"Panicology" is the title of a book published by Viking, Penguin, in hardback in February 2008 and in paperback in February 2009. The US edition was published by Skyhorse in May 2009.
This topical book - think swine flu and global recession - is about the mad science of media scares and how we respond to them. The Observer said that the authors "are gloriously deft in their rebuttal of some of the more egregious cases of media-fuelled herd idiocy".
Afraid you might succumb to bird flu?* Worried that a life of penury awaits you in old age? Concerned that you might not be having as much sex as the French? And anxious that our planet is under threat from climate change, or even an asteroid crash?
If any, or all, of these things worry you, take heart from the fact that you’re not alone. People in different countries might fear different things (the Danes apparently worry most about nuclear power, the British about terrorist attacks, the Italians about radiation from their beloved mobile phones), yet anxiety is everywhere a condition of modern life. But why? It’s perfectly clear we are living longer, safer and more healthy lives than any generation before us. Standards of living continue to rise inexorably across the Western world, and even the major challenge of global warming has been recognized and is being tackled. So what’s there to worry about?
The Spectator said the book "is both useful and funny. Sometimes indignant, sometimes downright scornful, and repeatedly dismissive of silly press headlines about this or that threat to humanity". Simon Briscoe and Hugh Aldersey-Williams try to strip away the hysteria which surrounds over forty of today’s most common scare stories, from overpopulation and murder rates to fish shortages and obesity levels, and show the extraordinary extent to which stats are manipulated or misrepresented by vested interests and the media, keen to exploit our fears. And most importantly they offer a toolkit for scepticism – ways of helping you sort out what really is worth panicking about from the stuff that really isn’t.
The media is often blamed for the scares but many originate from government, PR firms, lobbyists, charities and other researchers. Even the physicist, Prof Stephen Hawking said: "Life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers". (Hawking was speaking at a press conference in April 2007 when he took a zero gravity flight to promote interest in space.)
The book will also help you develop the skills to navigate the reporting of the global economic crisis. Just how much of what we read is real news? And how much of the slowdown is due to panic on the part of companies or people rather than the financial and economic fundamentals?
At a more basic and practical level, The Sunday Telegraph said: "Panicology is a useful book to consult before going to a dinner party as it will offer you all sorts of conversational titbits to dispense". Enjoy!
* Don’t be, unless you’re involved in the ritualistic slaughter of wildfowl.
"There is a marked lack of hype and hogwash ..... and (the authors) analyse, with scrupulous attention to detail, which fears are grounded, and which are in fact a load of cobblers", Harper's Bazaar
"The book is upbeat and reassuring in tone", Scotland on Sunday
"A reality check on the endless catalogue of disasters that are supposed to await us", New Statesman
"Au contraire, say the incrementally annoying Briscoe and Aldersey-Williams", London Review of Books