Modeling Threats & Analyzing Risk: A Rebuttal Against “Doom Porn”

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Individual cognitive traits possess a high degree of variety amongst humans. Institutions, such as organized religion and corporate media, take advantage of the predilection some folks have for immersing themselves in speculative fantasy; consider the popularity of television shows like Jeremiah, Jericho, and even The Walking Dead franchise. The problem here, though, is that hypothetical lifeboat scenarios encourage people to reorient their entire lives around waiting (or “preparing”) for their calamity to occur, usually at the expense of everything and everyone else in their lives.



Bruce Schneier gave a lecture at TEDxPSU back on October 10th of 2010 entitled, “Reconceptualizing Security.” His thesis was that we should bring our intuitive feelings and rational models of security in line with the objective reality of security, because for the most part, the typical feelings and models are not consistent with reality. Humans make security tradeoffs all the time in order to survive, but there is a tendency to exaggerate infrequent, unknown, personified, or uncontrollable risks while downplaying common, known, anonymous, or manageable risks. In other words, risk analysis can be irrationally skewed by not only confirmation bias, but also by normalcy bias.

Rolf Dobelli that same year explained why the news cycle is detrimental to an individual’s sense of reality. Not only does the news feed confirmation bias, but it also skews risk analysis, mainly because it fails to explain the underlying processes at work. While I do appreciate the good faith effort in revitalizing the practice of citizen journalism, not everybody in the alternative media provides quality reporting, as evidenced by the opportunity costs, physiological addictions, and learned helplessness observed in some consumers of new media. Put another way, the news encourages incorrect threat modeling due to its pandering to the availability heuristic.

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