Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?

Here are some questions on the John Stossel ABC News Special Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death? I recommend that you read through these questions before beginning and that you stop the video after each segment (during the commercial breaks) and take a couple minutes to think and talk about the questions listed here (and anything else you have questions about). If you need to back up and listen to something again, feel free to do so. The video is about 45 minutes long, so even with some stops and some backtracking, an hour and a half to two hours should be plenty of time to do this task.

This is a whole class activity. Divide the questions into groups and appoint a secretary for each group. (Perhaps each segment can be a group, or you might like to subdivide segment 2. How you divide up the questions is up to you.) The secratary should record the class answers to the questions and email them to me. Also appoint one person to email me a list of who was present, and who is responsible for what questions. Send all the email by Friday.

Intro and Segment 1 (0:40 - 13:40)

  1. John Stossel makes several claims at the start of the program Watch for the evidence he presents for each of these claims and see if you agree with him by the time the video is over. Does he make some of these cases more powerfully than others? Are there any holes in his reasoning?
  2. Stossel claims that the media "try to scare you" when they report about crime. What methods does he claim they use to do this?
  3. What does Stossel (and his guest Mark Warr) mention as negative side effects of being overly frightened about crime (i.e., more frightened than the data warrant)?
  4. For whom does Mark Warr say "it is reasonable to be afraid of being murdered"? and what evidence does he present to support this claim?

Segment 2 (13:40 - 29:40)

  1. John Stossel says that "research at Love Canal has so far found no evidence of increased cancer, but that didn't get much publicity."
    1. What sort of "research" do you think was done? What do you think the results were? (You have to speculate a little, but based on what we have seen in our course, you should have a pretty good idea what was kind of study might have been done and how it turned out.)
    2. Notice that Stossel does not say that there is "evidence that there was no increase in cancer". Would that have been a correct way to state things? Why or why not?
    3. Why didn't this get much publicity?
  2. A little over 19 minutes in, Stossel identifies the main "project" that he (and numerous support staff, no doubt) have undertaken over a three year period. What is it and why did they do it?
  3. A couple minutes later, Stossel gives an outline of how they will measure what they are trying to measure. What are they trying to measure, and how do they quantify it? Do you agree that this is a good way to measure? (Can you think of any other ways to measure?)
  4. John Graham claims that "there are a lot of risks we ought to go after. The problem is, as a country we're having our attention diverted to relatively small risks." Why does he think this happens?
  5. What does John Graham mean by "statistical murder"? Give an example.
  6. Near the end of this segment a "problem with democracy" is pointed out. What is that "problem"? Do you agree that it is a problem? Is there anything that can be done to offset the problem?

Segment 3 (29:40 - 37:45)

  1. What do you think the EPA should do regarding the situation in Aspen, CO? If you think more information is required, what information is required and how could it be gotten?

Segement 4 (37:45 - 40:30)

  1. The risk statistic for smoking was computed differently than for other risks. What was the difference? Why was it done differently?
  2. How does John Stossel claim that regulations can kill people.
  3. Which risk "dwarfs all others on the chart"? Do you think this statistic was computed like the one for smoking, or like the earlier ones? Would it be possible to also compute the earlier statistics in the same way the smoking statistic was computed?

Segment 5 (40:30 - 44:10)

  1. What is the point of the examples given in this last segment?
  2. This video mentions a lot of numbers, are these statistics or parameters?
  3. How well does this report stack up agains the 7 critical components? (This will vary from segment to segment, but give an overall evaluation for each of the 7 components. Site examples if you can.)

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