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Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Assessing – and Communicating – the Risks of Terrorism Baruch Fischhoff.

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Presentation on theme: "Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Assessing – and Communicating – the Risks of Terrorism Baruch Fischhoff."— Presentation transcript:

1 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Assessing – and Communicating – the Risks of Terrorism Baruch Fischhoff Carnegie Mellon University April 12, 2002

2 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy with help from: Liz Casman, Matt Dombroski, Sara Eggers, Dalia Patino Echeverri, Paul Fischbeck, Roxana Gonzalez, Umit Guvenc, Jennifer Lerner, Claire Palmgren, Deborah Small, Conrad Steenkamp

3 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Overview Psychology of risk (publics, experts) Risk analysis and communication Special challenges of terror A worked example: bioterrorism Special topics (crises, false alarms, second guessing, priority setting)

4 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Psychology of Risk - Publics (as Actors and Audiences) Current beliefs are the basis for future understanding (numeracy, literacy) People have limited cognitive capacity People use robust, imperfect heuristics Some concepts are inherently difficult Emotions can both confound and support the understanding of risk

5 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Some Concepts Are Inherently Difficult Very low probabilities Cumulative risk (from repeated exposure) Verbal quantifiers (e.g., likely threat) Experientially unfamiliar events Value uncertainty (what do I really want?)

6 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Emotions Confound and Support Understanding Can mobilize, guide, and paralyze Can both affect and reflect beliefs Include: –fear (direct, indirect effects of terrorism) –frustration (with self, authorities) –mourning –solidarity –reflection (about self, society)

7 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Psychology of Risk - Experts Face analogous challenges of understanding Must create public trust - demonstrating competence and honesty –Realistic assessment of own competence –A clear, consistent public role –Rapid progress on the communication learning curve –Insight into own intuitive psychology of public

8 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Risk Analysis Identify valued outcomes Identify contributing processes Identify relevant experts Elicit experts beliefs, uncertainties, controversies, omissions Independent peer review

9 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy

10 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy

11 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Waterborne Cryptosporidium Some Analytical Results Misplaced priorities -- pointless boil water notices Missed priorities –crypto screening technology –routine water substitution for immunocompromised –broad definition of immunocompromised

12 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Risk Communication Identify common knowledge – What goes without saying? Identify critical gaps – Whats worth knowing? –Quantitative information (how big is the risk?) –Qualitative information (what determines the risk?) Find a story line (creating coherent mental model) Evaluate success

13 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Special Challenges of Terrorism Require broadly shared mental models for coordinated action Events threaten validity of experience (and statistics) Require theory to augment statistics –Unfamiliar topics (people, places, pathogens) –Unfamiliar interactions (experts without working relations )

14 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Special Challenges of Terrorism Mixed motives of domestic actors –working problem –preserving status –shaping society Mixed emotions of audience –want facts –want reassurance –want to blame –want solidarity

15 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Anger Prime

16 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Fear Prime

17 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Emotion & Gender Effects on Terror Risk Judgments (mid-November 2001; n=973) Probabilities for Other Probabilities for Self

18 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy What is the Risk of Anthrax? A standard representation of disease risk –chance of exposure –chance of sensitivity –chance of detection –chance of treatment Multiplicative structure of risk –everything needs to go wrong –defense in depth

19 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy A common structure for bioterrorism risk p exposure p sensitivity p diagnosis p treatment No risk Risk Not exposed Exposed Not Sensitive Sensitive Not Detected Detected Treated Not Treated

20 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy What determines probability of exposure? Risk p sensitivity p diagnosis p treatment No risk Risk P exposure No risk Not exposed Exposed Probability of attack Terrorist resources Progress of war Political events Disruption Our perceived vulnerability Vaccines Detection capability Treatment capability Terrorists delivery method Prob. of interception Intelligence Surveillance Coordination Prob. of avoidance Communication Training

21 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy What determines probability of sensitivity? No risk p diagnosis p treatment Risk p sensitivity Strain Dose Exposure route Vaccination status Health status of recipient Not sensitive sensitive Exposed P exposure Probability of attack Terrorist resources Progress of war Political events Disruption Our perceived vulnerability Vaccines Detection capability Treatment capability Terrorists delivery method Prob. of interception Intelligence Surveillance Coordination Prob. of avoidance Communication Training

