Tuesday, March 15, 2011

WHAT IS AN ACCEPTABLE LEVEL OF RISK?

No creo en las casualidades
"I do not believe in coincidences" -- image by el silencio

Even if we agree that there are no coincidence it can nevertheless be difficult to base action on risk analysis. There is not great evidence to show that humans are prepared to deal it. Japan is presenting the latest example. Here are the two questions that have probably occurred to many:

1) How can a country in an earthquake region take the risk of being heavily dependent on nuclear reactors?

2) How can the only country to have experienced directly nuclear holocaust be among the leading ones to take this risk?

I believe that part of the answer is that development trumps caution. Why? Because development provides short-term personal benefits and the revenue stream that pays for the risk assessment that will be presented to the public. There's sort of self-fulfilling prophesy when development develops the risk analysis of development.

But... there's also something more.

When you boil it down to the essence, we face always the dilemma of uncertainty. For example, what about the risk of climate change? Acting in a preventive way is difficult because one is trying to turn a probability into a non-event while there is still uncertainty. The kicker is that some events are irreversible and so you must act BEFORE there is a high degree of proof. So, it is going to depend, not on the science, as much as on your point of view.

I have an American friend who does not like to buy insurance (the standard cultural practice and legal requirement in the US is to buy it). He says, "I don't like to bet against myself". This is completely understandable. The insurance company knows the odds the same way that the casino does, the company and the casino win in the end because they are betting not on an individual but on the drift. On the other hand, my friend has a lot of faith in his own good awareness and good luck. Correctly, I believe, he says, "I prefer to bet on myself."

My friend's wife works in public health. She works to promote government preventive action to reduce the collective risk. She promotes things like immunization and education programs. She does not think of whether she is or is not a lucky one. She thinks about the children and future generations. For her, the future is so precious that she does not like to take risks. Her view is different from my friend but they agreed on one thing -- they make sure that their children receive vaccinations.

There are some things that you don't want to take risks with and this is not an expression of science or risk analysis as much as it is an expression of love.

3 comments:

Erayna said...

Hate to have to say this, but there are so many toxic substances in vaccinations today that even if the functional part of the vaccine does its job, the accompanying toxins will make the person sick.

Vaccinations are also sold by huge corporations, and as with swine flu, they can blow the need out of proportion to make something seem necessary that isn't.

There are also evil wealthy people in our world who want to rid the planet of most of its population so they can inherit the Earth before it becomes too toxic for human survival. To wit: the many recent instances of death and serious illness caused by vaccines infected with other viruses...

Lou Gold said...

Thanks for chiming in Erayna. I'm aware of the tremendous controversy surrounding vaccines. You offer an excellent example for why I mentioned, "There's sort of self-fulfilling prophesy when development develops the risk analysis of development." The story of my friend was not intended as a carte blanc endorsement of vaccines.
Your cautions are appreciated.

lou

susan said...

This is the first time I've seen someone connect Japan's nuclear disaster with history. Thank you! I often think it's important to remember that only one country has actually *used* nukes, the US. Not that I disagree with the need, though the second one was unnecessary. However, for a country that has direct experience with the consequences of nuclear problems, it is surprising that they didn't notice their position on the ring of fire.

Thanks again.