The Chernobyl disaster is known as the worst nuclear plant disaster in human history, and adjusting for inflation, is the costliest human disaster in history. It also, according to records, released “four hundred times more fallout was released than had been by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.”
These are all superlative descriptions. How much do we really know about Chernobyl? Would it shock you to know that the worst nuclear plant disaster in history had resulted in about 4,000 deaths and this based on latest estimates–most of this are related deaths (the actual direct death tally is only about 56).
More importantly: does that seem small for a disaster by today’s standards?
In this video, author Michael Crichton describes the large margin of error we have in predicting the future based on present sentiments. Contrast the actual and estimated death count above with a CNN estimate of 3,000,000 potential deaths.
Crichton also explains how media and general sentiments magnify disinformation. He cites a U.N. report that explained that a large component of the death toll in Chernobyl was due to adverse sentiments brought about by disinformation–he calls them “information casualties”. Due to the prevalence of negative sentiment about the disaster, there was a large number of people who became depressed and invalid due to fears of cancer, deformed births, and all predicted health risks. One compelling statement:
authoritatively telling people they are going to die can in itself be fatal
At the end of the video, Crichton mentions that a very sobering exercise is thumbing through an old newspaper. Most of the people on the news 30 years ago aren’t familiar to us today, but more importantly, most of the NEWS and CONCERNS of 30 years ago, no one cares about today. This underlines the magnifying effect of the media and information in swaying sentiments at the present time.
Just reflecting, as of the writing of this post we have present concerns about the financial crisis which has strangely overshadowed other “pressing concerns” such as the environment, AIDS, poverty. Why do we seem to collectively embrace this “flavor of the month” mentality?
As a side note, going back to Taleb’s black swans–while events that were not predicted are the common definition, predicted events that don’t happen as scheduled also qualify.
Our only check against this irrational bias? Why, critical thinking of course.