Category: News & Info

Why do smart people make illogical decisions

Risk Science Center director Andrew Maynard appears on the radio show Big Picture Science this week, talking about risks and decisions. The show – part of the monthly Skeptic Check series – delves into why some people don’t get their children vaccinated against measles, and how we think about risk can lead to decisions that feel right, but aren’t necessarily supported by evidence.

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Assessing the impacts of fracking - draft report released

A draft final report of the University of Michigan Hydraulic Fracturing in Michigan Integrated Assessment was released on February 20, for public comment. The report is the result of a two and a half year collaboration between the U-M Graham Sustainability Institute, Energy Institute, Erb Institute and the Risk Science Center.

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Can patients use test results effectively if they have direct access

Can patients use test results effectively if they have direct access?  In a recent Head to Head article in the British Medical Journal, University of Michigan’s professor Brian Zikmund-Fisher suggests that the data are currently presented in ways that make them meaningless to most patients. Zikmund-Fisher argues that “although providing patients with direct access to laboratory test results could provide important benefits, such as better self management of disease and engagement with medical decision making, most patients cannot yet effectively use these data. Effective use requires patients to translate raw test results into actionable knowledge. Unfortunately, there are individual level and system level barriers to this process that at present make these data literally meaningless to most patients.” Research published by Zikmund-Fisher in the Journal of Medical Internet Research indicates that, when presented with tabular data, a substantial number of patients struggle to understand the relevance of the information presented to them, and what action they should take based on it.  When presented with data on test results, “less numerate and less literate participants were less than half as likely to identify accurately the result as being out of range as highly numerate and literate participants.” However, Zikmund-Fisher goes on to argue that the solution is not to curb direct access, but to develop better ways of ensuring the data are understandable and actionable by patients.  He suggests “We could improve patient interactions with test results in many ways—for example, visual displays (such as number line graphs) can use spacing, colours, labels, and other cues to clarify whether a change of one unit or 10 units should be seen as clinically important. More importantly, we could frame test results with multiple richly meaningful reference points designed to help patients not just answer the basic question of “is my result abnormal?” but more practical

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Maynard Risk Bites

Is talking on your cellphone dangerous? Are e-cigs safer than smokes? Do you drink stranger pee every time you accidentally sip public pool water? These are all questions that Andrew Maynard has not only asked himself, but has spent hours trying to answer.

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New Year's Risk List

A happy and healthy 2015, from all of us at the University of Michigan Risk Science Center!

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Responsible Innovation - Seventeen Haiku

If you’re impatient for the punchline, you can cut straight to the chase here to read Responsible Technological Innovation – Seventeen Haiku (also downloadable as a PDF) Technological Innovation This past summer, the University of Michigan Risk Science Center partnered with the V2_ Institute for Unstable Media in Rotterdam to creatively explore responsibility and technological innovation.  The result was a book of seventeen haiku on responsible technological innovation. Human inventiveness has been transforming our lives for Millenia.  On average, people are now living longer, healthier, and more comfortably than ever before.  Yet there is a dark side to innovation – each wave of technological advances brings new threats to our health, our well-being and our environment.  As the rate of technological innovation increases – and our ability to absorb and correct for mis-steps decreases – new ways of thinking about responsibility and innovation are needed.  Without innovation in how we innovate, the chances of long-term risks outweighing short-term gains can only increase. On June 5th and 6th 2014, a group of researchers from widely differing backgrounds and experiences was brought together to creatively explore the challenges and opportunities around responsible technological innovation. Few of the participants had formally carried out research into responsible innovation. Yet all of them were engaged in some way at the interface between technology, innovation and society. Responsible Innovation The resulting discussions peeled apart the deep complexities in defining what responsible innovation is – even what innovation itself is. And they explored how multiple constituencies within society may benefit from thinking in different ways about responsibility and innovation. Seventeen Haiku To capture the richness and depth of these explorations, the group compiled a collection of haiku that captured their thoughts and ideas. These were designed to stimulate further creative insights into responsible technological innovation – to become seeds

