Friday, January 23, 2009

Media Attention and Risk Perception

From a Freaknomics interview of author Ben Sherwood:


Can a positive outcome to a crash like USAir 1549 change often unrealistic public perceptions of the fatality of plane crashes?


I doubt it. It’s incredibly safe to fly — your chances of dying on your next domestic flight are just one in 60 million — but many Americans are still petrified of air travel.

It’s no surprise: Plane crashes monopolize media coverage. Indeed, one MIT study found that airplane crash coverage on the front page of The New York Times was 60 times greater than reporting on HIV/AIDS per 1,000 deaths; 1,500 times greater than reporting on auto hazards; and 6,000 times greater than cancer.


Now, the key to this passage is they only looked at the front page. Still, it's very interesting and telling on why our perceived risks rarely match the actual risks.


Demers said...

Yeah plane crashes are exciting. They don't make movies about slowly dying from cancer. Well, they do, but they are dramas, not action movies.

Did they look at local papers? Because they are always reporting on car crashes.

I am guessing if you made an equation for rate of reporting as a function of the number of deaths due to a cause in an audience, that the rate of reporting goes down as the number of deaths due to a specific cause goes up.

Dan said...

so what are you saying is that if plane crashes were more common they wouldn't be in the news as much?

yeah i think if they reached a point the rate would increase. i think there would a knot or tipping point where it would change that is above to current level though