‘Behind the Headlines’? Despite the Headlines!

STRATFOR—a group I hadn’t heard of before—provides, in their words, “geopolitical intelligence - independent, non-ideological and non-partisan analysis and perspective that is unavailable anywhere else in the world.” They also say they provide the “intelligence behind the headlines.”

Well, I was struck—delighted, really—to see them outright contradict the headlines in a report of theirs that mercilessly skewers H1N1 (swine) flu fears:

It has been five months since the A(H1N1) influenza virus — aka the swine flu — climbed to the top of the global media heap, and with the start of the Northern Hemisphere’s annual flu season just around the corner, the topic is worth revisiting.

If you take only one fact away from this analysis, take this: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes that hospitalization rates and mortality rates for A(H1N1) are similar to or lower than they are for more traditional influenza strains. And if you take two facts away, consider this as well: Influenza data are incomplete at best and rarely cross-comparable, so any assertions of the likelihood of mass deaths are little more than scaremongering bereft of any real analysis or, more important, any actual evidence.

One would expect “intelligence” reporting firms to have the same incentives as politicians and other media: drum up fear to drum up business. But there is value in providing actual facts and sound strategies for responding to world events. As a non-expert, I’m not able to evaluate the substance of the STRATFOR report or its conclusions, but I give it credibility as a statement against interest.

After the early ineptitude shown by the Obama Administration, I was beginning to think that the steady drumbeat of news about preparation for flu season was appropriate societal girding for what could be a notable disease outbreak. I am more inclined now to believe that we are flushing more money down the drain because of fears the administration generated.

Overreaction harms the country, and it is the responsibility of governments—if they take a role—to quell impulses toward overreaction when incidents of national significance occur.