Lies, pseudoscience and “journalism” in Japan’s current nuclear situation

The current situation at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant is a serious matter; and having family in close proximity of it makes it even more serious to me. For this reason, I appreciate the onslaught of emails and phone calls that friends and acquaintances have sent me to express their solidarity. Thank you!

At the same time, I am appalled by the way western media has represented the situation, which has led some people to send me distraught missives about the “imminent” crisis and the lies of the Japanese government. Since I haven’t posted in a while, I seized opportunity to type some words about risk and science communication. Since this is going to be a little bit of a rant, I apologize to my regular readership (that handful of patient people) for having digressed a little, yet again.

Here is my rant:

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Risk taking is a matter of format

Risk-taking is often associated with the character of a person: some individuals are considered risk-takers and are said to lead risk-taking lives1. However, researchers have demonstrated that this behaviour greatly depends on the way people are presented a decision problem2, 3, 4. Indeed, most people decide to take risks when they face choices with negative outcomes3, 4 such as diseases or injuries. Conversely, most individuals choose safer options when they face positive consequences3, 4 like “dancing in the prom” or “playing with my children”.

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Evaluating road safety campaigns: success comes with failure

Initiatives to educate drivers and promote road safety are not scarce in British Columbia. Right now, there are at least seven communication campaigns that focus on different issues: drinking and driving, intersections, speeding, high school speakers, cell phone use, child seats, and young drivers1, 2. Considering the effort and money spent in these programs, it is important to measure how effective they are.

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Audience analytics for road safety: personality traits

In order to be effective at educating the public, road safety campaigns must answer basic questions about drivers: who are they? Are there any identifiable groups? What gets their attention? How to communicate effectively with them? In this post, I will answer these questions in terms of personality traits, because psychological research on this area has proven to be very useful for road safety and injury prevention in general.

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“Drinking and Driving CounterAttack”: does science support tougher laws?

Drinking and driving CounterAttack is the current road safety campaign by the Province of British Columbia, ICBC and police departments around the region. While some people disagree with its core policy (harsher penalties start at alcohol levels of .05), I contend that science supports it. Read more of this post

Vancouver cyclists: how to change unsafe behaviours

While the municipality plans to spend $25 million dollars in bicycle infrastructure1, other Vancouverites are concerned with the behaviour of cyclists and how to change their unsafe habits2. According to the Vancouver Sun1, many cyclists don’t know the laws, believe they don’t apply to them, or simply flout them intentionally. For instance, Statistics Canada reports that only 60% of B.C. cyclists wear helmets3. Read more of this post

Gulf of Mexico disaster may distort perception about risks of oil tanker traffic

Lions Gate Bridge

Photo by Tak Ishikawa

The port cities committee of Metro Vancouver will evaluate the risks of the increasing oil tanker traffic in the region1. This is great news! And I praise the city council’s foresight and interest in the issue. At the same time, I fear that the assessment might be distorted by the current environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Playboy model is defeating scientists in PR battle over vaccines

Although the scientific paper that spawned fear of vaccines was officially retracted in February 20101, many parents are still reluctant to immunize their children. Yes, the anti-vaccination movement is still alive and kicking 2, and the paper is far from being retracted in the arena of public opinion 3. Why is this happening?

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