A note on how we talk about Ebola

Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci put up a post on Medium yesterday for which the title and subtitle are as follows:

Ebola: The Real Reason Everyone Should Panic
Our Global Institutions are Broken

I haven’t read it yet, but I have an opinion on the heading. In a leader posted online on October 16The Economist said,

The task is to stop the toll reaching hundreds of thousands, if not millions. That is feasible only with sustained international collaboration. And so far, collaboration is something the response has tragically lacked.

International collaboration is always hard to come by. (I thought The Economist had explicitly said so; in looking back, I see I was wrong.) We can hope for it and press for it and do anything else we can think of to bring it about, but international collaboration isn’t, in my view, something that already exists. Yet Tufekci grabs hold of a veritable cliché in public commentary and says it’s “broken.” She compounds the error by suggesting that this is cause for panic, a suggestion that can’t be taken seriously and presumably wasn’t meant to be. It goes without saying that there’s never a reason to panic; panic is an escape from reason. Why even mention it?

No doubt her heading is just meant to be provocative, the kind of thing that lures you into reading (a variety of click-bait, in other words), but it seems wrongheaded. The press of time inclines me always to look for a reason to stop reading. Because I value Tufekci’s knowledge and thinking, I’m going to have to set aside my qualms about her latest post and read on.

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