You know how whenever something new comes out, like new technology or a new scientific study, there's always someone who immediately gets a bug in their eye over it? They start announcing how it's the end of the world as we know it, everyone repent, clean up that sty you call your bedroom before the aliens land, and similar such nonsense, and always before the facts have come in. It's called being an alarmist, and all it does is panic people, often for no good reason.

It's always annoyed me how some people automatically jump on any bandwagon they see, but being an alarmist is different. It takes a certain type of person to take a single off-center report and base an entire defamation on it. I call this type of people "morons." Everything I'm about to talk about could easily be avoided if only the people involved would stop to think about things before taking it upon themselves to alert the world to the new terror it doesn't actually face.

I'm going to start by linking to an article that was published in the Toronto Star, and that also appeared on the writer Michael Geist's blog, called Vista's Fine Print. I won't quote the entire article here, although in an email conversation with Mr. Geist he gave me permission to do so, but I encourage you to read it.

NOTE: This article is not meant to be a reflection on his character, credentials or person; it is a single article of his being used in a specific context as an example, and could just as well have come from anybody. The comments made about it are general, and are not meant to reflect on Mr. Geist specifically, but on the things alarmists do, intentionally or otherwise.

Here are the alarming parts of his article:

Vista's legal fine print includes extensive provisions granting Microsoft the right to regularly check the legitimacy of the software and holds the prospect of deleting certain programs without the user's knowledge.

For greater certainty, the terms and conditions remove any doubt about who is in control by providing that "this agreement only gives you some rights to use the software. Microsoft reserves all other rights." For those users frustrated by the software's limitations, Microsoft cautions that "you may not work around any technical limitations in the software."

... Vista intentionally degrades the picture quality of premium content when played on most computer monitors.

That looks like some pretty alarming stuff. I was actually going to put up an article on this site based largely on the strength of that nationally syndicated article, but I decided I wanted to read the Vista End User License Agreement (EULA) myself first. I didn't see most of what was mentioned in the article there, so I asked him via email where I could find a copy of the current EULA, and he linked me to the same document. By this time I'd been able to consider both the EULA and his article, and I came up with the following email response:

Right, that's the same document I read; the Vista EULA. That paragraph says Windows Defender, an anti-scumware program, will behave like an anti-scumware program, including asking you whether you want to remove the programs it thinks are scumware; you just have to change it from the default "safe for morons" setting to get it to ask you first. Your article was written in such a way that it suggested Microsoft was going to be randomly scanning computers running Vista for software they don't want you to have, such as Firefox or Thunderbird or Open Office, and removing it, which to me reaks of misrepresentation.

So your write-up on Vista's EULA seems to have consisted of "Microsoft doesn't want you to pirate their software," "Windows Defender will remove scumware if you let it," "Microsoft doesn't want you using Vista to make illegal copies of movies and music," and "by the way, don't pirate our software." I don't think there's anything written in your article that's actually new information, just rewordings of existing policies to make them more clear.

Aren't you just crying wolf here?

His reply, edited for print because I haven't received his permission to reprint it verbatim?

You're right, there's nothing new. I don't think most people are aware of the terms and conditions. FWIW, I think Windows Defender needs better definitions.

So basically his entire article, nationally syndicated by a respected newspaper, consisted of alarmist rhetoric created by him not taking the time to think about things before writing them. This is what an alarmist does: he takes something people aren't aware of that he has a little information on, and uses that information to alarm people. Scientists did the same thing in the 1960s when they said a carbon dioxide buildup could lead to global cooling from atmospheric pollution blocking the sun's radiation from reaching Earth.

Other great examples of alarmists are people who pass on virus alerts and horror stories received by email. Anything you receive in an email must be true, right? I investigate every such email that gets passed my way, and I have never found any virus alert to be genuine. The other stories are either also false (Roofies in use in half the bars in New York!), or so vague as to be unverifiable (Woman murdered in West Coast gas station by man hiding in back seat!)

The problem as I see it is that the world currently runs on a currency of fear. Next time you watch the news, count how many stories are about violence, murder, terrorism, or some other topic designed to scare you. Also count how many are not about such things.

The good thing about this is that it's very easy to prevent alarmism: Think about what you say before you say it! When you read something that alarms you, before you pass it on to other people and alarm them too, dig a little deeper and do your due diligence to make sure you have all the facts. Then if you find something truly alarming, you won't just be crying wolf like everyone else is.

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