January 16, 2009
If you don’t think allergic reactions can be caused by mass hysteria, then you don’t know about the uncontrollable dancing that gripped thousands of Europeans between the 14th and 18th centuries, or that the South Korean government recently issued a consumer safety alert saying that electric fans can asphyxiate you if left running overnight, after news reports of several deaths. You, in short, have never looked up “mass hysteria” on Wikipedia.
Since food allergies kill about as many people as lightning strikes each year, we probably don’t need to ban peanuts from schools or put warnings on every product saying it was “made in a factory that also has a break room where a guy named Dave often sneaks in a King Size Snickers despite this ‘diet’ he says he’s on.”
When I talked to Christakis, he made it clear that — unlike me — he doesn’t think peanut allergies represent a mass hysteria. That’s because scientists believe in rigorous study and proof, while opinion columnists believe in saying something outrageous to get attention.
But we did agree that it is strange how peanut allergies are only an issue in rich, lefty communities.
“We don’t see this problem much in African American or poor communities. So there’s something going on here. We don’t see them in Ecuador and Guatemala,” Christakis said.