This morning I decided to do a little test. I went to major news sites and grabbed their top stories. From Fox News:
The other sites I visited all led with stories on the presidential campaign, but they have all been guilty of the same fear mongering as Fox. If you do a search for “online dating safety” you will get links to many horror stories, but what you won’t find–at least I didn’t–are reliable statistics for how dangerous online dating is. Oh, there are a ton of statistics out there, but when I try to track down the sources I come up empty. This New York Magazine story had a horribly leading quote:
Beckman wants a bigger disclaimer on Match.com’s site, like a pack of cigarettes. “They don’t say one in five are part of an attempted murder or one in five are killed,” she told Fox5. “They don’t tell you people are missing.”
Seriously? “One in five”??? I would like to see some reliable stats on whether online dating is more dangerous than other means. My gut feeling is that it is more dangerous than being introduced by a friend, but probably as dangerous or slightly less dangerous than meeting someone in a bar, but since I don’t have any reliable data, I really can’t make an informed judgment.
Fear gets ratings, so news outlets will exploit it to get readers, viewers, or listeners. Politicians also exploit it. The most notable example is Trump using fear of illegal immigrants to get votes, but Cruz feeds on Christian fears of secularism bringing down society, Clinton rallies her base by encouraging fear of guns and back alley abortions, and Sanders wants his supporters to fear the rich. Whether or not these fears are justified, the fact is that all candidates rely on fear to get votes.
[Note: As I was writing this, I went back over the posts I have made this election cycle. I was pleased to find that I haven’t used fear myself. It is very tempting to do so, but I’d rather stay as positive as possible.]
What annoys me is that people are constantly afraid of the wrong things. Fear of flying is a common fear, but it is almost completely irrational. Per mile traveled, the fatality rate is about fifty times higher for driving in an automobile than flying. (Fatality Analysis Reporting System (NHTSA) and General Aviation: Accidents and Fatalities) You are about eight times more likely to be killed driving to the airport than on the flight itself.
“Stranger danger” is another pet peeve of mine. The overwhelming majority–over 95%–of crimes against children are committed by friends or family members of the victim’s family (See Free Range Kids for a long list of well-sourced statistics on crime trends). The world is as safe as it has ever been–but you wouldn’t know that from the news. One of my standard rules for Zari when we go to Coolidge Park is “Go talk to strangers,” because that’s a good way to make friends.
Zari turns nine next week. The day after her birthday, despite her opposition, she is going to the doctor to get some shots. Some of the shots are for her summer trip to India, but one of the shots is Gardasil. Gardasil prevents the human papillomavirus (HPV) strains that cause 70% of cervical cancers, as well as preventing other cancers and diseases. I have seen friends die of cervical cancer, and I’m not sure I know a worse way to die. Age nine is the earliest she can get the vaccine, so I’m not waiting.
I recently got in an argument with an anti-vaxxer over the safety of Gardasil. See, there is an alleged side-effect of the vaccine: Guillain–Barré syndrome. Guillain–Barré syndrome is a painful muscle weakness caused by the immune system attacking the nervous system. In most cases, it lasts about a week. The risk of this side effect–for which a causal link has not been proven, is about 3 in 1,000,000. So about 0.0003% of women who get the Gardasil vaccine will get Guillain-Barré. (Stats from WebMD.)
Now, cervical cancer is a different story. According to the CDC, 12,042 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2012, with 4,074 deaths. There are about 126 million adult women in the U.S. (US Census), so that gives us an annual death rate of 0.0032%. Now, Gardasil only prevents 70% of those, so we have an annual death rate of preventable cervical cancers of 0.0022%. So, we have a Gardasil-preventable annual death rate that is over seven times higher than the rate of Guillain-Barré that might be caused by the vaccine. But that’s not the whole story, since Gardasil is administered once, while the annual death rate is, well, annual. With the average female life expectancy at birth of over eighty (US Census), that means that the chance of dying from cervical cancer is over four hundred times higher than getting Guillain-Barré from the vaccine. And I don’t know about you, but I consider a week of pain to be significantly less severe than death. If you are more afraid of two injections than death from cervical cancer, you’re not rational.
Diseases are dangerous; vaccines aren’t. Strangers aren’t more dangerous than people you already know. Cars are more dangerous than almost every other form of transportation. Alcohol and tobacco cause far more deaths than marijuana.
It’s OK to be afraid. Just make sure you are afraid of the right things. Don’t text and drive. Look both ways before crossing the street. Put your baby to sleep on her back. Wear sunscreen and mosquito repellent. Don’t swim alone. Use protection. Wash your vegetables.
Be safe, but have fun, too.