Tag: risk

Lockdown Enthusiasts’ Risk Aversion Is Producing a More Unequal Society

Now that Donald Trump exited from Walter Reed Hospital and the vice presidential debate aired, let’s turn to an apolitical analyst to understand what’s happening. Vaclav Smil, 76, native of communist Czechoslovakia and former University of Manitoba professor for four decades, has written 39 books on energy, technology and demography. “Nobody,” says Bill Gates, who has read every book, “sees the big picture with as wide an aperture as Vaclav Smil.”

What Smil sees now, he writes in a characteristically terse IEEE Spectrum essay, he finds puzzling. The COVID-19 death rate per million is about one-fifth that of the 1957-58 Asian flu and one-third that of the 1968-70 Hong Kong flu. Yet these earlier pandemics had only “evanescent economic consequences” and did not “leave any deep, traumatic traces in memories” of the 350 million people who, like Smil (and me), were 10 or older during both. “Countries did not resort to any mass-scale economic lockdowns, enforce any long-lasting school closures, ban sports events, or cut flight schedules deeply,” Smil writes.

Why not? “Was it because we had no fear-reinforcing 24/7 cable news, no Twitter, and no incessant and instant case-and-death tickers on all our electronic screens?” asks the non-cellphone owner Smil. “Or is it we ourselves who have changed, by valuing recurrent but infrequent risks differently?”

Some of both is my tentative answer. As I’ve written before, Americans’ child-rearing practices, as Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff have documented, are increasingly risk-averse. But not entirely consistently: Kids are kept in car seats till age 9 and then encouraged to ride bicycles in heavy traffic a few years later.

And some Americans are more risk-averse than others. Polls show that political liberals are more likely than political conservatives to wear masks and support extended lockdowns (except for “mostly peaceful” demonstrations against police).

Partisan politics and personal distaste for President Donald Trump play a role. As ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis documented in a searing New Yorker article, teachers-union members didn’t adamantly oppose reopening schools until Trump called for it. A Trump tweet saying that the sun rises in the east would, it seems, move many Americans to head out to the Pacific coast and wait for it to rise there.

But one-dimensional risk aversion has produced extended lockdowns with significant public health costs: reduced cancer and cardiac screenings, fewer childhood vaccinations, undue skepticism toward any COVID vaccine. And it’s plainly damaging liberals’ own causes.

Thus, Democrats, unlike Republicans, have been refraining from door-to-door campaigning — until Oct. 1, when Democrats decided they needed the personal touch.

Similarly, Democratic pols encouraged their voters’ aversion to voting in person, until they realized that there would be many spoiled or undelivered ballots in states with voters and officials unfamiliar with postal voting.

Lockdowns, more stringent in Democratic states than Republican states, have produced higher unemployment and greater drops in state revenues. Keeping unionized public schools closed is driving parents to private schools, home schooling and improvised pods.

As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat notes, schools are

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Lockdown backers’ risk aversion is producing a more unequal society | American Enterprise Institute

In between Donald Trump’s exit from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the vice-presidential debate, let’s turn to an apolitical analyst to understand what’s happening. Vaclav Smil, 76, native of communist Czechoslovakia, University of Manitoba professor for four decades, has written 39 books on energy, technology, and demography. “Nobody,” says Bill Gates, who has read every one, “sees the big picture with as wide an aperture as Vaclav Smil.”

What he sees now, he writes in a characteristically terse IEEE Spectrum essay, he finds puzzling. The COVID-19 death rate per million is about one-fifth that of the 1957-58 Asian flu and one-third of the 1968-70 Hong Kong flu. Yet these earlier pandemics had only “evanescent economic consequences” and did not “leave any deep traumatic traces in memories” of the 350 million people who, like Smil (and me), were 10 or older during both. “Countries did not resort to any mass-scale economic lockdowns, enforce any long-lasting school closures, ban sports events or cut flight schedules deeply.”

Why not? “Was it because we had no fear-reinforcing 24/7 cable news, no Twitter and no incessant and instant case-and-death tickers on all our electronic screens?” asks the non-cellphone-owner Smil. “Or is it we ourselves who have changed, by valuing recurrent but infrequent risks differently?”

Some of both is my tentative answer. As I’ve written about previously, Americans’ child-rearing practices are increasingly risk-averse. But this is not entirely consistent. Kids are kept in car seats till age 9, then encouraged to ride bicycles in heavy traffic a few years later. And some Americans are more risk-averse than others. Polls show that political liberals are more likely than political conservatives to wear masks and support extended lockdowns (except for “mostly peaceful” demonstrations against police).

