Japan, Fukushima, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl. Mainstream media looks eager to feed us with fear for nuclear holocaust from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant meltdown triggered by the tsunami and earthquake in Japan. The reality is that the actual magnitude of the danger is far less than the Chernobyl meltdown.

The core issue is that people respond better to sensation and those media moguls know that. They spin, exaggerate, and blow up news just to get people to look. The downside is the mass hysteria that entails which drains down perspective from the general public. Perspective, good reasoning, and science get subdued (The Danger of science denial, Michael Specter, TED Talk Feb 2010). I’m not saying that we should or should not create more nuclear power plants but I’m just pointing out that the event in Fukushima should not cause us to immediately campaign against nuclear programs, tout the benefits of coal power plants, or even or ban our children from getting nuclear engineering degrees should they are really interested in it.

Like any other monolithic corporations, mainstream media networks are based on economies of scale. They want to get as much eyeballs as possible so that they can leverage a report as much as possible. Thus they are essentially organized click-whores, not just Internet clicks but also television, radio, and even newspaper “clicks”. Their pervasive scale makes in-actionable news seems relevant and actionable. That’s why in 2007 we get more news about Iraq and Anna Nicole Smith than anything else (The News about the News, Alisa Miller, TED Talk Feb 2008).

Then what should you do to avoid this unnecessary emotional swings? The following are three things that you can do to keep things in check.

  • Only read, listen, or watch relevant news. Relevant means actionable facts that allows you to take actions that improves your quality of life. This also mean stay out of the rumor mills and exaggerated trivia. If its sensational, its probably useless.
  • Beware of FUD** contents in news. If is speculative, it’s probably just spreading FUD and can be safely ignored (i.e. “the reactor may explode and cause a disruption in the time-space continuum and create a black hole in Japan”).
  • Numbers can lie and pundits also lie. Remember that numbers and statistics can be easily skewed in various ways: semi-random samplings, reporting the average but leaving out the median and deviation, showing a number out of context, etc. When you look at a survey result or research report, be sure to also see who is behind the report and consider opposing viewpoints before taking any action on it.

Keep calm, stay on your course, and be safe.

** FUD: Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.

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