Description: Consider this question; Is the coronavirus more or less dangerous that the flu (influenza)? Now, think about how you answered that question. Do you actually know how dangerous the flu and the coronavirus are? What their death rates are for those that contract them? Or did you come up with your answer based on your feeling of fear or anxiety about viral infection of either sort? And, can you tell how much of each of those things (facts/knowledge or feelings/fears) you actually used in coming up with your answer? If you are not sure don’t worry you are not alone. We are actually not very good at judging risks especially when those risks are arising non-locally and are getting a LOT of coverage (though not much science reporting). Have a look through the article linked below to see what our thoughts and feelings about the coronavirus tells us or shows us about our (poor) abilities to properly assess risk.
Source: The Coronavirus ‘Hits All the Hot Buttons’ for How We Misjudge Risk, Max Fisher, The Interpreter, The New York Times.
Date: February 13, 2020
We do not yet know important things about the coronavirus, such as what mortality rate will be associated with it or how widely it will spread and that means that many other processes and factors are at work driving our perceptions of the risk we face. Understanding these factors can help us to understand why we do not typically do a very good job assessing risk and why, even when we have really good actuarial data, we still do a poor job of assessing risk. Hard to get around as it is so automatic.
Questions for Discussion:
- How did you arrive at your initial assessment of the risk level associated with the coronavirus?
- Do you actually know what the risk levels are associated with flu?
- What should we (you) do going forward to properly assess and manage risks associated with things like the coronavirus?
References (Read Further):
Pastoor, T. P., Bachman, A. N., Bell, D. R., Cohen, S. M., Dellarco, M., Dewhurst, I. C., … & Moretto, A. (2014). A 21st century roadmap for human health risk assessment. Critical reviews in toxicology, 44(sup3), 1-5. Link
Siegrist, M., & Cvetkovich, G. (2001). Better negative than positive? Evidence of a bias for negative information about possible health dangers. Risk analysis, 21(1), 199-206. Link
Slovic, P., Fischhoff, B., & Lichtenstein, S. (1980). Facts and fears: Understanding perceived risk. In Societal risk assessment (pp. 181-216). Springer, Boston, MA. Link
Dieckmann, N. F., Johnson, B. B., Gregory, R., Mayorga, M., Han, P. K., & Slovic, P. (2017). Public perceptions of expert disagreement: Bias and incompetence or a complex and random world?. Public Understanding of Science, 26(3), 325-338. Link
Slovic, P., Kunreuther, H., & White, G. (2016). Decision processes, rationality and adjustment to natural hazards. In The perception of risk (pp. 39-69). Routledge. Link