Risk Assessment

If you need proof that the American populace is terrible at assessing risk, then look no further than the current ebola hysteria. Is ebola a serious disease? Yep. Is it scary that it’s spreading like never before? Yep. But is it worth all the hysteria that we’re seeing, what with the CDC holding press conferences seemingly every half hour to calm America’s nerves? Well, let’s put it in perspective:

# of people in America who die each and every day from the flu or pneumonia: 147

# of people in America who have died of ebola in the history of the country: 1

Yeah, I’d say we’re over reacting just a tad.

4 thoughts on “Risk Assessment

  1. Leatherwing

    You also have to factor in how many people have had the flu (or known someone who had the flu) and survived. Most people get some strain of the flu a few times in their life and survive. I’ve survived pneumonia twice. I don’t know anyone who has had ebola, much less anyone who has survived it. It is much less survivable than the most diseases so I want it to stay very far away from me.

    I know that cars have a high potential for danger. If 70% of automobile trips ended in death, we’d drive a lot less. But most trips are safely concluded so we are OK with the risk.

    Reply
    1. Jon Lowder Post author

      I definitely get what you’re saying. Basically we minimize the risk of things we are more familiar with because we’ve become accustomed to those risks. So to use your car analogy, most people who have a fear of flying are NOT comforted when they’re told it’s safer than driving. As you point out, with ebola the vast majority of us have had no direct experience with it and we’ve seen how horrific it can be. It’s not comforting to know that it is far more likely we’ll contract other less fatal diseases – our minds fixate on the possibility that this scary disease could make its way to our neighborhood and if it does then our odds of having a catastrophic outcome are much higher than anything else we’ve dealt with, so while it might not be logical to be freaked out by ebola it’s an absolutely predictable human response.

      Let’s put it this way – if I lived in the same neighborhood as any of the Dallas victims I doubt I’d be totally rational about it. Also, I have a feeling I’ll be doing everything I can to avoid anyone who looks a little green around the gills the next time I fly anywhere.

      Reply
  2. Leatherwing

    Another way to look at it: We’ve all walked along a curb or railroad tie – some 6 inch wide surface – and not fallen off. So we know we can walk along a surface that wide. But place that same path 100 feet in the air, and we’re terrified to walk across. The Risk of falling is still very low, but the consequences of falling have changed dramatically.

    Another reason for the panic is that those in charge of handling this risk are losing credibility. I have a sister in the health care field in TX (about 100 miles from Dallas) and they have no confidence in the CDC protocols which weren’t in place when they needed to be. Which begs the question – what else that should be done is not being done? My personal fear is that decisions are being made for political reasons rather than for disease prevention reasons.

    Reply
    1. Jon Lowder Post author

      Excellent points. My biggest fear in this case is that so many processes have to be changed and updated to keep things in check. I think we’re a long way from most of us having to consider this a legitimate immediate threat to us, BUT if the protocols in the health care and travel industries in particular are not upgraded then this could become a legitimate and immediate concern for many more of us. I just don’t see the need to freak out until that happens. Hopefully that will be never, but as you say if those in charge don’t act quickly and in the public’s best interest then we could have problems.

      Reply

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