The creeping threat of the Risk Perception Gap


Overall, most of us are living in what is probably the safest time and place in human history - but our ability to hear about every bizarre death and danger keeps us paranoid and fearful. This is exasperated by those who push these fears, such as “stranger danger”. Now every lone male is eyed as an abductor in waiting. Or the overreaction and creation of the TSA to try to make us feel safer.


Hundreds of deaths, over 40 years? Compared to, say, the MILLIONS from malaria, and diarrhea from lack of clean drinking water, and HIVAIDS, in the very same region?

Malaria isn’t a thing where I live, I have clean drinking water (except a bit of sulphur), and HIV already had a huge panic. Plus HIV is treatable if you can afford the treatment. If I somehow get ebola, I’m rolling a d20 and need a 19 or 20.

It’s like people who are concerned because GMO are going to doom the human race, but they’ll happily eat crops developed by radiation breeding. One, or a few genes, got in place, measured and characterized are waaaaaay more dangerous than random mutations that do completely unknown things inside plants.

“Aaaannndddd I rolled a 1. What does that mean?”

“You botched your health roll. Roll d100 to see what you get on the botch table.”

“100! That’s good, right?”

“You bleed from every known orifice, discover some unknown orifices to bleed from, and infect and kill anyone you ever loved.”

“Sooooo - health potion?”


One of my favorite examples is the fact that KI (Potassium Iodide pills) flew off the shelves in California after the Fukushima accident. This means that people were dosing themselves with ~25 pCi (0.9 Bq) of radioactive material (K-40) per dose of KI in an attempt to protect themselves from an imagined threat.

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Gregory Benford had a great column on this subject back in 2000. It looked at Chernobyl; you could sort of read Fukushima into its place now. It’s interesting to see how skewed our perception of risk is from the actual probabilities.

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Written in a cut-up, confusing style. I gave up trying to follow and stopped reading.

Mr. President, we must not allow a Risk Perception gap!

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