Dr. Schnabel, the plague doctor, Rome 1656
Remember all those alarming articles predicting “a million Ebola deaths by Christmas”?
Late last summer and into the fall there were a lot of stories like that. Ebola was coming, and Americans were unprepared.
After the first case of Ebola in this country, the number of scare stories increased dramatically. They told us that by early next year (that is, 2015) West Africa would be a wasteland. Thousands upon thousands of Americans would be ill with Ebola, and a large number of those would die. Our health care system would be overwhelmed with Ebola cases. There wouldn’t be enough coffins to bury all of the victims. Undertakers would be unable to cope with the workload.
And so on and so forth.
Ebola doesn’t make many headlines these days. The sight of all those thousands of bodies in the streets has become so commonplace that nobody really notices them anymore. I suppose people just wear their masks and step over the corpses on their way to work, without even thinking about it.
When the following news story came out two days ago, it didn’t attract much attention:
Death Toll From West Africa’s Ebola Outbreak Passes 10,000: WHO
(Reuters) – The death toll from West Africa’s Ebola outbreak has passed 10,000, according to the latest tally released by the World Health Organization on Thursday.
Liberia has recorded the most deaths with 4,162. Sierra Leone is the second worst-hit nation with 3,655, and Guinea has recorded 2,187 dead, according to the data.
The deadly hemorrhagic fever reached Senegal, Nigeria and Mali but was contained there. A handful of cases have also been recorded in the United States, Spain and Britain.
A handful? What are they talking about? There were a MILLION dead by Christmas! That was almost three months ago, and the number of cases was doubling every three weeks, so that means… let’s see… let’s see… hang on… TWELVE MILLION people have now died of Ebola!!
The World Health Organization must be lying to us. No other explanation is possible.
And every day DHS agents are loading all the corpses onto trucks, hauling them to secret landfills, and bulldozing them over in the dead of night. And… and… and…
[The Baron’s eyes roll up in his head and he froths at the mouth before he passes out — but not from Ebola.]
All this sarcasm is not meant to downplay the seriousness of the latest Ebola outbreak. After all, ten thousand people have died from it, and that’s a substantial number.
But that’s not what this post is about.
The point of this post is to draw attention to the foolish, irresponsible scaremongering about Ebola that continued for several months last fall. Apocalyptic headlines were the order of the day. All the news was alarming. Millions upon millions of Americans were going to die by the end of 2015.
It was a form of mass hysteria. And, like other outbreaks of mass hysteria, after it passed, everyone forgot about it. Six months later, it’s as if it didn’t happen. Down the memory hole!
And it wasn’t just the mass media that fed the flames of hysteria. A number of otherwise reputable blogs and websites joined the chorus. They featured alarming Ebola headlines all day every day, for weeks.
I’m not going to mention any names, because I don’t want to start any food fights with people whom I otherwise hold in great respect. But everybody who retailed those hysterical predictions back then ought to publicly acknowledge their mistake.
They should have known better.
Take a deep breath, calm down, and read up on the history of epidemics. Look up the evolutionary biology of mass viral infections. Pandemics don’t continue indefinitely in a geometric progression, and this Ebola outbreak was no exception.
Back in October I swam against the tide of Ebola hysteria and wrote about pandemics, looking at the 1918 influenza epidemic to get an idea of what we might expect to happen. But even my non-alarmist predictions were more pessimistic than what eventually happened. Ebola was unpleasant, and killed thousands of people in West Africa. But it had almost no effect anywhere else, and was hardly apocalyptic.
I learned my lesson about making apocalyptic predictions after what happened back in 2008 and 2009, when I joined in the world-is-ending hysteria over the financial crisis. Hyperinflation didn’t happen in 2009. It hasn’t happened yet. It may well come someday, but everyone — myself included — who joined in the hysteria back then was WRONG.
And so was everyone who made the apocalyptic forecasts about Ebola.
Man up, guys. Admit you goofed. Learn from the experience.
You’ll be better prepared for the next crisis if you do.