Urgent Evoke

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Peter Sandman , an expert in risk communication explains why risk truly has two elements - hazard and outrage - and why understanding them both is crucial to crisis communication as well as pandemic journalism.

He said that : Risk = hazard + outrage.

That is, the risk that kills people and the risk that upset people are completely different. If you know a risk is deadly, that tells you almost nothing about whether it is upsetting. If you know a risk is upsetting , that tells you almost nothing about whether it is deadly. So essentially, these two variables are unrelated and it doesnot matter what your measure of harm is, across a wide range of harzards; the correlation of between how much harm that hazard does and how upset people get about it is an absurdly low 0.2 correlation.

The key intellectual question in risk perception is " why is this correlation so low ?" The key practical question in risk communication is " how do we get it higher? " Half of the problem in getting the correlation higher is figuring out how to make people more concerned when the risk is serious: the other half of the problem is figuring out how to calm people down when the risk is trivial.

Let's take the concept of risk and divide it into half:

  • Let's consider the technical side of risk - whether it is likely to kill you , hurt you or damage the ecosystem. Let's call that " hazard ".
  • Let's take the other half of risk - the cultural half of risk rather than the scientific half - that is, whether it is likely to upset you, anger you, or frighten you. Let's call that " outrage " .

What I learnt from Peter's Sandman's publication on " Covering Risk " is that:

  • When experts look at a risk , they focus on the hazard and ignore the outrage. Therefore, they systematically overestimate the risk when the hazard is high and the outrage is low, and they systematically underestimate the risk when the hazard is low and the outrage is high, because all they are doing is looking at the hazard.
  • On the other hand, the public generally focuses on the outrage and ignores the hazard. The public therefore, overestimates the risk when the outrage is high and the hazard is low, and underestimates the risk when the outrage is low and the hazard is high.

In conclusion, risk covering has to do with managing hazard as well as outrage.

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