Friday, July 17, 2009

Relative Dangers

A few weeks ago we got an email at work from the hive-overmind. The email told us that we needed to get rid of all plants that we might have in our cubes. The reasoning they gave for it was that “plants collect dust and can release spores into the air which may be harmful to people.” No sooner had I read that, I heard a coworker scream “Well yeah but they also collect CO2 and release oxygen which can be helpful to people!” I got a kick out of his response, especially since I’m the one labeled as the “tree-hugger”.
The email got me thinking about a much larger issue. How often do we avoid something because of the potential negative effects without properly weighing the potential benefits? And how often do we not consider the risks of what we would do instead?
We’ve heard it before with the controversy over airbags and children. Many group vilified airbags for a few deaths without considering the overwhelming benefit that airbags offer. One of my kids asked me a few years ago “Why do they put things in cars that kill kids?” He was talking about airbags. I had to explain that airbags are a safety device and in the overwhelming majority of cases they save kids lives.
Last week I was invited to go out to lunch with some co-workers. I respectfully declined since I wanted to get my lunchtime walk in. He told me that I was going to get killed walking along the roads around the office. He was concerned about the potential dangers of the traffic and ignoring the benefits of a 3 mile walk every lunch hour. Sure walking on the sidewalk can be dangerous but so can going out to lunch and eating a high fat lunch and then sitting in front of a computer for 8 hours a day.
I frequently get criticism for going rock climbing. I like to point out that, assuming everything is done correctly, the drive up and back is probably more dangerous than anything I would do on the rock.
I guess I'm just concerend that some really good ideas might be tossed aside for some relatively minor risks without consdiering the risks of what we would use to replace them. I can think of several hot button political issues that we should also exercise thsi same type of anaylisis.


  1. Noah made the comment yesterday, "You can never be too safe." My immediate thought was "Yes, you can." He rolled up his car window in the summer heat, so his slightly loose tooth wouldn't fly out the window in the chance that it fell out of his head. He was miserably hot for an hour. I think your point of evaluating the risk and benefits of any given choice is something we all do, and the outcome is often interesting.

  2. Noah does take a different view of the world than us mere mortals. Frankly, as long as you don't walk in the Ga Tech area you might survive. Every day we are faced with danger (actual and perceived) but we have to make informed decisions and take risks. Everything has a risk - it is unavoidable.