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Timothy Caulfield offers ways to manage anxiety in a world of misinformation

The broadcaster and professor spoke with Shelagh Rogers about his nonfiction book Relax, Dammit!
Timothy Caulfield is a Canadian author and professor of law at the University of Alberta. (Allan Lane)

This segment originally aired on Feb. 27, 2021.

Timothy Caulfield is an author, broadcaster and professor at the University of Alberta, and he has made it his mission to debunk misinformation, bad science and fear mongering. 

In Relax, Dammit!, Caulfield explores modern life and the habits and decisions we make. He digs into the science behind many of our mindless day-to-day tasks — and argues that many of the things we think make our lives easier and more manageable, actually don't.

Caulfield spoke with Shealgh Rogers about writing Relax, Dammit!

Take a breath

"I wrote this book before COVID, which is kind of hard to believe because the title is Relax, Dammit! and it seems like the worst time to be relaxing. But on the other hand, so much of the book's advice is even more relevant now. 

"It's even more relevant being able to cut through the misinformation, to look at the science and to be able to make informed decisions."

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The knowledge paradox

"It is fascinating that we have never had as much information as we have now. It's all at our fingertips — we can get it on the internet instantaneously — but we still make these ill-informed decisions. 

"We live in this society where we're constantly told to be afraid of things. Risk is used as a strategy to market things to us. Whether you're talking about vitamins and the food that we eat, or if your kids can walk to school or not, risk plays this incredibly big role in our lives. 

We live in this society where we're constantly told to be afraid of things.

"Part of it is a cognitive bias — we are hard-wired to respond to risk. It's been called the negativity bias.

"This is a phenomenon that is well documented and researched. Risk can play an outsized role in the decisions we make, all day long."

Informed views

"We live in the era of misinformation. This is going to be one of the defining characteristics of our time. I'm hopeful that it will pass. But it is a defining characteristic right now — a lot of our decisions have some element of misinformation.

We live in the era of misinformation. This is going to be one of the defining characteristics of our time.

"They're impacting the decisions we make. It's obviously one of the reasons I wrote the book. I try to highlight how those same forces impact the little decisions that we make — and how they impact our daily wellness and how we think about our lives."

Timothy Caulfield's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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