Academy of Ideas

Safety first: do we live in a ‘cotton-wool society’?

March 9, 2018

Recording of the debate at Battle of Ideas 2017 (

The ‘safety first’ outlook, intending to keep us safe by imagining the worst, risks increasing our sense of existential insecurity. Always anticipating catastrophe may mean over-reacting, especially in the fields of science, health and technology. We have become the victims of scaremongering over theoretical risks – from mobile phone radiation or the latest strain of flu, even from familiar foods such as sugar and salt.

Has safety become an aim in itself, divorced from a common-sense assessment of risk? Does the desire to eliminate all danger undermine individual freedom? Is it time to confront the dangers of our ‘safety first’ society?


Richard Angell
director, Progress

Terry Barnes
principal, Cormorant Policy Advice; fellow, Institute of Economic Affairs; former special adviser to two Australian health ministers

Professor Bill Durodié
chair of international relations, former head of department, University of Bath

Dr Clare Gerada
medical director, NHS Practitioner Health Programme; former chair, Royal College of General Practitioners

Lenore Skenazy
'America’s Worst Mom'; president, Let Grow; founder, Free-Range Kids book, blog and movement