It is perhaps timely to remind ourselves of three questions quoted in a remarkably pertinent paper written by John Mueller in 2004:
Three key issues require careful discussion but do not seem ever to get it:
- How much should we be willing to pay for a small reduction in probabilities that are extremely low?
- How much should we be willing to pay for actions that are primarily reassuring but do little to change the actual risk?
- How can measures such as strengthening the public health system, which provide much broader benefits that those against terrorism, get the attention they need?
Mueller makes a number of powerful comparisons. One he cites which really brings it home is that there would have to be a set of September 11 crashes every month before flying became as dangerous as driving the same distance in a car.
The risk is that we end up with a false sense of insecurity – which is the title of Mueller’s paper.
Update: or for much the same argument in utterly splendid demotic, rather than the academic style of Mueller’s writing, the Kung-Fu Monkey (!) says all that can be said.