1 Comment »Posted on Monday 20 April 2009 at 3:22 pm by Seth Bell
In Musings, Psychology

Are you living in fear? According to In the Face of Fear (a title worthy of a Hollywood Blockbuster), a survey of 2246 British adults commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, we are more fearful than we used to be. The results suggest that about 77% of us think the world is a more frightening place than it was ten years ago. When asked why people are more afraid, 63% of people thought that the current economic situation is partly to blame whilst 60% think terrorism is one of the factors which contribute to it. Also, 60% of people think the media frightens people.

It’s difficult to accurately evaluate how ‘generally afraid’ we are and why (and even harder to judge why other people are afraid), so these results are certainly questionable. However, at the very least they do show us that people think we are more afraid, so perhaps the findings in themselves are a manifestation of our collective fear. Or perhaps I’ve been revising too much philosophy. In any case, it’s inspired me to pose the following question: can science help save us from fear?

Well, the rector of Imperial College Professor Roy Anderson thinks that science can certainly help with our economic troubles. Last week he criticised the Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, for cautioning against the proposed one billion pound science-spending package, saying:

“I can understand his caution, however I’d still argue with him that in essence how are we going to position the UK economy coming out of the recession? I’d argue that science and technology is one of our few options and it’s a good time to provide that stimulus.” 

The proposed spending increase is part of an overall stimulus package which the government is considering. Professor Anderson believes that science is part of the solution to the credit crunch, arguing that science spending it on of the few ways we have left to kick-start the economy.

So perhaps science can help us reduce our fear in the current economic climate, but what about terrorism? Well maybe it has a role here as well. Last week the BBC reported that MI5 is recruiting a chief scientific adviser, whose role will apparently involve work on counter-terrorism as well as offering scientific advice to agents in the field. Sounds like a very cool job to me, offering a chance for science and scientists to enter the frontline on the ‘war on terror’.  So it seems science have a part to play in reducing our fear of terrorism as far MI5 are concerned.

So that’s a start. Can science help stop the media frightening people? Well, science journalists are part of the media so the fewer stories about particle accelerators ending the world the better. In addition, science news may help reduce our fear by providing us with distracting fun stories – like the news that red pandas like artificial sweeteners! Not a finding with immediate relevance, but it makes me forget my troubles. I wonder how long until Coca Cola use this finding as a marketing strategy for Diet Coke…


  1. One Comment

  2. I wonder, would we want to live in a world without fear? After all, fear of getting burned protects us from a hot stove and fear of getting mugged might make us choose the longer, safer route home. Perhaps it is evolving a sense of fear has allowed us to become so successful.

    By Jacob Aron on Monday 20 April, 2009 at 3:28 pm

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