The Science of Fear is a disarmingly cheerful roundtrip shuttle to the new brain science, dissecting the fears that misguide and manipulate us every day. As award-winning journalist Daniel Gardner demonstrates, irrational fear springs from how humans miscalculate risks. Our hunter-gatherer brains evolved during the old Stone Age and struggle to make sense of a world utterly unlike the one that made them. Numbers, for instance, confuse us. Our "gut" tells us that even if there aren't "50,000 predators...on the Internet prowling for children," as a recent U.S. Attorney General claimed, then there must be an awful lot. And even if our "head" discovers that the number is baseless and no one actually knows the truth - there could be 100,000 or 500,000 - we are still more fearful simply because we heard the big number. And it is not only politicians and the media that traffic in fearmongering. Corporations fatten their bottom lines with fear. Interest groups expand their influence with fear. Officials boost their budgets with fear. With more information, warnings and scary stories coming at us every day from every direction, we are more prone than ever to needlessly worry.
©2008 Daniel Gardner; (P)2009 Gildan Media Corp
"Excellent.... analyses everything from the media's predilection for irrational scare stories to the cynical use of fear by politicians pushing a particular agenda....What could easily have been a catalogue of misgovernance and stupidity instead becomes a cheery corrective to modern paranoia." (The Economist)
Everyone should read this book. Possibly you could find a couple other books that cover the subjects better but I don't know them and this has a lot to get you started.
As noted by others, it's perhaps 2 books in 1. Gardner does a great job of presenting the recent about-face in our model or understanding about how we think. Our primitive, quick and emotional brain is in the driver's seat but is prone to many mistakes from biases no longer appropriate in the modern world. Our conscious and learned brain is reasoned but slow and lazy and loathe to override our hunches. The various vestigial biases from our prior evolution are very well explained in lay terms and this is the most valuable lesson I've learned from any book in many years.
How our subconscious biases lead to mistakes in judgement and distortions of danger and risk are similarly well explained. How these biases led to (what I'll call) the mass hysteria over 9-11 and terrorism is then covered in perhaps excess.
This leads to a 2nd way this book was so revolutionary to me, from the hub-bub over the initial terrorism to the Iraq invasion, I was aghast that media and the public were so uniformly enthralled and supportive of our government's efforts. As a physician, I see every day the effects of overeating, under-exercising and smoking. These lifestyle factors kill 100 times more per year in the US than the single terrorist event. Why was everyone ignoring these real threats to American prosperity/well-being and focusing on a remote and irrelevant threat of terrorism? Having read the book, now I know.
Knowing how people make decisions has changed the way I practice medicine. e.g.: One bias you'll learn we have is, if a product or technology is perceived to have high benefit, it is automatically assigned low danger and vice versa. Specifically in my business, if a drug is thought to have high danger, it automatically is seen as having low benefit. And, once this danger/benefit level is assigned, it won't change. I no longer argue when my patients say they're afraid to try a drug I think may help them if they've seen the TV ad and are frightened. I'll just have to try something else. I won't convince a smoker to quit with facts and figures, they have to be scared. Seeing a picture of smoker's lungs at autopsy is worth more than a thousand words.
(Another vice versa: the public universally perceives a hospital as the place that can save you from the worst disease and injury. The extreme danger from being in a hospital and over-use of medications and interventions is not factored in.)
To live well in the modern world, you must understand your caveman biases and how they lead to wrong decisions. Politicians and advertisers know them well and use them to trick you continuously. Unfortunately, one of our biases is that we don't see biases in ourselves. (We have poor metacognition despite what we think. Is that ironic?) So our biases must be explained to us in a non-offensive way (as soon as you hear something opposing your world-view, your likely to dismiss the rest). This book does an excellent job. I think it has taught me more than a year's worth of medical school.
A very interesting look at the world in which we live.
It really brought home a lot of the things I've thought about for years regarding fear marketing and the politics of fear. It doesn't matter which side of the political spectrum you lean towards. Very informative.
I purchased this because of all the great reviews. I found the delivery dry and dull, as if reading a list from the Guiness Book of Records or an Encyclopedia a lot of factoids collected from various schools of thought. Wasn't cohesive enough for me, so I stopped half way. I will try and listen to it again and if I change my mind, will amend review.
I actually listened to this book twice because I found it so insightful and interesting. The author brings together several diverse fields in an understandable and persuasive way. He debunks several common fears and helps put others in their proper perspective.
There are many books on the market that deal with error, cognitive bias and heuristics. This book presents enough information to make the concepts understandable and relevant without getting overly academic. He then provides concrete, real world examples of how they influence behavior and perceptions.
The author tackles cancer, terrorism, pollution, pedophiles and violent crime. He gives a very realistic analysis of popular perceptions of these risks. Then he dissects them in terms of the actual risk they pose to the average person (much less than perceived) and convincingly shows where the discrepancies arise.
He covers psychology, evolutionary biology, heuristics, history, politics and statistics but somehow keeps the material from getting dry or overly technical. It's a delicate balance and he manages to keep up the balancing act for the entire book.
The book is an excellent antidote to the alarmist "is your family safe?!" stories that the press currently engages in.
Gardner uses many studies that show that people make decisions with their gut and rarely do we make them based on evidence and critical thinking. We need to become more aware of how and why we fear so much.
We live in the safest of times in human history, but we are more afraid than ever. It does not make sense, but it seems to be the case. Why can't we do an objective analysis is a major issue for those listening.
A good audiobook. Good clear narration with a style well suited to audio. Full of interesting examples to support the thesis.
It gave me new insights into how people (myself included) react to and sometimes fail to recognise risk.
Learn, understand, then decide whether you accept or reject.
If you're looking for a biological exploration of the mechanics of fear, then this isn't the book you're looking for.
Instead, this book looks at the social and psychological causes and effects of fear, and how to get over the negative impacts of fear.
Not the best book around, but definitely insightful.
Audible has changed my life! Dry , itchy eyes were destroying one of my greatest pleasures - reading. Now I am experiencing books again!
There's little in this book that most of us do not already know -- in our heads. But that's the point. Human beings are much more likely to react to what's in our gut. So we need this reminder badly and more often than we get it!
Everyone should read or hear this book. Parents, senior citizens, voters, TV watchers, drivers, flyers -- the list goes on and on. We need to be reminded that perspective is needed in determining risk factors in our lives. And we need to be reminded that many people and organizations profit greatly from exploiting our tendencies to fear.
Whether it's for monetary gain (hello, pharmaceuticals!), power retention (politicians, police chiefs), or ratings (TV movies, newscasts) motives, fear is the go-to message with which we all are constantly bombarded. Be afraid, be very afraid!
Horrible as any possibility is, statistics prove that the vast majority of us will not be murdered; our children will not be abducted by strangers; occasional insomnia will not lead to social banishment and death. The true dangers may be in self-induced stress, in keeping children inside and overly-protective, in taking too much medication.
Sure, the book's content is repetitive, but so is the constant drumming of fear we get elsewhere every day. A little repetition is justified in getting out this message of perspective. "The Science of Fear" could change for the better the way we think, the way we consume, and the way we vote.
Every citizen should read this book and keep it handy while consuming news from any source. Every parent should read it and then apologize to their children. This book should be required reading for every student and every instructor. Above all, perhaps, it should be required reading before being allowed to post on Facebook.
The Science of Fear is a remarkable and engaging (albeit repetitive) book that helps us see how we frequently get worked up by our emotional response and end up making ill-informed and foolish decisions. The book also discusses how we are manipulated using fear tactics and how to avoid falling for such devious messages.
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