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How Risky Is It, Really?: Why Our Fears Don't Always Match the Facts Hardcover – Feb 8 2010

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About the Author

David Ropeik is an international consultant and widely sought-after public speaker on risk perception and risk communication. Ropeik is an instructor at the Harvard University Extension School's Environmental Management Program and taught risk perception and risk communication at Harvard School of Public Heath (2000-2006). He was a commentator on risk for NPR Morning Edition program and has been a guest host for NPR's “The Connection.” He has written articles about risk perception for The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, LA Times, and The Boston Globe, and Nova among others.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 20 reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Your gut isn't always right, how to make safer choices Jan. 10 2011
By Jaylia3 - Published on
Format: Hardcover
React fast, think later. According to the scientific research Ropeik cites in this useful book, human brains are designed to respond quickly to perceived danger, before there's time to rationally consider what the real risks of the situation are. What served us well in the age of the saber tooth tiger is not as useful for making informed decisions in the modern world, plus all those fight, flight or freeze chemicals streaming through our nervous system create their own health risk. The heart of this book for me is the second and third chapters which describe the natural biases, mental shortcuts and risk factors that can lead to making counterproductive--even deadly--choices in an effort to avoid danger, choices like driving after 9/11 because it felt safer than flying though it instead caused a spike in highway fatalities.

I read much of this same material in Daniel Gardner's book The Science of Fear. The difference between the two books is that How Risky is It, Really is designed to be a personal guide for evaluating decisions. For that it is very effective, but by its later chapters the material has gotten repetitive. The Science of Fear is not as easily used as a daily guide but its scope is broader and deeper and it concerns itself more with implications for the future and for society as a whole.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Lively analysis of the misperception of risks June 4 2011
By David J. Aldous - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book focuses on the psychology of how we perceive risk, complementing an earlier book Risk: A Practical Guide for Deciding What's Really Safe and What's Really Dangerous in the World Around You giving hard data on what is actually risky. The author, who lectures on risk communication, knows how to hold an audience's attention, and succeeds admirably in conveying serious content in popular style and language. To me, the central feature is a list of 13 factors which can make a risk seem more threatening or less threatening than it really is (Trust; Risk vs benefit; Control; Choice; Natural vs human-made; Pain and suffering; Uncertainty; Catastrophic vs chronic; Can it happen to me? New vs familiar? Risks to children; Personification; Fairness). Also noteworthy is his discussion of the role of the media in making the world seem scarier than it really is -- a well-informed discussion, because the author worked as a TV reporter for 20+ years.

The book points out how the "perception gap" can be harmful: individuals continue risky behavior unaware, while over-worrying about the
wrong things; public policy is shaped by self-interested or ideological pressure groups, or by public opinion driven by scaremongering media.
There are suggestions for you as an individual on how to identify and counteract these psychological risk factors. The book concludes with a
discussion of the public policy aspect of risk communication. It is hopeless to try to impose some purely rational cost-benefit analysis on
the public, rather one should start by taking these predictable psychological factors into account.

All these points are discussed via entertaining real examples. So the book deserves 5 stars for significant interesting content not readily
found elsewhere. My only quibble is that the people who will read this book are probably those predisposed to rational analysis, not the ones who might benefit most.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Provocative resource for professionals, students, and consumers March 7 2010
By Beth N. Peshkin - Published on
Format: Hardcover
In his second seminal book on the topic, David Ropeik takes the reader on an in depth and insightful journey into the science and psychology of risk. The book is well referenced and provides plenty of factual information to satisfy scholarly curiosity, but it also provides very human, surprising, and entertaining anecdotes to shed light on how and why people perceive risk the way they do, and how that influences subsequent choices. Interested readers can take several quizzes throughout the book which personalize several of the points. As a health professional and educator, I found this book helped me to more fully understand how patients may perceive risk, how I can assess their perceptions, and how I can discuss and elicit their thoughts about risk to optimize informed decision-making. The book is also useful for students in a variety of disciplines ranging from communications to health policy. I highly recommend this book and believe it will have a provocative effect on how readers interpret, communicate, and act upon information thereafter.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
A Handbook for Living Intelligently March 12 2010
By Amanda R. - Published on
Format: Hardcover
To thrive in the modern world, what we need most often is a filter--a way to sort through the noise around us and figure out (quickly) what matters. What is worth worrying about? Kidnapping or cancer? Floods or fire? Pesticides or growth hormones? Mercury in seafood or terrorism on trains?

David Ropeik's new book draws on psychology, neuroscience and very specific, real-world examples to help us build good, strong filters. It is easy to read, thorough and engaging. HOW RISKY IS IT, REALLY? should be on the desk of anyone who invests money, raises children, watches TV news--or aspires to find peace and sanity in a confusing world.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Updated understanding of how we decide about uncertainty July 16 2010
By LarryP - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
David Ropeik brings together a very well designed and balanced approach to the interplay of reason and emotion in both our personal and social decisions. The old myth that reason and facts should drive out emotion in our decision making is offically dead. His 13 factors that impact our sesnse of threats is a great self-learning guide. This is required reading for any scieince communication major as well as any professional who is frustrated at the inability of the public to "get it right" about risk.