“In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes” Benjamin Franklin already noted in 1789, on the eve of the French Revolution. This ironic statement nicely illustrates that everything in life is laden with risk and that we are constantly at the mercy of this uncertainty. Even nowadays, however, people are uneasy about uncertainty, and many anxiously strive towards a certainty that does not exist. Yet society needs people who learn to cope with risks and deal with them in an informed way. The general lack of training to deal with risks in today’s technological society has become a problem, as the following example illustrates:
When the British press announced in October 1995 that the third generation of oral contraceptive pills increase the risk of potentially life-threatening blood clots in the legs or lungs by 100%, many women reacted with fear and decided not to take this pill anymore. This ‘pill scare’ led to an estimated 13,000 additional abortions in the following year, increasing the cost for the National Health Service for abortion provision by about £4 to 6 million (Figure 1) 1 . But what did the increase by 100% actually mean? The studies on which the warning was based had shown that the absolute risk had increased from one to two out of every 7,000 women.