Thursday, January 6, 2011

from 10% to certainty in 2 breathes or less

Having just spent a bit of time thinking about how risk and uncertainty are thought about in different disciplines, the sound bite at 9:50 of this video caught my attention! Dr. Larry Brilliant of the Skoll Global Threats Fund describes an expert estimate that there is a 10% chance of a flu pandemic that kills 100 million or more people in the next 10 years - the interviewer responds by saying "So its certain there will be a pandemic, it is just a question of the time frame". Those seem like two radically different statements to me.

Actually it reminds me of an interview with a Nebraska State Legislator on NPR this morning - paraphrased, he said that the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico made legislators realize that pipeline technology could fail ... and hence they started paying more attention to the Keystone XL pipeline issue. Yes! Of course it can fail! If you drive enough miles, the cumulative probability of having an accident approaches 1! The idea that people need to be certain that an event will occur in order to start thinking about doing something about it is amazing.

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