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Media Literacy

Jan Splaining: What is an availability bias? – MEDIA EXPERTISE

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Jan Fran

The availability bias. It is a mental shortcut that we use to judge the likelihood of something happening based on how easily we remember instances when that event happened. For example, we can hypothesize how likely we are to get a blood clot from the AstraZeneca vaccine based on how easily we remember a story where someone got a blood clot from the AstraZeneca vaccine, that is

[OVERLAY OF NEWS FOOTAGE] Blood clot, blood clot, blood clot, blood clot …

Jan Fran

easy.

Blood clots now appear, but they are very rare. However, the disproportionate media coverage they receive can help keep them in mind. Imagine these 132 Australians developed blood clots related to the AZ vaccination, including nine who died. In these publications alone, over 3000 stories about AstraZeneca and blood clots have been mentioned in the past six months. 40,000 people are now hospitalized for traffic accidents every year. If these injuries had the same percentage of coverage, we would see nearly a million reports of traffic accidents every year. That’s more than two and a half thousand a day. If we applied the availability bias here, it would be easy to remember the negative effects of driving that can make you hesitate while driving.

We cannot always control how the media treats a particular issue, but we can control how we deal with it. The first step is to identify the bias and realize that it can skew our perceptions of risk. Step two: consciously look for the statistics that will give you a clearer picture of reality.

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