Society For Risk Analysis Annual Meeting 2017

Session Schedule & Abstracts

* Disclaimer: All presentations represent the views of the authors, and not the organizations that support their research. Please apply the standard disclaimer that any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations in abstracts, posters, and presentations at the meeting are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other organization or agency. Meeting attendees and authors should be aware that this disclaimer is intended to apply to all abstracts contained in this document. Authors who wish to emphasize this disclaimer should do so in their presentation or poster. In an effort to make the abstracts as concise as possible and easy for meeting participants to read, the abstracts have been formatted such that they exclude references to papers, affiliations, and/or funding sources. Authors who wish to provide attendees with this information should do so in their presentation or poster.

Common abbreviations

Symposium: Conflict Scenarios and Global Catastrophic Risks

Room: Salon E   1:30 pm–3:00 pm

Chair(s): Anthony Barrett

Sponsored by Security and Defense Specialty Group

Some of the most important types of global catastrophic risks (GCRs), i.e. risks of events that could significantly harm or even destroy civilization at the global scale, involve conflict scenarios of various kinds such as war or intentional misuse of powerful biotechnologies. These often present risk-risk tradeoff dilemmas. For example, deployment of nuclear weapons to deter conventional warfare created risks of new levels of global devastation. More recently arisen risks include conflicts associated with climate change, and misuse of biotechnologies, both of which intersect with other domains such as international development and ecological risks. This symposium features a variety of approaches to analyzing and managing associated risks of global catastrophe, including aspects of security/defense, policy, development, and ecology, in both theoretical and applied work.

T3-E.1  1:30 pm  High Risk Scenarios of Gene Drives in Ecosystems. Kuzma J*; NC State University

Abstract: Usually, an engineered gene will get diluted in the wild population if there is no selective advantage to it. However, “gene drive” systems allow for an introduced gene on one chromosome to copy itself into its partner chromosome so that nearly all offspring inherit the engineered gene. If just a few organisms with gene drives are released into the wild, theoretically the whole population could become engineered if there is random mating. Gene drives have not yet been released, but have been demonstrated in laboratory experiments with fruit flies and mosquitos. They have been proposed to destroy disease-carrying pests using killer genes or to immunize endangered species using protective genes. In some cases, gene drives might be the only option to save an endangered species or to protect humans from serious diseases. On the flip side, there is significant uncertainty and ambiguity in assessing the potential risks of gene drives in unmanaged ecosystems. Current environmental assessments for non-gene drive pest-control using engineered insects tend to downplay risk to advance regulatory approval. In contrast, this paper will construct a scenario for using a gene drive to destroy a natural population and then use fault tree modeling to illustrate how we might consider “worst case” scenarios of ecological risk. The analysis will highlight events with extreme uncertainty (probabilities virtually unknown) and other events for which some information is available to bound probability and impact estimates. It will advance future explorations of high risk scenarios of gene drive systems by identifying where future data collection might serve to reduce uncertainties and where countermeasures could mitigate risk if gene drives were to be released intentionally to cause harm.

T3-E.2  1:50 pm  Does the Nuclear Balance Matter? Pinelis J, Scouras J, Slavinsky I*; Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Abstract: The importance of the nuclear balance vis-a-vis our principal adversary has been the subject of intense but unresolved debate in the international security community since the Soviet Union acquired nuclear weapons almost seven decades ago. Perspectives on this question underlie national security policies regarding potential unilateral reductions in strategic nuclear forces, the imbalance of nonstrategic nuclear weapons in Europe, nuclear crisis management, missile defenses, nuclear proliferation, and cross-domain and extended deterrence. The overwhelming majority of past studies of the role of the nuclear balance in nuclear crisis evolution and outcome have been qualitative and have focused on the relative importance of the nuclear balance and national resolve. Some recent analyses have invoked statistical methods, however, these quantitative studies have generated intense controversy because of concerns with analytic rigor. We apply a multi-disciplinary approach that combines historical case study, international relations theory, and appropriate statistical analysis. This approach results in defensible findings that describe the relationship between nuclear balance and nuclear crisis resolution.

T3-E.3  2:10 pm  Socio-economic challenges and conflict for climate scenarios for Sub-Saharan Africa. Schweizer VJ*, Mitchell RE; University of Waterloo

Abstract: Climate change is a global catastrophic risk with potential to be a “threat multiplier,” as changes in precipitation patterns and more extreme weather events can disrupt water availability as well as agricultural productivity, damage infrastructure, and exacerbate conflicts over resources and refugees. Using a system-theoretic approach, we consider how the interplay of demographic and economic development factors for low-income and lower-middle-income nations in Sub-Saharan Africa can influence regional socio-economic challenges in the face of climate change.

T3-E.4  2:30 pm  Has the Advent of Nuclear Weapons Saved Lives? Toton E, Scouras J, Ice L*; Johns Hopkins University

Abstract: Senior leaders in the United States Department of Defense and scholars have argued that the advent of nuclear weapons has saved lives. This assessment has often been based on a particular study of the statistics of wartime fatalities from the year 1600 to 2000 that shows a marked drop subsequent to 1945. A graphical representation of these data has been developed and continues to be used to convincingly convey this conclusion. Our work is motivated by the significance of this conclusion coupled with the absence of critiques of the underlying study. This presentation will first provide a critique both the original statistical analysis and its graphical representation, then conduct a more rigorous analysis using the same data and conclude with suggestions of alternative interpretations of the results. We find that, while the original analysis has been persuasive in making the case that nuclear weapons have saved lives, it is irreproducible and that there are numerous biases in its graphical representation. Further, a more rigorous analysis, more objectively presented, brings the claim that nuclear weapons have saved lives—and, by implication, will continue to do so—into question. This doesn’t mean that nuclear weapons have not saved lives. But, to make the case that they have requires a multidisciplinary analysis that makes a causal, not merely statistical, argument. Moreover, even if nuclear weapons have saved lives, this doesn’t mean that they will continue to do so; we need to acknowledge the risks associated with the strategy of nuclear deterrence.

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