Some people may not think of artists as being scientifically minded or scientists as caring about the arts, but it's a surprisingly common crossover. Look at Richard Feynman- he won the Nobel Prize for physics and loved painting... and bongo drums. David X. Cohen, who has a BA in physics from Harvard and an MS in computer science from Berkeley, is most well known as the co-creator and executive producer of Futurama, a FOX tv show set 1000 years in the future. Enter Christina Hurtado, PopSci.com's new columnist. Each Tuesday, she'll share her thoughts and observations on the ever changing interplay between science and culture.
McMasters University recently released a study showing a direct link between the amount of coverage an infectious disease receives from the media and the severity of that disease in the mind of the public. Essentially, we automatically assume the diseases we hear about on TV are much worse than the ones we don't here about, which is not always the case. During a heavily reported recent outbreak of bluetongue, for instance, I overheard a woman in a supermarket say, "I'm not buying beef right now. I don't want to get that tongue disease." Had this woman bothered to do any research, she would have discovered that she was not at all at risk of contracting bluetongue, which isn't transmissible to humans. But who cares about facts when we have 24 hour news channels with nothing better to do than to repeat the same partially-true story for hours on end?
When presented with a sample of 10 diseases, participants in the McMasters University study immediately labeled the diseases they had heard about (bird flu, anthrax, SARS) as being more dangerous than those they were less familiar with (hantavirus, yellow fever, human babesiosis). A quick Google search shows that their impressions were clearly inaccurate. In fact, when a second group was asked to rank the descriptions of the diseases without the names attached, they found that people thought the diseases they hadn't heard about on the news were actually more threatening. A final group, when exposed to both the names and the clinical descriptions of the diseases, was able to overcome the media bias, which means there's still hope for us in the glow of objective media reporting.
Of course, the study neglects the positive influences media coverage can have on the public's perception of disease. Tom Hanks courageously took on the role of AIDS-infected Andrew Beckett in the 1993 film Philedelphia. It was the first major studio film (and the second major project after the made-for-TV movie And the Band Played On) to portray an AIDS sufferer as a normal person, fighting against the prevalent stereotypes of irresponsible, hedonistic gays who "deserved" to die. The film garnered Hanks an Oscar as well as placing his character on the AFI's Best Heroes and Villains list. More importantly, it helped its audience to re-evaluate its ideas about who contracts AIDS, which has led to a broadened public understanding of the importance of safe sex practices, and to fewer stigmas about, and more compassion for, AIDS victims. Although the media can do a lot of harm and can help to spread incomplete or incorrect information (election season anyone?), Hollywood can, under the best of circumstances, also work its magic for good.
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But who cares about facts when we have 24 hour news channels with nothing better to do than to repeat the same partially-true story for hours on end?
Sadly proven (by the Alphabet networks) on Nov. 4th as well
The media has been used to induce mass hysteria for many years.
The media has also been used to promote unproven theory for many years.
The people who rely on the mass media / Alphabet networks for their "information" ought to be checking facts for themselves. Talk to other humans.
2 examples: The current "Green" Fad. Yes, it's a fad and the most successful marketing campaign in the history of the world. Why and how does it work? It's easy to make somebody question their planet awareness. Most people never thought about it before, so when you start telling everyone that they're choking the planet, they immediately believe you out of ignorance. And then you sell these people your products and get filthy rich.
Second example: The Palin / SNL debacle. Nobody had heard of Mrs. Palin until the alphabet-soup networks vaguely mentioned her. And then... SNL parodied the woman to death. The parodies made headlines. The headlines told the story that the left-leaning mass media wanted people to hear, and as such Mrs. Palin and Mr. McCain never had a chance. Today's people are ignorant and believe the one-sided news that they are spoon-fed.
FOX news and talk radio are mocked. Why? Because they disagree with the primary media outlets? So it's okay that these primary media spinners are trying (and have been for years) to shut down the opposition entirely?
If there is no opposition, what does that leave us with? One media source.
We will be forced to believe whatever they tell us, because we will be silenced if we disagree. That's not free. That's not MY America.