Increased air travel may decrease the chances of a global pandemic
The closer together we get, the argument goes, the healthier we'll be.
- The more exposed we are to each other, the less surprising a pathogen will be to our bodies.
- Terrorism, high blood pressure, and staffing issues threaten to derail progress.
- Pursuing global health has to be an active choice.
Part of the anxiety in watching the 2011 film Contagion hinges on members of the CDC watching the map of the world itself: the world is so large and filled with so much detail — nooks, corners, and endless blind alleys — that it felt difficult to get a handle on where the next outbreak would flare up. All this was occuring because a woman travelled back to Chicago from Hong Kong.
The movie is a cultural expression wedded to a particular fear — a fear we saw expressed when screenings were issued for flights coming from countries on the African continent that had no cases of ebola whatsoever during the ebola outbreak, perhaps culminating in the obscene spectacle of then-Governor Chris Christie sending a nurse to sit in a tent outside a hospital in New Jersey for two days.
But here's the double-edged thing about the film and its message: studies have recently been released to say that increased air travel may decrease the chances of a global pandemic. The caveat is that global progress in health isn't inevitable.
The first study — written mostly by academics from Oxford — observes that frequent travel can reduce the impact of deadly outbreaks because communities exposed to each other consistently because of travel are more frequently exposed to low-risk strains. The authors of the paper argue that this "may be a factor contributing to the absence of a global pandemic as severe as the 1918 influenza pandemic in the century since."
One example they cite: the H1N1 outbreak in 2009. It didn't have the expected impact because of something called 'cross immunity,' where one person typically susceptible to disease ABC is exposed to someone typically susceptible to disease XYZ. That pre-exposure meant that "pathogen dynamics and the structures of pathogen populations" were impacted, lessened, and changed. New pathogens may move quickly through a global world, but pathogens we already know won't move as quickly nor be as effective. The population has already built up some kind of immunity.
The model devised by the academics in this paper is— from the admission of the authors themselves — as 'simple' a model as could be devised.
But even if the math holds true — and has already been flagged — progress isn't inevitable. Some of the highlights from the 2018 Global Burden of Disease study note that half of countries are "estimated to face shortfall in healthcare workforce - with 47% of having fewer than 10 doctors to serve 10,000 people and 46% having fewer than 30 nurses or midwives to serve 10,000 people."
Not addressing those needs means that other problems flagged by the report are all the more likelier to continue. Stepping up to address these issues falls within the realm of agency and choice.
The math of pursuing better global health through air travel could well hold true, but we have to make it hold true by virtue of our actions.
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Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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