The Science and Politics of Fear

Book - 2008
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Random House, Inc.
In the tradition of Malcolm Gladwell, Gardner explores a new way of thinking about the decisions we make.

We are the safest and healthiest human beings who ever lived, and yet irrational fear is growing, with deadly consequences — such as the 1,595 Americans killed when they made the mistake of switching from planes to cars after September 11. In part, this irrationality is caused by those — politicians, activists, and the media — who promote fear for their own gain. Culture also matters. But a more fundamental cause is human psychology.

Working with risk science pioneer Paul Slovic, author Dan Gardner sets out to explain in a compulsively readable fashion just what that statement above means as to how we make decisions and run our lives. We learn that the brain has not one but two systems to analyze risk. One is primitive, unconscious, and intuitive. The other is conscious and rational. The two systems often agree, but occasionally they come to very different conclusions. When that happens, we can find ourselves worrying about what the statistics tell us is a trivial threat — terrorism, child abduction, cancer caused by chemical pollution — or shrugging off serious risks like obesity and smoking.

Gladwell told us about “the black box” of our brains; Gardner takes us inside, helping us to understand how to deconstruct the information we’re bombarded with and respond more logically and adaptively to our world. Risk is cutting-edge reading.

Publisher: Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, 2008
ISBN: 9780771032998
Characteristics: 395 p. ; 24 cm
Alternative Title: Risk


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Jul 15, 2013

This was a good book on how the human mind works and how governments and advertisers take advantage of our 'Head' and 'Gut' thinking. The Head can overrule the Gut but only if we are aware of the power and limitations the Gut operates with.

I read this book after someone who commented on "Thinking: Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman" said this book was better. I am not sure I liked it better but it was certainly worth reading.

I would recommend Mr. Kahneman's book to anyone who read and enjoyed this book. (If you read this book you will remember that Mr. Kahneman was quoted many times). I am working hard on understanding my thinking, and that of those around me, and both these books were insightful.

Feb 10, 2011

They say that sex sells. Dan Gardner argues convincingly that fear sells as well. We are very bad at properly evaluating the risks in our modern, technological society. This is not surprising, considering that we evolved on the African plains. Fear kept us alive. Fear of snakes, lions, and other predators. We needed to make snap judgments. We continue to do so, but in situations that are much more complicated and require more thought. Our intuition is often wrong in modern life.

In this very good book, Gardner explains the psychology behind the way we assess danger and how the media, politicians, and other communicators use that knowledge to solicit our support for their causes. Basically, if it's scary, we remember it and think it's more common than it might really be. Gardner shows how we over-estimate the risk of cancer, terrorism, pollution, and other modern threats and underestimate the likelihood of the things that are more likely to kill us, like old age, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, or car accidents.

The book does go on longer than necessary to get the point across. And Gardner's tone, while not quite patronizing, does seem a little harsh to judge us for being human and prone to snap decisions. The final chapter is a must-read for some perspective on how good modern life really is.

Feb 01, 2011

I loved the heck out of this book. Very captivating and engaging. Great stories and examples of how human beings effectively suck at managing risk. But not to worry, we're just programmed that way - as Dan Gardner lays out quite nicely.

Oct 05, 2008

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