Don Cass

Risk

I’ve taught this class twice….

I think it’s an important topic – since we’re constantly faced with questions of  “what should I do?” – and it seems to me that our answers are based on our assessment of the risks of different alternatives. And yet I think most of us don’t really think that much about how we assess risks of different options and why we actually believe in such assessments.

I originally got the idea for the class from a number of students who were concerned about the risks of drinking from plastic water bottles that were made with bis-phenol-A (BPA). Those who I will call “environmentalists” were convinced such bottles should be banned. While others thought they were a great invention – after all, one could now easily consume all the water each day that was supposed to keep you healthy. Neither side really had any idea of what sorts of studies had been done to actually assess the levels of exposure to BPA when one used such bottles or the level of risk of different exposures or of how they weighed such risks against their perceived benefits of having such bottles.

The class rapidly evolved into a much broader exploration of probability and of diverse types of risks. (I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but students seemed particularly interested in things like the risks of contracting sexually transmitted diseases… go figure.)

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