It is easy to see that gossip and hysteria play a role in news. The question is, how much of the news is gossip and hysteria? Obviously, gossip and news do correlate in the ‘big picture’ and so strictly speaking, they are the same.
Sure, news is supposed to be a serious attempt to get the truth, and gossip is more about passing around frivolous hearsay. Yet, as they say, one person’s serious is another person’s frivolous. A recent Science News article, Making informed decisions about mammograms, relates to this contrast. In light of the widely covered uproar over advice on mammograms, this little tidbit really struck me…
“Imagine 10,000 women age 40. Over the next 10 years, without mammogram screening, about 35 will die of breast cancer. With screening, 30 will die — five fewer.
But of 10,000 getting screened, 600 to 2,000 will have at least one false positive leading to a biopsy, and 10 to 50 will be over-diagnosed. They will be told they have cancer, and they will undergo surgery, chemotherapy or radiation, which can only hurt them since their cancer was never destined to cause symptoms or death.”
Five fewer deaths out of 10,000 is the benefit of mammograms at age 40, against the host of negatives of over diagnosis, false positives, etc. I never heard that really explained in the news, and I know why; it is a balanced view that requires personal judgment and reflection. How boring is that!
This is just one example, but it makes me wonder about the news on Wall Street, Swine Flu, and global warming, to name a few. When gossip and hysteria can so easily play a role in the news, I tend to downplay all the news. It is like Aesop’s Fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, which ends with the old man saying, “Nobody believes a liar…even when he is telling the truth!” The 25-century-old folk tale featuring hysterical claims of “The sky is falling!” applies as well (see Chicken Little). The same idea is found in the tale, The Foolish, Timid Rabbit, from the Jātaka Tales, a folklore-like literature native to India concerning the previous births of the Buddha.
The take home message for me is that nothing much has changed since Buddha’s and Aesop’s time. Sure, the tools, mores and styles of culture have changed profoundly, but the essentials are the same, as are people. It is comforting to know some things never change even when the world around us is changing at what seems like light speed. On the other hand, how comforting is it knowing that what really needs to change never does? Chapter 19 offers the best solution to this I’ve found; kept in mind, the only change I see are tiny ripples on the surface of life.