Sunday, 15 February 2015

False Hysteria is Just Lazy Journalism

As I am wont to do, I started my morning the other day with a casual trawl through Facebook. Let me paint a picture: this usually involves the odd photo of someone wearing too little clothes, a rant or two about angry parents and a funny video of someone hitting themselves rather hard in the testicles. You will be able to understand my disappointment when my routine trawl through Facebook was rudely interupted by a headline informing me that a rare, mosquito-borne disease had just landed in Victoria.

Immediately, the hypochondriac in me panicked. "But I live in Victoria!" I breathed to myself. As I started to contemplate my impending doom, I decided to click on the article to find out the details; after all, it's always nice to know the symptoms of these killer diseases. It was as I started to read through the article that my anxiety was replaced by anger. The article was an absolute beat-up of epic proportions.

Now let me be clear, the title of the article was as I quoted above "rare, mosquito-borne disease lands in Victoria for the first time". To me—and it appears to many of those who commented—this implies that mosquitoes capable of transmitting a certain disease, which in this case was Japanese encephalitis, had made it to Victoria and were now able to spread said disease amongst Victorians. This is particularly bad news, not only because it would lead to an inevitable spread of Japanese encephalitis, but because it could indicate the spread of other more dangerous mosquito-borne diseases.

None of this, however, was the case. Rather, an unfortunate gentleman had decided to make the trip to Bali and had, rather sadly, come back home to Victoria with a nasty bout of encephalitis that was later ascribed to the JE virus. This is very bad news for said gentleman; however, it is not bad news for me or Victorians. We are, for now, safe.

It pains me to think, however, that all of this fuss—and it must be said that many of the hundreds of commenters were fussing too—could have been avoided if Yahoo7 had showed some more journalistic credibility. As I once wrote on this blog and in Farrago, facts are not objective; they can be used to distort the truth as much as lies can. Yahoo7 knows this and sought to use facts to create hysteria, and thus interest in their article, where it was completely unnecessary.

Thankfully, their strategy backfired on them, with the vast majority of commenters on the post giving them a serve for their fear-mongering. It goes to show that, in the long run, readers really are able to spot crap and aren't all that likely to read it.

As an aside, Japanese encephalitis is not confined to Japan. It is a particular problem in the majority of South-East Asia, and is also found in North Queensland. Tropical diseases such as JE are becoming a bigger problem for the north of Australia. Unfortunately, this problem will only get worse as the climate warms. Warming of the climate, unsurprisingly, extends the tropical zones and thus expands the habitat in which the mosquitoes capable of carrying these tropical diseases can live.

Article in question:
Information about JE:

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