When we began writing about the impending swine flu pandemic, many readers thought we were buying into some kind of government created panic. Our view was exactly the opposite: the government was understating the risks of swine flu, worried that a “panic” would hurt the economy. Mainstream media sources started by being “responsible” and under-reporting the risks in the US, bought into the panic for a week or so, then quietly dropped the story.
The story of swine flu has now effectively dropped out of public discussion. In fact, when it is discussed it usually as a critique of health authorities for needlessly creating a scare.
Once again, however, this is exactly backwards. Swine flu has not turned out to be a non-event. It is not more confined than intially feared. Indeed, the official risk models of swine flu dramatically underestimated how widespread it has become.
As the New York Times reports, two rival supercomputer teams made projections about the swine flu epidemic. One said that swine flu would hit 2,000 people by the end of May. Another said the number would be 25 per cent higher: 2,500. (The innumerate editors of the New York Times call these estimate “surprisingly similar,” but that’s not important for now.)
In fact, the centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that by the end of May there were upwards of 100,000 cases of swine flu in the country. So much for the models that told us the risks weren’t so big.
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