We awake from fears of an Ebola pandemic in America. Now let’s ask who’s responsible…

Summary: The initial infection in America has burned out. Nina Pham is in “fair” condition; Amber Vinson’s condition private at the family’s request. Many of those exposed, including the deceased man’s (Thomas Duncan) fiancée, have cleared quarantine. Some who contracted the disease in West Africa but received modern treatment have recovered (nurse William Pooley and an unnamed doctor treated at Emory U). The US health care system is rapidly learning and mobilizing. There is progress even in West Africa, with defeat of Ebola in Nigeria. The assurances of the experts appear, so far at least, to have been (again) proven correct.

It’s time to begin analysis of the hysteria that briefly gripped much of America. Who caused it? Why? Most importantly, what will we learn from this? Greater threats lie ahead for America.

I recently visited someone who has an African violet in their house. Should I stay home from work for three weeks?
— David Waldman of the Daily Kos (@KagroX) 20 October 2014

Educate Together


  1. Conservatives screaming “fire” at a tiny flame
  2. It’s a plan!
  3. Some on Fox News fight the narrative, speak the truth
  4. Guessing about the after game festivities
  5. Looking at the big picture
  6. Other posts about Ebola
  7. Examples of conservatives’ fear-mongering about Ebola

(1)  Conservatives screaming “fire” at a tiny flame

By now even journalists are emboldened to say the obvious: “Ebola hysteria: An epic, epidemic overreaction“, CNN, 20 October 2014. But they’re not so brave as to discuss how this happened. The public did not just panic. People incited panic for political gain. Mostly of them were conservatives. Some moderates and liberals have joined the chorus of fear-mongers, but relatively few. I have a long — and sadly only partial — list at the end of this post. A roll of dishonor, because they make an effective public policy response to Ebola more difficult.

(2)  It’s a plan!

Conservatives exploit our fear about Ebola (and terrorism, etc) for the same reason Liberals do so about climate (super-typhoon Vongfong “was the strongest storm on earth since Haiyan last year“): it works. When we grow stronger it will no longer work, and they’ll stop. Meanwhile …

  1. Campaign strategy: “Cry of G.O.P. in Campaign: All Is Dismal“, New York Times, 9 October 2014
  2. Mission accomplished: “Poll shows Alarm, anxiety as election looms“, POLITICO, 20 October 2014 — “An overwhelming majority of voters in the most competitive 2014 elections say it feels as if events in the U.S. are “out of control” and expressed mounting alarm about terrorism, anxiety about Ebola …”

(3)  Some on Fox News fight the narrative, speak the truth

Let’s congratulate Fox News for having a few people who debunk the conservative party line. That’s a rare thing in our increasingly partisan media, on either Right or Left.


The Truth key

(a)  Shepard Smith, Anchor and Managing Editor for Fox News, 15 October 2014 — Transcript here; video here.

{F}or the next few minutes I’m going to give you the facts on Ebola. … {T}oday, given what we know, you should have no concerns about Ebola at all. None. I promise. Unless a medical professional has contacted you personally and told you of some sort of possible exposure, fear not. Do not listen to the hysterical voices on the radio or television or read the fear provoking words on-line. The people who write and say hysterical things are being irresponsible. Here are the facts….

… We do not have an outbreak of Ebola in the U.S. Nowhere. We do have 2 health care workers who contracted the disease from a dying man. They are isolated. There is no information to suggest that virus has spread to anyone in the general population in America. Not one person in the general population in the United States.

Suggestions have been made publicly that leaders and medical professionals may be lying to us. Those suggestions are completely without basis and fact. There is no evidence of any kind of which we at Fox News are aware that leaders have lied about anything regarding Ebola. I report to you with certainty this afternoon that being afraid at all is the wrong thing to do. Being petrified is ridiculous.

The panic that has tanked the stock market and left people fearful their children will get sick at school is counterproductive and lacks basis in fact or reason. There is no Ebola spreading in America. Should that change, our reporting will change. But there is nothing to indicate that it will.

Best advice for you and your family at this moment get a flu shot. Unlike Ebola, flu is easily transmitted. Flu with resulting pneumonia killed 52,000 Americans last year alone. A flu shot will reduce your chance of getting flu. So get one.