22 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy What determines probability of diagnosis? Risk No risk p treatment p sensitivity Strain Dose Exposure Route Vaccine status Health status of recipient p diagnosis Scientific understanding Communication of sci. und. Diagnosis capability Concurrent conditions Concurrent events Not detected detected P exposure Probability of attack Terrorist resources Our perceived vulnerability Terrorists delivery method Prob. of interception Prob. of avoidance Risk

23 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy What determines probability of treatment? No risk Risk p diagnosis Scientific understanding Communication of sci. und. Detection Capability Concurrent Conditions Concurrent Events Risk p treatment Scientific understanding Communication of sci. und. Treatment capability Population heterogeneity treated Not treated P exposure Probability of attack Terrorist resources Our perceived vulnerability Terrorists delivery method Prob. of interception Prob. of avoidance p sensitivity Strain Dose Exposure Route Vaccine status Health status of recipient

24 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Using the Model What is the risk of anthrax now? (after some event or with new information) What is the risk of smallpox? (changes in model, parameters) What matters everywhere? –probability of attack –response capability (monitoring, coordination…) –other valued consequences

25 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Special Topics Real-time communication False alarms Second-guessing leaders, officials Second-guessing the public Priority setting

26 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Four Priorities from a National Poll (mid-November 2001; n=973) Provide Americans with honest, accurate information about the situation, even if the information worries people. (anger 0) Invest in general capabilities, like stronger public health, more than specific solutions, like smallpox vaccination. (anger -) Deport foreigners in the US who lack visas. (anger +) Strengthen ties with countries in the Moslem world. (anger -)

27 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Conclusions Effective risk analysis and communication require: Quantitative estimates of risk, including the attendant uncertainties Explicit representation of processes shaping risks Suitably diverse expertise Integration of analysis and communication - solve their problem - secure their trust

28 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Sources Casman, E., Fischhoff, B., Palmgren, C., Small, M., & Wu, F. (2000). Integrated risk model of a drinking waterborne Cryptosporidiosis outbreak. Risk Analysis, 20, Fischhoff, B. (1992). Giving advice: Decision theory perspectives on sexual assault. American Psychologist, 47, Fischhoff, B. (1995). Risk perception and communication unplugged: Twenty years of process. Risk Analysis, 15, Fischhoff, B. (1998). Communicate unto others... Reliability Engineering and System Safety, 59, Fischhoff, B. (1999). What do patients want? Help in making effective choices. Effective Clinical Practice, 2(3), Fischhoff, B. (2000). Scientific management of science? Policy Sciences, 33, Fischhoff, B., Bostrom, A., & Quadrel, M.J. (in press). Risk perception and communication. In R. Detels, J. McEwen, R. Beaglehole & H. Tanaka (Eds.), Oxford textbook of public health London: Oxford University Press

29 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Sources (cont.) Henrion, M. & Fischhoff, B. (1986). Assessing uncertainty in physical constants. American Journal of Physics, 54, Lerner, J. S., & Keltner, D. (2001). Fear, anger, and risk. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 81(1), Morgan, M.G., Fischhoff, B., Bostrom, A., & Atman, C. (2001). Risk communication: The mental models approach. New York: Cambridge University Press. National Research Council. (1996), Understanding risk. Washington, DC: Author. OECD. (2002). Guidance document on risk communication for chemical risk management. Draft, 6 March. Performance and Innovation Unit. (2002). Risk and uncertainty. London: Parliament. Slovic, P. (Ed.). (2001). The perception of risk. London: Earthscan. Mostly available from:

30 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Appendices Psychology of the Public Psychology of the Experts Risk Communication Process Special Topics Cryptosporidium risk assessment Additional survey results

31 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Psychology of Risk - Publics (as Actors and Audiences) Current beliefs are the basis for future understanding People have limited cognitive capacity People use robust, imperfect heuristics Some concepts are inherently difficult Emotions can both confound and support the understanding of risk

