Readers React

Fear's consequences in the marketplace and the voting booth

To the editor: The recent downturn in travelers to Africa's safari belt surely stems, as Clarissa Hughes concludes, from irrational fears about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. ("Canceling safaris over misplaced Ebola fear hurts Africa and its wildlife," Op-Ed, Dec. 2)

She convincingly posits that many people recently have opted not to travel to Ebola-free African countries located far from the disease's epicenter because ill-informed people tend to make decisions based on fear rather than on rational thought.

It's disturbing enough to consider how ignorance can beget fears that determine how people make economic decisions. But such baseless fears all too often determine how people vote.

Where ignorance does society the most harm — in the marketplace or in the polling booth — remains an open question.

Betty Turner, Sherman Oaks

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To the editor: If only Hughes' fine column could dispel rampant Ebola fears and thereby restore Africa's safari tourism. Alas, mass hysteria time and again has proven impervious to reason.

In 1985, a severe wind shear caused Delta Flight 191 to crash on approach to Dallas, killing 137 of 163 people onboard. Most survivors were sitting in the rear section of the plane (then the designated smoking area).

For months afterward, airline passengers filled rear smoking-section seats. Their "logic" was that if the plane crashed, they might survive. The singularity of Flight 191's fuselage breakage didn't matter, nor did the health risk posed from secondhand smoke.

With the public so inept at calculating probabilities, Hughes' noble effort seems an exercise in futility.

Gene Martinez, Orcutt, Calif.

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