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Alligator alley

If all the risks about you seem as dangerous as alligators, and you dont know which way to turn..... then reach for the Paling Perspective Scale. This is a simple way of communicating risks (to the public and each other), and is the central feature of a book Up to your Armpits in Alligators by John Paling, ex of Oxford (and co-founder of Oxford Scientific Films) and now of California. Many thanks to Jim Falconer Smith of Leicester Royal Infirmary for bringing it to Bandoliers attention.

Paling Perspective Scale

Bandolier has been unable to do justice to the graphical representation of the scale featured in the book. The idea is that various numerical or verbal representations of risk - from 1 in 1 to 1 in 1,000,000,000 are rated logarithmically between +6 and -6, like a pH scale. Like pH also, the middle is comfortable neutral territory. In risk terms, the kinds of everyday risks we live with in the home or with consumer products, like being injured by falls, or gardening equipment, or by the television, fall in the region of +2 to +4.
At either end come the extremes. So at about -4 comes the risk of anything happening to anyone in the whole world, and at -1 to -2 the risk of anything happening to anyone in the UK. At the other extreme the odds of a child being born to unmarried parents in the UK is +5.4, and the risk of dying from cancer by smoking 20 cigarettes a day for 20 years is +5. Palings book comes with a plethora of examples, and with references and source material. There is also a pull-out scale with some simple messages about what the bottom line numbers translate into, ranging from paranoia paradise at -6 to -2, to just take normal care at +1 to +2, change something at +4 to +5 and bye!!! at +5 to +6. An excellent and engaging read, with much food for thought for those presenting risk information to the media and the public. Some of Bandoliers media readers might like to take this up.


Up to Your Armpits in Alligators. John & Sean Paling, 130pp, 1993. The Environmental Institute, 5822 NW 91st Boulevard, Gainesville, Florida 32653. ISBN 0-9642236-0-0. Cheque for $20 to John Paling & Co, Ltd. Tel 001 904 377-2142.

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