German has the wonderful word schlimmbesserung, meaning an ‘improvement’ that actually makes things worse. Does anyone know a word in any language for a precaution that actually increases danger? Modern life is full of them: for example -
- the practice of washing raw chicken before cooking it, which not only doesn’t remove anything harmful but spreads any salmonella or other bacteria present on the chicken to kitchen surfaces
- the British practice of leaving all one’s curtains tightly closed when going away on holiday (my mother-in-law would even pin hers closed). The intention is to conceal from potential burglars that the house is empty; but of course it does the precise opposite.
What’s striking about these particular practices is that absolutely everyone with expert knowledge of the subject knows they are directly counterproductive; health authorities and police in the UK have consistently been leafleting and advertising the public to stop doing them for years. But many people just won’t.