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David Ropeik

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.

Europe Drops Chief Science Adviser. Don’t Like the Facts? Kill the Messenger.

Facing several controversies involving scientific complexity, the European government created a Chief Science Adviser to provide independent objective expertise and input into policy making. when some groups didn't like what the science said about genetically modified food, they objected to the whole idea of independent science advice to government. The EU government has caved to public pressure and abandoned the Chief Science Adviser function. We should ALL be scared by a move away from evidence-based policy making, toward a solely values-based approach.

The Environmentally Friendly Potato Environmentalists Can’t Love

A hybrid potato that can reduce food waste and eliminate a suspected carcinogen in cooked potato products would seem to be an environmentalist's dream. But the hybrid was created using biotechnology to blend potato genes from different varieties, so opponents of genetically modified food are fighting to keep this potentially beneficial product from ever reaching consumers.

The Danger of Advocacy Masquerading as Science

Increasingly, scientific research is being done in ways that seem to advocate the scientists' point of view, more than to objectively and dispassionately represent "the facts." Society is at risk when science is hijacked by advocacy-masquerading-as-objective-science, whether such distortion is done by researchers working for companies, governments, environmental groups, or just by scientists who allow their personal views to color the questions they ask and the way they describe and promote their findings.

Fear of Ebola. A Greater Risk Than the Disease Itself

Ebola is starting to pose a serious risk to public health in America. But the threat is not the disease itself. The real danger is a growing epidemic of fear, an infection that spreads much more readily than the virus, is far harder to treat, and which threatens to cause much more sickness and death. The longer this epidemic of fear persists, the greater the likelihood that fear of Ebola in the United States will harm public health far more than the deadly hemorrhagic virus itself.

Climate Change Makes News! But Does It Matter?

Big News! Climate change makes news! There's sustained, high-profile coverage in the major media this week, prompted by the UN Climate summit in New York. It's great news that climate change is making news. But it’s also sad, because as soon as the events are over, coverage will fade away, at least until the next meeting, or the next violent weather event, or the next political controversy stirred up by those still trying to promote doubt. 

9/11/2014: Reflecting on How to Make Smarter Choices About Risks

The odds of a large scale terrorist attack were low before that fateful day, and remain low now. But risk perception isn’t just a matter of the probabilities. It’s how the risk feels, and any risk that feels like a risk to you feels scarier than a risk that only endangers somebody else.

Godzilla and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism

            It rose up out of the sea, a fearsome roaring monster unlike anything humans had ever seen, horrible, primeval, unstoppable, towering, breathing radioactive fire and leaving total destruction in […]