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.
Oh how fickle are our fears. We over-worry about terrorism when the smoke is in the air and the ambulance sirens scream. And we under-fear when no one is bleeding and the headlines have moved from the most recent attack back to the normal noise of the day. As a recent encounter with security at Heathrow Airport, before the Brussels bombings, demonstrated…
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.
You’ve heard about the big vaccines problem, right, that some parents aren’t vaccinating their kids? Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent trying to solve this threat to public health. But resistance to childhood vaccination isn’t close to the most worrisome category of vaccination reluctance in the United States. Yes, it’s tragic that hundreds of children are getting sick from measles or dying of pertussis (whooping cough) in communities where vaccine refusal has allowed what should have been isolated cases to spread. Yes, it’s infuriating that some parents are, by protecting their kids, putting other kids at risk. But this problem is nowhere near the health threat Americans face because of the astoundingly low number of people getting vaccinated each year against the flu.
Yet another analysis of the dangers of mercury feeds fears that aren't supported by solid evidence. Fanning false fears hurts people.
A thoughtful new analysis of the benefits of reducing public exposure to mercury adds to several studies suggesting that whatever it costs to make those cuts, either under the U.S. Mercury and Air Toxics Rule (MATS) or the international Minamata Convention, it’s worth doing. But like that entire body of work, this new analysis is based on a controversial assumption about just how much harm mercury does in the first place. It turns out that this widely known and feared environmental bogeyman might not be as serious a danger as this new study suggests, which the environmental and science media are mostly failing to report.
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.
The headline on the website of the environmentalist organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) focuses on two of the movement's biggest current bogeymen; Monsanto, and its popular pesticide, glyphosate. Study: Monsanto's Glyphosate Most heavily Used Weed-Killer in History, the EWG story reports;
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.