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Violence Perceptions

September 26, 2016

Why our perception of violence goes up, while actual violence goes down.


1200px-Francois_Dubois_001 The St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of French Protestants, 1572

The St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of French Protestants. (Francois Dubois ca. 1572)


Safety by the numbers. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Today, we live in almost unprecedented safety, with US murder rates this decade at historically low levels, and far less war and violence worldwide than in past decades. Think that sounds like wishful thinking? At a recent science media symposium, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker said it’s true, based on the most accurate current and historical data.

STEVEN PINKER ( Harvard University):

All of the parts of the world that are at peace don’t make the evening news. Now as long as the rate of violence doesn’t go to zero, there’s always going to be enough explosions and shootings to fill the evening news. And if you go by the news, you’re going to have a distorted picture of the way the world works.


This doesn’t minimize the horrors of the war in Syria and violence in some cities. But Pinker says we need to look at numbers rather than pictures to have an accurate perspective. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon