Merchants Of Doom
Fear Mongering Playbook
Such examples seem to have these elements in common1:
The source of the supposed danger must be something universal, to which almost anyone in the population might be exposed, such as eggs or beef, asbestos or climate change.
The nature of the danger it poses must be novel, a threat that has never appeared in this form before.
While the scientific basis for the scare must seem plausible, the threat must also contain a powerful element of uncertainty. It must in some way be ill-defined, maximizing the opportunity for alarmist speculation as to the damage it might cause.
Society’s response to the threat must be disproportionate.
The seven basic attributes of a scare are1:
A real problem becomes exaggerated, often by extrapolating from it to include something else.
The threat must be universal. [For example,] it is impossible to generate a full-blown scare around a specific named product, such as a brand of chocolate.
It must contain a strong element of uncertainty. The supposed threat must be in some way new and mysterious, providing an opportunity for almost unlimited speculation as to its disastrous consequences (e.g. avian flu). [...]
The threat must seem scientifically plausible. [...] For this it is necessary that some scientists or ‘experts’ are seen to endorse it, and to produce seemingly convincing evidence as to why it should be believed. [...]
The scare must be promoted by the media. [...] Journalists and the ‘experts’ thus develop a symbiotic relationship. [...]
The crisis arrives when the threat is acknowledged by government. [...] Ministers and officials invariably [...] overreact. Their regulatory response creates social and economic havoc, at enormous cost. Having misdiagnosed the problem in the first place, they have now been panicked into producing ‘remedies’ which are irrelevant. [...]
Finally the truth emerges.