You know, like when they say "People who drink more than two cups of coffee per day are 32% more likely to develop a heart condition?
(by the way - see Media Sucks - they could really help clear this up!)
It means that if you take the base rate for an event, and multiply it times 1.32, that's the new chance of something happening.
So for example:
If you have a 1 in 1000 chance of developing some bizarre illness, and you do something that increases that 32%, hat is the REAL increase in danger?
Well, let's take a look.
1/1000 = .001% chance
1.32 x .001 = .00132
or 1 and 1/3 in a thousand. Woo Hoo.
Take home message, know your base rates and do the math before you panic. And on top of that, those are "overall rates" there are almost always people with greater than 1/1000 and people with much less.
For example, that 1/1000 includes some people clearly at a 1 in 10 chance, and some that are 1 in 100,000 chance. (even going from 1 in ten to 1.3 in ten isn't that brutal...).
But people who have championed whatever it is they think YOU should be afraid of don't bother to tell you that do they?