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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very well written and really makes you think
This is a really fascinating book and makes you question the role of the media in our understanding of the world. We are constantly bombarded by negative messages from every corner and Gardner persuasively illustrates how our rational brains are unable to calculate the real level of risk to us. Our instinctive survival responses seem to override our rational knowledge and...
Published on 14 Mar 2008 by Clarence

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and thought provoking but technically flawed
This book is okay as far as it goes but please keep in mind that risk and uncertainty are specialist subjects that have vexed some of the finest thinkers amongst us. You should not, therefore, be surprised to find that Dan Gardner's track record as a successful journalist, as opposed to a successful risk analyst, has resulted in a book that is both entertaining and...
Published 18 months ago by Mr Plebian


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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very well written and really makes you think, 14 Mar 2008
This is a really fascinating book and makes you question the role of the media in our understanding of the world. We are constantly bombarded by negative messages from every corner and Gardner persuasively illustrates how our rational brains are unable to calculate the real level of risk to us. Our instinctive survival responses seem to override our rational knowledge and so we are left fearful and stressed by the messages we receive from the media and politicians. Gardner looks at how fear is used to manipulate us and it is really thought-provoking reading.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perceptive and enjoyable examination of risk, 18 April 2009
This review is from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear (Paperback)
After 9/11, millions of Americans chose their gut over their head, and abandoned planes for cars. That mistake sadly cost the lives of more than 1,500 people. Risk is a book that reveals the often unfortunate triumph of gut over head, of unconscious feeling over conscious reason - and how that succeeds in distorting our fundamental understanding of the risks we face in our daily lives, from cancer to paedophiles, terrorism to asteroids.

Gardner writes with great clarity and perceptiveness, covering quite a broad canvas that touches on politics, the media and the corporate world, as well as devoting a fair bit of attention to the cognitive errors that regularly impinge our judgment. In particular, if you enjoyed Flat Earth News, Bad Science or Irrationality, you will probably enjoy this, as it brings together strands from all three, along with a few others like Malcolm Gladwell's Blink. A genuinely good - and reassuring - read.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable read, 2 Feb 2009
By 
Jane Wilkin "professional coach" (Edinburgh, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear (Paperback)
The overriding message of this book is that our `gut' feelings about risk are often wrong and we should learn to engage our mind to make more informed judgements.

The problem is, according to Gardner, that we as humans were built, in an evolutionary sense, before the stone age and in the information age we now live in, this is not particularly useful. He explores what he (and others) have called our dual systems of reasoning. System One - Gut (Feeling or unconscious thought) and System Two - Head (Reason or conscious thought). Gut, he says has been very useful to us since we lived in caves, and it takes considerable effort for us to make Head over-ride it.

Gardner does a great job of telling us why our perception of risk is often so wrong and arguing that humans are not naturally good at statistics. He goes into great detail about a number of issues (terrorism, chemicals, shark attacks, and cancer to name a few) and explains why the headlines and resulting perception of risks are wrong. However, whilst he presents a mind boggling array of basic statistical errors we make on a regular basis, he rarely tells the reader what the correct answer is.

Gardner does an excellent job of laying out how `figures' quoted in headlines misrepresent data to either catch readers attention or further their own cause. This isn't to say the journalists are deliberately deceiving us (Gardener is after all a journalist by trade) it is, he says, that we are hard wired to listen out for and take notice of risks that a communicated in a certain way. It's what has kept the human species alive.

However, whilst the book tells me about the things that I shouldn't be worrying about, I can't help feeling slightly frustrated that I don't know more about what I should be worrying about. Although he does mention that if we all paid more attention to lifestyle issues (smoking, drinking, diet, obesity & exercise) and worried less about everything else we'd be much better off.

All in all a thoroughly enjoyable, optimistic, Gladwell-esque, read. But I do wish he'd told me a few more answers rather than leaving me to go look up (which he tells us as humans we are ill equipped for) all the `real' risks.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't Be Scared, 2 May 2008
A really interesting and thought provoking read by the prize winning journalist. On page after page one realises quite how ridiculous some of our fears are. There is no factual basis to the idea that these are uniquely dangerous times. In fact, the evidence points to the opposite.

I remember a while back reading a comment in The Guardian newspaper after a child abduction story broke. The comment contained a fact I often like to repeat to people: In 20 years, the rate of child murder by strangers has remained pretty much the same level. And yet, in the same period, the fear has been ratcheted up to a remarkable degree. Adults are scared to let children play out on their own, even though they possibly went out and played in a time when they were even more at risk. I mean really, when you think about it, how many major child abduction cases do you hear in a year? 1? 2? Not many I suspect. And yet the media creates a vision of a country in which children are abducted on a regular basis.

