name): “My fellow Americans. As a young boy, I dreamed of being a baseball; but tonight I say, we must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom”

  35. 35
    FlipYrWhig says:

    I wouldn’t be too concerned about this finding. Seems like it’s basically just catching people who feel weird saying they’re truly not worried about something that sounds scary. Are they paralyzed with fear, or are they just saying, “um, I guess I wouldn’t want it to happen to me”? I’m guessing it’s the latter.

  36. 36
    C.V. Danes says:

    @Mnemosyne: True dat. We got far more to worry about from MRSA and reductions in herd immunity than Ebola.

  37. 37
    mali muso says:

    Sadly for those of us with extended family in West Africa, the spectre of this disease is more realistically grim. Just this morning on FB, one of my friends from Sierra Leone who now lives here in the US shared that a cousin back home died from ebola. And while my in-laws live in Mali and there hasn’t been an outbreak yet, Guinea shares a border and who knows what will happen. People here who have always taken clean water, indoor plumbing and sanitation facilities for granted don’t have a clue how good they have it. But hey, taxes are too high!

  38. 38
    Someguy says:

    The public, particularly right wing portions of it, are fucktards. Doesn’t matter what they believe because they are reliably wrong.

    That said, I have some friends who were sent home a couple weeks ago from their humanitarian relief gig in West Africa. They said that the official WHO stats on ebola deaths – ~1300 in the past year – are off by a couple orders of magnitude, that whole villages and towns are being wiped out, and that WHO is lying about what’s going on.

    I wouldn’t worry about it though. We’re more likely to be killed by Republican mismanagement of the healthcare system than ebola.

  39. 39
    shelley says:

    When conspiracy theories collide. The same people who blither about immigrant children bringing ‘diseases’ over the border are probably the same kind who refuse to vaccinate their children.

  40. 40
    Mnemosyne says:

    @mali muso:

    Ugh — I hope your relatives are able to stay safe. From what the WHO is recommending, it might be worthwhile to send them some gloves, medical masks, and water decontamination supplies.

  41. 41
    InternetDragons says:


    California’s current pertussis (whooping cough) epidemic – and its associated deaths – can be laid firmly at the feet of the anti-vaccination nuts, as can our increase in measles.

    Ebola panic. Jezuzchrist. I only wish people in the US could work up the same degree of concern for the stuff that really IS hurting folks here. But I guess it’s more appealing to think about the virtual impossibility of Ebola than to think about the real and immediate consequences of all those sodas or the number of hours spent sitting in front of a computer.

  42. 42
    Mnemosyne says:


    I’m in a running argument on another website with someone who is 100 percent convinced that the problem is that the pertussis vaccine doesn’t work, and no amount of statistics I give him about vaccination rates vs. pertussis cases county-by-county in California will convince him otherwise. It’s incredibly frustrating.

  43. 43
    mali muso says:

    @Mnemosyne: Thanks. If it starts spreading to Mali, we’ll definitely be sending whatever we can to help.

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