This book is an elaboration of a speech I started giving in 1985,
focusing on aspects of risk that kept turning up as important in social science studies of risk perception, but that technical risk managers tended to ignore. The speech was originally entitled “Apathy Versus Hysteria” and used factors such as control, fairness, and dread to define the distinction between risks that people were inclined to
underestimate and risks they were inclined to overestimate. By 1987,
however, it was clear that the distinction of consuming importance to industry and government risk managers was slightly different: the risks that worry the experts as opposed to the risks that worry the public. I chose the terms “hazard” and “outrage” to represent, respectively, the experts’ and citizens’ preoccupations in looking at risk, and recast “Apathy Versus Hysteria” as “Hazard Versus Outrage.” Health and safety educators had long worried about how to persuade an apathetic public to take risks seriously enough. But the parallel problem of what to do when the public is excessively concerned was newly central to risk managers in government and industry. The “Hazard Versus Outrage” model provided an answer that seemed to make sense of experiences risk managers had found disturbingly senseless. It helped them see where their view of risk and the public was on target and where it was mistaken, and it suggested solutions they had not previously considered.
Between 1987 and 1992, I presented variations on this speech perhaps 200 times, an average of nearly once a week. I publishedshort articles based on the concept (the first of these—“Risk Communication: Facing Public Outrage”—was published in EPA Journal in November 1987), but resisted publishing a full-length version—in part because the ideas kept changing, and in part because giving the speech was earning me a considerable income. The ideas are still changing and the speech is still profitable, but it feels increasingly silly to keep “Hazard Versus Outrage” essentially unpublished. In early 1991, I joined with the American Industrial Hygiene Association to produce a 2-hour videotape version of the speech, entitled “Risk = Hazard + Outrage: A Formula for Effective Risk Communication.”* This book began with a transcript of the videotape; then I added more examples, new thinking drawn largely from my consulting, and a new second half dealing with the cognitive, organizational, and psychological barriers to risk communication. Publication of this book will complete the job of getting “Hazard Versus Outrage” out.