Welcome to Chicken Little Britain
spiked editor Mick Hume's Notebook in The Times (London).
- Never mind Little Britain, we appear to be living in Chicken Little Britain.
Whereas the eponymous heroine of that children’s story imagined the sky falling on her head, many now fantasise about being wiped out by supervolcanoes, asteroids or avian flu. The difference is that today’s doom-mongering is not dreamt up by some panicky bird-brain. It is spread by leading scientists, serious media organisations and government bodies. In Chicken Little Britain, the hens have taken over the farmyard.
Supervolcano is the BBC’s latest doomsday docudrama, about a supposed eruption in Yellowstone Park that leads to global catastrophe. Introduced as ‘a true story that hasn’t happened yet’ (which sounds like what we used to call fiction), Supervolcano was watched by 7.3 million people. More than four million then turned over for the follow-up documentary about ‘the science behind the drama’, a remarkable eruption of public concern for a quiet Monday evening.
What is the point of ‘raising awareness’ about an apocalyptic disaster that we have no reason to suppose is about to occur, and could not prevent if it were? Yet the scientists of the Geological Society rushed out a report to coincide with the docudrama, announcing that such an eruption will happen, and could ‘threaten the fabric of civilisation’.
It was delivered to the Government’s Natural Hazards Working Group, set up after the Asian tsunami to invite such ‘what if?’ speculation about ways in which the end might be nigh. The Government has already funded the ‘asteroid disaster’ lobby in response to similar scientific scaremongering.
Meanwhile, experts have been competing to come up with the worst scenario for the likely spread of bird flu in Britain. Officially a pandemic could cause up to 50,000 deaths. The president of the Society for General Microbiology now believes that the UK death toll could be two million. The BBC medical correspondent thinks 11 million could be more like it. Any advance on 11 million?
Note: avian flu is thought to have killed 47 people in Asia over the past 15 months.
The Enlightenment values of scientific inquiry and rationalism were supposed to free humanity from superstition. In our high-tech dark age, however, it often seems that science is used to reinforce irrational fears. This is no way to live in what ought to be the best century so far to be alive.
Some say that the supervolcano eruption is 40,000 years ‘overdue’. Which means that humanity could have wasted its time worrying about such an eruption since the good old days in the caves.
Here is another warning for Chicken Little Britain. Research shows that, while CL and friends were panicking about the sky falling in, they were eaten by Foxy Loxy.
- The ‘how did Ian Huntley get to be a school caretaker?’ debate resurfaced this week, with demands for even tighter vetting of people who work with children.
The implication is always that his job gave Huntley access to Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, the girls he murdered. But Huntley was not the caretaker at their school, St Andrew’s primary. He worked at Soham Village College. He knew the girls through Maxine Carr, his girlfriend and their classroom assistant. So then, should we vet the boyfriend of every part-time teaching assistant? How about the husbands and sons of school dinner ladies and lollipop operatives? The vetting frenzy does little to make our kids safer. But it can help to make them and us more mistrustful, by hunting for potential Ian Huntleys in every playground.
- When i poked fun at Jamie Oliver’s self-righteous TV crusade to banish the Turkey Twizzler from schools, several outraged readers reminded me of his appalling revelation about children vomiting faeces (or ‘puking up their own shit’ in Jamie-speak) because their bowels are blocked by junk food.
This horror story has also been repeated in several newspapers. But can it be true? One venerable professor describes it to me as ‘junk television – it is physiologically impossible’. As for intestines blocked by food, the professor has only ever seen one example recorded – that of ‘a mentally deficient child who ate oranges whole’.
Further proof, surely, that eating the recommended five portions of fruit a day is not necessarily the cure for all ills.
Mick Hume is editor of spiked
This article is republished from The Times (London)
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