This short, lively book examines eight cases where scientists, pseudoscientists, promoters, and journalists have successfully alarmed the general public with scenarios of prospective or impending disaster caused by human action or, as they would have it, human folly. The book looks successively at movements focused on nuclear weapons, global starvation, depletion of critical resources, global cooling, runaway DNA, nuclear winter, ozone depletion, and, most recently, global warming.
The author relates forecasts of imminent doom in the absence of drastic changes in public policies -- and, in some cases, in general life-style -- to the predictions of apocalyptics and millenarians, who have existed for at least the last 2,000 years and continue to survive numerous failed predictions.
Although the subject matter is very different, the mobilization of public support usually evokes similar antiestablishment, antimodernist sentiments and surprisingly often involves the same organizations and people. The movements are not only private in origin, however. Bailey suggests that NASA in 1992 misled the public about depletion of northern hemisphere ozone in order to build support for its budget.
Although fellow journalists are implicated in these major public scares for their gullibility, Bailey is not as critical of their role as he might be.