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Terrorism Body Count  
Posted by Brian D on March 7 2008, 08:36 » Uploaded 07/03/08 08:37  

The police have often acknowledged that fear of crime is out of proportion to the risk of crime for most people in this country. The same is no doubt true of terrorism. According to the MIPT terrorism knowledge base, the total number of US and UK (including Northern Ireland) fatalities caused by terrorism in the five years after 9/11 was 74, compared to 69 in the five years before. The corresponding totals for Iraq are 15,787 and 12, respectively. That should put fear of terrorism into perspective for UK and US citizens.

Unfortunately, as Michael Bond reports in New Scientist, people base their fears more on the vividness of events than on the probability of them reoccurring. And since television presents very vivid coverage of any attack (or foiled attack, rumoured attack, etc) on UK or US soil, it is "destroying our probabilistic mapping of the world", according to Nicholas Taleb, professor in the sciences of uncertainty at the University of Massachusetts.

There have been several terror scares in Britain since 2001. The Centre for Policy Studies published a report (The Use and Abuse of Terror – The construction of a false narrative on the domestic terror threat) which investigated a few of these, and found that despite media panic, they turned out to be nothing. The report's authors concluded (on Channel 4's Dispatches): "We have shown that you can't believe a word that you read in the newspapers about the terrorist threat. We have also shown that the politicians are only too ready to use terror as a political tool."

MIPT figures, tkb.org; New Scientist, 19/8/06; Centre for Policy Studies/Dispatches, C4, 20/2/06

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Comment 01 – g33kThug March 07 2008, 11:02

Taleb's solution: NOT reading newspapers and NOT watching TV.

Which might account for his inability to get his points across on Radio 4's Start The Week - shame, because The Black Swan and the earlier Fooled by Randomness are books that I enjoyed reading very much.

Comment 02 – Brian D March 07 2008, 12:57

Reminds me of a study by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced "chick-sent-me-high", I'm told) which reported: "The longer a person watches the TV set the more drowsy, bored, sad, lonely and hostile the viewer tends to become". (Circa 1990)

I used to take a "militant" (well, not quite) attitude to TV, believing it caused brain damage, and I wrote various bits and pieces expressing my animosity to it around the mid-90s. I must dig it out and fill some space on the board with it.

These days, I'm content to trance out for hours in front of the telly, watching Family Guy, and sniggering into my beer and pizza like a total loser, with no sense of social responsibility whatever. I blame it on the loss of brain cells caused by insufficient exposure to TV cartoons in my youth.

Comment 03 – g33kThug March 07 2008, 15:54

Never got that animated about the TV myself - probably because I only watch elitist stuff to confirm my sense of superiority and the rest of the rubbish that's on merely serves to reinforce just how superior only watching BBC4 has made me.

These days, I trance out on the train. EyeTV is great bit of technology, record straight to the laptop and watch while commuting.

ElitistTV as a public statement - Csikszentmihalyi needs to revise the study for the new technologies of the 21st Century: the longer I watch TV the more hostile the other passengers become (or appear...) ;-)

 

 

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