Comments on my last post on Swine Flu and a link posted by Looney to a list of Philosphical analogies got me thinking what would be the best analogy to the state of Public attitudes towards public health alerts.
Many take the attitude that these are just things whipped up out of all proportions by the media. I have a little sympathy for that view but a twist to an old story reminds us about a boy who cried wolf - and the problem of success.
The boy was given the task of guarding the sheep from the village. His best friend Lucky the dog helped him.
Lucky was a very alert dog and on their first day he smelled a wolf pack on the wind and began to bark. The boy trusted his dog and so he ran to alert the village. "Wolves" , he cried.
The wolf pack were still some distance away and hearing the commotion from the boy and the dog they turned and hunted elsewhere.
The men from the village came running but despite searching they found no sign of the wolves.
The Village crier, who each day announced the village news in the village square, interviewed the boy that night.
And so the next day....
"Hear ye Hear ye", the Village Crier cried, "Wolves are in this area! The boy and his best friend Lucky the dog have saved the sheep of this village from being eaten by the ravening wolves. The boy will guard your flock today and all is well."
The villagers hearing the news were happy and the boys back was sore with slapped praise as he went to tend the flock.
Of course the same thing happened. The Wolves came to the area but the dog barked before they could get near. The boy ran crying "Wolves" and the men of the village came to hunt them. But there was no sign of the wolves because on hearing the fuss they had slinked away. But they had been a little closer to the sheep and the village before they did so.
Again the village crier announced the news that the boy and the dog had protected the village. Again they were praised by the villagers.
After the fifth day of this happening the Village Crier was getting a little pissed.
"Look", he said to the boy, "This is the fifth day you have cried that there are wolves but wolves are never found. People are starting to grumble. They keep shouting that there are no wolves and that I am just doing this because there is no other news in this village for me to cry. You can't go round crying wolves when there are no wolves. If you don't see the wolves then don't cry wolf ok?"
The boy noticed that people no longer slapped him on the back with praise as he went out to the flock. They looked at him with glowering faces and muttered about him causing panic and making an unneeded fuss.
By the time the boy got to the flock he had begun to wonder if he should believe Lucky anymore. Perhaps it was rabbits he was barking at, or shadows. Anyway , he decided he would not run to cry wolf unless he saw the wolves himself. So he tied his best friend Lucky to a tree and muzzled him.
The boy was watching the flock when the wolves came at him from behind. After killing the boy they decimated the flock. Then they moved to the village where they stole and ate five children before the villagers managed to drive them away.
And Lucky? The villagers found him the next day. He had been forced to watch silently as his friend the boy and the sheep were killed. The villagers took care of him and he always barked when wolves came to the area. And the villagers always took notice of his barking.
Until some years later and the villagers began to whisper to one another"Why do we bother listening to that dog? He barks but there are never any wolves ......."