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The Science of Fear: How the Culture of Fear Manipulates Your Brain Paperback – June 24, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Gardner, a columnist and senior writer for the Ottawa Citizen, is both matter-of-fact and entertaining in this look at fear and how it shapes our lives. Although we are capable of reason, says Gardner, we often rely instead on intuitive snap judgments. We also assume instinctively, but incorrectly, that [i]f examples of something can be recalled easily, that thing must be common. And what is more memorable than headlines and news programs blaring horrible crimes and diseases, plane crashes and terrorist attacks? In fact, such events are rare, but their media omnipresence activates a gut-level fear response that is out of proportion to the likelihood of our going through such an event. It doesn't help that scientific data and statistics are often misunderstood and misused and that our risk assessment is influenced less by the facts than by how others respond. Gardner's vivid, direct style, backed up by clear examples and solid data from science and psychology, brings a breath of fresh air and common sense to an emotional topic. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
“An excellent work... a cheery corrective to modern paranoia.”—The Economist
“An invaluable resource for anyone who aspires to think clearly.”—The Guardian
“An entertaining, often jolting account of why trivial risks terrify us, even as we engage in wildly dangerous activities with hardly a qualm.”—Kirkus (starred review)
“Gardner’s vivid, direct style, backed up by clear examples and solid data from science and psychology, brings a breath of fresh air and common sense to an emotional topic.”—Publisher's Weekly
“Elegantly weaves academic research and everyday experience, exposing the secrets of emotion and reason, and the essential roles they play on our lives. An excellent book.”—Dan Ariely, New York Times bestselling author of Predictably Irrational
“Essential reading for anyone interested in the social mistakes we make every day—and how to fix them.”—Tyler Cowen, author of Discover Your Inner Economist
“Those of us who spend our careers in research hope that someone like Daniel Gardner will come along and bring our findings to the world in an engaging and scientifically accurate way.”—Paul Slovic, Professor of Psychology, University of Oregon
“Compelling... By showing how to read statistics properly and engage the head over gut instinct, Gardner aims to get us thinking more carefully about how we run our lives—and make it harder for politicians, the media and advertisers to lead us astray.”—The New Scientist
“Terrific... As a writer, he's exceptionally good—he has the clarity of Malcolm Gladwell.... He takes you through a maze of difficult academic work, and makes it seem simple.”—The Evening Standard
“A fascinating insight into the peculiar and devastating nature of human fear, while training the reader to be ever wary of misleading media announcements.”—The Daily Telegraph
“Elegantly summarizes the results of psychological research... His chapters on the risk of being a victim of crime or terrorism provoke a peculiar mix of comfort and despair. It is heartening that the danger is slight; it's unsettling how skewed our political system and consumer culture are towards convincing us of the opposite.”—The Observer
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Top customer reviews
Gardner uses a vast review of research in the field of risk assessment to bolster his points, yet manages to make these scientific studies accessible to laypeople, summarizing many of the principles with names such as the Example Rule, the Anchoring Rule, and the Rule of Typical Things. He then gives a number of examples of how people are often led astray by different entities (e.g., the news media, advertising agencies, political campaigns) who use these principles to evoke unreasoning fear as a means of manipulation, the implicit message being, "Here's something that you should be afraid of, but if you'll just buy this product or elect this candidate, you'll be safe."
I especially enjoyed the abundant statistics and discussions about the relative risk or safety of different activities (e.g., car travel vs. airline travel, heart disease vs. cancer, etc.), and how, from a historical and statistical perspective, "there's never been a better time to be alive." I would have liked for Gardner to have covered certain topics in more detail (e.g., vaccinations, climate change), but the ones he did cover in detail (e.g., terrorism, environmental chemicals, the role of the news media) were all well done.
All in all, a fascinating and valuable book for anyone who wants to know how to better use the reasoning side of their brain to evaluate the risks we all face.
Gardner's thesis is that we are manipulated by the media and politicians into fearing dangers that are often highly improbable--but which make interesting news--all while we are led to underestimate the likelihood of dangers that are far more probable and consequential to our lives. The veracity of this thesis has been proven time and again, yet we still mostly fall for it. Look at the current political controversy over gun control for the most recent example.
The book is well worth reading. I didn't give it five stars because I had just finished reading Kahneman's book. There is overlap between the two.
I learned so much from the author about the origins of fear, why we are so wrong about what's actually dangerous, and how even rational understanding of the facts isn't even to overcome our fears.
My only criticism is that it's very scientific and I got overloaded with facts several times. It would have been better if the author used more stories to help explain the scientific concepts he illustrated.
Some reviewer claimed that the studies are not backed up by references. There are 20 pages in the back of the book where you can get more information on the studies that are referenced. Is the book hypocritical by describing experiments to prove his point, when often he chastises writers who provide facts and figure to prove their biased point? Maybe a little bit but at least Gardner tells where the facts came from. I would have like to have known in each case how scientific the experiment was. Was it a double blind experiment (the only kind you can put faith into the results)? I thought a few chapters, like the one on terrorism, was too long. I'd prefer he make his point, back it up and then get on with the book. He also seemed to have spent to much trying to show where "the gut" came from.
I challenge you to read this book and then recognize when and where all people are trying to mess up your mind such that you won't make a knowledgeable correct choice. Practice using your brain instead of your gut. This book will help. Don't be afraid, be thankful.