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.
My career as a reporter spanned a remarkable time in local TV news, of both incredible journalistic creativity and commitment, and a profit-driven abandonment of journalism’s civic responsibility to […]
Update: A couple hours ago, a judge struck down the New York City ban on large-sized sodas as arbitrary and capricious, in part because the ban did not also include […]
Over at “Mind Matters”, my fellow blogger David Berreby offers an intriguing post Is Individual Liberty Over-Rated about some some new discussion of an old theme that I also […]
I was 19, a college sophomore. It was Spring, 1970, and the anti-Vietnam movement was bringing the progressive 60s to a crescendo. Four college students had been shot to […]
The New York Times reports that an MIT statistics professor has found that flying on a commercial jet has never been safer. Not that it was ever that much […]
Americans have always disagreed, about a lot. Somehow though, we’ve managed to get along with each other while we do. Why, then, has disagreeing become so nasty, so fierce, […]
You and I make risk judgments for ourselves all the time, based on a few facts and a lot of subjective, instinctive emotional factors. As a result we sometimes […]
Getting risk wrong leads to dangers all by itself, and we will remain vulnerable to these mistakes until we let go of our naïve post-Enlightenment faith in reason and accept that risk perception is inescapably an affective system, not just a matter of rationally figuring out the facts.
Humans are blessed, and cursed, with a risk perception system that mostly gets things right, but sometimes creates what I call a Risk Perception Gap, when we worry more […]
Have you read the 2008 Supreme Court decision that gives all Americans the right to own guns? Probably not. I hadn’t, until the other day, when I was stunned […]
Here’s something worrying. People are worried. A survey taken in December found that increasing numbers of people are pessimistic about the future. 44% said they were fearful about what […]
I write here about the Risk Perception Gap, when we worry too much about smaller risks and not enough about bigger ones. More than just an interesting example of […]
You may have missed it, but on the Friday heading into the Christmas holiday, the FDA announced its decision about the safety of salmon genetically engineered to grow faster. After […]
You know that supposed ‘debate’ about climate change? It sure isn’t about the science. A review by Dr. James Powell , a former member of the National Science Board (under […]
While guns don’t kill people, they certainly do make killing easier.
Smug confidence in human reason, and the belief that once fully educated and informed people will then make the objectively ‘right’ decision about risk, only widens the gap and increases the danger.
In case you haven’t heard, the world may end soon. Very soon. On December 21st at midnight, in fact, the last date on the Mayan Long Count Calendar. Tosh, […]
Optimism Bias – “Things will work out okay” or “things will work out better for me than the next guy” or, simply, “It won’t happen to ME!” – is one the mental games we play in order to do the things we want to do even when those choices come with costs or danger.
If you devote the patience necessary to finish this short post, you will end up a better decision maker. But then, as you will discover in the paragraphs below, […]
So you think you’re pretty smart, huh? Intelligent. Able to think critically, to reason, to weigh all the evidence and come up with the right answer and know what’s […]
Oh, the swell of hope. The hope that the bipartisanship so critical to progress might somehow arise from the post-election ashes of a rancorous and divisive national election. The […]
If you look east from most places in Seattle, you can see majestic Mt. Rainier looming tall and snow covered 80 miles to the west. Mt. Rainier is not […]
Seven years ago, FEMA was a four letter word. Public faith in the Federal Emergency Management Agency was decimated by the agency’s poor response to Hurricane Katrina. President Bush […]
Different audiences will try to answer the question “Did climate change cause Superstorm Sandy?” in significantly different ways. I am thinking of two; the ‘thought’ community of scientists and policy […]
A couple years ago, the government of New York City created a program on resilience to climate change and sea level rise. Many of the steps that program laid out […]
California voters will be asked in November whether the state should require labels to inform consumers that their food contains genetically modified ingredients. Supporters base their case on scientific evidence […]
A court in Italy has convicted six scientists and one civil defense official of manslaughter in connection with their predictions about an earthquake in l’Aquila in 2009 that killed […]
Dear England, The British press has had its knickers in a twist over Americans appropriating Britishisms for some time, whingeing about it in The Guardian, The Telegraph, The […]
People who think a risk will actually affect them and their families and communities, as opposed to somebody else, worry about that risk more. People who think a risk is […]
To: POTUS Re: DEBATE Suggested remarks regarding your performance in the first debate. Mr. President, Don’t forget that, like any choice people make, elections aren’t really about the facts […]