Debunking the myth of poisoned candy

Amidst an argument about how the supervision of Halloween activities due to fear has spread to other arenas, sociologist Joel Best is mentioned as an expert who every year tries to remind people that poisoned candy is not a threat to children:

Take “stranger danger,” the classic Halloween horror. Even when I was a kid, back in the “Bewitched” and “Brady Bunch” costume era, parents were already worried about neighbors poisoning candy. Sure, the folks down the street might smile and wave the rest of the year, but apparently they were just biding their time before stuffing us silly with strychnine-laced Smarties.

That was a wacky idea, but we bought it. We still buy it, even though Joel Best, a sociologist at the University of Delaware, has researched the topic and spends every October telling the press that there has never been a single case of any child being killed by a stranger’s Halloween candy. (Oh, yes, he concedes, there was once a Texas boy poisoned by a Pixie Stix. But his dad did it for the insurance money. He was executed.)

There is little or no evidence for this problem – and yet the stories continue. This might be considered an “invented social problem,” a situation where people fear something that doesn’t really exist. In contrast, many people are trying to get people to recognize valid social problems, like poverty or fighting certain kinds of cancer.

I wonder if this fear about candy is linked to general fears that suburbanites have about their neighbors and outside forces that might affect them.

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