For the last few days, the BBC’s Have Your Say section has been leading on Swine Flu. No great surprise there. Specifically, they’ve been leading on the question ‘Are you worried about swine flu?’
Not a particularly edifying question, and I haven’t bothered checking out the responses – not much point, I thought, as I already know what the views expressed will be: ‘I’m terrified’; ‘It’s all been over-hyped by the media’; ‘Yes, it’s a bit of a concern, but it seems to be panning out not too badly’; ‘It’s a sinister plot by the CIA/ WHO/ Scary Flying Monsters Of Woo to kill us all/ forcibly vaccinate us with autism juice/ boost the stock value of Evil Drugs Companies.’
But today I noticed that they’ve changed the headline question. Now they’re asking:
What? Have things really sunk to this level, that journalists can seriously think that the idiot drongos who hang around the BBC’s Have Your Say boards can conceivably have anything of value to say about how to avoid a flu pandemic? Surely this is a pre-eminent example of an occasion when the opinions of us ordinary folk are completely irrelevant. This is a question that specialists with advanced degrees in things like epidemiology and virology can answer. It’s not an appropriate question to ask people whose idea of a contribution is to type the most idiotically stupid (and probably offensive) thing they can think of, and then click submit.
This is more evidence of the way the fact/ opinion boundary is being blurred. Asking if people are worried is perfectly legitimate – people can quite reasonably hold different opinions on the established facts of the putative pandemic. Asking the general public how to prevent a pandemic isn’t legitimate, because it’s something that you need to know about before you are qualified to speak. You need access to the facts – how effective travel restrictions are, whether screening of new arrivals is effective, how well quarantining works, if antiviral drugs work as prophylactics, how quickly a vaccine can be developed – in order to have anything worthwhile to say.
What’s next? A BBC Have Your Say on what’s the best way to carry out neurosurgery? Or how to land a 747 on an icy runway with a gusting crosswind, a partially deployed undercarriage, and only one working engine?