Partisan politics and personal distaste for Donald Trump plays a role. As ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis documented in a searing New Yorker article, teacher union members didn’t adamantly oppose reopening schools until Donald Trump called for it. A Trump tweet that the sun rises in the east would, it seems, move many Americans to head out to the Pacific coast and wait for it to rise there.

But one-dimensional risk-aversion has produced extended lockdowns with significant public health costs: reduced cancer and cardiac screening, fewer childhood vaccinations, undue skepticism toward any COVID vaccine. And it’s plainly damaging liberals’ own causes.

Thus Democrats, unlike Republicans, have been refraining from door-to-door campaigning — until Oct. 1, when Democrats decided they needed the personal touch. Similarly, Democratic pols encouraged their voters’ aversion to voting in person, until they realized that there would be many spoiled or undelivered ballots in states with voters and officials unfamiliar with postal voting.

Lockdowns, more stringent in Democratic than Republican states, have produced higher unemployment and greater drops in state revenues. Keeping unionized public schools closed is driving parents to private schools, homeschooling, and improvised pods.

As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat notes, public schools are now open for half of white pupils but only one-quarter of blacks and

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Does nature or society create risk? Practical implications of shifting the disaster frame

Students of an elementary school doing earthquake simulation in West Sumatra, Indonesia (2012).

By Jason von Meding and Ksenia Chmutina​

Some scholars argue that “natural disaster” is simply a term of convenience and that the public readily understands that disasters originate from the structures of society. But public discourses—often centered around particular hazard or event-focused narratives of destruction—seem to suggest otherwise.

A lack of understanding about how risk is created isn’t surprising when blame is continually attributed to nature. By naturalizing disaster in discourse, efforts to address unequal impacts are stripped of political power and the focus often shifts to taming nature.

As disaster researchers, we were concerned about the lack of data to demonstrate the tangible impacts of the disaster language that we use and, more broadly, of this “natural” framing. Our current research works to change this and enable dialogue with critics who argue that pushing back on the expression “natural disaster” is driven by bias and value judgements.

The Limitations of Previous Debate

Debate about the origin of disaster risk has been ongoing on for centuries (e.g. see Rousseau and Voltaire in the 18th Century), and while scholarship in disaster studies is now rarely devoid of a strong appreciation of the vulnerability paradigm—articulating how risk is created by society—an overarching “natural” framing still more often persists, than not.

Since 2017, we have been looking for ways to shake up this debate. As researchers involved in science communication, we have written, recorded and mobilized around the issue. In the academic space, we started investigating the contemporary usage of the expression “natural disaster” both in academic literature and international organization publications, such as the UN Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction. Our research found that, overwhelmingly, “natural disaster” is used without critique as a convenience term.

In these various works, we have argued that this lack of critique leads to many potential problems. Those responsible for creating risk—such as developers building in floodplains or legislators rolling back social safety programs—are able to avoid detection when blame is placed beyond human agency. Inequality, while recognized, is also framed as a somewhat natural state that must be ameliorated, rather than a human design upheld to profit a minority. In this unjust context, aid can be offered to the vulnerable without ever addressing their systemic oppression.

But a theoretical debate has its limits. For instance, one reviewer of our work concluded that there was no problem with the natural disaster expression “unless one suffers from an excess of political correctness.” The challenge we took from this criticism was to prove the tangible implications not only of the language, but of the broader framing and stories of disaster.

Taking on the Challenge: Testing the Impacts of a Natural Disaster Frame

We decided to find a way to test the impact of framing disasters as natural. Collaborating with the psychology department at the University of Florida—and using the infrastructure of Project Implicit, which helps to educate the public about hidden biases—we designed the

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Lockdown backers’ risk aversion is producing a more unequal society

In between Donald Trump’s exit from Walter Reed Hospital and the vice-presidential debate, let’s turn to an apolitical analyst to understand what’s happening. Vaclav Smil, 76, native of in Communist Czechoslovakia, University of Manitoba professor for four decades, has written 39 books on energy, technology and demography. “Nobody,” says Bill Gates, who has read every one, “sees the big picture with as wide an aperture as Vaclav Smil.”

