Risk Perception

by Judith Curry

Over at nature.com,  Dave Ropeik has posted an essay entitled “Risk Perception.”

“No matter what the hard risk sciences may tell us the facts are about a risk, the social sciences tell us that our interpretation of those facts is ultimately subjective.”

Dave Ropeik’s essay

The entire essay is well worth reading, and there are some good tables and figs also.  Some excerpts :

While this system has done a good job getting us this far along evolution’s winding road, it also gets us into trouble because sometimes, no matter how right our perceptions feel, we get risk wrong. We worry about some things more than the evidence warrants (vaccines, nuclear radiation, genetically modified food), and less about some threats than the evidence warns (climate change, obesity, using our mobiles when we drive). That produces what I have labeled The Perception Gap, the gap between our fears and the facts, which is a huge risk in and of itself.

The Perception Gap produces dangerous personal choices that hurt us and those around us (declining vaccination rates are fueling the resurgence of nearly eradicated diseases). It causes the profound health harms of chronic stress (for those who worry more than necessary). And it produces social policies that protect us more from what we’re afraid of than from what in fact threatens us the most (we spend more to protect ourselves from terrorism than heart disease)…which in effect raises our overall risk.

Here’s a mad dash through the literature on risk perception:

• Neuroscience by Joseph LeDoux et.al. has discovered neural pathways that insure that we respond initially to risky stimuli subconsciously/instinctively, before cognition kicks in. And in the ongoing risk response that follows, the wiring and chemistry of the brain also insure that instinct and affect (feelings) play a significant role, sometimes the primary role, in how we perceive and respond to danger. Simplistically, the brain is designed to subconsciously feel first and consciously think second, and to feel more and think less.

• The research of Daniel Kahneman et.al. has discovered a mental toolbox (as Gird Gigerenzer puts it) of heuristics and biases we use to quickly make sense of partial information and turn a few facts into the full picture of our judgment. These mental shortcuts occur subconsciously, outside (and often before) conscious reasoning. This research further confirms that we are far more Homo Naturalis than Homo Rationalis.

• The Psychometric Paradigm research of Paul Slovic et.al. has revealed a suite of psychological characteristics that make risks feel “more” frightening, or less, the facts notwithstanding.  Recent research on the theory of Cultural Cognition by Dan Kahan et.al has found that our views on risks are shaped to agree with those we most strongly identify with, based on our group’s underlying feelings about how society should operate. We fall into four general groups about the sort of social organization we prefer, defined along two continua, represented as a grid. We all fall somewhere along these two continua, depending on the issue.

Individualists prefer a society that maximizes the individual’s control over his or her life. Communitarians prefer a society in which the collective group is mire actively engaged in making the rules and solving society’s problems (Individualists deny environmental problems like climate change because such problems require a ‘we’re all in this together’ communal response. Communitarians see climate change as a huge threat in part because it requires a social response). Along the other continuum, Hierarchists prefer a society with rigid structure and class and a stable predictable status quo, while Egalitarians prefer a society that is more flexible, that allows more social and economic mobility, and is less constrained by ‘the way it’s always been’. (Hierarchists deny climate change because they fear the response means shaking up the free market-fossil fuel status quo. Shaking up the status quo is music to the ears of Egalitarians, who are therefore more likely to believe in climate change.)

That risk is inescapably subjective is disconcerting for those who place their faith in the ultimate power of Pure Cartesian “I think, therefore I am” Reason. But the robust evidence summarized above makes clear that;

1. Risk perception is inescapably subjective
2. No matter how well educated or informed we may be, we will sometimes get risk wrong, producing a host of profound harms.
3. In the interest of public and environmental health, we need a more holistic, and more realistic, approach to what risk means. Societal risk management has to recognize the risk of risk misperception, the risk that arises when our fears don’t match the evidence, the risks of The Perception Gap.

The challenge is to rationally let go of our irrational belief in the mythical God of Perfect Reason, and use what we know about the psychology of risk perception to more rationally manage the risks that arise when our subjective risk perception system gets things dangerously wrong.

Dave Ropeik’s comment at collide-a-scape

DR has commented on Jonathan Gilligan’s post:

May I suggest that the most important point he makes is the lesson, for climate change, of how things turned for Yucca Mountain, and WHY.  The DOE and Congress, in their infinite lack of wisdom and intellectually naive belief in the facts and science and ‘reason’, effectively told Nevada “Tag! You’re IT!”, and ignored the findings of Slovic et.al. that people fear imposed risks far more than risks they choose to take themselves. This key oversight, embodied in the ‘Screw Nevada Bill’, predictably doomed the Yucca project to decades of delay and opposition. Indeed, this is the precise factor cited by Phil Sharp of Resources for the Future and The President’s Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on America’s Nuclear Future when he says in their preliminary report that the reason Yucca failed was that it was jammed down people’s throats. Compare that to the way the Finn’s cited a high level nuclear waste repository…offering potential host communities $$$ to study what would be involved, BUT GIVING THEM VETO POWER IF AFTER THEIR RESEARCH THEY STILL WANTED TO SAY NO. Of 6 possible host sites, 4 said no and 2 fought to host it! It got done in under 10 years (it’s nearing completion.)The Swedes are copying this, and the Spaniards are trying. The BRC is wisely studying all those models, and visited Finland to learn how they did it.

This is a valuable lesson for climate change. As Prof. Gilligan points out, risk is not just about the facts, but how those facts FEEL. If we understand WHY people feel the way they do about climate change, (not HOW they feel, but WHY), we can respect the powerful psychological underpinnings of where people are coming from as we look for ways to encourage actions to mitigate and adapt. THAT’s where we will find progress, not in arguing the facts alone and trying to convince people to change their minds about the evidence per se.

(by the way not to be too self-promoting, but “the research on the complex psychology of preferences, emotions, and uncertainty by Pal Slovic, Dan Kahan, et. al” is precisely what I have brought together and summarized in my book “How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts”. Ch. 5 has initial proposed solutions to some big problems, using these insights, and is available free online athttp://www.dropeik.com

Nullius in Verba counters with this:

“I am not sure I entirely agree with David Ropeik on his “getting past the intellectual argument” stance.”
Me neither. It’s all very well to switch from arguments to motives, but the same logic applies in reverse. Should sceptics instead of trying to argue climate science, instead try to find out why AGW believers believe as they do? And then find ways we can respect the powerful psychological underpinnings of where people are coming from as we look for ways to discourage hasty and counter-productive action. If the method works at all, it should work for us too, shouldn’t it?

