The Polar Bear Strategy: Reflections on Risk in Modern Life

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9780738201177: The Polar Bear Strategy: Reflections on Risk in Modern Life

From cholesterol to cancer, asteroids to AIDS, we face more risks than our grandparents ever dreamed of. But most of us are 200 years behind the curve when it comes to making intelligent risk-based decisions: We refuse to fly, but don't wear seat belts in our far more dangerous cars. We panic about toxic waste dumps, but collectively smoke a billion cigarettes a year. In this entertaining and enlightening look at risk in the modern age, John Ross argues that the burgeoning science of risk assessment has given us powerful new tools to cope in a complex world, if we could only learn how to speak the language. Ross examines the building blocks of this new language, and helps us identify and relinquish long-held, often pre-set, biological and psychological responses to risk. Through vivid stories and compelling science, Ross empowers us to take control of our lives and to exercise our most basic democratic freedom—the power to make our own decisions—both as individuals and as a society.

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About the Author:

John F. Ross is a senior editor and writer for Smithsonian magazine.

From Publishers Weekly:

A disjunction exists between experts and average Americans when it comes to risk: the experts try to rank risks rationally; the rest of us respond more intuitively and emotionally. A senior editor at Smithsonian, Ross has spent some time with the experts, and here he emerges as something of a convert, noting that we smoke but want to ban saccharine, panic about mad cow disease but don't eat right. That's not terribly new, but Ross presents the issues in an accessible, discursive way. He discusses the history of the study of risk (seeing in Pascal's WagerAthe question of the consequences of believing or not believing in GodAthe beginning of modern probability theory) and notes how experts present risk information poorly. Some people, he adds, tolerate chosen high risks (e.g., downhill skiing) better than involuntary ones (e.g., agricultural pesticides). Certain people may have biological and psychological predispositions to risk, he explains in an intriguing chapter. Ultimately, Ross suggests that individuals must learn how to be good risk managers, to take responsibility. While he bemoans that the tort system is overwhelmed with frivolous lawsuits, he doesn't give enough attention to the issue of better regulation of those activities that present people with involuntary risk. Ross could have delved deeper, but he offers an accessible introduction to the science of risk and the many ways risk affects our lives.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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