THE GOOD NEWS IS THE BAD NEWS IS WRONG by Ben J. Wattenberg

THE GOOD NEWS IS THE BAD NEWS IS WRONG

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Author/broadcaster Wattenberg doesn't like bad news and does like numbers, so here he's indulged his taste for statistics to show that things aren't as bad as some people like to think. In a conversational tone that suggests dictation or taping, Wattenberg covers topics from demography to sex, resources to politics. Some of his findings have been run around before--like attributing the perception of an increase in cancer to increases in longevity (cancer is age specific), or to improvements in cancer treatment (more patients walking around). Similarly, responding to the population doomsayers, Wattenberg points to the declining US birth rate, and to evidence that birth rates are social and not natural facts. The decline in the US is good news, but could turn bad if it were to sap the national strength; so Wattenberg supports legalization and relaxation of immigration, with figures showing that illegal immigrants are good for American society. His main point is that the stress on bad news--blamed, of course, on the media--distorts public policy. In the case of environmental regulations, however, Wattenberg has to rely on arguments of questionable worth. He claims, prematurely, that no studies have shown meaningful health deterioration for those around Love Canal (toxic wastes) or Three Mile Island (radiation). A similar claim about the defoliant Agent Orange is vitiated by the recent court settlement between the chemical manufacturers and exposed veterans. Wattenberg also makes much of the fact that consumer groups lobbied for safer cars and for small, fuel efficient ones, which is contradictory: ""More Americans by far will die from accidents in small cars than from the combined effects of nuclear radiation, artificial sweeteners, mercury in fish, toxic wastes, air pollution, and kepone put together. More by far!"" Since all the statistics in that equation are questionable--including how many automobile deaths are related to the size of the car--the figures add up to a virtually meaningless, if effective, pronouncement. Though Wattenberg's intention is a polemical one, he executes it in good spirits (unlike George Glider's venomous good news, above); but his figures shouldn't be taken too seriously.

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 1984
Publisher: Simon & Schuster