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September 13, 1985

Risk Watch: The Odds of Life

JAMA. 1985;254(10):1378-1379. doi:10.1001/jama.1985.03360100132033

This small volume successfully deals with the sociopolitical irrationalities arising from the contemporary perception that while "technology is basic to our social and economical life, it is fast becoming uncontrollable." Concurrently, while the prospect of progress is inevitably associated with some degree of risk, the media lead our global village to fix on the small, rare risks to a disproportionate degree while we disregard the greater risks of daily life.

For example, the number of deaths caused or accelerated by smoking cigarettes is roughly equivalent to the number of fatalities that would be associated with the daily crash of three fully loaded 747 jumbo jets—yet how long would it take for such aviation news to be relegated to the back pages? To deal with the disproportionate fixation on the unusual event, the physician-authors propose a readily understandable scale to express the degree of safety represented by various life activities. Not