JC comments:  I have been reading some of the risk perception literature, but this essay really synthesizes and clarifies things.  Much of the disagreement that is commonly assumed to be political is really more deeply rooted in psychology and cultural identities.  Awareness of these issues is critical:

“. . . use what we know about the psychology of risk perception to more rationally manage the risks that arise when our subjective risk perception system gets things dangerously wrong.”

100 responses to “Risk Perception

  1. Psychosocial babble rescued by Nullius in Verba’s comment. The biggest risk by far is in the unrelenting “spread the gospel” approach by people so utterly convinced they’re right, they’re ready to utter homeopathy-like pseudoscientific inanities such as the importance of the lizard brain or of a “holistic

    • So it’s all nonsense except the part that echoes what you already believed about climate change.

      Thank you for illustrating the aforementioned irrationality.

    • You are right on target!

      Emotionalism is the natural enemy of rational thought.

      So political leaders used government support of scientific research to mold government science into a tool of emotion-filled propaganda to control people: Danger! Nazi! Warning! Communist! Beware! Viet Cong! Global warming! Etc., ad infinitum.

      The start of the propaganda message may vary, but the conclusion is always the same: Big Brother knows best. Obey Big Brother. Rational thought cannot be trusted.

      George Orwell apparently saw the real danger ahead in 1948 and tried to communicate this fact in his book about the future, “1984”.

      http://www.online-literature.com/orwell/1984/

      On 17 January 1961 former President Eisenhower warned of the inherent dangers to our free society from:

      1. “An Industrial Military Complex”, and
      2. A Federal “Scientific-Technological Elite.”

      http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/ike.htm

      I personally witnessed development of the “scientific-technological elite” during my research career, including hiding and manipulating experimental data observations from the Apollo Mission to the Moon, the Galileo Mission to Jupiter and numerous analyses of samples from the Sun, meteorites, comets, asteroids and other planets.

      Even the discovery of the first planetary system [1,2] beyond the solar system was downplayed because it did not fit the Standard Solar Model of the Sun and other stars.

      Decades of deceit and data manipulation (1960-2009) preceded the global warming scandal, all apparently intended to show that politicians are more powerful than the violently unstable pulsar that gave birth to the solar system, powers the Sun today, and controls our very lives [3].

      Of course, the entire story of cosmology was distorted by this unrealistic view of a Sun [4] controlled by the likes of Al Gore, NAS, the Royal Society, and the UN’s IPCC.

      1. A. Wolszczan and D. Frail, “”A planetary system around the millisecond pulsar PSR1257 + 12″, Nature 355 (1992): 145–147.

      2. “Confirmation of Earth Mass Planets Orbiting the Millisecond Pulsar PSR B1257+12″, Science 264 (1994): 538–542.

      3. “Neutron Repulsion”, The APEIRON Journal, in press (2011) 19 pages

      http://arxiv.org/pdf/1102.1499v1

      4. “Is the Universe Expanding?” The Journal of Cosmology 13 (2011)4187-4190 (2011)

      http://journalofcosmology.com/BigBang102.html

      With kind regards,
      Oliver K. Manuel
      Former NASA Principal
      Investigator for Apollo

  2. apologies for the unfinished commemt

    Psychosocial babble rescued by Nullius in Verba’s comment. The biggest risk by far is in the unrelenting “spread the gospel” approach by people so utterly convinced they’re right, they’re ready to utter homeopathy-like pseudoscientific inanities such as the importance of the lizard brain or of a “holistic approach” (Feng Shui can’t be far away). That (leftist, elitist, non-inclusive, partisan, integralist) way of thinking will make sure warmists will lose every argument even if global temps rise even more than expected.

    • What’s very typically leftist about this style of argumentation is the way he’ll wrap his unproven bitter pill in a candy coat of the obvious. This is a common tactic. He states something obvious and uncontroversial about psychology, and then slyly slips in the bit about climate change being in the same category as obesity and driving while cell phoning. This isn’t an accident, it’s a tactic.

  3. Truth and Beauty as
    Through an atmosphere darkly,
    Displayed upon a Wall.
    ===========

  4. And here’s a link for another likely future thanks to Nature magazine and the Ropeiks of this world:

    The political abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union originated from the concept that persons who opposed the Soviet regime were mentally ill because there was no other logical explanation why one would oppose the best sociopolitical system in the world

    Likewise, the political abuse of science in AGW circles originates from the concept that persons who opposed the urgency of dealing with catastrophic AGW are mentally ill/unable to get informed/victims of their misjudged risk perception because there is no other logical explanation why one would oppose the best scientific consensus system in the world.

    • This analysis has really touched a nerve with you. Three out of the four responses are you complaining about it. Recognize yourself in it, perhaps?

    • Indeed, this is one of the most interesting, and dangerous, lines of reasoning in the climate debate. People who believe that the issue is settled beyond all reasonable doubt have to explain why so many people disagree with them. The possible causes are that their opponents are ignorant, stupid, irrational (or dishonest). All four of these arguments are easily found, on both sides.

      The point is that psychological analysis is a dangerous road to go down, as an alternative to rational argument. In other words, who exactly is supposed to “…more rationally manage the risks that arise when our subjective risk perception system gets things dangerously wrong.” The government? Who? If everyone is irrational then what is the rational thing to do? The theory destroys itself.

      • Tom Scharf

        I don’t think it is dangerous, per se. They are simply trying to answer “How did this happen?”.

        It is part of the process some of the activists are going through trying to accept that a band of what they apparently perceive to be “mentally ill anti-science deniers” has actually handed them a humiliating loss. They are searching for any reason that can answer how a group of people they considered far inferior has beat them (so far).

        The reverse is true for the virtual elimination of nuclear energy in the 1970’s. Eventually they will be forced to point that instrument of psychoanalysis at themselves, some are already doing so.

        The failure of this movement to get traction is varied, but to me they made a huge tactical error when they decided to not engage in debate any long en masse with skeptics. (the science is settled…).

        How many times have you seen lack of respect for the opposition take down a favorite? Happens in sports on a regular basis. They really need to come to grips with the fact that they made serious mistakes (exaggeration, disrespect for alternate views, arrogance, entitlement, elitism, etc.) along the way. As long as they keep looking outward for the reasons for failure, it is unlikely they will be able to regain momentum.

      • Well said Tom. Or as Machiavelli put it “In war and politics, the greatest advantage is to be underestimated by your opponent.”

