Two interesting columns are published today, each addressing some of the problems with current risk communication, and with public perception of risk.
The Washington Post has another excellent piece by the Dartmouth team of Woloshin-Schwartz-Welch, this one on how the flu death risk is often exaggerated, and so is the possible benefit of the flu vaccine.
The New York Times offers physician Abigail Zuger's essay, "Scare Yourself Silly, but the Real Terrors Are at Your Feet." She writes: "Of four patients I saw in a single hour last week, three announced how scared they were of the avian flu. I reassured them, but there was quite a bit I did not say, and here it is.
I did not say: If you want to be scared, then how about that drug habit of yours you think I don't know about? How about the fact that you are 100 pounds overweight and eat nothing but junk? How about the fact that in a few short months Medicaid is going to stop paying for your very expensive medications and no one knows how just high that Medicare Part D deductible and co-payment are going to be? I did not say: If you want something to be scared of, how about the drug-resistant Klebsiella that is all over this very hospital, an ordinary run-of-the-mill bacterial strain that has become so resistant to so many antibiotics that we've had to resurrect a few we stopped using 30 years ago because they were so toxic. ... Apparently they all lack the drama, the suspense, the titillating worst-case situations that energize our politicians and turn into a really newsworthy health care scare."