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  • Writer's pictureSally Herships

We're Bad At Calculating Risk

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

This past year we have been constantly assessing risk. From questioning whether to wipe down our mail or sanitize our groceries to figuring out when it's safe to see our families, it has often felt like we constantly have to judge the safety of our actions. Now, there's the vaccine itself, specifically the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.


Last month, news started breaking about a rare side effect possibly linked to the vaccine. Blood clots were occurring in women, between the ages of 18 and 59. What happened next made clear that we are really bad at assessing risk. While the blood clots were serious and in a few cases deadly, it was just the tiniest handful of people out of millions who have gotten the J&J vaccine. Still, after the CDC said they were going to review the J&J shot again, there was a drop in demand for the vaccine. Meanwhile, we know that COVID has killed almost 600,000 Americans.

On The Indicator from Planet Money, we chat about how we assess risk. Why are we so often more worried about shark attacks and dying in fiery plane crashes than cancer or COVID? Life requires us to constantly calculate the odds and we're just not very good at it.


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1 comentário


Ace Reid
Ace Reid
13 de mar. de 2023

It is true that many people are not very good at calculating risk accurately. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Cognitive biases: Our brains are wired to take shortcuts in decision-making, and these shortcuts can lead to biases that cause us to overestimate or underestimate risk. For example, we may be more likely to fear rare but vivid events, such as shark attacks, than more common but less dramatic events, such as car accidents.

  2. Lack of information: We may not have access to all the information we need to accurately calculate risk. For example, we may not know the likelihood of a particular outcome or the potential consequences of a decision.

  3. Emotions: Our emotions can influence our perception of risk.…

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