  5. Revkin just had a post hypothesizing that the rabble are not “getting” climate change because it’s too far in the future for our primitive minds to grasp. If we’re not in the pay of Big Oil, then the only explanation is mental defect. Apostates over the age of 65 are often assumed to be senile.

    If alarmists put half the energy they use trying to figure out what’s “wrong” with skeptics into actually, you know, listening to what they have to say, this thing would soon be over.

  6. Hampton Hill

    OK. So the analysis uses a continuum of Individualist vs Communitarian on one axis and Hierarchist vs Egaliatarian on the other.

    Individualist are supposed to ‘deny’ climate change, while Egalitarians embrace it.

    What should be my reaction to it according to this model? I classify myself as an Individualist and an Egalitarian.

    • The model doesn’t care how you classify yourself. It’s a description of how people think, not a list of fraternities you pledge to.

      • Hampton Hill

        Well if it is a useful model, should be able to do some prediction too. If not, what use is it?

        I repeat my question, leaving aside my personal propenisties.

        How does it predict a generalised Individualist Egalitarian (using its own classifications) would react to climate change?

  7. There’s nothing new here; I’ve been hearing about people who will drive cross country out of fear of flying when flying is clearly statistically safer since I was little. But lumping climate change in with driving while yakking on a cell phone is disingenuous; it’s obvious that the certainty of risk is not in any way comparable.

    • Latimer Alder

      Too simplistic.

      The risk of being killed in an accident is higher on the roads. But is still pretty small.

      But for the individual concerned that may not be the risk they are worried about. Could be that simply being in an aeroplane brings on a serious and very unpleasant panic attack with 100% certainty. And being in a car doesn’t.

      In both cases the risk of death by accident is pretty small and is to all intents and purposes identical. So it is a pretty sensible decision for a sufferer to choose to drive and avoid the certainty of the panic attack.

      ‘Safety’ is not an absolute. Being safe from a panic attack may be meaningless to you or I but not so to somebody else.

  8. Jeff Norris

    I said this over Keith’s place and will repost over here.
    To counteract the manipulations of social forces that are constantly trying to control what you believe, just apply a little skepticism to the information you get about
    any risk. Who is the source? What might that source’s financial or political motivationbe? How fair does the source seem to be with the facts? How open-minded is the source
    about alternative points of view? (Remember, you have to be a little questioning even ofsources with which you agree.) A dose of healthy skepticism about the honesty and
    validity of information on contentious risk issues will probably get you closer to the sort of independent thinking that should help you end up the healthiest.
    Excellent advice for both sides Mr. Ropeik but I don’t think it will break the trench lines. Ideological world views are in play, the hint of heresy as Keith would acknowledge is not to be tolerated.

  9. “Remember, you have to be a little questioning even of sources with which you agree.”

    Especially those with which you agree.

  10. Another Climate Science-Free Posting at Climate, Etc.

    Andrew

  11. you cant science your way out of this problem.

  12. The closing of Yucca Mountain is the result of the psychological weakness of the people of Nevada in correctly perceiving risk? What utter gibberish.

    Progressive greens have been demagoguing nuclear power for decades. One of their primary tools has been inflating the public’s fears about anything nuclear, including nuclear waste. The closing of Yucca Mountain was a goal of the watermelons because, if they could inflate the NIMBY fears of the Nevadans to close a remote, safe site, then they could then use the same fears about local storage of nuclear waste to eventually strangle nuclear power entirely.

  13. I have been reading some of the risk perception literature, but this essay really synthesizes and clarifies things. Much of the disagreement that is commonly assumed to be political is really more deeply rooted in psychology and cultural identities.

    What politics isn’t?

    • Indeed, political parties are made up of like minded people. Mindedness is a matter of psychological and cultural identity. So what? It does not make one side right or wrong. Nor does it make anyone irrational, which is what the psych lit sometimes seems to suggest, especially this new fad of explaining the psychology of climate skepticism.

      Polls suggest that Democrats buy dangerous AGW by a ratio of roughly 3 or 4 to 1, while Republicans reject AGW by roughly the same margin. (Most climate scientists are Democrats by the way.) These are interesting numbers but scientific analysis of why this is true is irrelevant to the debate (except for possibly explaining why most climate scientists buy AGW). As Mosher says above “you cant science your way out of this problem.”

  14. (Hierarchists deny climate change because they fear the response means shaking up the free market-fossil fuel status quo. Shaking up the status quo is music to the ears of Egalitarians, who are therefore more likely to believe in climate change.)

    Then why are the warmists the ones screaming their Truths from the cathedral, demanding a more controlling hierarchy with broader scope of control? Hierarchists have no desire to prop up any form of free market, neither of fossil fuels nor of ideas. It is the egalitarians who mistrust ideas from on high, preferring to trust in their own abilities and those of their neighbors in the form of the free market bazaar of goods and ideas.

  15. The comments in this thread are hilarious.

    How anyone can not see the tribal character of the combatants on both sides of this debate is astounding to me.

    And what causes that tribalistic behavior of not psychological makeup and cultural identities?

    What I am still stymied by, Judith, is how you can recognize the underlying human characteristics that lead to tribal behavior (manifest in selective reasoning and political focus), yet still see some vast “asymmetry” in this debate.

    Hmmmm. Now what might lead to Judith’s perception of a greater risk from tribalism among climate scientists than from “deniers/skeptics?” Quite a mystery, isn’t it?

    • Joshua, it’s called wisdom

    • Jeff Norris

      Joshua
      If I am reading your question right .
      And what causes that tribalistic behavior of not psychological makeup and cultural identities?
      I think you and others are letting semantics get in the way. In reading some of the literature I can see no distinction made by Kahan between Cultural and Ideological or psychological and moral (based on what somebody’s conscience suggests is right or wrong, rather than on what rules or the law says should be done) for that matter.

      • My assumption is that psychological makeup and cultural identities are probably very similar influences – and very difficult to tease out from each other. Certainly, while there are psychological tendencies that are shared by virtually all humans, many psychological tendencies are culturally influenced. I guess I see morality as a second-order function of psychological and cultural influences for the most part. Political perspective is perhaps a third-order function?

        But I’m not sure I get your point.

        My point is that a baseline assumption for everyone involved should be that their reasoning (risk analysis being one part of that reasoning) is affected by certain predispositions. It is incumbent on anyone who is interested in resolving the debate to accept that reality and work from there to control for their own subjectivity as best they can. It is possible, at least to some degree, get above the subjective bickering, and I applaud Judy’s interest in doing so. But it is inherently illogical to see the underlying psychology of tribalism as being disproportionately manifest in participants on one side of the debate. If you have that as your starting point, you undermine your own credibility.

