5. Understanding and Identifying Risk – Readings

Course subject(s) 5. Understanding and Identifying Risk

The readings for this lecture set are listed below, with a small explanation accompanying each title:

Readings for Managing Uncertainty and Ignorance

Nassim Taleb et al. recently published a paper on the statistical risks of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), and advised that GMO R&D should be heavily monitored based on the Precautionary Principle. You can read the paper here:

The Precautionary Principle (with Application to the Genetic Modification of Organisms)
by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Rupert Read, Raphael Douady,  Joseph Norman and Yaneer Bar-Yam

However, since its publication, there has been something of a academic controversy, involving not just other statistical risk experts, but also bio-technologists with expert knowledge of GMOs. You can read one such critique to this paper here:

Advocacy Masquerading as Rational Argument?
by David Ropeik

Our other reading for this section is: Sunscreens with Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) Nano-Particles: A Societal Experiment by Johannes F. Jacobs, Ibo van de Poel & Patricia Osseweijer from TU Delft.

As we have seen in this section, the risks of novel technologies cannot be fully assessed. In the last web lecture we saw the example of titanium dioxide nanoparticles in sunscreens causing cancer as an unexpected side effect! Hence, there is a strong case for careful experimentation. The article deals in detail with this example and concludes that the marketing of this type of UV protective cosmetics is ethically undesirable because it violates 4 reasonable moral conditions for societal experimentation:

  1. Absence of alternatives,
  2. controllability,
  3. informed consent and
  4. on-going evaluation.

The authors therefore suggest 5 complementary actions:

  1. Closing the gap,
  2. set-up monitoring tools,
  3. continuous monitoring and review,
  4. designing for safety and,
  5. regulative improvements.

Readings for the Case Study: Nuclear Energy

Suggested readings for this section are:

  • Taebi, B. and J. L. Kloosterman. 2008. To Recycle or Not to Recycle?.  An Intergenerational Approach to Nuclear Fuel Cycles. Science and Engineering Ethics 14 (2):177-200.
    This article is an in-depth article about the choice between the open and closed nuclear fuel cycles as explained in the web lectures by Behnam Taebi. The closed fuel cycle improves sustainability in terms of the supply certainty of uranium and involves less long-term radiological risks and proliferation concerns. However, it compromises short-term public health and safety and security, due to the separation of plutonium.To what extent should we take care of our produced nuclear waste and to what extent should we accept additional risks to the present generation, in order to diminish the exposure of future generation to those risks?

We also have the following suggested readings (no open access):

  • Taebi, B. and A.C. Kadak. 2010. Intergenerational Considerations Affecting the Future of Nuclear Power: Equity as a Framework for Assessing Fuel Cycles. Risk Analysis 30 (9):1341-1362.
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