Neuron Culture

Theme of the day (again, sort of): managing expectation, or Do I panic or just ignore this thing and scoff at those who express concern?

Neither, of course.

I’m personally provisionally encouraged at the aggregated news from yesterday — meaning I was glad to see that though the virus is spreading, its pace doesn’t seem to be wildly accelerating and, more important, there are some signs that it’s not (at this point) horrifically virulent; some experts are saying it might not be much worse than a regular seasonal flu, and the warming weather is on our side.

Same time, it makes sense to take basic precautions. And perhaps the main concern is that the country seems to have trouble finding a response anywhere between full alarm and dismissal. So most of these links below are to posts that address the need to think sensibly about this — and resist the urge to either dismiss it or freak out.

Ezra Klein makes a case for overreacting to the flu.

And Revere explains why he’s not complaining.

ScienceInsider on how the Obama admin is handling the job of handling expectations.

And at H1N1, in my favorite post of the last 24, Crof looks at panic and pandemic.

If you’re over 50, you’ve already lived through two flu pandemics, those of 1957 and 1968, not to mention the ongoing pandemics of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. With the exception of small, vulnerable communities, almost everyone survives a pandemic. As bad as 1918-19 was, it didn’t end the Jazz Age or the Bolshevik Revolution.

If Dr. Chan moves us to phase 6 on Saturday, the sun will still come up again on Sunday. A few more people will contract H1N1 on Sunday, and a few will die. But life will continue.

Here’s what really worries me: If we experience a pandemic as an anticlimax, like the swine flu of 1976, most people will sneer at the idea of pandemics in general. They’ll see it as some kind of racket, a way to scare the dumb taxpayers into paying for expensive medical research into nonexistent problems. The politicians won’t dare argue with that attitude.

So when the next real pandemic comes along, whether it’s H5N1 or something else, it will kill millions of people needlessly, because the public-health resources won’t be there to save them. And millions more will fall ill and die of routine diseases for the same reason.