        “Deniers/skeptics” are people too.

      • Well, aside from tongue-in-cheek posts, I have never thought one could explore warmism as a kind of psychological (or even psychiatric) condition. I’ll also be the first one admitting al my biases…but then, I am not among the ones trying to blow up dissenters or label them as insane or mentally weak.

      • Joshua, I cannot figure out what you mean by controlling for ones own subjectivity. How does one do that? Doubt what one believes simply because one believes it? That would be nuts. Stop being human?

        Nor is it illogical to believe that one is confronting a political movement, which seems like a paradigm of tribalism, not that I understand that concept either. Are you a sociologist?

    • Joshua, the asymmetry comes from the policy proposals and their impacts.

  16. The journal Nature should change it’s name to Religion.

    His last sentence
    The challenge is to rationally let go of our irrational belief in the mythical God of Perfect Reason, and use what we know about the psychology of risk perception to more rationally manage the risks that arise when our subjective risk perception system gets things dangerously wrong.

    He’s obviously preaching to the choir. How do you “rationally let go” of the irrational? What is the “God of Perfect Reason”? There is nothing rational about the psychology of risk perception. It’s completely subjective as his examples illustrate.

    What an oxymoron.

    • I agree, Teddy.

      Nature and Dave Ropeik want us “to rationally let go of our irrational belief in the mythical God of Perfect Reason” and to accept the infallibility of Nature, Science, PNAS, Proceedings of the Royal Society, the US National Academy of Sciences, the UK’s Royal Society, the UN’s IPCC, and of course world leaders, Al Gore, and other propaganda artists – i.e., the modern versions of George Orwell’s “Big Brother.”

      http://www.online-literature.com/orwell/1984/

      The danger today is not global warming, but a tyrannical world government that asks citizens “to rationally let go of our irrational belief in the mythical God of Perfect Reason” !

      Oliver K. Manuel

    • I smell natural science envy on the part of social “scientists”. This is an old story.

  17. Paul Vaughan

    Sensible people won’t have time for this sickeningly flowery abstract framing. An applicable expression from Bulgarian: “много сладък” [pronounced “nogo slatka” (“too sweet”)].

    Notes for sensible folks averting defeatist invitations:
    https://judithcurry.com/2011/05/28/uncertainty-risk-and-inaction/#comment-71516

  18. Ropeik: “No matter what the hard risk sciences may tell us the facts are about a risk, the social sciences tell us that our interpretation of those facts is ultimately subjective.”

    Somehow people who advocate CO2 restrictions forget that statements such as that above apply to their belief systems too. Why is Julian Simon, who is by far the greatest environmental futurist, almost totally ignored? Environmentalists should stop whining about others perception of science and deal with the fact that no one looks at “facts” totally objectively. If they can’t achieve their policy goals in a partially irrational world, they are failures just like anyone else who tries to achieve goals in a partially irrational world.

    To give an example from a totally different area. My deceased wife and my current fiance were and are Chinese physicians. I know many very bright and intelligent Chinese people with scientific backgrounds. However, they cling to many superstitions that are part of Chinese culture, such as the belief that cold drinks are generally bad for your health. Also, the Chinese have a very unhealthy way of eating (everyone uses chopsticks to obtain their food from the same communal dishes). Notwithstanding the high prevalence of hepatitis in China, they eat this way even though it poses a substantial danger of spreading hepatitis.

    JD

  19. The paradigm that is now being promoted as “Cultural Cognition” by Kahan et al. has a long history as “Cultural Theory”, based on original work by anthropologist Mary Douglas and built upon by Michael Thompson, Aaron Wildavsky, Steve Rayner, and others. Thompson and Rayner have both applied it to climate politics.

    It is superficially appealing because the categories Individualist, Hierarchist, Egalitarian, Fatalist do in fact provide a good first-order categorization of the people we meet in our everyday political lives. However, as a theory it is incoherent, because it offers little useful that explains why people with otherwise similar cultural and social backgrounds have very different beliefs on certain topics, or why they change their minds about things. And it leads to an effectively relativist view of science.

    I haven’t read the full works of the “cultural cognition” group to see whether they’re able to give any better theoretical grounding to it than the original Cultural Theory folks did.

    –Paul

  20. Oh yes – I forgot to mention that Cultural Theory leaves “economic interests” out of the realm of explanations of people’s beliefs.

    –Paul

  21. “You’re an optimist.”

    Not really. It was more a rhetorical flourish.

  22. “The comments in this thread are hilarious.
    How anyone can not see the tribal character of the combatants on both sides of this debate is astounding to me.And what causes that tribalistic behavior of not psychological makeup and cultural identities?”

    This is reductive to the point of not being useful. I’m a liberal Democrat, a rabid environmentalist, and a general loather of all things conservative, at least socially speaking. I have all the usual prejudices, all the “tribal” blind spots if you will. And yet it took all of a few weeks for me to realize my “tribe” had it wrong. I’m just about certain most of my liberal friends would do the same thing if they’d just take the time to do a little research.

    • And just think how many other rabid liberal positions you would abandon if you applied the same critical analysis to them :-)

  23. If risk comes into how you decide what the scientific truth is, you are not doing the science correctly. The science is objective. You have to think about the earth as though it is a different planet from the one we live on. This frees you to think about the science in a more correct dispassionate way, and come to your own conclusion about how much warming will occur in the next century that is separate from psychology and politics, or inconvenience in some sense.

  24. “. . . use what we know about the psychology of risk perception to more rationally manage the risks that arise when our subjective risk perception system gets things dangerously wrong.”

    This kind of flies in the face of species survival.

    If we all individually examined every potential risk our daily lives would be completely non-functional. So as a species we all recongize and act based on different risk perception. Some of us are correct andlive long and prosper and some of us are wrong and end up getting eaten by the ‘cute over-sized kitty with the big teeth’.

    If we adopted a ‘common’ risk perception then we would all either prosper or perish and most likely perish because the odds of a panel of appointed experts being 100% correct forever is zero.

    • If we all individually examined every potential risk our daily lives would be completely non-functional.

      Nail on the head. There aren’t enough bricks in the universe to eliminate over all the theoretical threats that can be conjured. This is why I could never be a conspiracy theorist. I don’t have the energy to stare at the ceiling at 3 in the morning wondering if the CIA and the Klingons are burrowing under my house.

