risk assessment

Risk, Uncertainty, and COVID-19


What do we actually know at this point about the dangers?

Like many environmental hazards such as toxic chemicals, the coronavirus is fundamentally a problem in risk management. And like issues such as climate change, the problem involves scientific data, modeling, and a good deal of uncertainty. With climate change, the key parameter is climate sensitivity. For diseases the key parameter is called R0, which measures …


Updates on the War on Science

The Trump Administration continues its campaign to suppress science.

The Trump Administration’s hostile attitude toward science has continued unabated.  The Administration has used a triad of strategies: efforts to defund research, suppression of scientific findings, and embrace of fringe science.    Budget.Administration continues to favor deep cuts in research support.  Its initial 2020 budget proposal calls for  a 13% cut to the National Science Foundation, a 12% cut at …


Shackling EPA Risk Assessment

EPA’s scientific advisory committee, which is packed with industry representatives, wants to make it a lot harder to prove pollution is dangerous.


Environmental Law and “The Law of the Horse”

“The Law of the Horse” is the title of the (perhaps apocryphal) treatise on the same subject.  The point of the reference is that “there’s no there there,” as Gertrude Stein might have said: the law of the horse would simply be a compendium of contract cases that happened to involve horses, tort cases that …


Will the West Coast get hit with Japanese nuclear fallout?

No, says the South Coast Air Quality Management District.  For reasons unknown to me, I’m on their e-mail list, and this just came through: You have probably heard news reports about harmful radiation escaping from damaged nuclear power plants in Japan following the recent tsunami. Some have even voiced concern that this radiation could travel …


Why Do People Care So Much About Nuclear Accidents?

Well, for obvious reasons.  But Ann, citing Will Saletan, raises a good question: why are people so much more concerned about nuclear accidents than, say oil spills or other environmental disasters?  If we accept Saletan’s figures of “direct fatalities” being 18 times more dangerous for oil production per energy unit (and there are reasons not …


Nuclear Fears v. Fears From Other Environmental Catastrophes

As Japan struggles to contain radiation from the nuclear reactors damaged in the double  whammy of a massive earthquake followed by an even more devastating tsunami, the political consequences of the accident are already being felt around the globe.  Germany has apparently put on hold, at least for now, plans to extend the operating lives of its nuclear power plants. …


Japan’s Nuclear Reactors, Risk Assessment & Accident Theory

In the wake of Japan’s developing nuclear crisis, people have begun questioning the future of US nuclear policy.  Here is Sen. Lieberman, cautiously arguing for a review of nuclear power safety: I think it calls on us here in the U.S., naturally, not to stop building nuclear power plants but to put the brakes on …


The Feds Take On Climate Adaptation

On October 14, the White House’s Climate Change Adaptation Task Force released its recommendations to President Obama for how agencies can better prepare the United States to respond to the impacts of climate change.  Once again we are reminded of how important it is to have an Administration that takes climate science seriously. According to …


Climate Change Lesson #2: Watch Out for Those “Unknown Unknowns”

This is the second in a short series of homilies on the lessons we can learn from climate change. Donald Rumsfeld famously distinguished between knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.   He didn’t take the occasion to provide sharp analytical distinctions, but the difference between known unknowns and unknown unknowns is very much like a difference …