Thursday, October 23, 2014


File:Expression of the Emotions Figure 20.pngSome people in the US have absolutely panicked over the threat of Ebola at home. To cite but a few examples:
  • A Portland, Oregon, high school canceled a visit by African students, citing concerns about Ebola. The 18 visiting students came from Republic of Congo, Niger and Ivory Coast, none of which currently have reported cases of Ebola, according to the WHO.
  • Two children who recently moved to the US from Rwanda are being kept home from school after parents at an elementary school in New Jersey voiced concerns. Rwanda is in East Africa, over 2,500 miles from the West African areas where Ebola virus is currently circulating.
  • An assistant principal at a North Carolina middle school has to spend 21 days working from home when she returns from a mission trip to South Africa, by order of the school board. The chairperson of the school board explained why: "It’s not that we think that she poses any type of risk, but it's public perception here that we're concerned about.
More examples are described in a recent CNN article, which also notes that:
This is getting ridiculous. While the threat of Ebola is very real in Africa, the paranoia it's generated in the United States is unreal.
Many baseless actions are being taken out of "an abundance of caution", and it's not only in the US: A recent article by Andrew Higgins describes similar behavior in Europe.

While listening to the radio while working today, it struck me how someone having a case of air sickness on a commercial jetliner now makes the national news. Perception of risk is a notoriously sticky subject, but perhaps it's a good time to begin a conversation on how to educate people better on the topic. Could some basic elements of risk assessment be taught, for example, in high school?

(image source: Wikipedia)

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