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Boston Colloquium for the Philosophy of Science discussion on Spinoza's Naturalism, Friday, April 2, 1 p.m., at The Castle

Week of 26 March 2004 · Vol. VII, No. 25

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It seems that whenever a snowstorm is predicted, people run to grocery stores to stock up on staples as if it's the end of the world. And these are diehard New Englanders! What makes them do this?

“Part of the reason people rush to the store and act so panicky is actual apprehension that what looks like a regular storm may turn out to be something much worse,” says Jean Berko Gleason, a CAS professor of psychology. “They feel they'll have to rely on themselves and on the provisions they have stored while the city is shut down for some days.

“This, of course, occasionally happens, as it did with the Blizzard of '78, and the possibility of running out of food is threatening at a rather basic level.

“I don't think that is the only thing that motivates the people you see out there; some of them truly need some milk for their kids. But far more are responding to the fact that storms have become a big media event.

“Television stations, in particular, are in the ‘storm business,' with their weather centers, Doppler radar — purported X-ray vision and other magical tools that enable them to tell us that it will, indeed, snow. Forecasters and reporters dramatize weather, using such powerful language as, ‘We are being slammed by a Nor'easter!' And, of course, they show footage of people lined up to buy that last snow shovel and bag of life-sustaining groceries. They make it look as if this is the thing to do.

“It's good business for the TV station, it's good business for the merchants, and as one snowplow driver commented on the news, ‘It's pennies from heaven.' ”

“Ask the Bridge” welcomes readers' questions. E-mail bridge@bu.edu or write to “Ask the Bridge,” 10 Lenox St., Brookline, MA 02446.


26 March 2004
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