16 October 2014

The Ebola Outbreak Is Proof That We Humans Are Terrible at Evaluating Risk

Posted by Dan Satterfield

There are at least 5,000 dead of Ebola in Africa and it is a real human tragedy no doubt, but when I turned on CNN Tuesday to get the latest on what is happening there, I ended up watching nearly two hours of news about two patients who have contracted the disease in America. They are still alive, and hopefully with good care will beat the disease, but I must say that I was appalled that I could not get any news at all about what was happening in West Africa! I’m not the least worried about catching Ebola, but I feel deeply about those who are living in very poor countries in Africa who will not get the medical care that someone who might (against incredible odds) get infected here.

Thankfully, I was able to get a good update from the BBC, and while CNN is just giving their viewers what they want, it’s a good example of how bad we humans are at evaluating risk. I can not help but wondering how many people were texting a friend about the latest Ebola news today, WHILE THEY WERE DRIVING! Much of the blame has to do with how and where we evolved, and the fact that the risks to our ancestors of being eaten by a Tiger are no longer a big deal, but other deadly risks (like texting and driving) are not pre-wired by evolution into our brains.

BBC Radio 4 in London is airing a series of programs (that could not be more timely) on risk, and why we humans are so bad at it. It’s well worth a listen. Click the image below to do just that.

riskbbcPS: After spending 10 days in the UK, I got used to getting a decent news update on the growing crisis from the BBC each day, and for those who have never spent time outside of the American news bubble, I have a suggestion. For one week, get ALL of your news from sources outside the U.S. It may very well change how you view the world in a profound way.