Big Think Contributor, "Risk, Reason & Reality"
I'm an Instructor at Harvard, a consultant in risk perception and risk communication, author of How Risky Is it, Really? Why Our Fears Don't Always Match the Facts, and principal co-author of RISK, A Practical Guide for Deciding What's Really Safe and What's Really Dangerous in the World Around You. I run a program called Improving Media Coverage of Risk. I was the Director of Risk Communication at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, part of the Harvard School of Public Health, for 4 years, prior to which I was a TV reporter, specializing in environmental issues, for a local station in Boston for 22 years.
Radiophobia had the Fukushima region by the throat, so it was decided that all 360,000 or so children and teens would be offered screening for thyroid irregularities.
We over-worry about terrorism when the latest attack makes news, and grow complacent when the headlines fade, and both our excessive and insufficient fears create risks all by themselves.
We are far more worried about the problem of parents not vaccinating their kids than low general vaccination rates for flu, which will sicken and kill way more of us, including WAY more kids.
Yet another analysis of the dangers of mercury feeds fears that aren't supported by solid evidence. Fanning false fears hurts people.
Advocates masquerading as scientists to try and establish credibility for biased claims do the public, and science, serious harm. And journalists who fail to call them out and report biased studies as fact compound the damage.
Which team you support tells others about your background and where your history lies. And the superstitions we obey in support of our team are a classic example of tribal loyalty.
An unfamiliar new threat that harms babies, that we can't protect ourselves from, that experts don't fully understand, and about which the media is blaring loud alarms; Zika virus has several powerful emotional characteristics that make any potential danger feel much more dangerous than it might actually be.
Super Bowl season illustrates a deep part of who we are, not just as sports fans.
The Campbell Soup Company says it will go ahead and label foods that contain GMO ingredients, breaking industry ranks on the issue holding up wider adoption of agricultural biotechnology.
The battle over gun control is really about fear.
Living longer, but worrying more. Why?
There is a lot of hypocrisy in the way Naomi Oreskes attacks four renowned climate scientists.
Insufficient commitments to carbon cuts, and a process to encourage deeper cuts that is only voluntary, are bad news for our future.
When we're worried, identifying with our in-groups feels safe. Demonizing others feels reassuring.
The Second Amendment is “... not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”
Lack of deep personal public concern about climate change limits the politically difficult actions governments are willing to take.
When we fear, we band together, and more readily treat people in other tribes as the enemy.
Coming together after a tragedy is equally tribal as causing the tragedy in the first place.
Why are we ready to hold big corporations legally liable for lying, but not all the other advocates whose manipulation of the truth does society real harm!?
Climate change doesn't have the emotional characteristics that make it truly deep-in-your-heart scary. Leaders will have to act anyway.
Now that It Causes Cancer, Are You Going to Give Up Your Bacon? How About Your Cellphone? Or Your Pesticides?
Cancer is the scariest disease, but not all causes of cancer frighten us equally.
Research finds that some early screening for breast cancer may do more harm than good. But that’s what the numbers say. How will women feel?
Most Americans want reasonable gun safety laws, and in a democracy, the majority is supposed to win. Why isn't it working that way with gun control?
Personal attacks on a speaker, especially about their funding, are a sign that the attacker can't dispute the facts the speaker is presenting. Beware the attacker too.
Does Living Near a Nuclear Plant Increase Cancer Risk? The NRC Was Right to Cancel a Study to Find Out.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has dropped a study on whether living near a nuclear plant increases the risk of cancer. Criticism of this decision is predictable, but unwarranted. The study would only have found what other research has shown. There is no link
Twenty-one strangers with different values and views, thrown together on a Grand Canyon rafting trip, managed to set aside those differences and build community.
The shooting of two charismatic animals stirred international outrage. But a more important event to the developing world concern with animal welfare was publication of Carl Safina's Beyond Words, What Animals Think and Feel.
"30 years after, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are bustling cities. 30 years after Chernobyl, abandoned city. What's the difference?"
Nuclear weapons do horrific widespread damage. Nuclear radiation, even at high doses, does not. But fear of radiation does. We have the survivors of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to thank for these lessons. We should honor their suffering by remembering both.
There are fair quarrels with the details of the Obama Administration plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. But beyond the details, the fact that such a major step is being taken in the first place is a hopeful sign that our leaders can lead with reason and wisdom, and not just follow public opinion and emotion, as we try to find a more sustainable path to the future.