Fear is one of the most basic of all human emotions. It arises from deep within the amygdala, which is a part of our reptilian brain. And it helps us survive in a dangerous world.
However, it shouldn’t have a place in modern public health.
Yet, you can’t turn on the nightly news without hearing a litany of terrifying warnings about new variant strains of coronavirus from public health experts. These experts prey upon the public’s fears to increase compliance for their draconian lockdowns, masking, social distancing, and now vaccinations. Because it’s far too boring to tell you that the virus will probably fizzle out on its own.
Of course, public health experts and politicians have a long history of favoring fear-mongering over facts to control behavior.
Here’s what I mean…
Long tradition of fear-mongering about public health
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, we began to learn more about what causes infections, like the one that probably killed George Washington. But we still didn’t have antibiotics at our disposal.
So, public health campaigns often sought to instill fear as a means of controlling the spread of pestilence and disease, such as smallpox and typhus. And they incited fear about coming in contact with potentially diseased immigrants and lower-class workers.
At the time, advertisements in popular magazines featured pictures of huge flies pestering babies, urging mothers to keep their homes clean. Likewise, to thwart the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, posters depicted unfavorable images of women on barstools or in alleyways.
By the mid-20th century, following the end of WWII, the use of fear fell out of favor for a while. Scientists began presenting the public with basic, science-based information about how to actually prevent disease. (As Sergeant Joe Friday said in the Dragnet TV series from the 1950s, “just the facts, ma’am.”)
Plus, at about that same time, researchers began to discover that using fear to manipulate behavior could backfire, particularly among those most at risk.
Then, of course, in the 1980s, AIDS hit the world. And any progress we had made against the use of fear as a public health tool went out the window…
Fear comes roaring back again in the 1980s
As you probably recall, the science clearly showed that AIDS spread almost exclusively among a particular segment of the U.S. population that engaged in certain specific risky practices. Therefore, contagion was actually well–understood and highly limited.
But public health experts ratcheted up fear that we were all at risk—as a ploy to get more funding and support for research for a cure.
Then, in the mid-1980s, I personally witnessed a similar fear-mongering public health campaign when it came to tackling lung cancer. I know because I was in the room at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) when some behavioral-science bureaucrats made the unfounded pronouncement that smoking was the one and only cause of lung cancer.
In turn, they decided to pour almost all lung cancer funding into politically correct smoking cessation programs, which featured sensationalized and graphic ads condemning smokers.
Then, in the early 1990s, unelected federal bureaucrats made another unfounded decision…this time, regarding the supposed dangers of “second hand smoke.” The actual scientific evidence available at that time did not show that second-hand smoke could cause lung cancer. But, as you might expect, these bureaucrats didn’t let the lack of sufficient evidence hold them back.
They proceeded, full-steam ahead and whipped up hysteria about how sitting next to a smoker at a bar could give you lung cancer. And eventually, they succeeded in banning smoking in many public places, blindly burdening the entire population on the basis of fear-based, flawed evidence—which was a clear abuse of “scientific authority.”
Of course, when it comes to the coronavirus, today’s public health experts seem to show little patience for educating people about the facts—and focus on peddling fear instead. (Remember, if the science doesn’t show why something is bad for your health, then they just scare you into compliance. Or better yet, coerce you with new laws and regulations.)
As a result, trust in government health experts…and even in independent scientists…has eroded, as I explained last month.
Rebuilding trust in science
When it comes to regaining the public’s trust regarding the coronavirus, I feel the experts should try something that’s been sorely lacking for a long time…
Deliver consistent, credible, and sensible communication of all the real science, at the national level. (And finally create a permanent national museum and traveling exhibits to document the history and current practice of science and medicine in this country!)
During the 1980s and 1990s, former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and I appealed to the U.S. Department of Health about the importance of educating people about health.
The department was and is located right on the National Mall, with tens of millions of people passing right by each year to see the Smithsonian. We suggested they convert some of their huge, cavernous, unused, empty spaces right on the ground level into educational exhibits about public health.
We argued that millions of people visit the National Mall each year to learn about dinosaurs, rocket ships, outer space, kooky modern “art,” and just about any other politically correct, special–interest subject they can come up with. There’s even an underground art gallery honoring the Sackler family. (That same family has been indicted for their criminal conspiracy to create a real, national epidemic by peddling their deadly opioid drugs.)
But there’s nothing at all on the National Mall regarding human health. (There actually used to be. But it was torn down in the 1960s and replaced with a bizarre modern “art” museum—whose holdings had already been rejected by Canada.)
Unfortunately, all the powers-that-be (even the Smithsonian Institution itself) obstructed us in our efforts to create a permanent, public, exhibition space dedicated to human health. So, instead, we created and sent a wonderful health exhibit program to a dozen, large science museums around the country. But not to Washington, D.C.
My disappointment in our broken healthcare system is exactly what led me to start writing my Daily Dispatches and monthly Insiders’ Cures newsletter, nearly 10 years ago. In my analyses, I take aim at the junk science, the fake news, and the fear-mongering in healthcare and medicine.
I also give you the most in-depth and up-to-the-minute information on new, well-designed scientific studies that don’t make it into the mainstream press—including natural approaches for healing everything from dementia to cancer to Type II diabetes.
In the end, it’s worth repeating my promise to you…
I promise to try to avoid sowing panic and fear. I promise to follow the science…wherever it may lead. I will continue to look closely—and with a healthy dose of skepticism—at all new studies. And I will always take the long view, consider the historical perspective, and place respect and value on using natural methods to achieve optimal health.
We need a Ministry of Health and not a “Ministry of Fear” (after the 1944 film noir by Fritz Lang and with Ray Milland) in Washington, D.C.
“In public health response to COVID, fear tactics are a misstep.” Medscape, 2/5/21. (medscape.com/viewarticle/945390#vp_2)
“The Two Faces of Fear: A History of Hard-Hitting Public Health Campaigns Against Tobacco and AIDS.” Institute of Medicine (US) Committee for the Study of the Future of Public Health. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1988.
Am J Public Health. 2018 September; 108(9): 1180–1186. doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304516