Probability and Sums of All Our Fears

I am always interested in the important role fear plays in conflict. Unfortunately, we are very wired to react to fearful stories and situations and much less wired to consider probabilities. Even in countries with no poisonous snakes, people still instinctively fear snakes. While we don’t fear cars, which are far more likely to kill us,,,,

This has serious consequences in the field of public policy, where our lack of knowledge of relevant numbers, make us very manipulable by emotional stories. So take these causes of mortality:

  • The number of people on average killed by medical error  on average each year in the USA?
  • The number of people on average killed in airline crashes on average each year in the USA?
  • The number of people killed from lung disease caused by emissions from coal power stations on average each year in the USA
  • The number of people killed by nuclear power stations on average each year in the USA?

Probably the airline and nuclear power stations are the ones that raise emotional fears. While the other two probably don’t raise much fear? Well take a look at the numbers:

  • Medical error kills 100,000 people each year
  • Airline crashes kill 138 people each year
  • Coal power stations result in the deaths of 70,000 people each year from lung disease
  • And nuclear power stations on average kill 0 people each year, all in the USA.

The medical profession does a brilliant job concealing the sheer scale of its accident fatality rate. As do the owners of coal power stations. The airline industry on the other hand has worked with the manufacturers of aircraft and done a brilliant job on cutting airline crash fatalities. And the nuclear power industry’s safety record is exceptionally good, at least in the USA.

No doubt we similarly distort our fears in conflict and why it is essential in any conflict to get beyond our emotions, our wired in fears, and realistically assess the data of the conflict, what we know and don’t know, we know and don’t know….

This is a perfectly harmless British grass snake:

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About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict Statistics, Neuro-science of conflict and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Probability and Sums of All Our Fears

  1. This is a very interesting post – have you read Risk by Dan Gardner?

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