      They might be, you know. You can’t prove that they aren’t.

  25. Morley Sutter

    Is important to think of risk not in isolation but rather as a risk/benefit ratio. The word benefit is amazingly rare or even absent from this present discussion. A man named Starr wrote an article on perception of risk in the journal Science in 1967, if my memory serves me well. In that article he described a number of features of risk assessment that are relevant here. He pointed out that we live our life in time, roughly one million hours per person and that it is useful to express risk in terms of time spent doing the activity under consideration. We all die so the overall risk of dying in terms of time spent living is approximately one per million man hours. He argued that unless the risk of doing some activity is substantially greater than one per million man hours, we tend to ignore it.
    He further pointed out that we are willing to take much more risk if we initiate the risk-taking compared to having the risk imposed on us, e.g., mountain climbing compared to being asked to do a particular job.
    Perceived benefits are always completely subjective and must be considered in any discussion of perception of any risk. In the context of anthropogenic global warming, the benefits of acting now are largely unknown, societal in nature and in the future. Is it any wonder that only risks of AGW are commonly discussed?

    • Jeff Norris

      I agree completely that humans think in a risk/benefit frame. I suspect proponents would counter that in a collective action like CC benefits are realized in emotional/moral terms in line with Reciprocity Theory as put forth by Dan Kahan. Now Kahan stipulates that his theory has weakness when it comes to Free Riders and Trust but in the terms of CC those are some big hurdles.
      Jonathan Gilligan wrote about Intergenerational equity as a benefit of action to CC in a paper called Ethics in Geologic Time

      Click to access Ethics-in-Geological-Time.pdf


      He admits that he is not satisfied with his answer but if you enjoy looking at Comparative religions, or metaphysics it is kind interesting.

  26. Tom Scharf

    An important question is where are they going with all this?

    Suppose they all agree on the specific mental illness that is affecting the masses, then what? I assume this is all about designing a new kind of media campaign (or propaganda if you will) that works better than the consensus theory, or whatever this bit they are using now.

    It’s kind of strange that the leading question is now “how do we psychologically manipulate people to come to our point of view?”.

    I think we are witnessing this movement implode in slow motion. By implode I mean it is being reduced to what it should have always been all along, continued research and data gathering until we can get a clearer picture of where the climate is going, whether it is a threat, and whether we should do anything about it. A good question, not a national emergency.

    Want a really scary thought for us “the science ain’t there yet” types? Assume we do get really good at prediction, and subsequently detect a real emergency, then what? Nobody may listen, with justification. Seems I heard a fairy tale about this…

    An important question to ask yourself is “what would it take to change sides on this argument?”.

    To me it would be demonstrated skill in predicting future climate over several decades. And it would need to show “real skill”. What I mean by this is that it would need to predict an unusual event beyond the current linear trending and possible decadal oscillation. Demonstrate the internal physics are really producing predictable non-linear responses.

  27. The discussion of Yucca Mountain and imposed vs voluntarily-accepted risks certainly has the potential to change the nature of the discussion for this skeptic. How high a carbon tax would I be willing to pay to reduce the risk of climate change? (After creating a level playing field for exports and imports, equal shares of such a tax would need to be fully refunded to each citizen, not increase government spending.) How big must such a tax be to promote the practical changes: gradually eliminating electricity generation from fossil fuels, switching to plug-in hybrid cars, and adopting other low-cost energy conservation measures? How soon should we have a tax this big? Following McKitrick’s suggestion, can we have a carbon tax that automatically increases as the climate changes? Or better still. as our margin of safety decreases? Whatever one believes about AGW, there is no doubt that we are on track to double atmospheric CO2 in the next century and that we are about 0.5 degC closer to a climate change disaster (which I personally doubt will happen following an additional rise of 1.3 degC). I’ve got a digit reserved for the climate change ayatollahs who are telling me that 80% reductions by 2050 will avoid catastrophe and who are promoting idiotic cap-and-trade legislation that won’t accomplish anything. But I might volunteer for truly effective measures even with today’s uncertainty.

  28. Jack Hughes

    What is the sensitivity to a doubling of Psychobabble in the atmosphere ?

  29. Hi all,
    Glad the discussion has been so energized and, while passionate, thoughtful. Too bad it’s just about climate change, but then, it is on Judith’s blog. Please do note that I wrote my nature piece about risk in general and CC was just one of several examples.
    A few general comments. If I gave the impression that there is a right or wrong in how people perceive risk forgive me. In fact what I’m trying to say is that science has established just the opposite. There is almost never an absolute single truth on which we will all agree, about anything. Our perceptions of everything are subjective, and informed by instincts and cultural forces and other subconscious influences that are not universal, so different people will see the exact same information in different ways. witness your discussion.
    Yes, I am persuaded by what I’ve learned about climate change and think it’s in our best interest to take the threat seriously and act. It seems wisest, to me, to respond to even the reasonable POSSIBILITY that we are setting things in motion that, if they turn out to be true, we can’t then go back and undo. But that’s MY view, not THE TRUTH, and I have complete respect for people who may see the same facts differently.
    A lot of that respect comes from my understanding of the power of the subconscious instincts and feelings that shape our views about risk. These instincts are part of a pretty basic motivation – survival. So these are pretty powerfully forces. Understanding that makes me respectful of the roots of people’s feelings, even if I disagree with their views. And it makes me check my own views carefully, to see how my feelings and instincts may be leading to less-than-healthy choices for myself.
    Here’s the problem though, my fellow travelers. No matter what side we take on any issue, we have to admit that history is littered with victims who thought they had risk right, and didn’t. The risk of getting risk wrong, with ANY risk, not just climate change, and not just with environmental risks, is REAL. Sometimes we’re more afraid than the evidence suggests we need to be (vaccines, for some) and sometimes we’re not as afraid as we ought to be (radiation from the sun.) And we end up doing stuff that raises our risk! D’OH!
    This happens because the human brain is not designed to pass math tests and win Nobel Prizes. It is first and foremost a survival machine, trained in simpler times to figure out simpler challenges than the modern risks we now face, with all their tradeoffs and uncertainties and scientific complexities. The risk perception system in the brain uses lots of subconscious tools, not just the facts, to come up with judgments about what feels safe and what doesn’t. It learned to do that to help us survive when we had to make up our minds BEFORE we had all the facts, or all the time to get them, or all the expertise and training necessary to understand them. (A guy named Herbert Simon called this “Bounded Rationality” and it pretty well sums up the limitations on decision making we face every day in real life.)
    So we have these affective/instinctive tools that help us figure out how things FEE, risk and everything else. Cultural Cognition, which this discussion seems to have focused on (and did indeed grow out of Douglas and Wildavsky’s work), is just one of four basic components of this subconscious risk perception system that I touched on in the Nature piece and which I explain in detail in my book, “How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts”.
    My case is that if we look at lots of evidence about lots of risks, past and current, environmental and crime and transportation and medicine etc., you can see how our subjective judgments about risk sometimes felt right, but turned out wrong, AND OUR FEELINGS GOT US INTO TROUBLE.
    So the point I’m making is that we would be rational to use the wisdom we have about how we perceive and respond to risk, and be honest that sometimes, as right as we feel, we get risk wrong, in dangerous ways, and recognize how that Perception Gap, as I call it, might be a risk in and of itself. Then we can try to HONESTLY look at ourselves, and HONESTLY LISTEN TO EACH OTHER, and honestly analyze what we know about how risk perception works, and try to think carefully about whether our risk perceptions are getting in the way of making the most intelligent, informed, healthiest choices.
    Pretty inflammatory, eh?