Conservative voice babbled in outrage, such as long-winded nonsense by Rush Limbaugh (“Shep Smith was crying so much during his reporting from New Orleans on Hurricane Katrina, his mascara was running”), rebuttal by rant by radio host Mark Levin (“Shep is a liberal.”), and this by the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer:

“Shepard Smith is a card-carrying liberal. He has been outed as an active homosexual, so he’s down with the entire homosexual agenda. People think he’s on Fox so he’s conservative. Anything but. … Why would he want to support President Obama? Because President Obama supports the homosexual agenda”

(b)  Juan Williams, political analyst for Fox News (doesn’t fit the conventional Left-Right mold; see Wikipedia) on “Fox News Sunday“, 19 October 2014:

I think the media has been terrible on this story, just irresponsible. … The Republicans are using it to try to undercut the president, he’s incompetent, other instances of incompetence. The Democrats are now shifting and rushing as we approach the midterms.

To me this is all politics and it’s just so disconcerting when you think it’s a human situation, there’s going to be human error. We’re trying to deal with it. … And yet, people are like Chicken Little, sky is falling. This is crazy. It’s sad.

Panic button

(4)  Guessing about the after game festivities

What might be the eventual effects of this fear-mongering? In America truth is tribal, so there are no consequences for false predictions so long as they conform to tribal truths. Many predictions of climate doom made 16 years ago have failed, as have predictions of inflation and hyperinflation from QE — with no loss of confidence among the faithful of Left and Right, respectively.

So I expect no consequence from conservatives’ fear-mongering if they prove false. I hope I’m wrong, for I believe we must recover the ability to learn if we’re to survive the 21st century.

  1. Dr. Rand Paul Should Be Held Accountable for Whipping Up a Frenzy About “Incredibly Contagious” Ebola“, Brian Beutler, The New Republic, 20 October 2014
  2. The Embarrassment Of Being American Today“, Charles P. Pierce, Esquire, 20 October 2014
  3. Historical context: “18 Terrifying News Stories You Didn’t Know Were Media Panics“, from the invaluable Cracked.com, 20 October 2014 — Ebola will become #19, another learning FAIL.

(5)  Putting this in a larger context

The Revelations of Marilynne Robinson“, New York Times, 1 October 2014 — Excerpt:

“What it comes down to — and I think this has become prominent in our culture recently — is that fear is an excuse: ‘I would like to have done something, but of course I couldn’t.’ Fear is so opportunistic that people can call on it under the slightest provocations … Fear has, in this moment, a respectability I’ve never seen in my life.”

… we have become overwhelmingly fearful and that our fear has become a respectable excuse for not acting as we should … How it has come to keep us at bay from our best selves, the selves that could and should “do something.”

(6)  Other posts about Ebola

  1. What you need to know about Ebola. Debunking the myths.
  2. An epidemic afflicting America: fear about Ebola. Avoid the carriers. Facts are the antidote.
  3. While Americans panic at shadows, Ebola strikes hard at Africa
  4. Lessons from Ebola. Let’s hope we learn.
  5. DoD shows its strength, mobilizing to protect us from Ebola (a sad story about America).
  6. We awake from fears of an Ebola pandemic in America. Now let’s ask who’s responsible…, 21 October 2014
  7. Good news about Ebola and its terrifying mortality rate, 5 November 2014

Appendix: Examples of conservative fear-mongering about Ebola

  1. Former SC GOP director: Execute anyone who comes into contact with Ebola — ‘it’s just math’“, 5 October 2014
  2. “I do think you have to be concerned. It’s an incredibly transmissible disease that everyone is downplaying, saying it’s hard to catch.” — Dr. Rand Paul (Senator, R-KY), interviewed by Glen Beck, 1 October 2014 — No, it’s not “incredibly transmissible”.
  3. Examples (with links): “Inside the Bizarre Right-Wing Panic over Ebola Virus Coming to the US“, Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet, 7 october 2014 — “The conservative mindset is tailor-made for opportunities for paranoia and isolation.”
  4. Examples (with links): “Obama/Ebola Hysteria Is Reaching Dangerous Levels“, Chez Pazienza, The Daily Banter, 11 October 2014
  5. Americans short on reasons to trust“, Glenn Harlan Reynolds (Prof Law, U TN; the Instapundit), op-ed in USA Today, 13 October 2014 — “The seemingly professional CDC and Secret Service look overwhelmed and discredited.”
  6. Scott Brown: Anyone with Ebola can ‘walk across’ our ‘porous’ border“, Washington Post, 14 October 2014 — Brown is the GOP candidate for Senate in NH.
  7. If you want to live, ignore the CDC“, Dr. Richard Amerling, World News Daily, 18 October 2014 — He “warns government incapable of protecting citizenry”
  8. Quotes, but no links: “6 Dumbest Right-Wing Moments This Week: Ebola Stupidity Rages On“, Janet Allon, AlterNet, 18 October 2014 — “Trump ups the ante with an insane tweet about the president.” And five other equally dumb comments.
  9. George Will says a sneeze or cough could spread Ebola“, PolitiFact, 19 October 2014 — Follow-up article here.
  10. Painful to read transcript of “Fox News Sunday“, 19 October 2014 — Experts paired against fear-mongering politicians, leaving watchers either ignorant or laughing (gallows humor) at America.
  11. Rand Paul’s claim that the White House suggested Ebola transmission is like AIDS“, Washington Post, 20 October 2014 — See the video here.
  12. A ‘Dark Winter’ of Ebola terrorism?“, Marc A. Thiessen, op-ed in the Washington Post, 20 October 2014



