Because of spam, I personally moderate all comments left on my blog. However, because of health issues, I will not be able to do so in the future.

If you have a personal question about LI or any related topic you can send me an email at I will try to respond.

Otherwise, this blog is now a legacy site, meaning that I am not updating it any longer. The basic information about LI is still sound. However, product information and weblinks may be out of date.

In addition, my old website, Planet Lactose, has been taken down because of the age of the information. Unfortunately, that means links to the site on this blog will no longer work.

For quick offline reference, you can purchase Planet Lactose: The Best of the Blog as an ebook on or Almost 100,000 words on LI, allergies, milk products, milk-free products, and the genetics of intolerance, along with large helpings of the weirdness that is the Net.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

More Reactions to Allergy Reaction Reactions

On Sunday I wrote about the contentiousness of allergy issues in Our Reactions to Allergy Reaction Reactions. I noted that parents of children with serious food allergies have a legitimate sensitivity to the frequently disparaging comments made by those who have no stake in the issue while at the same time unnecessary fears have been generated by those who appear to feel that everything is a risk.

If I had waited one more day, The New York Times would have dropped a magnificent example into my lap.

Last week science writer John Tierney expounded on our culture of fear and what it is doing to our health in Living in Fear and Paying a High Cost in Heart Risk. His point is that worrying about fear may be costlier to our collective health than the actual risks posed by what we fear.

He started with what I would consider to be a perfectly innocuous sentence:

Although it’s impossible to calculate the pain that terrorist attacks inflict on victims and society, when statisticians look at cold numbers, they have variously estimated the chances of the average person dying in America at the hands of international terrorists to be comparable to the risk of dying from eating peanuts, being struck by an asteroid or drowning in a toilet.

He's quoting actual comments by statisticians concerning small risks rather than making these comments himself, note.

Yet Ellen Urich wrote a letter of complaint to the Times:
As the mother of a child with a life-threatening food allergy, I was greatly disheartened by John Tierney’s grouping the chances of dying from eating peanuts with being struck by an asteroid or drowning in a toilet. Public awareness and understanding of anaphylaxis and food allergies has grown enormously in the past decade, but it is my fear that this type of analogy trivializes a growing health condition that requires a serious attitude in order to save lives.

This may be taking a parent's concern way too far. Tierney trivializes nothing in his article. He properly quotes others as pointing out that the risks of death by terrorism is real by highly unlikely, as highly unlikely and as small in number as some other risks.

The statisticians are numerically right. The Center for Disease Control recorded only 12 deaths from food allergies in 2004. The Consumer Product Safety Commission warns parents that:
Toilets are often overlooked as a drowning hazard in the home. The typical scenario involves a child under 3-years-old falling headfirst into the toilet.

Yet that same page indicates the number of drowning victims is probably in the same range as the 14 that the CDC estimates for food allergy deaths.

The number of deaths from terrorism in the U.S. in recent years. Zero.

Any such avoidable death, especially the death of a child, is tragic and should never be trivialized. Everything reasonable that can be done to prevent such tragedies should be.

We've gone far beyond reasonable over the past six years. The world today is exactly as dangerous as it was on Sept 10, 2001, probably neither more so or less than. Nothing new there. The world has always been dangerous, from events both large and small. As Tierney notes, both public figures and the media have created a climate of fear. I'd go further, and accuse the Administration and its partisan toadys and the bootlickers in the media of doing so deliberately to further their aims and concentrate their power.

For all their crimes - and they are legion - even the Administration did not create a fear of peanuts. On that issue, both the fearmongers and the trivializers run rampant across the media and the internet. In a culture of fear fears will multiply and reason will flee.

The best thing we can collectively do is to break out of the culture of fear. In the next 10 months of a presidential race, you'll hear fear as a constant: fear of strangers, fear of change, fear of the future, fear of the unknown, fear of uncertainty, fear of "Them." Don't allow the fearmongers to triumph. More than that: don't allow their fearmongering to go unchallenged. Reason must triumph.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his first inaugural speech, fighting against a climate of fear as deep and pervasive if not as deliberately created as the one today, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." If you've ever wondered what he meant by that, just look around you.

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