Jump directly to the Content
Jump directly to the Content

Sermon Illustrations

Home > Sermon Illustrations

Author Michael Crichton on the Power of False Information

In 1998, Michael Crichton, author of the best-seller Jurassic Park, wrote a book entitled State of Fear, a fictional look at a global disaster caused by eco-terrorists. To prepare for the writing of the book, Crichton researched global disasters. He was particularly intrigued with what happened in Chernobyl, one of the worst man-made disasters in history. He was surprised to find, though, that Chernobyl wasn't quite what it had been made out to be. In a speech Crichton gave in 2005, he shared a little about what he discovered. His research shows just how powerful false information can be:

Chernobyl was a tragic event, but nothing remotely close to the global catastrophe I imagined. About 50 people had died in Chernobyl, roughly the number of Americans that die every day in traffic accidents. I don't mean to be gruesome, but it was a setback for me. You can't write a novel about a global disaster in which only 50 people die. …
What I had been led to believe about Chernobyl was not merely wrong—it was astonishingly wrong.
The initial reports in 1986 claimed 2,000 dead and an unknown number of future deaths and deformities occurring in a wide swath extending from Sweden to the Black Sea. As the years passed, the size of the disaster increased: by 2000, the BBC and New York Times estimated 15,000–30,000 dead, and so on. …
Now, to report that 15,000–30,000 people have died, when the actual number is 56, represents a big error.
But, of course, you think, We're talking about radiation: what about long-term consequences? Unfortunately here the media reports are even less accurate. [There were] estimates as high as 3.5 million, or 500,000 deaths, when the actual number of delayed deaths is less than 4,000. That's the number of Americans who die of adverse drug reactions every six weeks. Again, a huge error.
But most troubling of all, according to the U.N. report in 2005, is that "the largest public health problem created by the accident" is the "damaging psychological impact [due] to a lack of accurate information…[manifesting] as negative self-assessments of health, belief in a shortened life expectancy, lack of initiative, and dependency on assistance from the state."
In other words, the greatest damage to the people of Chernobyl was caused by bad information. These people weren't blighted by radiation so much as by terrifying but false information. We ought to ponder, for a minute, exactly what that implies. We demand strict controls on radiation because it is such a health hazard. But Chernobyl suggests that false information can be a health hazard as damaging as radiation. I am not saying radiation is not a threat. I am not saying Chernobyl was not a genuinely serious event. But thousands of Ukrainians who didn't die were made invalids out of fear. They were told to be afraid. They were told they were going to die when they weren't. They were told their children would be deformed when they weren't. They were told they couldn't have children when they could. They were authoritatively promised a future of cancer, deformities, pain, and decay. It's no wonder they responded as they did.

Related Sermon Illustrations

Why We Lie

Bella DePaulo, a visiting professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who specializes in studying forms of human deception, asked college students and members of the ...

[Read More]

Research on Honesty and Deceit

In 2008, New York Magazine ran a comprehensive article about research concerning kids and lying. In one study researchers gathered a group of children together and read them a version ...

[Read More]