The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't--and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger

The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't--and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger

From terror attacks to the war on terror, real estate bubbles to the price of oil, sexual predators to poisoned food from China, our list of fears is ever-growing.

In this fascinating, lucid, and thoroughly entertaining examination of how humans process risk, journalist Dan Gardner had the exclusive cooperation of Paul Slovic, the world renowned risk-science pioneer, as he reveals how our hunter gatherer brains struggle to make sense of a world utterly unlike the one that made them.

Filled with illuminating real world examples, interviews with experts, and fast-paced, lean storytelling, The Science of Fear shows why it is truer than ever that the worst thing we have to fear is fear itself.

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Instead, we worry chemicals are causing the increased cancer. Diphtheria kills children. Which brings me to a point that was not brought up in the book, vaccination. People in this country have kind of lost their noodles over vaccinating their children. But a whole bunch of parents have refused to vaccinate their children for fear of autism. Diphtheria + child = dead Vaccination + Child = Alive child with maybe, but not likely, autism.

Dan Gardners basic premise is that we have two types of thinking system one is conscious thought The Head, and system two is unconscious thought The Gut. Head is our best bet for accurate results but it has its limitations. We live in a world of complex information, and if Head doesnt learn the basics of math, stats, and logic....it can make bad mistakes. Throughout the book Gardner shows with fearsome clarity the degree to which the media, politics and organisations are Gut driven in their dealings with us, and time and time again he begs us to bring our Head, our THINKING, into the equation. Our gut is easily swayed by that which is emotional, recent, novel, sensational and frightening - and we need to fight to bring our slow-burning , thorough and thinking Head into the ways in which we negotiate the world. We need to work to try and see the bigger picture, not just the emotive slant and woolly statistics so often presented in off-the-cuff newspaper articles. Much of Dan Gardners task throughout this book is to counteract our fears in respect to these 21st century spectres.

Gardner is fond of quoting FDR's famous quote, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" several times throughout the book, but he emphasizes that what FDR is referring to is not healthy fear (the kind that has helped our species to survive this long) but an "unreasoning, unjustified" fear. And, in fact, most people, if asked, still think driving in their own car is safer than flying in an airplane. Of course, according to Gardner, it's not hard to manipulate our brains through fear. Gardner separates our fear-coping mechanisms into two distinct mindsets: 1) unconscious thought, or "Gut", as he calls it, which creates snap judgments based on instinct; and 2) conscious thought, or "Head", which examines data, analyzes situations, and assesses the level of threat.

And, as his minder, give him a bored, easily distracted teenager - one who knows the world, but can't be bothered to do the work to make decisions. According to Daniel Gardner, we have just constructed a fine metaphor for how the human brain works. Gardner begins the book with an interesting story about the most terrifying thing to happen in the last decade - the attacks of September 11th in the United States. By the time the towers fell, people around the world were watching, and anyone who didn't see it live would surely see it soon enough as it was replayed over and over again. But, in those days and months after the attacks, people were scared to fly. Gardner sets out in this book to figure out why it is that people in the healthiest, safest, most prosperous nations on Earth - in the healthiest, safest, most prosperous era of human history - live in a state of near-constant fear. A lot of it, as the intro implies, comes down to the fact that our brains, which evolved over millions of years to be very good at judging risks that might be found on the savannah, are simply not prepared to do the same in a modern technological world. Our brains can't tell the difference between risk in fiction and reality, between something that happened to us and something we saw on the news. Your brain thinks that your child will be taken from you the moment you look away, and all the reasoning in the world won't change its mind. Or more, as the recent economic Clusterthing has shown, when you have people who are good with numbers deliberately exploiting this flaw in order to profit. He had plenty more, but at that moment, his brain was convinced that losing the photo meant losing his children. The good news, though, is that you can strengthen the newer, more recent brain - the lazy teenager from the initial example. There are real risks in our modern world, but they're not spectacular and they're not viscerally terrifying. But it would take just about 233 attacks to equal the number of deaths in 2001 that occurred from cardiovascular disease in the United States. The nearly nonexistent chance of being killed by terrorists is enough to get people to submit to any number of indignities and intrusions on their persons and liberties when they travel, but the very real risk of death from a heart attack isn't enough to get people to go take a walk once in a while or stop eating junk food. We live longer, we live better, even in parts of the world that are still developing, and it looks like the future will progress that way. But we still insist on needing to be afraid, even as we have less and less to actually fear. So put down the newspaper, turn off the 24-hour news, and take some time to figure out what is actually a threat.

What made this book so interesting for me is that it cuts across political and theoretical boundaries to attempt to deal with fear and apocalyptic futurism in all its formats in a non-partisan and a mostly non-ideological manner. This is a book for anyone interested in the story behind the story we find in the rhetoric of fear.

Half-way through the book I was intent on giving it 3 stars, but the chapter on terrorism and the conclusion made me change my mind to 4. This book is about risk and fear. Humans are not particularly rational beings and what we feel about something (the Gut - our unconscious) is instantaneous and our thoughts(the Head - our conscious mind) is a slow, cumbersome process. After the basic psychology of risk perception and fear has been laid bare the book covers things people are especially afraid of - cancer, crime and terrorism.

Dans writing at the Citizen won, or was nominated for, most major prizes in Canadian journalism, including the National Newspaper Award, the Michener Award, the Canadian Association of Journalists award, the Amnesty International Canada Media Award for reporting on human rights. Published in 11 countries and 7 languages, leading researchers, including Slovic, praised the books scientific accuracy and lucid analysis of how psychology and social processes interact causing us to fear what we should not and not fear what we should. Again, Dan was delighted that his book garnered the praise of leading researchers, including Harvards Steven Pinker, who said it should be required reading for journalists, politicians, academics, and those who listen to them.

  • English

  • Psychology

  • Rating: 3.98
  • Pages: 339
  • Publish Date: July 17th 2008 by Dutton Adult
  • Isbn10: 0525950621
  • Isbn13: 9780525950622