    • Thank you David for make things clearer. As a matter of fact, I still have to find a warmist that not only wonders “why” I would “feel” about climate change the way I do, but also goes into the trouble of asking

      (If you do: the risks of climate change are IMNSHO minimal compared to the risk to freedom, democracy and economic and social development intrinsic to all popular “answers” to the climate change risk).

      I’ll keep an ear for when anybody believing the world in going to burn up in flames whilst drowning in floods will “HONESTLY LISTEN” to me. Yes, it will be quite a day! Because those who don’t ask, they are on the path to becoming the soviet psychiatrists of our era.

      Anyway…the problem you believe you’re dealing with, is how to convince people to act on a risk that has no prima-facie evidence, and relies on the latest scientific theories to describe a situation that might happen in the future, usually decades away.

      It doesn’t take a historian of science to understand that to forcefully act in such a situation is extremely unwise. But people that believe in an upcoming catastrophe naturally push for forceful acts: so the underlying issue, rather than how to prod people into acting against something that is not tangible, is how to teach catastrophists to find a more appropriate way to react to those apocalyptic feelings, since by pushing for forceful acts they actually harm their cause. And that’s analogous to the Yucca Mountain debacle.

      • I’m listening. You think that “warmists” are trying to implement policies that will deprive freedoms, undermine democracy, and retard economic and social development.

        Got it.

        Nice to see that you have a firm grasp on the psychological and cultural influences on other people’s reasoning processes.

        That perspective allows you to definitively conclude that you understand all the facts about climate change, and that anyone who disagrees is a fascist. You know, because while you make a calm and objectively calculated assessment, they are victims of emotionally-based distortions.

        Beautiful.

      • Exactly. You are not listening.

    • David, thanks very much for your comments.

  30. oops. one other thing. i wrote my book to share all these insights because i think they can help anyone see themselves better, understand their own risk choices better, and use the knowledge to make better choices, for themselves. in fact, chapter 5 is full of specific suggestions for how to do just that. but the choice, as i say all along, is in the end up to you.

    • David,
      I do agree with most of what you are saying. We human’s evolved to survive in a world that requires quick response to dangers. Reasoning can only help when we have time to evaluate what might happen and attempt to train ourselves to respond appropriately.

      As for the Climate Change issue, when this subject came up back in the 1980’s, it just seemed correct to me. Humanity was surely damaging the planet. Global Warming must certainly be one of the symptoms. I was a believer and pretty vocal about it too.

      In fact, I was such a strong believer that I spent quite a lot of time and effort studying the science and issues associated with it. I really cared. … Well, I still care but what I discovered by taking the time to study the subject was that I was wrong. The world was not going to hell in a hand basket as my grandfather used to claim (when he heard rock and roll on the radio.)

      As per your discussion: My emotional reaction was to believe Climate Change in the form of Global Warming was an eminent danger to humanity. My reasoned conclusion when more fully informed was that the danger was actually insignificant compared with real world every day problems.

      I believe that if you were to poll those folks you identify as skeptics, you would find a good share of them are like me, initially believers but skeptics when allowed time to study the subject.

      • thoughtful. and important, in that you note that people can change their minds on issues, based on a close inspection of the facts, despite all the affective/instinctive influences on our perception of risk. the system is a of facts and feelings. It’s not as though the feelings always blot out a careful view of the facts. check out my book INTRO, on line free at http://www.dropeik.com

  31. Wind … too damn risky!

    “Despite the freak gales that battered parts of the country last week, climate experts are warning that many of Britain’s wind farms may soon run out of puff.

    According to government figures, 13 of the past 16 months have been calmer than normal – while 2010 was the “stillest” year of the past decade.

    Meteorologists believe that changes to the Atlantic jet stream could alter the pattern of winds over the next 40 years and leave much of the nation’s growing army of power-generating turbines becalmed.

    The Coalition has drawn up plans to open more wind farms in an effort to meet Britain’s European Union target of providing 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.More than 3,600 turbines are expected to be installed in offshore wind farms over the next nine years.

    But statistics suggest that the winds that sweep across the British Isles may be weakening. Last year, wind speeds over the UK averaged 7.8 knots (8.9mph), a fall of 20 per cent on 2008, and well below the mean for this century, which stands at 9.1 knots (10.5mph).”

    http://thegwpf.org/uk-news/3106-british-wind-farms-running-out-of-wind.html

    • Latimer Alder

      Statement from the UK Met Office:

      Following on from our explanation of last winter’s unusual cold and snowy spell as being conclusively casued by global warming we have produced the following commentary on teh news that UK wind has been reducing just as we have erected thousands of windmills-

      Th is yet more conclusive proof of global warming.

      Hotter air has a higher energy content, so when it meets the colder sea (full of ice melting from Greenland and dead polar bears), there will be a greater thermal gradient and higher winds.

      Except when this same phenomenon leads to less wind. Which is perfectly well predicted by our models. Only we can’t show you them because you might find something wrong with them.

      And anyway wind is just weather so it doesn’t count.

      Thank you.

      PS – we’d like another £300 million for another new computer. Any chance of a cheque by next week? Cheers.