32 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Current Beliefs Are the Basis for Future Understanding General literacy –Language, science, civics, cultures, statistics… Specific literacy –Radon, electromagnetic fields, climate change, driving, breast cancer, mammography, breast implants, HIV/AIDS, other STDs, childhood immunizations, anthrax vaccine, nuclear energy sources in space, Lyme disease, agricultural biotechnology, dietary supplements, sexual assault…

33 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy People Have Limited Cognitive Capacity Illiteracy Stupidity Channel limits (7 2 chunks) Chunking capacity increases with coherent mental model Learning depends on feedback (prompt, unambiguous) Metacognition matters (need appropriate feelings of confidence, self-efficacy)

34 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy People Use Robust, Imperfect Heuristics Plausible, practical rules of thumb Simplify problems/provide approximate answers - but can produce biases Example: Availability Familiarity indicates frequency +: uses our natural tracking ability -: insensitive to omissions (non-events, reporting biases)

35 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Some Concepts Are Inherently Difficult Very low probabilities Cumulative risk (from repeated exposure) Verbal quantifiers (e.g., likely threat) Experientially unfamiliar events Value uncertainty (what do I really want?)

36 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Emotions Confound and Support Understanding Can mobilize, guide, and paralyze Can both affect and reflect beliefs Include: –fear (direct, indirect effects of terrorism) –frustration (with self, authorities) –mourning –solidarity –reflection (about self, society)

37 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Psychology of Risk - Experts Face analogous challenges of understanding Must create public trust - demonstrating competence and honesty –Realistic assessment of own competence –A clear, consistent public role –Rapid progress on the communication learning curve –Insight into own intuitive psychology of public

38 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Realistic Assessment of Competence Domain of expertise Pedigree of knowledge –Theoretical base –Uncertainty –Controversy Coordination with other domains

39 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy A Clear, Consistent Public Role Informing: just the facts Cheer-leading: just the spin Persuading: some facts plus spin Shared decision making

40 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Rapid Progress on the Communication Learning Curve All we have to do is: –Get it right –Report what were doing –Explain what were doing –Show comparable (and seemingly acceptable) risks –Consider the acceptability of risks (in light of benefits) –Treat the public nice –Make the public partners

41 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Insight into Own Intuitive Psychology of the Public Limited (and often biased) opportunities to observe the public Interpretative biases (e.g., fundamental attribution error) Possible ego involvement –professional arrogance –defending expert status –defensiveness

42 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Risk Communication Process Identify common knowledge – What goes without saying? –open-ended interviews, allowing expression of beliefs, values, and formulations –surveys, for frequency estimation Identify critical gaps – Whats worth knowing? –quantitative information (how big is the risk?) –qualitative information (what produces and controls the risk?)

43 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Risk Communication (cont.) Find a story line (coherent representation) –anticipate constructive process of learning and memory –facilitate integration of facts (and uncertainties) Evaluate success –elicit feedback –await feedback

44 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Special Topics (I) Real-time Communication Risk analysis protocol –integrated assessment –coordinating task force Risk communication protocol –pre-tested message structure –topical modules (e.g., exposure, detection) –common format (e.g., risk levels, uncertainties)

45 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Special Topics (II) False Alarms Avoid disruption Avoid perception of cover-up Maintain consistent alarm standards Explain process

46 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Special Topics (III) Second-Guessing Leaders Judge the quality of their choice, not its outcome Avoid hindsight bias –what did they know? –what could they reasonably have known? –how clear was the signal? Consider their entire decision –could they have acted on their knowledge? –was leadership possible?

47 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Special Topics (IV) Second-Guessing the Public What problem are they solving (options, values, beliefs)? How good is our evidence? –sample size, representativeness –interpretability of actions Distinguish ignorance and stupidity. –how defensible are their misunderstandings? –how good was our communication? Were the conditions for trust maintained?

48 Department of Social & Decision Sciences Department of Engineering & Public Policy Special Topics (V) Priority Setting Present full range of outcomes Offer numbers, not verbal quantifiers Avoid potential certainty effects --preferring sure solutions to narrow problems to probable solutions to broad problems Link public opinion and public policy


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