Billy Bass

Remember Billy Bass, the irritating fish crooning ‘Don’t worry. Be happy’? Well, the advice is official.

Thanks to the publication of the ‘Worrier’s Guide to  Risk’, the key messages of the Prime Minister’s Risk and Regulatory Advisory Council have been boiled down to three notions, based on the ideas of David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge University.

First: life’s uncertain – we don’t always know what will happen. Second, evidence can mislead us, we can’t always see the full picture and thirdly, what about me – should I worry?

It gives sensible advice for confronting the never-ending stream of media stories about the risks of modern life: check the source of claims – they would say that wouldn’t they anyway; become more numerate – twice almost nothing is still almost nothing and avoid jumping to conclusions.

The new report of the RRAC takes the advice upstream (sorry) and suggests, as a society, that if we are going to resist the cry that ‘something must be done’ a new debate about public risk is needed. The work of the RRAC focused on risk aversion in the police, on the health and safety regime for small businesses and on community resilience. It has issued a number of practical guides for policy makers on ‘Tackling Public Risk’ and Risk Communication and also a discussion paper outlining the elements of the risk landscape in which we live.

It’s challenging stuff, especially for those of us who have spent many years as regulators. But, as a society we need to talk about what risks we wish to regulate – and there are many – but also which we want to think about differently, which we want to accept, and how we can avoid being caught up by the risk-mongers, intent on creating an epidemic of fear for their own gain.

After all, stuff happens.