Catastrophe: Risk and Response PDF Ú Catastrophe:

Catastrophe: Risk and Response [PDF / Epub] ⚣ Catastrophe: Risk and Response ✈ Richard A. Posner – Catastrophes whether natural or man made that could destroy the human race are often dismissed as alarmist or fanciful the stuff of science fiction In fact the risk of such disasters is real and growi Catastrophes whether natural or man made that could destroy the human race are often dismissed as alarmist or fanciful the stuff of science fiction In fact Catastrophe: Risk Epub / the risk of such disasters is real and growing A collision with an asteroid that might kill a uarter of humanity in hours and the rest soon after; irreversible global warming that might flip precipitating snowball earth; voraciously replicating nanomachines; a catastrophic accident in a particle accelerator that might reduce the earth to a hyperdense sphere meters across; a pandemic of gene spliced smallpox launched by bioterrorists; even conuest by superintelligent robots all these potential extinction events and others are within the realm of the possible and warrant serious thought about assessment and prevention They are attracting the concern of reputable scientists but not of the general public or the nation's policymakers How should the nation and the world respond to disaster possibilities that for a variety of psychological and cultural reasons people find it hard to wrap their minds around Richard Posner shows that what is needed is a fresh thoroughly interdisciplinary perspective that will meld the insights of lawyers economists psychologists and other social scientists with those of the physical sciences Responsibility for averting catastrophe cannot be left either to scientists or to politicians and other policymakers ignorant of science As in many of his previous books Posner brings law and the social sciences to bear on a contemporary problem in this case one of particular urgency Weighing the risk and the possible responses in each case Posner shows us what to worry about and what to dismiss and discusses concrete ways of minimizing the most dangerous risks Must we yield a degree of national sovereignty in order to deal effectively with global warming Are limitations on our civil liberties a necessary and proper response to the danger of bioterror attacks Would investing heavily in detection and interception systems for menacing asteroids be money well spent How far can we press cost benefit analysis in the design of responses to world threatening events Should the institutional framework of science policy be altered we need educational reform Is the interface of law and science awry These are but a few of the issues canvassed in this fascinating disturbing and necessary book.

About the Author: Richard A. Posner

Richard Posner is Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago Law School Following his graduation from Harvard Law School Judge Posner clerked for Justice Catastrophe: Risk Epub / William J Brennan Jr From to he was assistant to Commissioner Philip Elman of the Federal Trade Commission For the next two years he was assistant to the solicitor general of the United States Prior to going to Stanford.

