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Risk Savvy: how to make good decisions


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Speaker(s): Professor Gerd Gigerenzer
Chair: Professor Jason Alexander

Recorded on 21 May 2014 in Old Theatre, Old Building.

Remember the volcanic ash cloud over Iceland? The subprime disaster? What about mad cow disease? Each new crisis makes us worry until we start worrying about the next one. When something goes wrong, we are told that the way to prevent further crises is through better technology, more laws, and bigger bureaucracy. How to protect ourselves from the threat of terrorism? Homeland security, full body scanners, further sacrifice of individual freedom. How to counteract exploding costs in health care? Tax hikes, rationalization, better genetic markers. One idea is absent from these lists: risk-savvy citizens. And there is a reason for that. Many experts have concluded that people are basically hopeless when it comes to risk and, like a child who needs a parent, require continuous “nudging." Against this pessimistic view, I will argue that instead of being the solution, experts are often part of the problem, and that everyone can learn to deal with risk and uncertainty on their own. A democracy needs risk-savvy citizens who cannot be easily frightened into surrendering their money, their welfare, and their liberty.

Gerd Gigerenzer is managing director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, former professor of psychology at the University of Chicago and author of Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions.

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