9 thoughts on “We awake from fears of an Ebola pandemic in America. Now let’s ask who’s responsible…”

  1. This is not a direct comparison, but the far-right using Ebola as a way to blame Obama reminds me of the far-left using Katrina to blame Bush (the handling of it)–whatever works to fire up the masses.

    Since we only seem to have the choice of either a far-left or far-right in the MSM, divide-and-conquer sounds like a good plan coming down from above (the powers that be).

    1. Pgrommit,

      I agree, Katrina is a telling comparison. FEMA explicity states that immediate response is a local government responsibility; they are not first responders. Immediately after Katrina, there were outraged and hysterical denunciations of FEMA and Bush at “Grasping Reality with both hands”, the website of Berkeley Economics Professor Brad Delong. I posted material from the FEMA website explaining that it was a failure of the local authorities. They were deleted; no explanation. As so often the case on the Internet, “don’t disturb the loyalists” is the motto.

    2. And to put the cherry on top, Ray Nagin got re-elected afterward. I’ve never had less faith in democracy as an institution as I did that day.

  2. An overreaction and massive conservatism are justified in the case of Ebola. It is growing exponentially in W Africa. If the US didn’t respond aggressively and the same phenomenon occurred here, the US economy would collapse in less than two years. The gov’t response lagged initially and is finally moving to a better posture. Witness the Chicago response to recent low risk potential cases and the tracking of the W African visitors to the US. W Africans arriving at an estimated 150 per day is almost 50,000 per year. Adverse selection is potentially high. Proper barriers to entry and tracking are required and quick response necessary.

    Americans didn’t panic. They intuitively understood the grave consequences of a lackadaisical response. People in the US were calm and responded with rational questions and arguments about a poor public health approach to this situation.

    It is still to early to claim victory.

    1. Cr,

      I love presenting evidence — thousands of words from authoratative sources — and people making up stuff to say I’m wrong.

      Rather than deconstruct your muddled comment line by line, I will debunk just two points. First, it is growing “exponentially” only in Sierra Leone. It has been eraticated in Nigeria, almost eradicated in Senegal, is under control in Liberia (slowing growth), and Guinea (source of the outbreak) remains difficult to call.

      See the graphs in this post:


      Second, “it is too early to claim victory”. Duh. Please read more carefully. US health care officials appear to have the current outbreaks stopped, and have mobilized sufficiently to prevent future ones (that does not mean there will be no further cases, just not an epidemic). In Africa the situation remains perilious (as described in the post with the graphs).

    2. “…making up stuff to say that I’m wrong.” Get the chip off your shoulder, he did no such thing. He said that given the POTENTIAL severity of an outbreak, “conservatism is justified.” At worst its an opinion.

      “authoritative sources” The type that did such a good job with Space Shuttle failure rates, or that housing markets the US were not highly correlated? Or perhaps the experts that you skewer for their hysteria on global warming? Or maybe the ones that wrote the protocols for the 2 stricken nurses in supposedly full containment. Or maybe the expert Doctor that returned from treating patients then decided to traipse around Manhattan and Brooklyn on the subway this week before showing symptoms.

      Don’t you understand why there is concern about the “authoritative sources”, when their procedures & personnel have so recently been the source of concern? You and they may have high confidence in their authority, I am not so sure. (See epistemic arrogance)

      “muddled” = to mix up in a confused or bungling manner; jumble. I did not find the response to be muddled. Lighten up, Francis.

      “eradicated in Nigeria” Nigeria has done well. Did Nigeria let its nurses get on planes or cruises or let a doctor take the A train through Manhattan and Brooklyn and then go bowling within the 21 day window? I read Nigeria had 20 cases and isolated nearly 900 people (45 per case)(sorry no footnote). Have we done so to that degree? Are those measures “overreacting?”

      “under control in Liberia” Not so fast. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-10/tl-tli102214.php Your data set used may be stale. Or maybe there is legitimate disagreement among “authoritative sources.”

