PR firms would do well to educate the public about the reality of risk

What do you think are the chances of Peter Mandelson attracting a blockbuster expose of his life and works, especially since he hasn’t sued Punch over its ’revelations’ about his trip to Rio? If you think it’s a racing cert, let’s try something more difficult: when do you think this epic will appear? In five or ten years? Or, more likely, when it becomes more fashionable to treat New Labour like dirt rather than the Tories? If so, when do you think that will be?

What do you think are the chances of Peter Mandelson attracting a

blockbuster expose of his life and works, especially since he hasn’t

sued Punch over its ’revelations’ about his trip to Rio? If you think

it’s a racing cert, let’s try something more difficult: when do you

think this epic will appear? In five or ten years? Or, more likely, when

it becomes more fashionable to treat New Labour like dirt rather than

the Tories? If so, when do you think that will be?



These are questions which Mr Mandelson must be mulling over as someone,

somewhere, surely chronicles his every move, decision and utterance

against the fateful day when he becomes fair game. After all, if Robert

Harris, author of Enigma and Archangel, can pen an hilariously

inaccurate and conspiracy-laden biography of me, how can they ignore Mr

Mandelson - unless they work for the BBC?



I mention this to illustrate one of the most intractable of PR problems:

handling risk. It is particularly topical since sometime next year we

shall be able to export British beef, assuming that anybody abroad will

buy it, and even, perhaps, consume large, celebratory chunks of beef on

the bone over Christmas.



The BSE scare - for that is all it has ever been to human health - has

devastated an industry even though each of us has infinitely greater

chance of being struck by lightning than contracting CJD, the so-called

human variant of mad cow disease.



What is clearer now than it was during the similarly ridiculous scares

over Chernobyl lamb, listeria cheese and salmonella eggs is that the

reputations and fortunes of PR firms’ clients are in no way related to

actual risk.



Indeed, if the population generally understood risk, we might rapidly

solve the soaring problem of illegitimacy. A table compiled from

American insurance company statistics on life expectancy, causes of

death and risk by Bernard L Cohen and I-Sing Lee, in the department of

physics and astronomy at Pittsburgh University, shows that batchelordom

reduces average life expectancy by well over nine years and spinsterhood

by more than four.



By comparison, the average loss of life expectancy from drinking coffee

is nearly double that for all catastrophes combined, but it still adds

up to only six days. As for both nuclear reactor accidents and radiation

from the nuclear industry, the loss from each is only half an hour, even

assuming that all US electricity is nuclear generated. And yet, in an

age preoccupied with global warming, nuclear power’s development in the

democratic world is stalled by public fear, even though it produces no

greenhouse gases.



The PR industry may not be able to help Mr Mandelson much. But it would

serve its clients better if it spent less time on buffing the shine on

its image and a lot more on educating the public about risk.



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