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March 16, 2007
Real vs. Perceived Risk
Time Magazine article (from last November) on why we get risk so wrong. Interesting stuff, and very similar to my essay on the psychology of security.
Posted on March 16, 2007 at 6:00 AM
• 11 Comments
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Not the most scholarly of observations, perhaps, but do you think the author knows what the phrase "bollocks things up" (or "bollix" in their spelling) means? It's not a phrase I expect to find in an article in Time magazine...
"Bollocks things up"?
Would you rather have had the Times use "fscked up"?
Excuse me, "Time". And to answer my own rhetorical question: actually, I would! There comes a point when the errors move from simple inexperience or slightly vague thinking to a more profound state of almost willful idiocy that only that F-initiated four-letter-word can really capture...
mdf: Fool as in fooled up?
though the issue is indeed interesting, I actually think the article is rather poor. Also I think that even if it was published a few years back, it would have been old news.
The risk management community talkes since years about voluntary and involuntary risks. Voluntary risks we happily take, even if the reward is small, involuntary risks we dread, even if the reward is (indirectly) large. Terrorism is involuntary, so we are afraid of it. The article is poor because it fails to use that terminology.
Also it is poor because it fails to reflect critically. For instance according to it we are supposed to dread cancer because it kills us over a horribly long period? And we wouldn't mind to be killed in a car chrash or eaten by a lion? In that case why are so many still smoking, and why don't we consider movies such as Jaws utterly boring? Voluntary and involuntary risk explains this.
I don't know at explaining the psychological background of the two types of risk though. Percieved reward and experience have to do with it, and the poor ability of our brain to deal with statistics. Why do we participate in lotteries? Big possible award, voluntary, and nowadays the lotteries make sure we see the winners on televison to help us get the experience of winning without winning. Terrorism means big negative award, involuntary, and also loads of television. Same thing isn't it?
I think a big part of the psychology equation that is missing is the marketing effect. We are constantly being bombarded with the marketing efforts of governments, media outlets (newspapers, network news, talk radio), lobby groups, used car salesmen...
We are a very gullible lot and tend to believe what we are told, especially when we see and hear the same message over and over again, regardless of what the truth, facts, or statistics (for what statistics are worth - but that's another story) are.
Read "A Very Good Year" by Haldeman (it was in Analog in Nov 1984).
If you think you are good at distinguishing the difference between real an perceived risk, try your hand at the stock market...it will tell you how good you are.
According to the on-line Merriam Webster dictionary site, "bollix" is not described as slang, informal, or scatological. It is not (at least here) an alternate spelling for "bollocks", though that is the etymological source. It is simply a transitive verb (usually used with "up" meaning "throw into disorder" or "bungle". For Time Magazine style, perfectly normal.
Fear is a critical technique that takes advantage of our psychology. It's used to bash gays, recreational drugs, other races, other religions, other governments -- in general, others...
Even if "bollix" was technically scatological, it might still be acceptable. "Screwed Up" is commonly accepted as a benign way of saying "F*cked Up", even though - on reflection - it is obvious that they are really the same statement. The degree of remoteness from the currently-disdained wording, as well as the likelihood that the general public assigns an idiomatic interpretation to a phrase, rather than a more-literal one, is probably a critical editorial decision, here.
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