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Putting Risks into Perspective

Bandolier has for some time been interested in making sense of risk or chance. There is an interesting paper [1] which suggests using the Paling perspective Scale as a way of doing this.

The idea is that a scale of risk of events of interest are presented, together with some ideas about risks of life events, like that of being killed by lightening or in a road accident (which most of us think of as being remote), as well as more common risks. The risks of any particular event associated with a treatment can then be placed alongside - if, that is, the outcomes and timescales are generally similar. And this is something useful for irreversible events rather than adverse effects of treatment which go away when you stop taking the tablets.

An example is shown below, with information drawn from the paper.

Bandolier does not think this is a particularly good example, because we've just taken some examples from the paper and John Paling's book. This is something which needs work, and getting good information on risks isn't easy to get hold of.

In the course of the next few months we intend to see if we can get hold of more and better information, and with feedback from our readers see if we can tweak this to make it more satisfactory. Those who are not electronically challenged (that is who have an Internet connection) will be able to visit a website for this. We'll give the address in a later issue.


  1. AD Singh, J Paling. Informed consent: putting risks into perspective. Survey of Ophthalmology 1997 42: 83-6.

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