Re: Mitigating Risk

From: Randy Isaac <>
Date: Tue Sep 20 2005 - 20:48:50 EDT

    You raised an excellent point. I'll never forget the title of a lecture
I heard about 25 years ago though I've long forgotten the speaker and almost
all of the details. The title was "The Risk of a No-Risk Society." The
speaker showed convincingly that reducing all risks in society to zero was
actually very risky. As a physicist, I understand it better in
thermodynamic terms where a perfect crystal is too costly in energy to
exist, or DNA replication with zero error rate is energetically unfavorable.
As a research and development manager, I understood it as life being a
challenge of managing offsetting risks.

    In society, we do expect government to play a key role in identifying
and reducing the level of certain risks. This is particularly true in areas
where the risk is high but we have little control or knowledge and need to
fully depend on others. For example, we do rely on the FAA to ensure that
airlines meet certain maintenance standards and that controllers keep the
airplanes separated by a reasonable distance. As passengers we can't do
much about that. We have more control with wearing a helmet while riding a
motorcycle and we have less tolerance for governmental control in that area.
On the other hand, there is a considerable cost to society for a serious
injury to someone who didn't wear a helmet and is in an accident, so society
could claim to have some say.

    As for rebuilding New Orleans, I thought the strategic role of NO that
Jan's post articulated was exceptionally well thought out. It means there
is a huge risk to NOT rebuilding the city as well. How do we best manage
these risks? Letting the lower, poorer classes of society live without
recourse in the riskiest areas while upper classes live in the 'safer' areas
doesn't seem like an acceptable path. I think Ruth's question is excellent.
How can we do a better job at engineering solutions to the occasional
devastating storm? We don't have an infinite amount of money but neither do
we need--or want-- to reduce the risk to zero. The balance is somewhere in
the middle and we'll have to roll up our sleeves and get started and figure
it out.


----- Original Message -----
From: <>
To: <>
Cc: <>; <>
Sent: Tuesday, September 20, 2005 10:05 AM
Subject: Re: Mitigating Risk

> Ruth and all,
> I don't mean to deflect from the specific discussion of the rebuilding of
> New Orleans, but I some time I would like to discuss the larger issue that
> this topic is an example of: What is the appropriate level of safety
> precaution vs. risk in any situation, and what is the role of government
> in
> legislating particular safety precautions?
Received on Tue Sep 20 20:53:57 2005

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