One of the big themes of John Lanchester’s Whoops is that people are terrible at understanding risk, but that modern economic theory does not account for this (amongst a number of other basic psychological basics).
He illustrates our crude understanding of risk by pointing out that stairs kill around six hundred deaths every year. That’s roughly the same as the number of murders every year. And yet no-one feels particularly scared of stairs.
It’s a chance for Lanchester to indulge in another wonderful little aside.
“A warning about the government mortality statistics: if you are of a nervous or hypochondriacal disposition, avoid them at all costs. Here are some of the categories of deaths: ‘Accidental suffocation or strangling in bed’ (eight deaths), ‘Contact with plant thorns and spikes and sharp leaves’ (one death) and ‘Drowning and submersion while bath tub’ (eighteen deaths). Interestingly, only one person died after being bitten by a rat, but ten from being ‘bitten or struck by other mammals’. But which mammals? Dogs? If so, why not say so? Badgers? Dolphins?”