Tuesday, March 29, 2005

If a tree doesn't fall in the forest . . .

A new national opinion poll conducted in Canada estimates that 36% of Canadians feel authorities are exaggerating the risk from bird flu in order to encourage people to take precautions. Yes, really. Sixty percent are not very worried or aren't worried at all. But two thirds are aware of the issue.
"These numbers say that they're not sure yet what they should do or how worried they should be," [poller Bruce] Anderson said in an interview.
American risk communication expert Peter Sandman was surprised by the results.
"There are ways to prepare -- but so far I don't think the government has asked people to do anything at all," says Sandman, who consults with the WHO and other agencies.

"Far from exaggerating, I think the government is actually understating the risk--the worst cases the experts are considering are far worse than the public announcements tend to imply."
I don't find the results at all surprising, however. People have enough to do just getting by, in what has become a difficult world. There is only so much you can worry about, especially when worrying doesn't get you anywhere. The only reason why people should worry is if worrying is a spur to productive action. And that can't happen without leadership. And apparently, that can't happen at all.

In one respect Canadians are way ahead of Americans. Sandman nails the reason:
"At least most Canadians know that the Canadian authorities are worried about the pandemic possibility. Most of the U.S. public still thinks bird flu is a Southeast Asian problem. They haven't quite reached the stage of doubting their government's warnings; they're not yet hearing the warnings."
Here's a riddle: If a tree doesn't all in the forest but everyone is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?