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Andrew Maynard, science communication

We are thrilled to announce that the Society of Toxicology (SOT) has honored Professor Andrew Maynard, Director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center, as the recipient of its 2015 Public Communications Award! The SOT Public Communication award is made annually to an individual who has made a major contribution to broadening the awareness of the general public on toxicological issues through any aspect of public communications. As well as leading the Risk Science Center in raising the bar on public risk communication, Professor Maynard works closely with journalists and presenters to help ensure reporting on risk and health is grounded in science-informed understanding.  He’s also highly active in writing for his personal blog, 2020 Science, and in creating educational videos on hist YouTube channel Risk Bites. In announcing the award, SOT President Norman Kaminski said: “In order for scientific discovery and research to have a true impact on public, animal, and environmental health, it often must be communicated to and understood by a non-scientific audience. Dr. Andrew Maynard excels at this, which is why we are honored to present him with the 2015 SOT Public Communications Award. Dr. Maynard’s use of videos, social media, and other techniques have made risk assessment relevant and comprehensible to thousands, helping increase knowledge of and understanding of the importance of toxicology to public health.” Maynard’s public communication ranges from the cutting edge (for example with his work on technology innovation), to the controversial (for instance tackling bisphenol-A in consumer products), to the playful (he even made a video about the toxicity of alien blood!).  Through all his work though is a core message that understanding how to use evidence in making sense of risks, benefits and tradeoffs, is critical to smart decision-making within today’s society. In response to the award, Maynard said: “I’m deeply honored that the SOT is recognizing my public communications work with this

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I LOVE RISK BITES!!! Ok, there you have it. I confess. Here is part of why I like them so much. You see, I don’t just love Risk Bites. I love a LOT of Youtube science education channels. But of the top science channels on Youtube, the ones with a huge fan base and almost aggressive vitality, most of them are either created by kids, young adults, and hobbyists, or they are from huge big money operations. (Click here for more about “What do popular science channels look like?”) What’s missing? Academics and professionals. And why not? Why shouldn’t there be popular science video channels from academics? WHY NOT? Yes, universities have Youtube channels and make videos highlighting research by their faculty. Typically, they don’t go viral. Look at them, and you can tell why. They’re good, but dry. They are just not going to get the eyeballs in the same way. They aren’t, well, FUN! A lot of the reason why they aren’t fun is that they’re afraid. They’re afraid of not looking academic. They’re afraid of what their peers will say. They’re afraid of taking the risk, and maybe having someone misunderstand what they said. They’re afraid of looking silly. Academics tend to judge other academics. They complain bitterly when the general public won’t listen to them, but on the flip side, God help any academic who does succeed in getting public attention for communicating science well. Typically, they are ridiculed and undermined by their academic peers. We, as academics, as institutions of learning, need to cut that out. When we belittle and criticize other academics for communicating effectively with the public, it makes all of us look bad. It undermines the credibility of all of science. It weakens our justification for funding, and the understanding the public

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I’m extremely pleased to introduce our new Writer in Residence at the University of Michigan Risk Science Center – Utibe Effiong (UT). UT will be writing about human health risk from a developing economy perspective on his blog Risk Without Borders. UT is a physician from Nigeria who recently completed his Master of Public Health training in my department at the U-M School of Public Health.  He is also a New Voices fellow with the Aspen Institute. The Writer in Residence initiative aims to provide opportunities for public communicators to further develop their skills by contributing relevant and timely commentary on the science of risk.  In UT’s case, he brings a unique perspective to the public dialogue around risk, and one that I’m very much looking forward to reading about. Please do check out UT’s new blog Risk Without Borders, and especially his latest post introducing himself. And don’t forget to subscribe to the Risk Science Center website for regular updates on UT’s blog, as well as other posts.    

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When do we quarantine or isolate for ebola

University of Michigan School of Public Health experts discuss the meaning of quarantine and isolation, and explain when such actions are appropriate to prevent the spread of infectious diseases like Ebola.   More information on ebola and public health: University of Michigan School of Public Health Ebola topics page.  

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