What he sees now, he writes in a characteristically terse IEEE Spectrum essay, he finds puzzling. The COVID-19 death rate per million is about one-fifth that of the 1957-58 Asian flu and one-third of the 1968-70 Hong Kong flu. Yet these earlier pandemics had only “evanescent economic consequences” and did not “leave any deep traumatic traces in memories” of the 350 million people who, like Smil (and me), were 10 or older during both. “Countries did not resort to any mass-scale economic lockdowns, enforce any long-lasting school closures, ban sports events or cut flight schedules deeply.”

Why not? “Was it because we had no fear-reinforcing 24/7 cable news, no Twitter and no incessant and instant case-and-death tickers on all our electronic screens?” asks the non-cellphone-owner Smil. “Or is it we ourselves who have changed, by valuing recurrent but infrequent risks differently?”

Some of both is my tentative answer. As I’ve written about previously, Americans’ child-rearing practices are increasingly risk-averse. But this is not entirely consistent. Kids are kept in car seats till age 9, then encouraged to ride bicycles in heavy traffic a few years later. And some Americans are more risk-averse than others. Polls show that political liberals are more likely than political conservatives to wear masks and support extended lockdowns (except for “mostly peaceful” demonstrations against police).

Partisan politics and personal distaste for Donald Trump plays a role. As ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis documented in a searing New Yorker article, teacher union members didn’t adamantly oppose reopening schools until Donald Trump called for it. A Trump tweet that the sun rises in the east would, it seems, move many Americans to head out to the Pacific coast and wait for it to rise there.

But one-dimensional risk-aversion has produced extended lockdowns with significant public health costs: reduced cancer and cardiac screening, fewer childhood vaccinations, undue skepticism toward any COVID vaccine. And it’s plainly damaging liberals’ own causses.

Thus Democrats, unlike Republicans, have been refraining from door-to-door campaigning — until October 1, when Democrats decided they needed the personal touch. Similarly, Democratic pols encouraged their voters’ aversion to voting in person, until they realized that there would be many spoiled or undelivered ballots in states with voters and officials unfamiliar with postal voting.

Lockdowns, more stringent in Democratic than Republican states, have produced higher unemployment and greater drops in state revenues. Keeping unionized public schools closed is driving parents to private schools, home schooling and improvised pods.

As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat notes, public schools are now open for half of white pupils but only one-quarter of blacks and Hispanics.

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Lawyers at risk of physical attack after Patel speech, says Law Society | News

Lawyers are at risk of physical attack if politicians continue to ‘sling insults’ at them, the Law Society has warned, in response to the home secretary’s comments about ‘do-gooders’ and ‘lefty lawyers’.

President of the Law Society Simon Davis said: ‘The fact that a lawyer represents an asylum seeker does not make them a “lefty lawyer”. It simply makes them a lawyer.

‘Slinging insults at lawyers undermines the rule of law in an area where views are already hotly held on all sides and risks leading not just to verbal abuse but to lawyers being physically attacked for doing their job.’

Speaking at the Conservative party conference, Priti Patel lashed out at ‘the traffickers, the do-gooders, the lefty lawyers, the Labour Party’ who are ‘defending the broken [asylum] system’.

Priti Patel

In her virtual address, Patel promised the ‘biggest overhaul of our asylum system in decades’ and said she would bring in legislation next year to stop ‘endless legal claims’ from people who are refused asylum.

The Law Society said Patel’s speech ‘undermines a legal system which has evolved over many centuries, which helps ensure that power is not abused and that – where there are legal questions to be decided – citizens have access to legal advice and recourse through the courts, and will receive a fair hearing, no matter how their case is perceived publicly or by government’.

According to Chancery Lane, 53% of asylum applications are granted on initial application, rising to 73% when appeals are taken into account.

‘The Law Society has long called for improvements to the UK asylum and immigration system, which is beset with delays and poor decision-making. Attacks on members of the legal profession for doing their jobs do our country no credit. Government ministers must be unequivocal in their support for the rule of law,’ Davis said.

Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the Bar Council, added: ‘Attempting to paint lawyers with the “lefty” brush seeks to demonise the very people helping constituents every day, without agenda, simply because they provide a vital public service. Lawyers carry out their duty and apply the law, irrespective of political persuasion, in accordance with our professional standards.

‘Given our duty to the court and our commitment to justice more generally, barristers, as well as solicitors, must do just that. It is not the job of lawyers to limit parliament’s own laws in a way that the government of the day finds most favourable to its political agenda. The law, not politics, is what matters to a profession that upholds the rule of law.’

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