Forbes, tick the stupid box

Via Indy Media Watch, comes this story of hysterical fear-mongering - from Forbes, of all places.
When a giant wave kills 200,000, the world is stunned and wonders what could have been done. But it is less galvanized to deal with a global catastrophe that could be much worse.

It is likely to kill many millions of people, sicken a quarter of the world's population and send the global economy into a tailspin. There is little we can do to stop this disaster from happening, and it could already be imminent.

The threat, obscured by the all-too-with-us aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami, is a global influenza pandemic, the rapid spread of a deadly new strain of the influenza virus to which no one in the world is immune. Such a virulent strain unpredictably leaps from farm animals to humans every few decades, with devastating consequences. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, the worst on record, felled 50 million people; it was particularly effective at targeting adults in the prime of life. Milder pandemics occurred in 1957 and 1968. Thanks to modern jet travel and densely packed Asian countries where millions live in close proximity to farm animals, the threat of a new pandemic is greater than ever.
Forbes's inaccuracy is sickening:

- There is no evidence that the "global influenza pandemic" will kill "many millions" - it's killed 47 in 3 months, so far - all of them in Asia. The Spanish flu of 1918 that the current Bird Flu is compared with spread throughout the world in the same period of time, and undoubtedly killed millions in its first three months. Yet this despite the fact that it's easier for the flu to travel, and there's a lot more people to infect now? Maybe that's because it's not even the same virus as 1918, and we're better prepared this time.

- The Spanish flu may possibly have killed 50 million, but most estimates put the figure in the lower end of the 15 and 40 million range. However, in the interest of instilling fear into its readers, those figures aren't mentioned.

- The aforementioned "Milder pandemics" killed up to 700,000 and 70,000 respectively. A far cry from the almost definitely inflated figures of 50,000,000 and "many millions" given by Forbes for 1918 and 2005's outbreaks. Now consider this - 64,000 Americans alone die from the flu, or flu-related deaths, every year. Which means those "milder pandemics" weren't pandemics at all - they were merely a different strain with a catchy name.

Forbes is meant to be accurately reporting information, and has a reputation as a respected source of news and facts. However as Indy Media Watch points out, Forbes sounds like Indy Media. This is when you know you have a serious problem. Forbes would be advised to get their sub-editors doing some fact-checking before they print factually deficient articles in the future.

(Cross-posted to The House Of Wheels.)

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