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Society for Risk Analysis to Discuss Issues Paramount to the Foundation of the Science of Risk

Dec. 14, 2017

The field of risk analysis is not limited to just academia and practitioners. The insights risk analysis provides should be of interest to decision makers, bureaucrats, journalists and policymakers. As a discipline, risk analysis touches on many other fields of study and its researchers and analysts practice in a variety of fields, which can make it difficult to define a set of theories, principles and methods that unifies the field. 

Four papers presented at the 2017 Society for Risk Analysis (SRA) Annual Meeting will discuss the concept of risk analysis and its academic foundation. The session, Foundational Issues in Risk Analysis III, will take place Wednesday, Dec. 13 from 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m. at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia.

The SRA recently published a document presenting a list of core subjects of risk analysis, captured in five primary categories: fundamentals; risk assessment; risk perception and communication; risk management and governance; and solving real risk problems and issues. Terje Aven, a professor at the University of Stavanger, Norway, will discuss the rationale, purpose and importance of this document. 

“This work specifies what you should learn if you are to study and become an expert in risk analysis,” Aven said. “The goal is to significantly raise the risk analysis competence in society, leading to improved science and better decisions in, for example, climate change and security issues.” 

Another session will explore the characterization and modeling of complex systems of systems (complex SoS). A system of systems brings a group of systems together to achieve goals none of the systems could do alone. In a system of systems, the sum is greater than the parts. The researchers in this session are particularly focused on the interconnectedness and interdependencies (I-I) within the system. 

“We have to develop multiple methods and modeling approaches to better our understanding of the essence of complex SoS, and thus their risk modeling, assessment and management,” said Yacov Haimes, a professor at the University of Virginia. 

Much of risk analysis is concerned with calculating the severity or frequency of undesired effects, but what exactly is meant by an “effect?” Tony Cox, a professor at the University of Colorado, will explore this concept in his presentation, What is an Effect? This presentation will discuss the limitations of measuring effects with certain models. The researchers also propose an alternative model.

The final presentation in this session explores the assumptions and choices regarding what to analyze and what to leave out when someone performs a risk analysis. Usually the purpose of the assessment will constrain what is included and what is not, in combination with past experiences. 

“Carefully considering what is in and what is not in a risk analysis is part of the job in making the analysis,” said Robert Goble, a professor at Clark University. “Many choices are reasonable, some possibilities are too remote to be worth analyzing, but some choices matter; a nuclear risk assessment that does not consider earthquakes tells a different story from one that does.”

Goble will be discussing why practitioners need to take more care in considering what possibilities are included in their analyses. His paper, Concepts and Connections, Choices and Conundrums: The Boundary Between What Is Inside and What Is Outside a Risk Assessment, argues that the choice of boundaries is a foundational and practical concern. Boundaries affect both the nature and the strength of the claims that a risk analysis can support. 

*Terje Aven, Ph.D., from University of Stavanger, Robert Goble, Ph.D., from Clark University and Yacov Haimes, P.E., Ph.D., from University of Virginia will be available for media interviews at the 2017 SRA Annual Meeting. Please contact Melanie Preve at melanie@bigvoicecomm.com for all interview requests.

Melanie Preve