Ramblings & ephemera

Why are we bad at estimating risk?

Bruce Schneier: "Why are people so lousy at estimating, evaluating and accepting risk? That’s a complicated question, and I spend most of Chapter 2 of Beyond Fear trying to answer it. Evaluating risk is one of the most basic functions of a brain and something hard-wired into every species possessing one. Our own notions of risk are based on experience, but also on emotion and intuition. The problem is that the risk analysis ability that has served our species so well over the millennia is being overtaxed by modern society. Modern science and technology create things that cannot be explained to the average person; hence, the average person cannot evaluate the risks associated with them. Modern mass communication perturbs the natural experiential process, magnifying spectacular but rare risks and minimizing common but uninteresting risks. This kind of thing isn’t new—government agencies like the FDA were established precisely because the average person cannot intelligently evaluate the risks of food additives and drugs—but it does have profound effects on people’s security decisions. They make bad ones." [The Evolution of a Cryptographer]

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