Risk Analysis Teaching and Learning Website
Risk Analysis Education Philosophy Page
Introduction: We face a major problem in the way risk analysis is used today. We have a variety of well developed methods, extensive quantitative and qualitative techniques for managing uncertainty, and effective approaches to interdisciplinary research. Unfortunately, much risk analysis seems to be handled quite badly. On the one hand, we have folk who are comfortable reporting risk analysis outputs to two and three significant figures, and claiming that these estimates provide a sufficient basis for decisions. On the other we have folks who reject risk analysis as a corrupt industry puppet. At the same time, we regularly see people misinterpret (intentionally or not) the opinions and preferences of others as ignorance or "antiscientific attitudes." This is particularly evident in my home town of Las Vegas. Here, People either oppose or favor Yucca Mountain as the nation's repository for civilian high-level radioactive waste, and both sides claim that their preferences are supported by data that at best warrant agnosticism.
The Challenge: Those of us who teach risk analysis must steer our students on a course in which they develop both a toolbox of risk analysis methods and a sensibility for how their efforts will be received and used in decision making arenas. If they have the first but not the second, they will either learn these lessons the hard way, or worse fail to learn them. If they have the second but not the first, they may be dismissed as ignorant and unworthy.
The Big Picture: For this reason, I always start my risk classes by asking students to define risk, then leading them to an understanding that there is no clear, single answer, and the range lies between "risk is probability times consequence" and "risk is the absence of trust." Likewise, I guarantee an F to any student who discusses "perceived versus real risk" in a final project. This leads to three objectives
Objectives for Risk Analysis Education: At the completion of a reasonable risk analysis curriculum, a student should understand
Contact me: David M. Hassenzahl, Ph.D.
Department of Environmental
University of Nevada, Las
Modified March 12, 2002 dmh