Thursday, March 25, 2010

NPR Report: More media or natural disasters?

The other day while driving around between customer visits, I tuned in to the local NPR syndicate and happened upon a piece that really caught my attention. I had all the intentions of including a link to the article here in my blog, but alas, my research efforts failed to locate the article and the name of the featured broadcaster escapes me.

The broadcast discussed the number of natural disasters recorded in history in relation to the increased proliferation of media and dispersion of humans throughout all parts of the world. Basically his argument was that the number of natural disasters of high magnitude, such as those that rattled Chile and ravaged Haiti, aren't arriving in increasing number, just the devastation has been better reported and occurred in more densely-populated areas.

The entire discussion returns to a classic, philosophical riddle:
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
As humans continue to increase in numbers, build more buildings susceptible to damage (save for seismic-proofing in more affluent nations) and spread out into regions once uninhabited, of course the potential for damage and death increases. In addition, we also have faster and more globalized media that can disseminate news of such events.

Last year, in my crisis communications class, my professor was lecturing about the importance of implementing crisis communication plans in schools because of the "increased number of school shootings and youth violence". In turn, I should also include crime rates or murder rates. There are a few ways to read the data, but I wonder what goes into these numbers? Rates may increase, but how about the ease in reporting crimes/murders/etc? Number of people? Media attention?

I think this relays back to the "nature vs nurture" argument: have people gotten worse? If so, why??

I wonder how many people were burned by hot coffee at McDonald's before that infamous case? Before McDonald's lost and paid over half a million dollars to the plaintiff, how many reports of burns or injuries due to hot coffee were reported? And after? Was it that no one had ever been burned or that suddenly there was attention and an ease of reporting that allowed for more complaints to arise? Hmm... ;)

...I digress and circle back to the original report mentioned:

I felt assured to hear that the rate of natural disasters has not increased and the recent influx of volcanoes and earthquakes in the media isn't a sign of Armageddon- just an influx in people and of the media.

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