Monday, 10 December 2007

Idiots and Risk

Rebecca West in her masterpiece "Grey Lamb and Black Falcon" observes that 'idiocy' is the female vice. She explains that the derivation of the word idiot comes from the Greek idiotes which means a private person and in her opinion women were more prone to just taking into account what immediately affects them and their families.

There are several newspapers, the Daily Mail for one, which focus their reporting not on the wider world and its issues but on those private stories which idiots, in the sense that Rebecca West meant, appreciate because they excite but do not threaten. This year the Maddy McKann disappearance has been just such a story and the current reappearance of Mr Darwin, presumed dead 5 years ago another one.

The Idiot's approach to risk tends to focus too much on the impact that risks could have and not enough on the probability that they will occur. Excessive concern over autism and the measles jab has meant the reduction of children being immunised and so the almost certain result of children dying of measles, a threat which had been almost wiped out, until the Idiot's focused on the personal rather than the bigger picture. In trying to protect their own children, parents have greatly increased the risk to all children, including theirs. My grandmother had exactly this view of risk. She was very proud of the fact that she had kept my father free of mumps as a child. When he contracted it from me he was aged 40 and as a consequence went deaf in one ear for the rest of his life.

United we stand, divided we fall when confronting the viral legions.

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