Perceptions of Risk
Another article about risk perception, and why we worry about the wrong things:
Newsrooms are full of English majors who acknowledge that they are not good at math, but still rush to make confident pronouncements about a global-warming “crisis” and the coming of bird flu.
Bird flu was called the No. 1 threat to the world. But bird flu has killed no one in America, while regular flu—the boring kind—kills tens of thousands. New York City internist Marc Siegel says that after the media hype, his patients didn’t want to hear that.
“I say, ‘You need a flu shot.’ You know the regular flu is killing 36,000 per year. They say, ‘Don’t talk to me about regular flu. What about bird flu?'”
Here’s another example. What do you think is more dangerous, a house with a pool or a house with a gun? When, for “20/20,” I asked some kids, all said the house with the gun is more dangerous. I’m sure their parents would agree. Yet a child is 100 times more likely to die in a swimming pool than in a gun accident.
Parents don’t know that partly because the media hate guns and gun accidents make bigger headlines. Ask yourself which incident would be more likely to be covered on TV.
Media exposure clouds our judgment about real-life odds. Of course, it doesn’t help that viewers are as ignorant about probability as reporters are.
EDITED TO ADD (7/13): A great graphic.