Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
SHARK ATTACKS!!! The Risk Is Tiny, but the Fear, and News Coverage, Are High. Why?
There is no clearer teaching example of the emotional nature of the way we perceive risk than the annual Summer of the Shark feeding frenzy of fear in the media when a few shark attacks grab the headlines.
It’s the Summer of the Shark! Again. An unusual spate of attacks off North Carolina, bumping up against the July Fourth “Hey, Let’s Go to the Beach” holiday, has put galeophobia back in the news. And as always, the news coverage leads with the dramatic story of an individual victim and frightening detail about the terror of the attack, and only later notes that the fear is hardly commensurate with the risk. Which of course raises the question: Why the alarmist coverage in the first place?
The reason for the coverage is that the idea of being attacked by a shark, unlikely as it is, is scary. But why, if the odds are so low? Because our perception of risk is not just about the numbers. It’s about emotions too. There is no better example of how risk perception is more a matter of emotion than quantitative reasoning than this classic illustration of how our fears sometimes don’t match the facts.
Fact: Shark attacks are rare. Fatal shark attacks are REALLY rare. The International Shark Attack File recorded 72 confirmed unprovoked shark attacks on people in 2014, and only three deaths, worldwide. You are at greater risk of dying from ... almost anything else ... than from being attacked by a shark.
But then, you probably know that. The infinitesimally low statistical likelihood of being attacked by a shark is noted in all the Summer of the Shark stories. So when The New York Times asks, "Should Swimmers Worry About Sharks?" they know, and you know, that the answer is, basically NO. At least, not based on the numbers.
But that’s what makes shark attack such a brilliant example of the emotional nature of the psychology of risk perception. The numbers are not the whole picture. They’re not even the biggest part of the risk picture. It’s how we FEEL about the numbers that matters most. And it’s easy to understand why, if you use the example of shark attack.
Would you rather die of a ventricular fibrillation (v-fib), when you heart goes out of electrical rhythm and you collapse unconscious and just never wake up, or being eaten alive by a shark? Several hundred Americans a DAY die of v-fib. Sharks kill an average of 20 people or so, worldwide, per YEAR. Shouldn’t you be more worried about sudden cardiac arrest?
Well, no, because in terms of what scares us, it’s not just the likelihood of becoming dead that matters. It’s also the experience by which you become dead, and being furiously and painfully chewed to death is, fair to say, more than a wee bit nastier than going to sleep ... and staying that way.
So the headline should ask, “Does it make sense for swimmers to worry about the experience of being attacked by a shark?” To which the answer is... well, yeah. For several discreet psychological reasons:
Pain and suffering, uncertainty and powerlessness, high awareness — those psychological characteristics make the idea of being attacked by a shark way scarier than the numbers do. And scary stories in the news grab our attention, because anything associated with danger instinctively and subconsciously triggers our brain to pay attention, in the name of survival. So shark attack stories get lots of coverage, which contributes to the fear.
So when a CNN anchor says, “When one shark attacks everyone takes notice and when 10 sharks attack people get scared,” she’s right. (Of course, she should add, “And when we cover these attacks with dramatic live reports and scary first-person stories, people get even more scared,” but that’s asking for a bit too much journalistic responsibility.) Fear is a feeling. Risk perception may sometimes seem to be irrational, but it makes perfect sense to be afraid of things that bear the emotional characteristics of something that feels dangerous. That's how we protect ourselves, and survive.
Shark attack, of course, also demonstrates that we sometimes worry more than the evidence warrants, and sometimes we worry less than the evidence warns. And that, what I call the Risk Perception Gap, can be dangerous too. How many people go to the beach with inadequate protection from the carcinogenic radiation of the sun, because natural risks are less scary? Or pig out on meals at the beach and add to bodies already way overweight (please put on a shirt, people — you know who you are), disregarding the very real risk being overweight poses for cardiovascular disease, or sudden cardiac arrest. Why? Because we're less afraid of risks that we engage in voluntarily, and over which we think we have some control: As in, "I'll go on a diet and start exercising... tomorrow."
Getting risk wrong can be risky all by itself. Knowing that we do, and why, is the first step toward thinking about risk a little more carefully, a little more objectively, which can produce choices that not only feel right but actually do us the most good. So, thank you, sharks off the Carolinas, and thank you, predictable Summer of the Shark news media feeding frenzy, for providing such a clarion example of the emotional nature of risk perception and a demonstration of the real danger we face because our fears so often don’t match the facts.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.