Articles categorized as:  link to Outrage Management index

Dr. Peter M. Sandman
Introduction to Risk Communication
and Orientation to this Website

This page has two purposes.

  • For readers who are new to risk communication, the page will give you a quick introduction to the field and suggest other introductory articles you may want to read first.
  • For readers who are familiar with risk communication but new to my approach and my website, the page will orient to you the way I see the field and the way I have organized the site.

The most important fact about risk communication is the incredibly low correlation between a risk’s “hazard” (how much harm it’s likely to do) and its “outrage” (how upset it’s likely to make people). If you know a risk is dangerous, that tells you almost nothing about whether it’s upsetting. If you know it’s upsetting, that tells you almost nothing about whether it’s dangerous.

Based on this distinction, I categorize risk communication into four tasks:

  • When hazard is high and outrage is low, the task is “precaution advocacy” – alerting insufficiently upset people to serious risks. “Watch out!”
  • When hazard is low and outrage is high, the task is “outrage management” – reassuring excessively upset people about small risks. “Calm down.”
  • When hazard is high and outrage is also high, the task is “crisis communication” – helping appropriately upset people cope with serious risks. “We’ll get through this together.”
  • When hazard and outrage are both intermediate, you’re in the “sweet spot” (hence the happy face) – dialoguing with interested people about a significant but not urgent risk. “And what do you think?”

each of the four categories placed in a graph; the x-axis is hazard and the y-axis is outrage.

The sweet spot is easy, so I don’t write about it much.

The other three are tough – but they’re tough in different ways. Thus, the strategies and skills required for effective precaution advocacy, outrage management, and crisis communication are also different.

To figure out how to do good risk communication, you must first figure out where you are on the risk communication “map.” How high do you think the hazard is (or is likely to get)? How high do you think the outrage is (or is likely to get)? So which toolkit do you need – precaution advocacy, outrage management, or crisis communication?

I have cherry-picked the writing on this website and identified the columns, articles, and Guestbook entries I think are most helpful in each of these three corners of my risk communication map.

So if you know you’re looking for help arousing concern about a serious hazard, look at the Precaution Advocacy Index.

If you know you’re looking for help reassuring people about a small hazard, look at the Outrage Management Index.

And if you know you’re looking for help guiding justifiably upset people through a serious hazard, look at the Crisis Communication Index.

There’s one more topical index on this website, the Pandemic Flu and Other Infectious Diseases Index. That one cuts across my other categories. Warning people about an infectious disease risk they’re ignoring is precaution advocacy; calming them about an infectious disease risk they’re over-reacting to is outrage management; guiding them through a serious outbreak, epidemic, or pandemic is crisis communication.

A lot of what’s on this website isn’t in any of the four topical indexes. Some pieces don’t quite fit into any of the four. Some I left out because they cover the same ground as others … and not as well. Some (especially in the Guestbook) struck me as too narrow.

If you want to look through everything on the site, you need to check the four complete lists:

Finally, if you want to read some more introductory articles on risk communication and the basics of my “Risk = Hazard + Outrage” approach, try the following.

Topical Sections in Introduction and Orientation

Risk Communication Overviews

    Presented at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Georgia, Athens GA, October 16, 2013

    In October 2013, I spent three days at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. The main agenda was to negotiate a possible “Sandman Archive” of my papers and web materials, an initiative of the new Grady program in health and risk communication. (See “Working Toward a Legacy.”) But while I was there I also gave a number of class presentations and one public presentation, which was videotaped. I offered my hosts a choice of half a dozen presentation topics, and they asked me to combine them all into a potpourri of interesting risk communication pointers. So this video is different from most of the introductory videos I have posted. It’s got a little of everything. There’s a quick summary of “Risk = Hazard + Outrage” and my three paradigms of risk communication (my usual introductory shtick). But there’s also a discussion of why information is rarely life-changing and why cognitive dissonance can make it so; of why it’s important to be willing to speculate and to be willing to scare people; and of the need for public health professionals to tell the whole truth about vaccination. As I said: a potpourri.

  • Risk Communication: Evolution and Revolution

    by Vincent Covello and Peter M. Sandman

    In Solutions to an Environment in Peril, Anthony Wolbarst (ed.) (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), pp. 164–178

    Back in the 1980s, Vincent Covello and I gave back-to-back presentations on risk communication as part of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lecture series. When Tony Wolbarst of EPA decided to collect the presentations into a book, he offered everyone a chance to revise and update. Vincent and I decided to merge our efforts into a single article on the state of risk communication, based loosely on what we had said originally plus what we now consider important. The result is a pretty good overview of the shared opinions of two well-seasoned practitioners.

  • Risk Communication

    A chapter in Encyclopedia of the Environment, 1994

    Being asked to summarize the whole of risk communication in a short encyclopedia article was a challenge (even a decade ago, when much less was known). For me the biggest challenge was to summarize risk communication, not just my approach to it. I think I partially succeeded.

