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Scared to death

Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker and EUreferendum author Richard North have just written Scared to Death, which goes on sale 8 November -

Remember two years ago when a senior official of the World Health Association told us that soon "150 million people" might be dead from bird 'flu?

Remember Edwina Currie and the great panic over eggs?

From "mad cow disease" to the Millennium Bug, from DDT to passive smoking, from leaded petrol to asbestos, one of the most conspicuous and damaging features of our modern world has become the "scare". . .

Alarmed by some genuine problem, such as BSE, scientific experts misread or manipulate the evidence; the media sells headlines; and the politicians pile on, leaving the taxpayer to pay the price.

Among dozens of examples provided by Booker and North -

In 1996, panicked by the media, the Government's chief scientific adviser on BSE claimed that by 2005 half a million people might have died of CJD. Only a year later, he had revised his forecast of deaths down to just 200 – leaving Britain with the consequences of a scare that cost £7 billion.

A deliberately fostered confusion between different types of asbestos created in the US one of the greatest swindles in legal history, what was termed "the $200 Billion Miscarriage of Justice", bringing Lloyd's of London to its knees. This was followed by a further multi-billion pound scandal on both sides of the Atlantic when new laws allowed specialist contractors to charge almost any sums they liked to businesses and homeowners panicked by the scare.

The book is a useful reminder that the sky may not be falling. However, we can't help feeling that a genuine crisis will catch us flat-footed, especially as it appears a few already have.