7 thoughts on “Catastrophe: Risk and Response

  1. Nick Klagge Nick Klagge says:

    As someone who works in an area focused on improbable risks though not nearly as dire as those discussed in this book I was very interested in the topic There were a few interesting ideas in this book although I had to persevere through Posner's uasi Talebian self importance and needless swipes at things he doesn't like Off the top of my head I recall him basically putting down the entire genre of science fiction as not worthy although he feels OK as long as he can use the fancier name of speculative fiction and taking repeated digs at disaster movies for featuring plucky racial and gender diverse groups who save the world as though the idea that anyone but a group of white guys saving the world is risible Honestly I almost put the book down because of this and I wouldn't blame others who did Perhaps worst of all because not only boorish but also illustrating Posner's substantive blind spots is a passage I meant to mark it but can't find it now where he says that we should focus resources on science education and less on fields such as sociology ethnic studies and literature but parenthetically that we should still provide resources for foreign language education because that could help us prevent bioterrorism This was so laughable to me as though sociology the study of colonialism and oppression and of course most of all history were completely irrelevant for understanding and responding to terrorism—that other people are like machines you should learn to talk at but needn’t understandThe book’s overall message once you push past all of that garbage is fairly straightforward we face some highly improbable risks such as an asteroid strike that could have enormous negative conseuences and thus may have high costs even when converted to an expectation and discounted to present value—yet public policy tends to pay fairly little attention to such risks and thus we may be under investing in preventative measures Posner’s main point is to argue for application of cost benefit analysis to policy particularly in assessing and combating catstrophic risks He focuses on a small subset of those risks asteroid strikes particle accelerator disasters that would essentially create a black hole bioterrorism and climate change So far so credible I think his argument is particularly compelling in the case of asteroid strikes where probabilities and severities are reasonably knowable if not currently known and the costs basically consist of fiscal outlays to develop better detection mechanisms and research defensive technology But on the other hand we have the risk of bioterrorism—in Posner’s analysis primarily the risk of an attack that would wipe out a large proportion of the species with say a genetically engineered super smallpox This is one where the risks and severities are extremely difficult to estimate and the costs of preventive measures even so Prominently Posner discusses curbs on civil liberties “enhanced interrogation” techniues and restrictions on non Americans studying certain subjects at US universities To me this uickly gets into territory where cost benefit analysis is simply no longer a practical tool because the probabilities and marginal policy impacts are almost impossible to estimate Posner largely handwaves this practical uestion One of the most difficult challenges of extreme and hard to uantify risks in my view is that sort of by definition it is even difficult to estimate the marginal impact of any countermeasure In fact even though Posner mentions the marginal vs total impact issue he completely borks it with one of his key concepts He proposes a variety of uasi cost benefit methods to be used in cases where some costs or benefits are difficult to uantify One of these is “inverse cost benefit analysis” which entails dividing total spending on a risk by the estimated cost of the catastrophe’s occurrence to imply out an approximate probability of the catastrophe and then comparing that with independent probability estimates to see if we are spending too much or too little What Posner misses is that this only works if you further assume that the defensive spending has reduced the probability to zero and further it only works in one direction since it can be rational to spend less than the expected cost to prevent a catastrophe—either if countermeasures are extremely cost effective or if they would not be effective at all Therefore this techniue might provide a clue that spending was too high but can never reliably tell you that spending is too low To take a silly example note that federal spending to combat the Rapture is zero This doesn’t tell you that the government thinks there is a zero probability of this happening but only that no countermeasures are knownI was hoping that Posner would address some philosophical related uestions such as whether the total extinction of the human race should have some additional negative utility value beyond the sum of all the individual lives lost or the rationality of people’s implied life valuations changing with the order of magnitude of the probability of the relevant risk But he really doesn’t get into any of this—I think he is just not that type of thinker unfortunatelyAt any rate as I said I do believe in the value of cost benefit analysis for some tractable cases such as asteroid strikes But I want to close with one critiue which I think was actually my biggest issue with the book I think there is an unspoken but notable class angle to an attempt to focus attention on catastrophic risks Surveying the wide range of meliorative expenditures we have available to us the vast majority of them would naturally focus heavily on the worst off humans Thus for example the charitable research organization GiveWell of which I am a big fan which focuses on cost effectiveness assessment of charities recommends its donors to give money to charities distributing anti malaria bednets and schistosomiasis de worming medication in Africa on the grounds that these are the most cost effective known ways of combating human suffering by individual donors anyway There is a pretty air tight economic logic to this—it’s obvious that it’s cheaper to “buy utility” for poor people and generally speaking everything is cheaper in poor countries so a given amount of money goes further To me the “catastrophic risks” angle has the effect whether intentional or otherwise of potentially re focusing meliorative spending on things that eually benefit rich people in rich countries In fact potentially so since life valuation techniues are likely to imply that the life of a rich person is worth than the life of a poor person—another philosophical issue Posner does not address The “name of the game” in catastrophic risks studies is to come up with a disaster that would be so costly that even multiplied by its tiny probability gives an expected cost greater than immediate challenges facing poor people Thank god this book was written before the current wave of AI risk scaremongering which allows negative utility to be increased almost without limit See for example Maciej Ceglowski’s excellent presentation “The Idea That Eats Smart People” Posner waves a hand at this general concern by saying that spending on one risk doesn’t necessarily mean spending less on others—we can always reduce farm subsidies or whatever—but of course we do have a limited budget of time money and attention In general rich people can spend an almost unlimited amount of money insuring themselves and their heirs against ever improbable risks and to my mind this book is sort of that mindset shifted to a policy context I don’t mean to imply that Posner wrote the book with this intention at all but I do think there is a risk ha of being seduced by this particular flavor of policy analysis for that underlying reason

  2. Michael Burnam-Fink Michael Burnam-Fink says:

    One sentence review cost benefit analysis should be used for everythingSecond sentence review because it means you can avoid real policy analysis by reducing everything to money at the highest levels and telling somebody else to do the important workThird sentence review if every economics department in the country were to catch on fire would anybody care?

  3. Sean de la Rosa Sean de la Rosa says:

    A look at some of the popular catastrophic risks of today and their potential mitigations It all just seemed a bit far fetched Funny that was what he was trying to dis spell

  4. Kathleen Kathleen says:

    Very interesting

  5. John John says:

    Way too confident in the applicability of cost benefit analysis

  6. Thelma Kastl Thelma Kastl says:

    Good book Makes you consider possibilities I would have like for it to have included additional data sets

  7. Sandeep Sandeep says:

    Mildly informative at first but then either tedious or just dead wrong For example Posner thinks torture and collective punishment are two important tools in the war on terror WOW

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