Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Mold Rush.

Fascinating, isn’t it? We coexist with mold for thousands of years. My friend, Walter Olson of the Manhattan Institute has said sarcastically “How unfortunate must we be to live in the twenty-first century, when plaintiffs’ lawyers have discovered the terrible health effects!”

Economic incentives have a lot to do with it: trial lawyers have an economic incentive to describe something relatively innocuous–vaccines, mold, powerlines, silicone breast implants, Bendectin–as something deadly and fit it into the fictional Erin Brockovich paradigm, which appeals to jurors’ preconceived notions. (Erin Brockovich herself has brought a number of bogus lawsuits trying to invoke this paradigm–including over mold.) Low-quality scientists of a variety of levels of sincerity are given the economic incentive to take the same position. Journalists have the economic incentive to tell a story that fits the paradigm whether or not it’s true, because the victims-and-villains storyline that could affect the viewer attracts eyeballs. The three work together symbiotically: the expert witness feeds stories to the lawyer and vice versa; the lawyer feeds stories to the journalist with the expert; the journalist creates publicity that generates business for the lawyer and the expert witness, which in turn creates more stories for the journalist.

The culture of fear is a lot larger than that (others take advantage of it), but I think the reason it is so much larger in America is because only here do we make people millionaires for inventing new things to be afraid of.

No comments: