Thursday, May 5, 2011

America the inexplicably terrified

Matt Yglesias posts this chart and wonders why so many Americans believe Al Qaeda has the capacity to strike the US after bin Laden's death:

I agree; it's silly to think that Al Qaeda has a cell just waiting around in NYC, hoping for the day when their boss gets capped, so they can mount some sort of reprisal. But with all due respect, Matt is burying the lede here. Because when I looked at his graph, I could only wonder about something even more amazing:

Forty percent of Americans have spent the last ten years convinced that a terrorist attack was only weeks away?!?

Who are these people? And from where are they drawing their apparently unflagging belief that terrorism is just right around the corner, always just a few days away, no matter how many weeks, months, or years have passed since the last successful attack?

How could this be? Maybe people don't pay attention to the news and think terrorist attacks are occurring constantly. Ordinarily I'd say this is a pessimistic view of the country, but I think I almost prefer it to the other possibility, which can be summed up as "millions of US citizens are in the thrall of unyielding paranoia."

Four out of every ten people in the United States have spent the whole decade worrying that the next 9/11 is imminent. The six out of ten who now believe that bin Laden was only biding his time for bin Laden's death seem reasonable by comparison.

In any case, no wonder it's been so simple to cajole Americans into sacrificing civil liberties, international standing, their fiscal future, and common sense in the name of ever-tighter security: over a third of the country is living in a perpetual state of fear.

Well, America, fear no longer. Through not-inconsiderable personal effort and extensive research, I've put together a report on the likelihood of future terror attacks. I think you're going to like what you see:

Sleep easy tonight, fellow countrymen.


  1. Okay, one, you should be studying.

    Two, the fact that people are irrationally scared should not come as a surprise.

    But if we assume that what people are afraid of tend to come up more often in searches, (not conclusive, of course, but certainly suggestive), it's interesting that more people have been searching (since 2004, except for one outlier in 2005) for "herpes" than "terrorism."

    Also, ghosts:

    But it's also good that some trends are predictable:

  2. Also, you're not taking into account THAT WE ARE IN GODDAMN THREAT LEVEL ORANGE.

  3. "Hey baby, I really like you and all... but... you know... it's threat level orange... for herpes."

  4. "How likely is it you will contract herpes over the next several weeks -- very likely, somewhat likely, not too likely, or not at all likely?"