      E/FMB could do with a good dose of humility. You frequently try to crush your rivals (commenters that take an interest in YOUR blog and make sincere and mostly intelligent comments) like an obnoxious High School Debate leaguer, admonishing them when they don’t cite some “evidence” and stacking your posts with references and footnotes. Meanwhile we read and comment over our lunch break or between work assignments, in a tiny little comment box where it’s hard to be so elegantly footnoted and imperiously well worded.

      CR gave his two cents and you, as you frequently do, attempted to crush him. You used invective, stale data and the statement that US authorities “appear to have the current outbreaks stopped.”

      I am going to go get on the crowded A-Train towards Brooklyn in a little while and will turn these issues over in my head again. In the end, I think E/FMB “authoritative sources” are 95% probable of being right. But when I “appear” to get sneezed on or walk through someone’s urine these next few weeks, I will wonder about the exchange between CR and E/FMB. I will wonder if there is a 5% or higher chance of an extraordinarily horrible result for this city, country and world. I will wonder if the abundance of caution that CR suggests and E/FMB sometimes calls fear-mongering isn’t instead a lack of complacency.

      All the best.

      1. It’s quite a mystery why the world is not Heaven when we have people like Ed walking among us. If only we had the wisdom to appoint him King Of The World!

        (1) “’authoritative sources’ The type that did such a good job with Space Shuttle failure rates, or that housing markets the US were not highly correlated? Or perhaps the experts that you skewer for their hysteria on global warming? Or maybe the ones that wrote the protocols for the 2 stricken nurses in supposedly full containment. Or maybe the expert Doctor that returned from treating patients then decided to traipse around Manhattan and Brooklyn on the subway this week before showing symptoms.”

        Imagine somebody whose perfection allows him to run things like the space program without accidents! Who manages large, complex, rapidly evolving modern economies without boom-bust cycles (a skill never seen anywhere in the 2+ centuries of modern economies)! Who conducts cutting edge science without error! Who runs hospitals without their workers ever getting sick, even from exotic diseases! Who manage large-scale public health emergencies so that there are no exposures (like the current one in NYC, where it’s quite likely there were no other infections)!

        The standards Ed sets are those not for experts — who never achieve perfection in such matters — but for gods. Since he sets those for others, I’m confident we’d find that his co-workers and family see that he too meets these standards.

        (2) “Or perhaps the experts that you skewer for their hysteria on global warming?”

        I seldom — perhaps never — have accused a climate scientist of hysteria, or provoking hysteria. My posts discuss activists’ activities.

        (3) “I will wonder if there is a 5% or higher chance of an extraordinarily horrible result for this city, country and world.”

        Yes, that’s the thinking the fear-mongers strive for. Mission accomplished! While you worry about this microscopic danger — which you absurdly exaggerate — you’re likely to be hit by a car, or die of the flu in the next severe epidemic (every decade or so). It certainly distracts you from attention to the many real threats facing us.

        As I’ve shown so many times, our ruling elites have discovered how easily we frighten. It makes us easily led. Perhaps you should ponder that while you ride the A-train.

    3. I can’t resist, this is just too much fun.

      While I am sure E/FMB would have a field day with my professional and personal record, they are non-topical.

      E/FMB says the standards I expect are for gods. Nonsense. What I expect is that for some institution to be considered an authority, they should not have allowed the FIRST case of Ebola in the US to result in an escape of the pathogen, twice. And the “authority” community better have a record of predictive accuracy.

      There is a difference between risk and uncertainty. “Getting hit by a car” and “the flu” are risks for which I, and the world, have had a lifetimes of experience assessing. I know the risks when I cross the street, I know the transmissibility of the flu. And I take precautions, I look both ways on the street and I get my flu shot.

      Our global experience with Ebola is much narrower and we have NO experience in a highly mobile, integrated Western society. Extrapolating risk measures from the outbreak in west Africa is not likely representative. (see Knightian Uncertainty).

      I agree with you that our “elites” are skilled at frightening us. However, I also believe those “elites” equally skilled at hiding some of the real risks we face. As a result, I will do my own examination of the issues.

      In one of your older posts, you wrote
      “If we wish to save America, perhaps the first step is to dedicate ourselves to seeing clearly, forsaking ideological blinders, skepticism to information new and old, and evaluating experts by their record — not how pleasant their stories. In short, perhaps we should pay as much attention to how we feed our minds as to what we put in our stomachs.”

      I take the time to do so, as did CR, and as does E/FMB. We can choose to disagree on these complex issues without resorting to excessive sarcasm, hyperbole and ad hominem attacks, some of which I am guilty too. Mea culpa.


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