Hazard and risk are not the same thing, and it helps to understand the difference. A hazard is something that can cause harm. Risk, is the probability of you being exposed to that harm.

The best way this was explained to me was the example of a great white shark in an aquarium. The hazard it poses is extremely high—it would likely kill you in a few seconds, but as a visitor safely on the other side of sixty centimetres of plexiglass, the risk of you being harmed is extremely low.

It’s difficult to mislead masses of people about the hazard of something, particularly something common. We seem to have good instincts for weighing these things up. It’s far easier to mislead people by distorting the risk.

Many of the cognitive biases we are susceptible to affect our ability to evaluate risk.

Availability bias misleads us that if other people are talking about it, the risk must be high.

Groupthink bias misleads us that if other people believe it’s a risk, then it must be.

Anchoring bias misleads us that if we are initially told something is a risk, then we should continue to consider it a risk.

Confirmation bias misleads us that if we believe it’s a risk, we must be right.

Media outlets and politicians play on these biases (and others), to convince you that the risk something poses is greater than it really is.

Understanding the difference between hazard and risk, and learning how to better evaluate risk, can help you think more clearly while others are running for the hills.