Spring Break Potpourri
There were a few things that happened while I was away that I wanted to talk about.
1. Bill Stuntz, who passed away last week, was a fantastic scholar and a terrific teacher. I was his student in a seminar on Policing, and it was one of the best classes that I ever took. And talk about a brave person. His blog about his illness stands as an incredible memorial to the man.
2. The Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear reactor leak demonstrate some important problems in risk analysis. One common comment that you hear about the quake is that it was one of the strongest ever recorded. The problem is that reliable records only go back about one hundred years. We just don’t have enough data to determine how likely a 9.0 earthquake is in any given place (the same can be said about large volcanic eruptions, Category Five hurricanes, and other large disasters.) This makes sounds safety decisions about catastrophic events very difficult.
Moreover, unfamiliar risks cause more concern than familiar ones even when they are far less dangerous. More people die every year from falling in the bathtub than from radiation exposure. Nevertheless, the mere prospect of the latter causes panic (I was particularly perplexed by the people in the USA who were stocking up on iodine. For what purpose?) that is itself quite harmful.
Finally, people always focus on what happened rather than what did not happen. (A kind of availability heuristic). The most accurate headline about what happened is “Excellent Planning and Building Codes Limited the Death Toll to only 15,000.” You won’t see that on the front page though.