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SitP: David Ropeik and the Risk Perception Gap Update! Thanks to Andrea and Francois, we now have a video of David Ropeik's talk available on our

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SitP: David Ropeik and the Risk Perception Gap

Posted on : 20-05-2015 | By : John | In : Blog Post, Event, Skeptics in the Pub

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Update! Thanks to Andrea and Francois, we now have a video of David Ropeik’s talk available on our Vimeo channel.

This month's speaker, Davic Ropeik

David Ropeik will be speaking on the gap between risk and risk perception

Our guest this month is David Ropeik, a writer, teacher, investigative journalist and consultant. Formerly a reporter for WCVB-TV, Channel 5 in Boston, he has taught journalism and the psychology of risk perception, communication and management for many years.

Mr. Ropeik is an Instructor at Harvard University, author, and consultant on the psychology of risk perception, risk communication, and risk management. He is author of How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match The Facts and co-author of RISK: A Practical Guide for Deciding What’s Really Safe and What’s Really Dangerous in the World Around You.

He is a widely cited expert on risk perception in the general press and he blogs for BigThink.com, Psychology Today, Nature, Scientific American, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, and The Huffington Post.

Mr. Ropeik was a television reporter in Boston from 1978 – 2000, where he twice won the DuPont Columbia Award, often referred to as the Pulitzer Prize of broadcast journalism, along many other awards. He wrote a science column for The Boston Globe 1998-2000. He was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT 1994-95.

He is creator and director of the program “Improving Media Coverage of Risk”, a training program for journalists.

He has taught journalism at Boston University, Tufts University, MIT, and Northwestern University.

Risk perception is a topic close to many skeptics, as we see our friends, neighbors, families and, despite our best intentions, ourselves, make poor self-destructive choices about vaccinations, health care, the environment, diet, consumer purchases, politics and many other avenues of life. David Ropeik has written and talked extensively on how to communicate an accurate assessment of risk to people, helping them better understand why their instincts and fears and doubts might be doing them more harm than good.

THE RISK PERCEPTION GAP

Why we worry too much about some things, not enough about others, the danger that poses, and what we can do about it.

As scientifically as many risks have been studied, so have the cognitive processes of risk perception. Research has revealed that risk perception is a fascinating, complex, and ultimately subjective system influenced more by instinct and feeling than intellect and fact. As a result it produces perceptions that sometimes fly in the face of the evidence and lead to judgments and behaviors that may feel right, but actually create risks all by themselves.

This presentation will summarize how subjective risk perception works and why the Risk Perception Gap occurs, which is the first step toward minimizing the risks our risk MISperceptions can cause.

New Location: We will be meeting at 7PM on Monday, May 25, 2015 in the third floor of The Hong Kong Restaurant, 1238 Mass Ave in Harvard Square, Cambridge. RSVP on our Facebook event page. This is our first meeting at the Hong Kong, so it is important that people register in advance so the restaurant will know what to expect and will have adequate staffing. Also, it would be good to arrive a little early if you possibly can to allow time for ordering dinner and/or drinks before the talk begins.

Note: links to Amazon are for informational purposes only. Please feel free to patronize your local library or bricks-and-mortar book store!

Book Club: “Bright-sided” by Barbara Ehrenreich

Posted on : 06-05-2015 | By : John | In : Book Club

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book cover

Our next book

Our book for May is Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich.

The first chapter describes Ehrenreich’s experience with breast cancer and all the useless, belittling advice she received from well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) people about how she could overcome it with a positive attitude and strength of character. Implicit in this advice is an enormous dose of victim-blaming. It’s her fault if she has cancer because she wasn’t positive enough, and if she doesn’t get on the program (of magical thinking with no, zero, nada, zip evidence of efficacy), it will be her fault if she doesn’t recover. This sounds to me like a perfect Republican health care plan: blame the victims and quickly get rid of all those annoying, expensive sick people. But that’s just me…

The second chapter describes her visit to a national convention of motivational speakers. Reminiscent of a Jon Ronson exploration, she finds the ultimate goal of becoming a motivational speaker is to motivate our people to become motivational speakers in some gigantic multilevel marketing scheme. Ever since the dawn of the self-help and positive thinking movements (which are deeply intertwined) in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), other people “are there only to nourish, praise and affirm”. (Sounds like a recipe for sociopathy, or at very least, libertarianism.) The whole edifice is built on a foundation of pseudoscientific principles, such as “The Law of Attraction”, pre-scientific understandings of magnets and gravity, and profound misunderstanding of simple oscillators (“vibrations”), and quantum. Its crowning achievements are The Secret and other forms of magical thinking.

If the rest of the book is as interesting (if disheartening) and as readable as the first two chapters, it will be well worth reading and discussing.

Please join us to discuss this book on Saturday, May 16 at 3 PM in our usual meeting place, Harvard’s Northwest Science Building, 52 Oxford Street, Cambridge. Bring your appetite and, if you wish, a snack to share. Also optional, you can RSVP on our Facebook event page. Remember, the first gratuitous Star Trek reference always receives a complimentary phaser blast. (Warning: I did remember to put new batteries in my phaser.)

Mary will be leading an online discussion of the book the next day (May 17) at the Skepchick Book Club. Drop by and make all those insightful comments you forgot to make at the meeting, or if you live too far away to attend in person. (But it’s much more fun to be here!)