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Reckoning with Risk (and the RSA)

3rd Sector Organisations have to consider risk as much as any other entity and thus I thought I'd recommend the fascinating read that is Gerd Gigerenzer's Reckoning with Risk.

As is the case with many books like this though, there is often an article (which makes for a shorter read) making the point more succinctly:

"The science fiction writer H G Wells predicted that in modern technological societies statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write. How far have we got, a hundred or so years later?”

--- Simple tools for understanding risks: from innumeracy to insight http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/327/7417/741
And here’s a graph from the article that may blow your mind:

View larger version (30K):
Fig 1 Doctors' estimates of the probability of breast cancer in women with a positive result on mammography, according to whether the doctors were given the statistical information as conditional probabilities or natural frequencies (each point represents one doctor)2

Scary how differently even highly trained (and experienced) professionals evaluate risk - anyway, the article (and the book if you have the patience) really is worth a read.

RSA Risk CommissionThe RSA has a new dedicated website for discussing Risk in all areas of life - and whilst some items are UK focused, readers elsewhere may still find it of interest: 

"Can we define ‘risk’ in the context of modern society?

Do we understand the risks that affect us:-
- everyday
- on rare occasions
- at different stages of our lives

(Are these measurable? Evidence vs. Anecdote)"

Take part... http://www.rsariskcommission.org/



Culture of Fear: Risk Taking and the Morality of Low ExpectationIf you go to the RSA itself you'll find a number of interesting books on the subject in the library including: Culture of Fear: Risk Taking and the Morality of Low Expectation by Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at University of Kent. Interesting read, let's say 7 out of 10 - similar model to The Sceptical Environmentalist in the way that the author deconstructs received wisdoms. In this case it is not about nature but about humans and their role in society.

Amongst other things, he decries the development in the UK and US where big NGOs/charities have ended up being quasi-governmental in influence but also in presuming to be speaking on behalf of the nation or at least significant groups therein. See for example www.billinfluence.com
There is indeed an oligarchy of influence firming its grip around government consultations in direct proportion to the drop in interest in politics amongst the wider population. He asserts that these organisations are perpetuating a system of fear, glorified victimhood, low expectations and most importantly that an individual standing on their own can't possibly overcome adversity - from schoolground bullying to serious abuse. Now I agree with him that we don't want to end up with a nanny-state, but we don't want a Thatcherite every-man-for-himself either.
- The problem is, in other words, to find the right balance.

The NGOs, charities, not to mention the government, dominate the debate that Furedi meticulously deconstructs. A welcome counterpoint. But as mentioned above - you can now take part yourself on the RSA Risk Commission website. As for Furedi, you can read his articles here: http://www.frankfuredi.com/

An interesting outcome appears to be the Manifesto Club

Also looking forward to reading Fear: A Cultural History


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