Forget global meltdown, it’s phobology we should fear

Phobology is the science of scary scenarios. But what is truly terrifying is the extent to which its guilt-inducing tentacles have us all in its grip

19/04/2007/%20CartoonLargely unremarked, a new science has burgeoned to the extent that there is scarcely an aspect of life into which its tentacles do not reach. It is called phobology and its purpose is to scare people witless.

As with other sciences, it has various applications. At its most rudimentary it is concerned with what might be termed minor scares; the sort of things that make us feel uneasy without becoming suicidal. Examples would include the danger of injury from a supermarket trolley or the prediction of an invasion of giant wasps.

Advanced phobologists, most of whom are to be found in the research departments of universities and the medical profession, deal in life-threatening scares or, to use the preferred term, scenarios. By now, most of these will be familiar to you/ tobacco, alcohol, salt, dairy food and other substances, all of which give comfort and pleasure to many, but have lurking within them painful and dreadful retribution – or so the phobologist would have us believe.

Phobological studies have two essential components: they must induce a sense of guilt and they must turn normal scientific method on its head by coming to a conclusion and then adducing the evidence to substantiate it.

Some of the most spectacularly successful case studies in recent years, all of which merit a Nobel Laureate, are the Great Obesity Timebomb and its skinny twin sister, the Anorexic Size-Zero Calamity. These are noteworthy in that they have attracted many scientists from around the world, all of whom have added to the corpus, and are still doing so.

Thus we are told that obesity causes a growing number of ailments, hitherto unsuspected. For instance, fat women can expect to have their lives cut short prematurely – pretty basic stuff – but did you know that they also face severe problems during pregnancy, not to mention obstructive sleep apnoea, and deep-vein thrombosis?

Once a topic enters the domain of phobology, it attracts new research, which snowballs in a deeply satisfactory and alarming way. We all knew that smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease, but what was striking was the frequency with which new harmful effects of tobacco were discovered, including lupus and impotence. Phobology feeds upon itself and grows contentedly fat, though of course not dangerously so.

In all of phobology, however, there is nothing to compare with global warming. It is as if all phobologists’ dreams have come true at once – the scare to end all scares. Forget that a meteorite might hit Earth and kill millions or that a giant tsunami could engulf coastal cities and wipe out half the population; none of these meet the desiderata of true phobology because they lack the element of guilt and the science is honestly uncertain.

But global warming has guilt by the bucket load and bogus science by the mile. Ice caps will melt, populations will drown, the land will become desert, famine will sweep every nation – and it’s all our fault. As for the science, it has become an industry. Thousands of people around the world depend for their livelihoods on government funding to substantiate the existing threat and add new ones.

Heart-warmingly, there is room for the enthusiastic amateur, the dedicated man or woman who, like part-time meteorologists who dangle seaweed from their upper windows, can contribute his mite to the general scare. Let us this week honour one such, Mr Kenneth "call me Ken" Pease, a criminologist at University College London. He predicts that milder winters will lead to a surge in street crime. "More people on the streets, larger crowds and alcohol consumption are all linked to increases in crime," he says. "It stands to reason that warmer weather encourages all three."

He’s right, you know. And he’s barely scraped the surface. Warmer weather will increase the risk of falling coconuts, malarial mosquito bites, and pythons coming north in search of English babies to crush.

But let us end on an optimistic note. When Britain basks in Mediterranean sunshine and the North Sea turns Caribbean blue, our coastal resorts will enjoy a revival. Of course, we will no longer need to fly to far-away destinations for our holidays, thus reducing global warming, and when we live in a sunny climate we shall become a more contented people, both of which will bring misery to the phobologists. Which proves yet again that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

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