A good article, Roy. As I’ve written elsewhere on Medium, our ape-brains are hardwired for anecdote because for 98% of our evolutionary history we lived and died in small hunter-gatherer groups in which the heuristic “if an authority figure says something, chances are it’s close enough to truth” was adequate. In consequence of our small-group lifestyle our brains never experienced any selection pressure to cope with large datasets. The media knows this implicitly, and provides sensationalist nonsense that utterly corrupts our ability to estimate real risk. As you note in your article, people are wildly wrong about the real risks they face and insanely afraid of trivial (and non-existent) risks. This leads not only to absurdities like today’s reaction to COVID-19 but also to people worrying about alien invasion, asteroid impacts, and a whole host of other vanishingly implausible threats. The really sad thing is that while we’re all terrified of non-existent threats, we ignore making changes that could dramatically reduce our actual risk of real problems such as obesity-related diseases, indolence-related diseases, diet-related diseases, and so on. It’s like being obsessed with a pimple while absent-mindedly sawing off our leg.

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.

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