Daniel Gardner and the Science of Fear

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‘Anyone who saw it will never forget it. And almost everyone saw it. When the first jet darted out of that crisp blue September sky and crashed into the World Trade Center, only a single television camera captured the image. But as the tower burned, alerts flashed trough wires and airwaves. The world’s electronic eyes turned, opened, and waited. When the second plane streaked in, an immense audience – perhaps hundreds of millions- saw the jet, the angry explosion, the gushing smoke, the glass and steel raining down like confetti in a parade. They saw it live’ (Gardner, 2008). Nearly 3000 people were killed during the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 and the coming months the media were filled with interviews, profiles and terrible stories of loss. Fear of more terrorist attacks spread the nation. As a reaction, the American population massively abandoned airports and chose to travel by car instead, which had a great impact on the airline business. But what no one mentioned –nor the media or politicians- is that air travel is dramatically safer than driving. The safety gap is so large, that planes would still be safer than cars even if the threat of terrorism were unimaginably worse than it actually is. According to research, 1595 people lost their lives because of the major shift from air travel to a much less safe way of traveling: by car. That is six times as many as the people who where on board of the doomed flights on September 11. So how come that people put

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