What's Worth Worrying About in Life?
Dr. John Paling and his son, Sean, have developed an objective,
comparative scale that reflects the relative levels of risk from
different hazards. The Paling Perspective Scalesm presents these
relative risks in a manner than can be readily understood, yet is
based on sound risk assessment practices. If someone has done a
risk assessment calculation and claims to have estimates of the
level of risk for a particular hazard under certain
circumstances, then this scale can easily show how it stacks up
to other risks we face each day. It answers the public's wish
to cut through all the technical stuff and get a simple answer to
the question, "What's the bottom line?"
The "bottom line" of the scale displays simple numbers
for all the levels of risk that could ever be important to the
life of any individual on the planet earth. The scale ranges from
a "-6" through "zero" to "+6," and
every single risk that we know of can be effectively positioned
on this one scale!
When you follow each of these numbers upwards to the top of the
chart, the same risk level is expressed in three different ways.
In other words, a "+6" on the scale is the same as a
risk of 1 in 1, which is the same as a risk of 1,000,000 in a
million, and is the same as what mathematicians call a risk of 1
x 100. Similarly, the bottom line risk level of a "+2"
is the same as an estimated risk of 1 in 10,000, which is the
same as a risk of 100 in a million, and in mathematical jargon is
the same as a risk of 1 x 104. Numbers in the "minus"
zone to the left of center become rapidly less risky or less
likely to occur, while those in the "plus" zone to the
right of center become rapidly more serious or more likely to
There are many reasons why a scale such as this would be a
valuable communications tool for the golf industry. First, the
scale answers the need of frustrated superintendents, architects,
and golfers who have tried to communicate risks associated with
pesticides and fertilizers to people bombarded with a constant
stream of unquantified claims of public health hazards. Second,
there is a need to reassure the public about the relative safety
of our modern lifestyle. Third, everyone involved in
environmental and public health matters recognizes that some
scale of comparative risk assessment has to be accepted as an
integral part of decisions concerning regulations and cleanup
processes. Finally, even though purists will regret it, we
desperately need an all-embracing, USA Today-style scale to help
people sort through and understand all the various methods of
With the Paling Perspective Scale, relative levels of risk
quickly become intuitive based on a simple scale. This scale
offers an irresistible improvement on anything else out there,
and it moves us all toward a much sought-after goal of
simplification, yet still is based upon available published
science. The lack of such a "Richter Scale for Risks"
has led to a string of undesirable consequences that extend from
economic extravagance to public paranoia.
It should no longer be news that people are exposed to toxic or
cancer-causing chemicals. Since the equipment and techniques used
to detect chemicals are so sensitive, we now can detect such
minute quantities that just about everything contains "toxic
chemicals" at some level or another. We are all exposed to
"cancer-causing" chemicals, and, most important, many
have nothing to do with industrial activities. We now know that
the healthy fruits and vegetables we eat contain minute
quantities of natural poisons to protect them from disease and
insects. It is ironic that if these naturally occurring chemicals
were produced by industry, they would be banned as unsafe! So,
the plain and undisputed truth is that we are surrounded by
hundreds of potential but infinitesimal chemical hazards. It is
the dose that makes the poison, and for the vast majority of our
life, minute doses are simply not poisonous. The general public
needs to understand that even distilled water will kill you if
you drink 15 gallons a day!
Everything we do in life has some associated risk. In fact, just
staying in your own home for a 70-year lifetime holds 7,700
chances in a million of you incurring a fatal accident! From the
moment you wake up to your morning coffee (cancer risk from
dioxin in the bleached coffee filter) to the time you finally
retire under your electric blanket at night (possible harmful
effects of electromagnetic forces), your life is in danger. The
undeniable truth is that there is really no such thing as
In order for the Paling Perspective Scale to work, risks that
intuitively "mean something" to the general public were
first identified. These are the risks that people are comfortable
in accepting and consider not worth worrying about based on their
real life experiences. The odds quoted for some of these real
risks associated with daily life fall into the Home Base range.
The Home Base range of risks falls between one in a million and
about one in 10,000. When this is translated into the bottom line
risk levels of the scale, Home Base for fatalities and very
serious injuries at home turns out to be between "0"
and around "+2." To be on the overly cautious side, the
figure of one in a million was selected as being the Effective
Zero point for levels of risk. This is the same point chosen by
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as the risk point below
which any risk from a food additive is considered too small to be
a regulatory concern.
By the nature of things, there will always be some people who are
exceptionally sensitive to a particular chemical, even though it
has little or no effect on the rest of society. Good examples of
this situation are those people extremely sensitive to bee stings
or pollen. No scale, or regulation for that matter, can protect
them! It is their personal responsibility to act upon what they
know are real risks for them and to take sensible precautions.
The Paling Perspective Scale represents a framework that makes it
easier for the public to intuitively sense the relative
seriousness of reported risks and to quickly recognize that all
worries are not equal.
Golf, in many respects, has been unnecessarily pressured by some
environmental organizations and uninformed citizens because they
are worried about the pesticides and fertilizers used to maintain
the golf course. The Paling Perspective Scale is progress toward
developing a level playing field, which challenges all parties to
establish the relative strengths of their different positions.
Everyone who plays golf or benefits in some way from the game is
encouraged to use this scale as a key communication tool to
identify relative risks and thus provide a much-needed
perspective to the widespread alarm generated by the large number
of reported hazards in modern life.
A goal of the USGA is to establish the relative risk of golf to
individuals playing the game, maintaining the grounds, or living
next to a course. The pesticide and nutrient fate information
from the USGA's Environmental Research Program will serve as
a basis for estimating risk assessment numbers and then placing
them on the Paling Perspective Scale. This goal cannot be
accomplished overnight, due to the relative complexity of
performing risk analysis studies. But no one can deny that golf
needs a simple communication tool that helps establish the
relative risks associated with the game and sheds some
perspective about what is really worth worrying about in life!
- Allows the recording of all calculable risks on a scale of
"-6" to "+6," with zero being perceived,
for all practical purposes, as totally safe for the vast
majority of all people on the planet.
- Identifies its "zero" point based on levels of
risk that the public knowingly recognizes, yet chooses to
ignore by not changing existing behaviors materially.
- Compares many different types of risk by expressing them
all as chances in a million -immaterial of the original
chemical/nuclear/electromagnetic or medical units in which the
concentrations and risk were initially measured.
- Enables communicators to show the relative levels of risk
associated with different hazards against a bottom line number
that the public easily becomes intuitively familiar with.
- Serves as a platform for risk assessment professionals to
communicate with the public on the relative positioning of
relative hazards under different circumstances.
- Has very wide application, yet immediately is most useful
in the area of public health risks from industrial and business
- Is a major improvement on the situation that we face in the
absence of such a perspective scale.
In recent years, the public has become increasingly overwhelmed
by the growing number of news reports announcing health hazards
that seem to threaten our lives daily. We know all too well that
the game of golf has been dragged into this environmental debate.
Until now, citizens, legislators, and even the media had no
simple way of sorting out the relative importance of new risks
and putting them into perspective with other environmental and
public health hazards. This article offers a brief summary of an
effective communications tool that can help people make sense out
of all their environmental worries.