The illusion that immunity can be created by changing your behavior (or spending money) sets us up for terror. Whoever sent anthrax through the mail in 2001 managed to kill a total of five people -- sad, but frankly no worse than many car wrecks. The anthrax scare touched off hysteria (and a multimillion-dollar industry in anthrax prevention) because it exposed the bitter truth that the risk-free life is illusory. If we try to cling to the illusion, we'll continue to be susceptible to health terrorism, a term that is more to the point than bioterrorism -- that is, we'll continue to be terrorized that our health is in imminent jeopardy.
How did Americans come to have such faith in the risk-free life? We epidemiologists have to bear some of the burden. We made three mistakes: We bought into the focus on personal behavior rather than social reform, we provided too much information, and we colluded with the moralism of risk reduction.
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