  32. Cast a gimlet eye on any paragraph or polemic that starts with (or contains) the clause, “Social science tells us …”. Social science tells of many things, “Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
    Of cabbages–and kings–
    And why the sea is boiling hot–
    And whether pigs have wings.”
    Very few of them are reliable or accurate. A politician who uses Soc. Sci. is actually looking us over:
    “With sobs and tears he sorted out
    Those of the largest size.”

    Beware the Walrus!

  33. Joe Lalonde

    Judith,

    Risk is society of the day with the promotion of what politicians want on peoples minds.
    From wars to climate change to religion is from people in power who have the authority to manipulate the system.
    Many political agendas promoted by famous people or put into movies to sell products or increase ones fortunes with no regard to correct science.

    Society will only be dictated so far before they understand when and how they have been manipulated into believing what is being promoted as correct fails to come to pass.
    Creating bad technology to “go green” is wasting money for a system that is not worth the subsidies that keep the system running. It is unsustainable.
    Many times dates are set and fail.

  34. Ropeik is hoplessly at sea as regards the gut-level divide on CAGW.

    On the one hand are those with totalitarian leanings – those who want the fundamantal mode of social interaction to be coercive. They thus urge state control of society wherever possible, supporting, eg, socialism, taxes and world government. They instinctively support CAGW because it provides a handy argument for all of these; they would support carbon taxes no matter how flimsy and biased the science behind CAGW. In very rough US terms, Democrat.

    On the other hands there are libertarians – those who prefer the fundamental mode of social interaction to be voluntary. They thus urge a reduction in state control wherever possible, opposing socialism, taxes and world government. They instinctively question CAGW because it is used as an argument for all of these, and would only accept a carbon tax if the science is seen to be honest and convincing. In very rough US terms, Republican.

    • Punksta – can any believer in CAGW avoid becoming a totalitarian?

      That’d be a very interesting answer if Ropeik (or even Judith) would provide a reasoned “Yes”.

      • “Punksta – can any believer in CAGW avoid becoming a totalitarian?”

        And as a follow up question, what other science is forbidden to those of your faith because of its corrupting affect on morality?

        Personally, I’ve always felt our theories of electricity and magnetism were incompatible with true freedom-loving patriotism. But you’re the expert.

    • fascinating. may i use our language in future articles on the way cultural cognition influences our views of things? Cultural Cognition research, which tries to figure out what helps influence people’s views but is totally agnostic on any given issue, calls socially coercive totalitarians “communitarians”, and people who favor more individual liberty, whom you call libertarians, “individualists”. But your language captures it well, and demonstrates that you see things through one of those lenses. Which is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. But your comments rather powerfully illustrate that the theory of Cultural Cognition is hardly “hopelessly at sea”. Rather, you confirm it. Again, that’s NOT a value judgment, nor an argument about climate change or any issue per se. Just an observation of the evidence you lend the the very thing I was writing about.

    • My comments were not directed to Cultural Cognition, whatever that may be, but rather at the way you manage to miss or mischaracterize the obvious and fundamantal difference beween those who favour coercion as the dominant form of social relationship, and those who favour consent.

      The former are socialists (not communitarians, who embrace cooperation), the latter are libertarians (or classical liberals, as opposed to the US meaning of “liberal”, which implies the antithesis of liberty/consent). “Individualist” is maybe half right, but misses that libertarians have no problem with voluntary group relationships.

  35. Yes. If CAGW turns out to be true, some political/coercive approach will probably be needed, given that property rights in air are inherently problematic.

  36. The problem with climate science, is that goverment has a vested interest in the outcome – ie CAGW being believed – since this gives it an argument to expand itself, raise taxes etc. And it is also the funder of virtually all climate science. The sitution is exactly like when tobacco companies were funding research that showed smoking didn’t harm your health. In both cases, the science gets colored by the vested interest and funding choices of the funder.

    Follow the money. It it would take a vast conspiracy of integrity for government scientists to NOT come up with what is in their paymaster’s vested interest, ie a finding for CAGW. I do not subscribe to the conspiracy.

    • Joe Lalonde

      A conspiracy?
      No, but definitely biased based on creating a like minded generation of scientists.

      No regard for any new technology or measurements just strictly stick to the tried and true for the funding to keep coming in.
      This does pollute the minds of the young that are being taught that their is absolutely no uncertainty. All factors are known.

      Considering in Newtons time, their was no compression. A coil spring was an impossibility and Picasso’s rotating table was the study of how and all the forces the planet generated.
      No understanding of centrifugal force, circular motion at a stopped state is totally different in motion in measurements and forces generated.

    • “It it would take a vast conspiracy of integrity for government scientists to NOT come up with what is in their paymaster’s vested interest, ie a finding for CAGW.”

      That is a nonsensical claim on many levels. To take just one: the idea that elected governments want to undertake expenses and/or raise taxes to achieve a long-term benefit that will be realized long after they leave office is absurd. That is exactly the opposite of how politicians behave.

      • Besides missing the point, this is itself nonsense, since politicians obviously pass legislation while still in office, and hence get their benefit immediately. And besides being able to hold office for more than one term, they get further benefit for being seen to advance the cause.

        The point you avoid is that scientists who best advance the interests of their paymaster will tend to get better treatment from them.

      • It is amazing how people (such as Robert) manage to miss the simple fact that raising taxes and increasing controls NOW for a problem that might or might not happen long before they’ve retired or even dead, is THE perfect environmental cause for any elected politician.

        Why, even if temps turn cooler in 2040, that same politician will be able to say, “LOOK, I HAVE SAVED THE WORLD”. And if they don’t, the same politician will say, “YOU DIDN’T GIVE ME ENOUGH MONEY OR POWER TO SAVE THE WORLD”.

        It’s a win-win situation, but not for the voters and taxpayers, of course.

  37. David:

    Since homo sapiens developed during a glacial period and survived the dramatic changes and oscillations during the start of the interglacial and through the Younger Dryas and beyond, how can you assert that man evolved a simplistic hand-to-mouth risk assessment? I think you suffer from modern myopia thinking today’s problems are more complex because of your poorly functioning signal to noise filter.

    The opposite of your thesis is true.

    Ppost-modern US society has become much more short-term risk averse outlawing smoking, placing seat belt and crash helmet mandates, and inventing a pill for every condition known to man. You can smell the fear of death on the streets.

    Ancient man looked more to long-term risk avoidance for survival because they were more susceptible to the long term changes in pestilence, weather, climate and natural disasters. One only needs to look at the apocalyptic mythologies common to all cultures regardless of race, color, or creed.

