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Irrationality 18: Risks

01/23/2013

Irrationality 18: Risks

Typical info on the overestimation of salient risks, and the underestimation of less salient ones. Also people do stuff on autopilot that end up making horrible things happen. And of course we’re all averse to bad news (going to dentist, doctor) so we may deny or avoid info that helps us make good decisions. Surprisingly, there was a pretty good case for nuclear power in here that I may end up referring to in the future. The basic case is that although there are risks of nuclear, when weighed against the risks of other energy producers like coal, it is much, much safer. I probably like it because I’m already pro-nuclear, and so this fulfills my confirmation bias, and I accept it is a good case because it is what I already believe (dammit).

Kindle Notes:

it has been estimated that the likely fatalities per unit of electricity produced are between ten and hundred times greater from coal-fired stations than from nuclear reactors (3596).

The only valid argument against nuclear energy is that its production may contain more unknown risks than does that of fossil fuels (3616).

When electric lighting was introduced, people thought it so dangerous that they would not have it in their houses. In fact, it was far safer than the candles and oil lamps then in use. The first railways were greeted with a similar storm of terror with prognostications that travelling at speeds over 40 miles per hour would be lethal for the passengers (3621).

moral 1. If you are an engineer, take into account the limitations of the human operator and the likely reaction of the general public to your project. 2. If you are a manager, remember that you are ultimately responsible for safety. Your operators are likely to act according to your directions, without showing initiative of their own. 3. Remember that insidious dangers may kill more people than dramatic disasters. 4. In evaluating new devices, remember that what matters is not that they are new but whether they could present unknown dangers. 5. If you have a choice, work in a nuclear reactor rather than on a North Sea oil rig (3632).

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