The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

Halloween and public ignorance


This Friday is Halloween, which should be a fun time for the whole family. Unfortunately, like most other days of the year, Halloween is haunted by the problem of political ignorance. For years, the media and some government officials have exploited public ignorance by spreading baseless rumors that nefarious people are trying to harm trick or treaters by putting poison or razor blades in their candy. These rumors persist even though research repeatedly shows that there is no basis for them. More recently, state and federal officials have made equally baseless claims that we need to worry about Halloween candy laced with marijuana.

For a more rational approach to issues related to Halloween, you may want to check out The Economics of the Undead, edited by economists Glen Whitman and James Dow. At the risk of ghoulishly shameless self-promotion, I note that my own contribution to the volume describes how political ignorance makes us more vulnerable to the undead. It's called "Brain-Dead vs. Undead: Public Ignorance and the Political Economy of Responses to Vampires and Zombies." The chapter focuses on how political ignorance plays a major role in stories about the undead from Bram Stoker's classic Dracula, to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and World War Z. In each case, public ignorance makes the undead far more dangerous than they would be otherwise, in much the same way as voter ignorance often exacerbates real-world problems.

This Halloween, don't be taken in by ghastly hype about deadly candy! But, sadly, we will continue to be haunted by the very real spectre of public ignorance.