    Post-modern US is all about the now as we begin a transition into the technology era where modern comforts are currently causing a devolution of the mind and body into more animal-like behavior. The pathological state of popular culture is the primary indicator of the dehumanization of man. The CAGW promoters recognize this modern masturbatory fraidy-cat mentality and exploit it for all it’s worth.

    Unfortunately, the crazy folks who have resisted devolution deny the validity of these scare tactics.

  38. Since the utter failure of the Kyoto system of international treaties, and the crash and burn failure of Cap and Trade in the United States, we’ve seen a flood of articles on ‘the failure of risk assessment’ and ‘the psychological basis of climate denial.’ Funny, that. These benevolent souls aren’t telling us that THEY can’t balance risk correctly – they’re telling us that WE can’t balance risk correctly. Just as those who bemoan the power of advertising don’t believe that they are subject to it, these wise souls are analyzing the unwashed masses, and diagnosing their (our) pathology.

    Better said in The Economist recently, regarding Paul Krugman:

    “…this sort of psychologising diagnosis of strong political conviction often serves as a cheap, supremely condescending trick for pathologising and thus dismissing those with whom we disagree. A good deal of work on the psychology of conservatism is like this. The motivating question, “What the hell is wrong with these people?” takes it for granted that there is something wrong with “these people”, and thus that disagreement with them is based not on a reasonable difference of opinions among intelligent people of good will, but rather on some sort of deep-seated defect of character or cognition in the “other” insusceptible to correction through civilised discourse.”

    • Joe Lalonde

      The arrogant bubble of being the worlds leading experts popped and is showing that a temper tantrum is being exhibited.

  39. Craig Loehle

    A strong factor affecting risk perception is upbringing. Those living a comfy suburban life become much more risk averse (in general) than those brought up with hardship (and thereby learned they could survive hardship) and/or who have physically demanding/risky jobs. Thus the push for organic foods and for the (impossible) zero air pollution and readiness to sue anyone for anything rather than accepting that everything has risks.

    • Evidence?

      Citation needed.

      • Craig Loehle

        Sorry, based on personal experience–compare yours and take it or leave it. Just note that people in China or India or Africa are not much concerned about organic food and don’t use hand sanitizers every 5 minutes–they have more pressing issues.

  40. Craig Loehle

    One of the ways to control the debate has been to assiduously ignore any upside to a warmer world. The IPCC does not mention much about possible benefits of increased plant growth, for example. When it is all risk and no benefits, it is easy to be alarmed. When you exclude the benefits from the discussion, it is all alarm and you win. But even the alarm in the IPCC is bogus–sea level rise of 8.7 inches which would impact almost no-one or some vague threat of emerging diseases (we already have this due to rapid air travel spreading disease) or phony claims about malaria. The impact sections are where the IPCC reports become just full of “citations” of Greenpeace reports and newspaper clippings. So the attempt to frame the risk perception problem by the IPCC is deliberate and pathetic, and many people see right through it.

  41. William Norton

    Judith:
    Robert is everywhere in your blog, but he adds nothing but dissention and disinformation to the discussion. Isn’t there some way you can block him? I love reading all the other people’s input, but this guy is a jerk and distroys what is otherwise a very interesting experience.

    • William, I have been deleting his posts that violate blog rules, and also some of the responding comments.

      • William Norton

        If I am seeing only the stuff that is getting through, I shutter to think what the rest of it looks like.

        By the way, I love your blog. You do the best job of starting good conversations of anyone on the internet.

  42. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Roepik that there is nothing new in his observation, even though he may have dressed it up in a “scientistic” way. Confirmatory bias has been recognised, if not so named, by generations of scientists. Crucially the wiser of them, unlike Reebok, recognised it in themselves. The realised they needed a system which rendered it nugatory, and over the years developed it.

    We call that system the Scientific Method. It works. Scientists who adhere to it can devote their energies entirely to revealing the mysteries of nature, untroubled by concerns about the mental health of those who disagree with them.

    • Joe Lalonde

      Tom,

      The scientific method ONLY works in some cases and not all cases.
      Planetary mechanics does not fit into the scientific method as this is measurements with mechanical recreation of new understanding of compression with circular motion and varying speeds.
      Totally flies in the face of current science that still believes that time travel is possible when circular mechanics shows that the planet in not calculated into where it was in the past. No fixed objects to get an absolute accurate point in time, in space.

  43. We all have to perceive risk differently. The survival of the species depends on it.

    Simple example…every year the government trots out yet another flu vaccine. A substantial portion of the population gets their flu shots.

    What happens if something horribly wrong happens and the vaccine makes people more susceptible to some previously unknown virus no one considered.

    If everyone got the vaccine, humanity would be wiped out.

    If some folks opt out humanity has a ‘voluntary safety group’ that might get wiped out from not having the flu vaccine, but humanity survives.

    • Rob Starkey

      Harry

      Making statements like “The survival of the species depends on it.” are dramatic, but really not creditable. If 5 billion people were killed in some disaster, there would still be more humans left alive than there has been over in over 99% of human existence. Life is pretty tough to wipe out, because it adapts in order to survive.

  44. ferd berple

    The WHO says there may be a risk of brain cancer from cell phone use.

    Surely brain cancer is a more serious problem than Climate Change. What would you rather have personally? Brain cancer or climate change? How about for your kids? Brain cancer or climate change?

    Should we not according to the Precautionary Principle be looking to reduce our cell phone footprint? Should we not be looking to move to a cell phone free future? Should we not have a tax or cap and trade on cell phones?

    Why the panic over climate change if we don’t apply the same rules to much greater risks?

  45. It’s obvious that the one thing in common among people that suffer death, is that they were alive in the first place. For this reason expect the WHO soon to recommend people to avoid all risks by not being born at all.

  46. LOL
    I shall immediately apply the precautionary principle and throw myself off a cliff!

    • No, do your duty. Probably few people will be as public-spirited as you, so you need to start by throwing as many of them as possible off the cliff, first.

  47. marcopanama

    Of course – on another thread, someone was kvetching about the “fact” that global warming would cause lots of old people to die from the heat. Well, I have news – I live in a land where the temperature is between 55 degrees F and 75 degrees 24/7/365. Guess what? The old people die at the SAME RATE. Every darn one of them!

    Where oh where is George Carlin when we need him so badly at this time to explain our world to us? I can almost channel him now, describing God complaining to the angels about those pesky monkeys with the opposable thumbs who have developed a bad case of Inflated Cerebral Cortex Syndrome.