Gardner comes up with many examples of the exaggeration of risk and the threats that are posed. Take, for example, the 'threat' of Islamic terrorism. There have been many examples of alleged terrorist activity by white, non-Muslims, and yet they have not been reported. Why? Because they do not fit the current narrative. If they were Islamic, every single one would be headline news. They aren't, so it's not.

Another example is the case of children being kidnapped in America. According to the statistics, of the 797,500 children under the age of 18 that go missing every year, only 115 are due to child kidnapping. 115! That means, as Gardener points out, that a child under 18 in America has a 0.00016% chance of being kidnapped. A figure that, according to the insurance industry, is so low it is zero.

One other example to mull over....Despite the rhetoric regarding terrorism, terrorist attacks have actually been declining ever since the end of the Cold War. According to one body that tracks international terrorism, if you take out the Middle East and South Asia, terrorism has continued to decline since 1991. The threat to us in the West has actually declined, despite the attacks of September 11th.

Although I don't agree with everything in the book, Gardner makes a very convincing case. I would seriously recommend this to anyone interested in how governments and corporations play (and profit) on our fears to an alarming degree. A fascinating read. Just remember: there is nothing to fear but fear itself.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and thought provoking but technically flawed, 28 Dec 2012
This review is from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear (Paperback)
This book is okay as far as it goes but please keep in mind that risk and uncertainty are specialist subjects that have vexed some of the finest thinkers amongst us. You should not, therefore, be surprised to find that Dan Gardner's track record as a successful journalist, as opposed to a successful risk analyst, has resulted in a book that is both entertaining and persuasive, albeit technically naive. The problem isn't his grasp of the political and social dimensions of risk - I bought the book in the hope that this aspect of the subject would be expertly covered and, in this respect, the book did not disappoint. The real problem is that the author only has a layman's understanding of risk's conceptual framework. Consequently, he frequently conflates risk with uncertainty, consistently confuses ambiguity aversion with risk aversion, and vacillates between discussing risk and discussing the probability for risk, in a way that I found decidedly confusing. Furthermore, the author's superficial understanding of the cognitive science behind risk perception comes perilously close to undermining the author's whole thesis.

Central to the argument, the author repeatedly cites cognitive biases which he claims lead people to overestimate risk. However, this is a serious misrepresentation of the true significance of such biases, and the reason why he misrepresents them is because he isn't sufficiently careful at distinguishing between risk and probability. The fact is that the cognitive biases he refers to can lead people to overestimate likelihood. Whether or not this leads to overestimation of risk depends upon whether the individual is focused upon the likelihood of a positive outcome, or a negative outcome. The thesis of the book is that there are social and political factors that ensure we are focused upon the negative; the cognitive biases then do the rest. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the book is full of examples that illustrate the point. No counter-examples are offered until (strangely) the Afterword, in which he provides a superb example of how such cognitive biases can just as easily lead to overconfidence (the author gives no hint as to whether he is aware of the stark ambivalence that this example belatedly introduces into his argument). The reality is that the cognitive biases cited do not indicate that human beings are inherently risk averse. Without wishing to invalidate the author's conclusions regarding the manipulation of fear, one could just as easily cite the same cognitive science in a book entitled `Risk: The science and politics of overconfidence'.

I wasn't expecting or wanting an academic and mathematically sound dissertation, but I think that the analysis offered would have benefited greatly from being presented in terms that, at least, demonstrated a firmer grasp of the subject's basic tenets.

Did I enjoy reading the book? Yes, despite the frustrations. But would I recommend it as a primer in the assessment and evaluation of risk and uncertainty? Certainly not!
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars both fascinating and extremely reassuring, 15 Feb 2009
By 
H. Seymour "Helen" (Leeds) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear (Paperback)
I chose this book with some trepidation since I am an avid novel reader and not usually a fan of non-fiction. However, I also suffer from that very modern affliction of over-worrying about things that appear in the media such as crime, terrorism, bird flu, etc etc, and after reading a comment in the Economist ('a cheery corrective to modern paranoia') I knew I had to read this book for my own peace of mind.
I was proved very right. Dan Gardner is a truly accomplished writer: he informs the reader about a number of complicated subjects(psychology, neurology, politics to name a few) in a highly readable manner. Not only this, but he provides some fascinating and reassuring statistics on the things we tend to worry about, demonstrating how very unlikely they are. For example, nuclear war, terrorism, bird flu, children being kidnapped by paedophiles, murder and a host of other terrible things regularly appear in the media, making us worry about them. Although undoubtedly horrendous for anyone who suffers these atrocities, they are statistically very unlikely for any one person. Far more common are the every day tragedies such as heart disease, car accidents, diabetes and the other things to which the media gives little attention. Read this book and you'll realise these are the things we would concern ourselves with.
I finished 'Risk' with a host of knowledge about the human mind, the media, advertising and the cynical marketing ploys of companies. I also finished it with a sense of wellbeing and safety, realising as this book rightly says, there has never been a better time to be alive. I would highly recommend it to anyone.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading for understanding the mechanisms behind fearmongering but offering no solutions, 3 Nov 2009
By 
AK (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear (Paperback)
Very nicely put and succinct summary of the psychological mechanisms behind the proliferation of fear as an instrument of marketing and politics.

