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Thursday, February 23, 2006


Epidemiologists Need to Shatter the Myth of a Risk-Free Life

Epidemiologists Need to Shatter the Myth of a Risk-Free Life

This essay was originally published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, back in 2003, but I just discovered it and I think that it does a good job addressing some misperceptions that lead humans to support government.

The gist of it, from the article:
The illusion that immunity can be created by changing your behavior (or spending money) sets us up for terror. Whoever sent anthrax through the mail in 2001 managed to kill a total of five people -- sad, but frankly no worse than many car wrecks. The anthrax scare touched off hysteria (and a multimillion-dollar industry in anthrax prevention) because it exposed the bitter truth that the risk-free life is illusory. If we try to cling to the illusion, we'll continue to be susceptible to health terrorism, a term that is more to the point than bioterrorism -- that is, we'll continue to be terrorized that our health is in imminent jeopardy.

How did Americans come to have such faith in the risk-free life? We epidemiologists have to bear some of the burden. We made three mistakes: We bought into the focus on personal behavior rather than social reform, we provided too much information, and we colluded with the moralism of risk reduction.

I read a John Stossel interview where he said that, earlier in his career, after he had done a bunch of scare stories about this or that health risk, it started to dawn on him that the risks should be compared to other risks to provide a context. He started keeping a ranked list of risks in his office, which was one of the things that led to his developing a "give me a break" attitude towards scare stories about this or that health risk.

Wish I could find the link. It was probably an interview with Reason.
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