The Dread Factor

Last month, scientists announced that an asteroid named 2004 MN4 was on a possible trajectory to impact the earth on April 13, 2029. At first, the odds were slim -- about a 1-in-300 chance. But the more observations rolled in, the more the odds increased. It was quickly upgraded from a 1-in-63 chance to a 1-in-45. Right now, the chances of an impact stand at about 1-in-40, or 2.6 percent. The asteroid threat is now considered so serious that Congress has been requested to investigate.

But as usual, life goes on for Planet Earth. Between the drugs, the internet and reality television, Americans have plenty to keep them preoccupied. After all, who wouldn't rather watch the season premiere of the Bachelor, than obssess over impending disaster.

Apparently, a 1-in-40 chance is not enough to ruffle the general public. As a result, reports of the asteroid have been limited to scientific circles and geek blogs. Why? For most of us, it's too far off, too big to wrap our mind around and we're too numb to care. In technical terms, this is called Risk Perception. The theory states that societies attach certain levels of risk or indifference to specific threats. More recently this has been called, the Dread Factor. The more potentially dreadful, devestating or personally threatening a risk appears, the more we take notice.

And this is where our affinity for statistics kicks in. Americans love to play the numbers. So let's do that, shall we?

The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis has compiled in-depth statistical data on causes of death. (Oh, goody!) Listed below are the chances you have of dying from a specific risk in your lifetime.

    Chance of being murdered - 1-in-15,440
    Chance of drowning - 1-in-64,031
    Chance of being struck by lightening - 1-in-4,478,159
    Chance of being killed in a bicycle accident - 1-in-376,165
    Chance of contracting Alzheimers - 1-in-5752
    Chance of getting terminal cancer - 1-in-511
    Chance of dying of heart disease - 1-in-397
    Chance of dying in a bioterrorist attack - 1-in-56,424,800

Since I'm on a roll: Gambling experts tell us that the odds of getting a royal flush are, 1-in-649,739, the chances of winning the California SuperLotto is 18,009,460 to 1, and the chances of the L.A. Lakers winning the title this year are 1-in-35. (Much less if they play the Miami Heat.)

So let's put this in perspective. The chances that earth will be struck by asteroid 2004 MN4, are a lot greater than the chances of you dying of heart disease, being murdered, getting a royal flush, being killed by anthrax or winning the state lottery. Hmm...

Apparently, we have developed a high tolerance for the Dread Factor. Earthquakes, terrorist attacks and bird flu don't seem to phase us. That is, until they're on our doorstep -- at which point we berate the government for not airlifting us to safety (think Katrina). Americans live in a type of inebriated tecnological daze, hypnotized by our iPods and spinning hubcaps, a pollyanna-ish dreamworld as detached from reality as Oz was Kansas. Within this media-induced cocoon, the Dread Factor is seldom an issue.

But, if you're into numbers, let me give you the mother-of-all numbers: One out of every one dies. This painful bit of info has been called the ultimate statistic.

Chances of us getting thwumped by an asteroid in 2029 is slim. Not impossible, just remote. But the chances of you dying some day, is absolute. You can take it to the bank. Scripture puts it this way:

It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment. (Heb. 9:27)

You've got an appointment. You might get there through cancer, anthrax or a lightening strike. Heck, you might drop dead from winning the lotto. But it's an appointment you can't reschedule or refuse. It's the ultimate statistic.

If only the Dread Factor kicked in sooner, death might not take so many of us by surprise. Oh well, as long as we've got the TV changer and text messaging, asteroids are of no concern. Of course, a mini-series might help...


evandahlke said...

Well I say, "Come Jesus come", and if I have to wait for an asteroid to hit the earth in order to go home to be with the Lord then let it be. You can put your money on the fact that as it gets closer, more Christians will become vocal about the Truth of salvation, unfortunately Mike there's nothing to save your Lakers.

Pedrique said...

The premier of 24 approaches, and honestly, I'd probably be watching Jack Bauer try to stop a 1 in a billion terror threat even knowing an asteroid were about to strike the earth.

After all, the other side offers a great lake of beer. Too bad for my wife though. She can't stand the stuff. Maybe there's a great lake of strawberry daqueries 'round the bend.


Heather Smith said...

Great reminder, Mike. Its becoming more and more apparent that Christ's return is imminent. And didn't He say that it would be at a time when we'd least expect it? Like a thief in the night? Well, if were were ever living in an unsuspecting world, its now!

Gina Holmes said...

Another great piece, Mikey Rooney.

L. Ludwig said...

But the asteroid...tell me about the asteroid!!

Just kidding. Impossible to miss the point of this one. Nice work.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike, Great article! Satan must love "risk perception." I think that's what keeps a lot of people from coming to the Lord- The threat of "going to Hell," doesn't rattle people because they feel that death is far off and salvation, something they can do later sometime.
I had no idea about the asteroid. Good thing I have you to keep me posted on geek news:)
Janet Rubin

Kelly Klepfer said...

Wormwood perchance?

I work in healthcare. Either people do the remote/mini series thang, or they freak out about the latest scare and worry themselves sick. You'd probably shocked if you knew how many white-haired little ladies thought they had anthrax, and SARS and ---oh what's the latest mosquito dread disease, and Hantavirus........