Hazard versus Outrage and
the Four Kinds of Risk Communication

    “Communicating Risk in the Media”
    (Note: Link goes off-site to a page with a link to this audio. (12 min. 5.5 MB)

    Aired on Australian Broadcasting Corporation's “Media Report” radio program and posted on its website, August 28, 2014

    “Quick Orientation to Risk Communication“link goes to a page where you will find the MP3
    (Note: Link launches an MP3 audio file on this site: (20 min. 28MB)

    (Complete) Interview with Peter Sandman by Richard Aedy, August 11, 2014

    Richard Aedy interviewed me for Australian radio via telephone for 20 minutes on August 11. The edited 11:40 interview aired on August 28, a few days before I started a speaking and consulting tour of Australia. There’s nothing special about this interview, except the fact that it’s recent and short. We covered the usual basics: the hazard-versus-outrage distinction, the three paradigms of risk communication, etc. Like many media interviewers, Richard was especially interested in whether risk communication is really just a different label for “spin,” and in what I think about the performance of the media. (In fairness, he asked about social media as well as mainstream media.) As always, I prefer the longer or more idiosyncratic interviews. But this one is a sensible quick orientation.

  • Terrorists vs. Bathtubs
    (Note: Link goes off-site to a page with a link to this 10-min. audio.)

    (Edited) interview with Peter Sandman by Brooke Gladstone, June 20, 2013

    Aired on National Public Radio’s “On the Media” and posted on its website, June 21, 2013

    link goes to a page where you will find the MP3Risk Communication in Practice(Note: Link launches an MP3 audio file on this site: 79.5MB, 49 min.)

    (Complete) interview with Peter Sandman by Brooke Gladstone, June 20, 2013

    Brooke Gladstone of “On the Media” interviewed me in my home for 49 minutes. We started out talking about claims by opponents of NSA telephone and email surveillance (in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks) that “more people have died from [whatever] than from terrorism” – and why these sorts of risk comparisons are unlikely to be convincing. That soon got me to the distinction between hazard and outrage. But Brooke didn’t let me do my usual hazard-versus-outrage introductory shtick. Instead, she kept asking for specifics – examples of how precaution advocacy and outrage management strategies work in practice. Toward the end of the interview, she pushed me to shoot from the hip about applications I hadn’t thought through: How would I use risk communication to defend government surveillance? To oppose it? To defend shale gas “fracking”? To oppose that? The interview that resulted is a different sort of introduction to risk communication than the one I usually give. The 10-minute broadcast segment is nicely edited; it’s very smooth and covers most of my main points. But I prefer the roughness and detail of the complete interview.

  • Atomic Show #205 – Peter Sandman teaches nuclear communicators (Note: Link goes off-site to a page with this 102-min. audio)

    Podcast for the “Atomic Insights” website, May 31, 2013 (with Rod Adams, Margaret Harding, Meredith Angwin, and Suzy Hobbs-Baker)

    Rod Adams runs a website called “Atomic Insights” that promotes nuclear power. In early May 2013 he discovered my approach to outrage management, and put posts on his own website and on an American Nuclear Society website urging nuclear power proponents to learn outrage management. The responses to his two posts led Rod to invite me to do this podcast.

    The podcast itself runs 1 hour and 42 minutes. Most of it is a basic introduction to risk communication and then to outrage management: the hazard-versus-outrage distinction, the components of outrage, the three paradigms of risk communication, the key strategies of outrage management, etc. But I did try to focus especially on what the nuclear power industry and its supporters get wrong – for example, imagining that their core communication mistake is failing to sell their strengths effectively, whereas I believe it is failing to acknowledge their problems candidly. There are recommendations for nuclear communication throughout the podcast, and a Q&A at the end with Rod and fellow proponents Margaret Harding, Meredith Angwin, and Suzy Hobbs-Baker. The plan is to follow up with a second podcast, a more narrowly focused roundtable discussion among the five of us on nuclear power outrage management.

  • Risk = Hazard + Outrage: Risk Communication Briefing for IT Security Professionals (Note: Link goes off-site to a page with this 67-min. audio)

    Presented at the Oracle Chief Security Officer Summit, San Francisco CA, October 4, 2011

    Some Oracle people had heard me speak at a conference on financial information security (for bank IT people, mostly), and asked me to do something similar for its 2011 annual IT security “summit.” The presentation does give occasional IT examples, but mostly it’s an introduction to the basics of risk communication – especially the hazard-versus-outrage distinction and the three main risk communication paradigms (precaution advocacy, crisis communication, and outrage management). As usual, audience interest focused mostly on outrage management – especially how to calm stakeholders after a breach that turned out minor. They were less interested in how to arouse stakeholder concern about the possibility of a serious breach, a precaution advocacy issue – though arousing CEO concern had some appeal.

