All entries for Saturday 30 July 2005

July 30, 2005

Risk, Terrorism and Policymaking

I found this post from the d-squared digest on the risk posed by terrorists quite interesting. On the issue of the optimal or acceptable level of risk we should face, we are told:

If youíre trying to bring the risk down to zero, then you have almost certainly over-engineered. So you should design the system to leave some positive risk. Risk, by the way, is the risk that something very bad will happen; the fact that ex post something very bad did happen is not good evidence that ex ante the risk tradeoff made was the wrong one, nor is it evidence that the tradeoff needs to be changed going forward. Having said that, acceptance of the statistical inevitability of bad events needs to be tempered with another important principle: By and large, you get the error rate that you are prepared to tolerate.

Read the full post here.

The events of 7/7 are one such error which may or may not be tolerated by policymakers. As a columnist in the Times recently stated, if criminal profiling, shoot-to-kill policies and indefine detention are considered a good idea after the event, they should have been equally acceptable beforehand. After all, itís no secret that the country was at risk. If such policies were considered excessive beforehand, widespread acceptance of them now is certainly an emotive rather than rational response.

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