So much of what we think and do about risk does not make sense. (…) In Europe, where there are more cell phones than people and sales keep climbing, a survey found that more than 50 percent of Europeans believe the dubious claims that cell phones are a serious threat to health. And then there’s the striking contrast between Europeans’ smoking habits and their aversion to foods containing genetically modified organisms. Surely one of the great riddles to be answered by science is how the same person who doesn’t think twice about lighting a Gauloise will march in the streets demanding a ban on products that have never been proven to have caused so much as a single case of indigestion.
That’s Dan Gardner, in the introduction to his 2009 book Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear. Gardner also has another book out titled Future Babble, on the lack of accountability — not to mention the lack of accuracy — of experts making predictions.
I have the students in my Law, Economics, and Organization seminar read the beginning chapters of Gardner’s book as part of our in-class discussion of risk sharing and incentives, and they usually find Gardner’s book to be thought-provoking. Continue reading →