Fear and statistics

Interesting post about how people perceive risks. (See below.)

Here is another example: Most skiing accidents happen on sunny days on easy slopes. Under those conditions, people don't perceive much risk. This causes them to be less careful which increases the real chance of accidents. On cloudy days and challenging slopes, snowsporters are much more concentrated and careful thus causing less accidents.

Maybe the SUV (good conditions) versus Compact-car (bad conditions) statistics have a similar cause.

Also: the percentage of head injuries has gone up. This doesn't necessarily mean increasing numbers of head injuries. The number of other injuries has gone down due to better equipment. (Still, it's a good idea to wear a helmet in many cases.)

(→original post)
Beyond Fear by Bruce Schneier. He write a lot about actual risks versus perceived risks.

Bruce Schneier - Beyond Fear
In America, automobiles cause 40,000 deaths every year; that's the equivalent of a full 727 crashing every day and a half -- 225 total in a year. As a society, we effectively say that the risk of dying in a car crash is worth the benefits of driving around town. But if those same 40,000 people died each year in fiery 727 crashes instead of automobile accidents, you can be sure there would be significant changes in the air passenger systems. (I don't mean to harp on automobile deaths, but riding a car is the riskiest discretionary activity the majority of Americans regularly undertake.) Similarly, studies have shown that both drivers and passengers in SUVs are more likely to die in accidents than those in compact cars, yet one of the major selling points of SUVs is that the owner feels safer in one.
This really illustrates how subjective people's feelings about risk are. Looking at and talking about risk statistically compared to how we mentally deal with risk is interesting. Media coverage of human rights issues based on the closeness of the culture to ours is similarly subjective. The fact is, mentally, the value of a life depends on the context. We are all very subjective. Acting like we aren't clouds the issues. Journalists who say they are impartial and politicians who represent "everyone" all run this risk. Bruce's book takes a very pragmatic approach to risk, trying to describe the actual quantifiable risks, but also describing all of the factors that are involved in the decisions about security methods to deal with those risk.

I'll post more about this book as I continue to read it. (I read slowly...)

PS It's interesting to note that traffic accidents account for about 10,000 deaths a year in Japan compared to 30,000+ deaths due to suicide. You're 3 times more likely to commit suicide than get in a deadly traffic accident in Japan.

By Joichi Ito jito@neoteny.com. [Joi Ito's Web]