Terrorism and risk management

It is perhaps timely to remind ourselves of three questions quoted in a remarkably pertinent paper written by John Mueller in 2004:

Three key issues require careful discussion but do not seem ever to get it:

  • How much should we be willing to pay for a small reduction in probabilities that are extremely low?
  • How much should we be willing to pay for actions that are primarily reassuring but do little to change the actual risk?
  • How can measures such as strengthening the public health system, which provide much broader benefits that those against terrorism, get the attention they need?

Mueller makes  a number of powerful comparisons.  One he cites which really brings it home is that there would have to be a set of September 11 crashes every month before flying became as dangerous as driving the same distance in a car.

The risk is that we end up with a false sense of insecurity – which is the title of Mueller’s paper.

Update:  or for much the same argument in utterly splendid demotic, rather than the academic style of Mueller’s writing, the Kung-Fu Monkey (!) says all that can be said.