Calculated Risk by K.C. Cole

The intention of this piece is to discuss the different risks that are out there and why some people take some and not others. Cole goes into how many people do not look at science or statistics when considering risk and that most of the risks we try to stay away from aren’t much worse than the one’s we take.

The entire essay is chalk full of logos. Almost all of her examples are studies that have been done about specific topics and they include some statistics. The use of logos bolsters her opinions because the studies she has chosen clearly show the true risk behind every situation. By using scientific research, she is able to prove to her audience that each of her points are reasonable. One of the points Cole makes is that we cannot solely rely on numbers when trying to assess risk. She talks about cancer statistics and how everyone is petrified of cancer because the number of patients continues to rise. Cole then points out that people forget that the number of patients are greater because people are now living longer, so there are more people that are living long enough to get the disease. (Cole 155). All of her examples allow the audience to trust her opinion and see the facts behind the points she is making.

My favorite quote in this essay is, “Life, after all, is a fatal disease, and the mortality rate for humans, at the end of the day is 100 percent.” (Cole 154). I love this quote so much because I think it captures her overall point that humans are terrible at assessing risk and in the end it really doesn’t matter. It is a very blunt statement that is very thought provoking. It made me think how we sometimes don’t do things because we think its too risky. We forget that getting in our car to drive to school is just as likely to kill us as skydiving. we cannot ever truly protect ourselves from all the risks out there because every aspect of our lives has a potential risk factor. As humans we have just decided that some things are riskier than others, when in reality all things are risky.

Cole’s style of writing is very clear and simple. She doesn’t use a lot of “fluff” in her writing instead she uses definite examples that are easy for the reader to understand. She has a very academic tone throughout the essay. Cole states her opinion and then follows it up with facts to give the audience the information they need to agree with her. Cole kept the essay to the point and academic which allowed the audience to make their own decision about risk assessment based on the given information.

– -Megan Ross

Cole’s intention in this piece is to explain the risks that people are willing take, regardless of dangerous the behavior or activity really is. She discusses the difference between actual risk and perceived risk.

By referencing anthropologist Melvin Koner in her piece, Cole builds her ethos to the reader. She cites his book as an explanation for why humans have poor judgment when it comes to assessing risks and explains his theory that living recklessly provided an evolutionary advantage for early humans.

Writing with a fairly informal yet academic tone, Cole makes her piece compelling to read despite essentially saying human beings make stupid decisions all the time. She also uses first person point of view, including the pronouns “we” and “us”, to connect with the reader. Her tone is careful not to be condescending, but rather draws the audience into her writing.

Cole utilizes pathos several times in different ways throughout her piece. When she discusses the misconception most people have that they are better off than the “average” person and cites a poll that shows 4 out of 5 baby boomers say they have fewer wrinkles than other people their age, it adds some humor and forms a connection with the audience. Obviously, it is impossible for 80% of baby boomers to have fewer wrinkles than their peers, but the fact that many people perceive they are better off than their neighbor is not only amusing but relatable. On a more downcast note, Cole use pathos yet again when she considers a drunk driving campaign that used the faces of children killed by drunk drivers. The campaign was successful, she explains, because “These children looked real to us. We could identify with them.” This is a rather heartbreaking but effective technique Cole uses to draw her reader into the stories she wants to tell in her overall arguement.

— Maria Busken

The author’s tone is conversational, yet introspective. The author, K.C. Cole, often uses humor to convey her points, yet takes on a more philosophical tone when discussing human nature. She arranges her piece by opening with examples, then transitioning into background information and analysis, finally concluding with the slightly sentimental rumination on risk taking itself. Cole used her slight sentimentality to make her conclusion–and thus, the rest of her essay–memorable. One of my favorite quotes from this piece was “‘I sometimes think that the more reckless among us may have something to teach the careful about the sort of immortality that comes from living fully every day.” The wistfulness and romantic nature of the quote brings a second dimension and added depth to the non-fiction work.

