SIRC – Media Watch 18-05-99
Bill Bryson in the Independent this week discusses the nature of personal risk assessment. Taking statistics from Larry Laudan's The Book of Risks: fascinating facts about the chances we take every day he offers some suggestions as to why life in America appears to be twice as risky as that in Britain. Citing earthquakes, tornadoes, flashfloods, dangerous wildlife and guns as possible reasons, Bryson suggests that American's perception of risk actually focuses on far less dangerous concerns: "Show most Americans an egg yolk and they will recoil in terror, but the most palpable and avoidable risks scarcely phase them."
To highlight this issue of misplaced concern he discusses the EPA's 1995 study into passive smoking which concluded that there was a one in 30,000 risk of contracting lung cancer through ETS. Although this risk is minimal – you are five times more likely to contract lung cancer from keeping a pet budgie than being indirectly exposed to tobacco smoke – the response to this study led to an immediate smoking ban in offices, restaurants, shopping malls and public places. The zeal with which this agenda was pursued defies logic when you consider that forty percent of Americans don't wear seatbelts and forty percent of them keep guns in their homes. Domestic weapons are twenty times more likely to injure a child, the people they are designed to protect, than to be used against an intruder. As usual, reasoned decision-making, based on a balanced debate of information has been superceded by fervent legislative controls that function only to serve a particular political agenda.