How Risky Is It, Really?

Why Our Fears Don't Always Match the Facts

by David Ropeik

Number of pages: 288

Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education

BBB Library: Personal Success, Operations Management

ISBN: 9780071629690

About the Author

Ropeik is an international consultant and widely sought-after public speaker on risk perception and risk communication.


Editorial Review

You’ve probably seen this phenomenon in your family or friends, or maybe even within yourself, where the fears don’t seem to match the facts. Sometimes we’re more afraid of what the scientific evidence suggests are relatively small risks, but quite often, we aren’t afraid enough of the risks that the evidence suggests we should worry about more. This sort of risk perception is often explained by blaming the media and politicians and marketers and poor risk communication. But that is simplistic, naive, and inadequate. The first goal of this book is to explain where our perceptions of risk actually come from. The second goal is to make the case that this phenomenon, which we’ll call the Perception Gap, can be dangerous, a risk in and of itself. This Perception Gap, the potentially dangerous distance between our fears and the facts, is a risk that we need to recognize so that we can reduce it. And that brings us to the third goal: to propose ways to apply an understanding of where our fears come from, so that we can narrow the Perception Gap and make healthier choices.

Book Reviews

" Ropeik's suggestions for how to behave more rationally seem pretty obvious -- study the problem, read various points of view, and keep an open mind. Or, as he poetically puts it: "Learn more=decide better." To which the only logical response is: Duh." - The Washington Post

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Wisdom to Share

Living from one moment to the next forces us to make judgments and decisions when we don’t have all the facts, or enough time to get all the facts, or the intelligence necessary to understand all the facts.

We spend a lot of time and energy on the critical task of figuring out where danger lies.

At both the individual level and the societal level, we need to pay more attention to the hidden risk of the Perception Gap, which can threaten us in three ways.

The Perception Gap causes stress. Worrying too much causes clinical stress, and the list of bad things that stress can do to your health is long and sobering.

The Perception Gap can lead to risky personal behavior. After September 11, 2001, a lot of people were so afraid of flying that they drove to distant destinations instead.

The Perception Gap can lead to social policies that don’t maximize the protection of public and environmental health.

We use our minds as well as possible to make judgments about anything, including risks. But if we don’t have all the facts, what else do our minds use to decide?

How you see things, and how you think about them, depends to a large degree on how they are presented.

A lot of the information that we get about risks involves numbers. We’re not very good with numbers. Most of us are, as some have called it, innumerate.

The more involuntary a risk feels, the more worrisome it is likely to be.