  • Introduction to Risk Communication
    (Note: This link launches an MP3 audio file from this site: 8.2MB, 10 min.)

    Taped for the British Columbia (Canada) Provincial Health Services Authority and Vancouver Coastal Health, February 15, 2011

    Posted: May 7, 2011

    This ten-minute audio clip distinguishes the terms “risk communication,” “risk assessment,” and “crisis communication”; describes the fundamental risk communication distinction between hazard and outrage; and uses that distinction to define the three paradigms of risk communication. It ends with a discussion of how to measure outrage. This is one of four podcasts on “Risk Communication in Healthcare Settings,“ aimed at healthcare managers, produced from a 50-minute telephone interview.

  • Three Paradigms of Risk Communication
    (Note: This link launches an MP3 audio file from this site: 7.4MB, 9 min.)

    Taped for the British Columbia (Canada) Provincial Health Services Authority and Vancouver Coastal Health, February 15, 2011

    Posted: May 7, 2011

    This nine-minute audio clip discusses some key strategies associated with each of the three paradigms of risk communication: precaution advocacy (high hazard, low outrage), outrage management (low hazard, high outrage), and crisis communication (high hazard, high outrage). It emphasizes the need to assess – and continually reassess – which paradigm is called for by the specific communication environment you face. This is one of four podcasts on “Risk Communication in Healthcare Settings,“ aimed at healthcare managers, produced from a 50-minute telephone interview.

  • The Law of Conservation of Outrage: Outrage Is Limited – Do You Need More or Less?

    Website column

    Posted: April 14, 2011

    I speak and write endlessly about ways to increase people’s outrage when you think they’re insufficiently upset about a serious risk and ways to decrease their outrage when you think they’re excessively upset about a not-so-serious risk. I call these two kinds of risk communication “precaution advocacy” and “outrage management” respectively. This column makes a point I too often forget to mention: Except in emergencies (real or imagined), it’s impossible to get people more or less outraged. Mostly what we do is reallocate their outrage. The column calls this “the Law of Conservation of Outrage,” and discusses six corollaries that are fundamental to risk communication: the natural state of humankind vis-à-vis any specific risk is apathy; outrage is a competition; there’s no reason to worry about turning people into scaredy-cats; if people are more outraged at you than the situation justifies, you’re doing something wrong; excessive outrage aimed at you isn’t your critics’ fault; and outrage causes hazard perception – and we know what causes outrage.

  • Presented to the Rio Tinto mining company, Brisbane, Australia, September 16–17, 2010
    Posted: January 12, 2011

    This video clip outlines the fundamental distinction between a risk’s “hazard” (how much harm it’s likely to do) and its “outrage” (how upset it’s likely to make people). The selection emphasizes that both hazard perception and hazard response result more from outrage than from hazard.

    Two short excerpts from this clip have been posted on YouTube (more or less as advertisements for the clip, and the course as a whole):

  • Presented to the Rio Tinto mining company, Brisbane, Australia, September 16–17, 2010
    Posted: January 12, 2011

    This video clip runs through the twelve principal components of outrage (voluntary versus coerced, natural versus industrial, etc). Then it illustrates these components with a seat-of-the-pants “outrage assessment” of genetically modified food.

  • Presented to the Rio Tinto mining company, Brisbane, Australia, September 16–17, 2010
    Posted: January 12, 2011

    This video clip outlines the three main paradigms of risk communication: precaution advocacy (when hazard is high and outrage is low); outrage management (when hazard is low and outrage is high); and crisis communication (when hazard and outrage are both high).

  • Presented to the National Public Health Information Coalition, Miami Beach FL, October 21, 2009
    Posted: January 2, 2010

    Although this six-hour seminar was entitled “Three Paradigms of Radiological Risk Communication,” NPHIC asked me to go easy on the “radiological” part and give participants a broad introduction to my approach to risk communication, mentioning radiation issues from time to time. So that’s what I did.

    Fair warning: These are not professional videos. NPHIC member Joe Rebele put a camera in the back of the room and let it run. You won’t lose much listening to the MP3 audio files on this site instead.

    Part 1

    Part One is a introduction to the hazard-versus-outrage distinction and the three paradigms of risk communication.

    Part Two

    Part Two discusses the seesaw and other risk communication games (thus completing the introductory segment), then spends a little over an hour each on some key strategies of precaution advocacy and outrage management.

    Part Three

    Part Three is a rundown on some key crisis communication strategies.

See especially Part One.

The Seesaw and the Other Risk Communication Games

See especially Part Two.

Copyright © 2014 by Peter M. Sandman

Contact Information:   Peter M. Sandman

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Email:  peter@psandman.com
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