Note to readers: The attached article (click on the image to download the PDF) about understanding risk was originally published in the Harvard Health Letter in 1994. I recently stumbled across it in my archives and thought some readers here might enjoy it. Although it is directed at a consumer and not a professional audience, I think it’s very important for all of us to consider how we think about risk and communicate our understanding to others.
Sometimes our lack of progress can be disheartening, as evidenced by the brief mention in the story of cell phones and brain cancer. The one obvious mistake in the piece is the paragraph on estrogen. The general concept is still correct, but clearly the benefits of estrogen did not turn out as we thought back in the nineties. In a way, though, this illustrates the larger point of the piece, which is that understanding risk is a tricky business.