Sunday, August 21, 2005

Sharks, Gators, Oil

In The Copycat Effect, I discussed how shark and alligator attacks are frequent foci of the media. Despite the reality of how many actual attacks and fatalities happen every year, the articles increase when the newswriters decide to copy each other in a frenzy of animal encounter and attack reportage.

During the summer of 2005, the frequent sightings and infrequent captures of alligators and caimans are at one of their all-time highs. It has been building up all summer (into a "crazy croc season"). Since the attempts to catch an alligator or caiman seen in a lake near Los Angeles during August, the articles about gator sightings around the country have been appearing almost daily.

Now, according to Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner's Freakonomics blog, there seems to be something similar happening with articles about oil. In their blog today, entitled "'Peak Oil:' Welcome to the media's new version of shark attacks," they mention the copycat effect.

Steven Levitt wrote today:

"So why do I compare peak oil to shark attacks? It is because shark attacks mostly stay about constant, but fear of them goes up sharply when the media decides to report on them. The same thing, I bet, will now happen with peak oil. I expect tons of copycat journalism stoking the fears of consumers about oil induced catastrophe, even though nothing fundamental has changed in the oil outlook in the last decade."

I'd have to agree, wholeheartedly.

Thanks to Patrick Huyghe for bringing this one to my attention.


Prof. Goose said...

to say that the two are equivalent is at best pollyannaish.

If you would actually like to come and learn about this topic, I invite you over to The Oil Drum, where we engage in informed discussion of this complex issue and no perspective is unwelcome, even if terribly uninformed.

Loren Coleman said...


adj : pleasantly (even unrealistically) optimistic [syn: cheerful, upbeat]

That's seems like an uninformed and incorrect application of that word to my media analysis.

Thank you for sharing more about oil, even though I was discussing the copycat effect. :-)