While at least 50 pages could be shaved from the book, and the author would be much less shocked at some examples, had he actually worked in or for some of the industries / institutions outlined, it is overall fairly accurate. I would have truly relished some examples at how to avoid it but I suppose those will be hard to come by, being practically impossible. Even fairly strict censoring is probably a fairly ineffective way of curbing the destructive cycle of fearmongering so deeply pervading modern society.

It does lead one to ponder on what reinforcing circles could be broken and how, or alternatively what other counterbalancing mechanisms one could introduce into the system to create more balance. COntrary to many of the journalist written summaries on a topic, this one actually possesses some depth and keeps you thinking.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good content but not the easiest read, 20 July 2008
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First of all let me say that the content of the book is thought provoking, and contains lots of information which might change your mind when weighing up the risks of everyday life. BUT it is devoid of maps, graphs or figures which seems mad considering the topic (so for instance trends are described in text rather than by a simple graph), it doesn't have proper references (just some notes with the preceding comment suggesting the reader uses Google with the key words provided...lazy and perverse considering the use of unsubstantiated claims is one of Gardner's bugbears!) and it could do with a good editorial prune to make the key points punch home with more effect (the BBC TV series "Power of Nightmares" covers some of the same ground as the chapters considering the risk of terrorism, and is a masterclass in hammering home its points in comparison). So this book is good but a wasted opportunity to be great.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Fear Industrial Complex, 21 Jun 2008
By 
This being Dan Gardner's first book, I am thoroughly impressed. From the language he uses, you can detect in many instances his journalistic background. He starts of perfectly by introducing to us System One (intuitive, quick and emotional) and System Two (calculating, slow and rational). He progresses and simply refers to System One as 'Gut' (gut instinct) and System Two as 'Head'.

Without getting into too much detail, the overall conclusion of the book is that the System One side of our brain (gut instinct) is damaging to our rational thought processes. By following our ancestors' mindset and preferring to listen to stories rather than statistics, we become irrationally fearful of the wrong things and force the media to tell us irrelevant, albeit entertaining stories that subsequently induce fear into our minds. He outlines the dangers of becoming irrationally fearful from the very beginning, such as how 1,500 extra people were killed on the roads as a result of the fear of planes following 9/11 in America.

Some cases in the book seem ambiguous. For instance, it became somewhat confusing as he, within the space of 15 pages, contradicts himself very clearly. On page 83 he talks about how the human mind responds to the presentation of statistics. He mentions how humans do not respond emotionally to `percentages' the same way they respond to absolute figures. "Whats a `per cent'? Can I see a `per cent'? Can I touch it? No. But '20 out of every 100 patients' is very concrete and real" he mentions on page 83. On page 98 he then writes "Even saving `85 per cent of 150 lives' garnered more support than saving 150 lives. The explanation lies in the lack of feeling we have for the number 150. It's vaguely good, because it represents people's lives, but it's abstract. We can't picture 150 lives and so we don't feel 150 lives. We can feel proportions however." It's these few lines that I find contradicting in the book.

Overall though, the book is very insightful, if not a bit verbose, and witty. Gardner reminds the reader of the incentives to invoke fear in every area of society. He covers a wide range of areas, from psychology, sociology and biology which make the book even more unique and a thoroughly enjoyable read. It leaves you slightly more incredulous and forces you to question any news story, or politician that even slightly plays to your fears; Rudy `9/11' Giuliani....I'm looking at you.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An original take on risk perception: we have never been so safe, 29 April 2008
By 
Christian Jongeneel (Rotterdam, Netherlands) - See all my reviews
Most books on risk perception take an exclusively statistical angle to debunk common beliefs and misunderstandings. This book is special in that it also covers psychology and biology, the central thesis being that our brains are simply not designed for thinking logically all the time.

Dan Gardner covers many fields where misunderstandings are rife (crime, health, terrorism) in chapters full of fine anecdotes. His conclusion should be heard more in these times: despite the fear we are being talked into, we have never been as safe as now, at the dawn of the twentyfirst century.
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Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear
Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner (Paperback - 1 Jan 2009)
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