Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sand: A Natural Born Killer

CNN, one of the networks who hyped the threat of deadly shark attacks, redeems itself somewhat by giving it context contrasting it with a story about the danger of sand. That's right sand. It turns out more people have been killed on beaches from being suffocated in collapsing sand holes than from sharks. I bet the media feels like they have egg on their face from their summer of sharks series.

Waves and sharks aren't the only dangers at the beach. More than two dozen young people have been killed over the last decade when sand holes collapsed on them, report father-and-son doctors who have made warning of the risk their personal campaign.

Since 1985, at least 20 children and young adults in the United States have died in beach or backyard sand submersions. And at least eight others died in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, according to a letter from the doctors published in this week's issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. People naturally worry about splashier threats, such as shark attacks. However, the Marons' research found there were 16 sand hole or tunnel deaths in the United States from 1990 to 2006 compared with 12 fatal shark attacks for the same period, according to University of Florida statistics.

People do naturally worry, but I have a sneaking hunch that if the sand collapsing suffocating one to death story got hyped in the way shark fatalities were, people would get paranoid about that as well. The numbers for both sorts of deaths are phenomenally low.

A few weeks ago, CNN hyped the deadly effects of a new drug combo named Cheese which has killed 21 people in the Dallas metro area over 30 months. Most people who take that drug live to tell the tale. The reporting suggested otherwise.

There was that one year when carjackers were going to kill us all. When does the media realize that they are not independent observers, pretending that they have no choice in hyping these stories as pack journalism? Studies have shown that although the crime rate in the late 90's fell to early 70's levels, people were much more terrified of being victims now than in the past. "If it bleeds, it leads" ring any bells?

If the press corps as a whole decided to report dangers in the order that we genuinely should be concerned about, it might not be as exciting, or as good for ratings, but our heads wouldn't be buried in the sand.

Sand has killed more than twenty people over a decade. Nancy Grace should dedicate a week to this grainy killer.