In the twenty-first century, we must consider the asteroid and comet impact hazard in a context in which citizens of many nations are apprehensive about hazards associated with foods, disease, accidents, natural disasters, terrorism, and war. The ways we respond psychologically to such threats to our lives and well-being, and the degrees to which we expect our societal institutions (both governmental and private) to respond, are not directly proportional to actuarial estimates of the causes of human mortality, nor to forecasts of likely economic consequences. Our concerns about particular hazards are often heavily influenced by other factors, and they vary from year to year. Citizens of different nations demonstrate different degrees of concern about risks in the modern world (for example, reactions to eating genetically modified food or living near a nuclear power plant). Yet one would hope that public officials would base decisions at least in part on the best information available about the risks and costs, and scientists have a responsibility to assist them to reach defensible conclusions.
Objective estimates of the potential damage due to asteroid impacts (consequences multiplied by risk) are within the range of other risks that governments often take very seriously (Morrison et al. 1994). Moreover, public interest is high, fueled by increasing discovery rates and the continuing interests of the international news media. In this chapter we consider the past, present, and future of interactions by scientists with the public and media on the subject of the impact hazard.
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