Thursday, May 7, 2009

Exploiting human fear

I am reading Dan Gartner's book Risk. The Science and Politics of Fear. This books contains fantastic observations on humankind's inability to fully comprehend and understand the risks we face. One aspect that really attracted my attention is the observation that the "marketing of fear" is not something only for marketing types. Scientists are also affected. Quoting from p180: 

The competing demands of being accurate and being heard can be particularly hard on scientists. Quoting Stephan Schneider: On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but, - which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists, but human beings as well. And like most people we'd like to see the world a better place... To do that we need to get some broad-based support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course, means getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we may have.

Explains a lot of scary headlines these days.


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