nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Friday, November 19, 2010

Our Bizarre Reaction To Risk

You don't use plastic grocery bags?  As a responsible environmentalist you choose the reuseable bags...that contain lead.

I read this story (Assoc Press, Nov 19) about consternation over grocery bags with wry amusement.  I'm not concerned about grocery bags; do what you like.  What's interesting is how we lurch from risk to risk with no assessment of what is really risky, versus what is marginally risky.

Worried about a plane crash?  By comparison with the risk of a fatal auto accident, you're worrying about a risk that is vanishingly small.  One statistician calculated that you would have to fly once a month for thousands of years to equal the risk you take every day when getting behind the wheel.

Domestic animals raised for food have hormones in them.  Egad!...No, wait a minute, we all have hormones in our bodies.  We would die if we didn't.  What happens to all those compounds?  Uh...we excrete them.

So, what's the problem with beef that has been fed hormones?  Compared to the hormones your own body manufactures, the content in food is not that great, and gets metabolized, mostly.  Yes, frogs are probably susceptible to hormones in the water supply, but I don't eat frogs.  Industrial effluents, and their control, are a different issue.

In any case, if there's a measurable risk from the myriad of things we are confronted with in the news and research literature every day, it behooves us to take a step back and say, "How does this compare with the risk of...say...cutting myself shaving and bleeding to death?"

Looking at the numbers will convince you that we get excited about scary-sounding things that are really very unlikely, while we gobble fast food, drink too much, drive too fast, and do all the mundane--but solidly risky--things all the time.

Doc D

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