Portentousness is the means by which cliché, the banal and the obvious are turned into technicality or wisdom, or both. An editorial in a recent edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association titled “Mental Health Effects of Hurricane Sandy: Characteristics, Potential Aftermath, and Response” illustrates this very well. One expects a medical journal to contain information that is not common knowledge or available to everyone on the most minimal reflection; it is therefore tempting, though a logical error, for authors to suppose that if what they have written is published in such a medical journal, it ipso facto contains such information.
The editorial in question makes statements such as “The mental health effects of any given disaster are related to the intensity of exposure to the event. Sustaining personal injury and experiencing the injury or death of a loved one in the disaster are particularly potent predictors of psychological impairment.” In other words those who suffer more suffer more. The editorial continues, “Research has also indicated that disaster-related displacement, relocation, and loss of property and personal finances are risk factors for mental health problems…”
I don’t suppose this will come as any great surprise, let alone shock, to readers. I will overlook the rather strange locution “loss of personal finances” – one continues to have personal finances even in bankruptcy. But how vital is research that tells us that people who are displaced and lose their possessions are likely to be unhappy for a long time? Until such research was done, did anyone for a moment doubt that losing your home, becoming a refugee, having your wife or child killed in front of you. etc., was a potent cause of misery? Have we so lost our common humanity that we need “research” to tell us this, or that such misery may be long-lasting?