Risk Communication

An extract from a very interesting and eye-opening talk by Peter Sandman about risk communication:

"The fundamental principle of risk communication can be summarized in a number, [which] is the correlation between how much harm a risk does and how upset people get about it. If you look at a long list of risks, and you rank them in order of how upset people get [about them], then you rank them again in order of how much harm they do, then you correlate the two, you get a glorious 0.2....

That is, the risks that kill people and the risks that upset people are completely different. If you know that a risk kills people, you have no idea whether it upsets them or not. If you know it upsets them, you have no idea whether it kills them or not.

If you replace mortality with morbidity in the calculation -- you're not killing people, you're just making them sick -- our correlation remains 0.2. If you use ecosystem damage, the correlation is once again 0.2, and if, as this group likes to do, you correlate economic damage with public concern, the correlation is 0.2.

It doesn't seem to matter what your measure of harm is. Whatever your measure of harm, across a wide range of risks, the correlation between how much harm [a risk is] going to do and how upset people are going to get is this absurdly low 0.2 correlation."


desiskeptic said…
Interesting. Reinforces the need for our maps to better conform to the actual terrain.
Anonymous said…
that was an interesting read!
Anonymous said…
Does he mean people being upset by what killed them? of course, they're dead already, how can the cor-relation be anything more than 0.

How could some body NOT be upset by that which harms them physically?

Okay, I don't get it so I'm going to my not-so-cerebral blog. :P
Awais said…
@ misspecs

Does he mean people being upset by what killed them?Nope. He means people being upset about what killed other people.

How could some body NOT be upset by that which harms them physically?Because people don't know any better. Let's see there is an epidemic of disease A, which has a mortality rate of 5% and it gets a lot of press and media coverage, which makes people all upset and panicky about it. But what people don't know is that there is another disease B endemic in their own area that has a mortality rate of 25%, but it doesn't get much media coverage, and the statistics remain burried in some research papers unknown to the general public.

That's how :)
Anonymous said…
All right... I didn't read the original article in its entirety so I had no idea that perfect information was not a premise. Usually is so I assumed that in this case too.

Makes sense now :)
Abdul Sami said…
the art of making a mountain out of a molehill and ignoring the real problems at hand !

basic human nature!

also... this points to all the s2pid health and safety laws we have to deal with !! lol
Salman Latif said…
Rightly put.
We have our 'concerns' misplaced most of the times.