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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Review: The Science of Fear

The Science of Fear is a great book! It covers why fear seems rampant in this modern age, when life expectancies are longer than ever before, and wars seem less frequent than ever (though the 20th century was still the bloodiest in history, neither nuclear Armageddon nor famine became prevalent). The book covers all the elements of fear, starting from why we remember negative news better than we remember positive ones.

It then goes on to examine who has an incentive to make you fear the world. Product companies (such as security specialists) have an incentive to sell you a product, and by making you afraid (of say a break in), they make money. Politicians such as George H. W. Bush have an incentive to sell fear, because that enables them to stay in office. Finally, the media has an incentive to sell news stories, and the best news stories involve fear, since nothing else sticks in your mind like the latest disease or disaster, no matter how statistically unlikely it is to affect you.

The author also dissects why we are so vulnerable to such institutions and people preying on us: our brains aren't evolved for modern society, from photography to round-the-globe 24-hour news coverage, so while we're capable of driving at 65mph down the freeway, our brains haven't adapted to the idea that perhaps the fact that we spend all our time driving and very little time exercising is much more dangerous to us than that news story about the serial killer or what-have-you.

What I love the book is that it's not afraid to name names and debunk myths. The breast implants scare comes up early on, and he follows through with such examples as the primary cause for cancer (I won't spoil it for you, but I guarantee that it's not much of a surprise if you think about it). Even sacred icons such as Rachel Carlson are not spared from Mr. Gardner's research and analysis.

All in all, this book is highly recommended.


Amy said...

I saw a great quote related to this: "Safety is a tyrant's tool. Nobody argues with safety." Yeah, I'd been trying to say that for years, and never captured it so succinctly... and always wound up sounding paranoid and/or cheap. Well, I am cheap, and I think that doubting people manipulate the masses for their own game is idealistic wishful thinking.

Piaw Na said...

Yes, an unfortunately, we're all too easily manipulated!