We can see the effects of this all the time. We fear being murdered, kidnapped, raped and assaulted by strangers, when it’s far more likely that the perpetrator of such offenses is a relative or a friend. We worry about airplane crashes and rampaging shooters instead of automobile crashes and domestic violence — both far more common.
In the United States, dogs, snakes, bees and pigs each kill more people per year (.pdf) than sharks. In fact, dogs kill more humans than any animal except for other humans. Sharks are more dangerous than dogs, yes, but we’re far more likely to encounter dogs than sharks.
Our greatest recent overreaction to a rare event was our response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I remember then-Attorney General John Ashcroft giving a speech in Minnesota — where I live — in 2003, and claiming that the fact there were no new terrorist attacks since 9/11 was proof that his policies were working. I thought: “There were no terrorist attacks in the two years preceding 9/11, and you didn’t have any policies. What does that prove?”
It’s an article worth reading and then re-reading because of the “security theatre” that’s going on around us so much of the time. The media, government agencies, and people in general tend to gloss over the “regular” crimes for the “rare” ones because we tend to focus on what’s available and what stands out.
Here’s the link again: Rare risks and overreactions.