In a strong op-ed piece in The New York Times, James Diamond (author of Guns, Germs, and Steel) argues that we overestimate certain risks while understating the risks we come across daily (such as taking a shower):
Studies have compared Americans’ perceived ranking of dangers with the rankings of real dangers, measured either by actual accident figures or by estimated numbers of averted accidents. It turns out that we exaggerate the risks of events that are beyond our control, that cause many deaths at once or that kill in spectacular ways — crazy gunmen, terrorists, plane crashes, nuclear radiation, genetically modified crops. At the same time, we underestimate the risks of events that we can control (“That would never happen to me — I’m careful”) and of events that kill just one person in a mundane way.
The op-ed focuses on Diamond’s fascination with the natives of New Guinea. Diamond’s biggest lesson is realizing the importance of being attentive to hazards that carry a low risk each time but are encountered frequently.