–Tay Sauer

K.C. Cole arranges this excerpt from one of her novels very well because she immediately captures the attention of the reader by stating an astonishing fact that makes the reader question her motive . She states “that the chance of a college-educated thirty-five-year-old woman finding a husband was less than her chance of being killed by a terrorist.” Cole states that this fact came from a Newsweek magazine, but the reality of the statement displays an unrealistic truth that makes the reader want to read more. Throughout the essay Cole asserts that when people assess the risk associated with certain events, the rationalization that people use to describe why they choose to do something or not, is commonly seen as absurd. These reasons are often illogical because risk is present in every action we take. Therefore, when people try to rationalize the amount of risk associated with a specific event, it could be seen as unrealistic, just as the fact that Cole uses to begin this excerpt had been.

I thought the subject Cole chose to write about was very interesting because the amount of risk someone associates with a specific occurrence varies with each individual. This subject can be very controversial among different age groups, ethnicities, and nations because based upon different experiences and the suffering one has endured, everyone views the amount of risk associated with that event uniquely. Cole states that “It’s just the way our minds work. Certain kinds of tragedies make an impact; others don’t.” With the increase in technology and media, the society is often forced to acknowledge some events as more dangerous than others based upon the information we hear and read from the media. I believe that by writing this piece, Cole wants her audience to understand the way we assess the risks we do and do not take. As a result of this realization, she allows the reader to become more aware of these tendencies and therefore, make a more rational decision when faced with these questions of risk in the future.

“We don’t like to see ourselves as vulnerable. We like to think we’ve got some magical edge over the others. Ego gets involved especially in cases where being vulnerable to risk implies personal failure.” I love this quote because it is an honest and blunt declaration of how we, the audience, justifies taking a risk in one area of our life, but not another. The statement shows the human susceptibility to encountering risk and therefore, occasionally failing. Cole not only presents an understanding of her audience through this quote, but she also creates a bond between each and every reader because she illustrates that these thoughts pass through everyone’s mind.

–Sarah Biehl


To prove her intention, Cole provides different examples and cites different studies. For example, she opens the essay with the panicked reaction that women had to an article in Newsweek, which stated that, “the chance of a college-educated thirty-five year old woman finding a husband was less than her chance of being killed by a terrorist.” Immediately after Cole gives this “fact,” she states that it was discredited by journalist Susan Faludi, but people still believed it.  This introduces the readers to Cole’s point that the risk assessment analysis that people use lacks sound mathematical or scientific basis.  Throughout the essay, Cole references difference studies to make her point, with the most interesting one being Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman’s study about disease treatments. In this study, physicians were asked to choose a strategy to fight a rare disease, one being far more risky than the other. The majority of physicians chose the riskier one, which would result in far more deaths than the other option, proving that people would “bend over backwards to avoid small risks, even if that means sacrificing great potential rewards.” Cole’s excellent use of evidence to strengthen her argument makes her essay only more persuasive.  

One of my favorite quotes from this essay is “People will risk a lot to prevent a loss, in other words, but risk very little for possible gain.” This quote rings true to today’s society. I know many people who say that they would fight back if they were attacked or robbed, which is less likely to happen to them, but when they get into a car, they text and drive. The former activity has a higher probability of hurting them, yet they continue to casually perform it.  Cole places this after citing Tversky and Kahneman’s study (see above) to explain what the results mean from the experiment.

Cole also uses realistic examples to create empathy with her readers. For example, she states that, “while red dye #2 strikes terror in our hearts, that great glob of butter melting into our baked potato is accepted as an old friend.” Most people today would much rather avoid a dye that could potentially cause cancer, than avoid a food that is known to have high cholesterol.  People would rather eat applesauce, which contains much more sugar and added flavors than apples, but not eat an apple for fear of choking.  This appeals to the readers’ emotions, making the pathos of this essay stronger.

–Katie Tegenkamp


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