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TitleThe Illusion of Risk Control : What Does it Take to Live With Uncertainty?
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Table of Contents
1 Uncertainty: New Perspectives, Questions and Proposals
	1.1 Uncertainty: A New Perspective on Safety
	1.2 Uncertainty: New Questions for Safety Management
	1.3 Uncertainty: New Proposals
2 Uncertainty---Its Ontological Status and Relation to Safety
	2.1 Introduction
		2.1.1 From Risk to Uncertainty
		2.1.2 The Connotation and Use of the Concept of Safety, Security, Risk and (un)Certainty
		2.1.3 MSc Students' Perception of Uncertainty When Studying Societal Safety at the University of Stavanger
		2.1.4 Uncertainty and Its Relation to Risk Theory and Conceptualizations
	2.2 Contextual Prerequisites for the Uncertainty Concept
		2.2.1 Time---Past, Present and the Future
		2.2.2 System States Through Lenses of Scientific Disciplines
	2.3 Perspectives on Uncertainty in Various Enterprises/Sectors
		2.3.1 Health Sector
		2.3.2 Aviation/Helicopter Transport
	2.4 Concluding Remarks
3 A Conceptual Foundation for Assessing  and Managing Risk, Surprises and Black Swans
	3.1 Introduction
	3.2 Risk Perspectives, Brief Review of Historical  and Recent Development Trends
	3.3 Risk, Surprises and Black Swans
	3.4 Assessing and Managing Surprising Events  and Black Swans
		3.4.1 Assessment
		3.4.2 Risk Management
	3.5 Conclusions
4 Recognizing Complexity in Risk Management: The Challenge  of the Improbable
	4.1 Introduction
	4.2 Revisiting the Concepts
		4.2.1 Limitations of the Current Paradigm
		4.2.2 The Total Predetermination Fallacy
		4.2.3 What Is Uncertainty?
		4.2.4 Environment Ontologies: A Taxonomy of Complexity
		4.2.5 Uncertainty and Cognitive Control
		4.2.6 Uncertainty and Risk Management
	4.3 Is There a `Credible Alternative'?
		4.3.1 Nature and Scope of Necessary Changes
		4.3.2 Suggesting New Trails
	4.4 Conclusion
5 Practices in the Danger Culture of Late Industrial Society
	5.1 Introduction
	5.2 The Danger Culture of Industrial Society
	5.3 Negotiations in Intersecting Social Worlds, Rather  than Implementation of RegulationThis section draws heavily on an unpublished paper, which is now in the public domain as part of a collection of papers by Arie Rip on the occasion of a conference in honour of his being retired 18. The text and figures draw on this paper, with only minor modifications.
	5.4 Conclusion
6 Judicial Review of Uncertain Risks in Scientific Research
	6.1 Introduction
	6.2 Background on the LHC/Black-Hole Disaster Scenario
		6.2.1 CERN and the LHC
		6.2.2 Black Holes and the Evolving Safety Rationale
	6.3 Conceptual and Practical Problems
		6.3.1 The Lack of Disinterested Experts
		6.3.2 The Need for Uncertain Scientific Principles Under Investigation
		6.3.3 The Effect of Uncertainty in Low-Probability Assessments
	6.4 Rhetorical Issues
		6.4.1 Using Pricelessness to Avoid Quantitative  Analysis of Benefits
		6.4.2 Moving Away from the ``Probability Mode''
		6.4.3 Constructing the Quantum Straw Man
	6.5 Implications for Courts
		6.5.1 Evaluating Uncertain Risks in Qualitative Terms
		6.5.2 Testing the Opinions of Science-Experiment Proponents by Analogy to Their Opinions Outside the Context of the Controverted Experiment
	6.6 Conclusion
7 What Can Japan's Early Modern Capital  of Edo Teach Us About Risk Management?
	7.1 Introduction
	7.2 Six Principles Drawn from Edo's Fire Management
		7.2.1 Build Light, Travel Light
		7.2.2 Strong Social Infrastructure Counterbalances Vulnerable Physical Infrastructure
		7.2.3 Disaster Clarifies Society's Hierarchy of Values
		7.2.4 Give People Some Control Over Their Fates  and They Will Tolerate Risk
		7.2.5 Personal Risk Differs from Systemic Uncertainty
		7.2.6 Safety Decisions Are Political Decisions
	7.3 Conclusion
8 Conclusion
	8.1 Uncertainty: A Multi-faceted Notion
	8.2 Uncertainty: A Relative Notion
	8.3 Reconciling Risk Management and Social Science Approaches to Uncertainty
	8.4 Should We Fear Uncertainty?
	8.5 Living with Uncertainty: Beyond Organizations and Regulators...
Document Text Contents
Page 1



Gilles Motet
Corinne Bieder Editors

The Illusion of
Risk Control
What Does it
Take to Live With

Page 2

SpringerBriefs in Applied Sciences
and Technology

Safety Management

Series Editors

Eric Marsden, Toulouse, France
Caroline Kamaté, Toulouse, France
François Daniellou, Toulouse, France

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52 J. Pariès

more sensitive it will be to disturbances that may disrupt this balance. Resilience
engineering has to do with the proper management of this optimality–brittleness
trade-off, in other words, with the maintenance of the adaptive capacity of a system,
whether it is first-rate adaptation (ability to maintain a balance) or second order (the
ability to change and develop coping mechanisms to find a new balance). Hollnagel
et al. [18] consequently describe the resilience of a system as being able to:

• Recognize the signs that its adaptability is falling or inadequate given the current
level of uncertainty and constraints, and given future bottlenecks;

• Recognize the threat of depletion of its reserves or buffers;
• Identify when it is necessary to change priorities in the management of trade-offs,

and to the adopt a higher-order logic;
• Change perspective, contrast perspectives beyond nominal system states;
• Browse the interdependencies between roles, activities, levels, objectives;
• Recognize the need to learn new ways to adapt;
• Analyze its modes of adaptation and risk assessment;
• Maintain its ability to adapt, generate and constantly regenerate its potential to

adapt to a spectrum of situations as broad as possible. Organizational Aspects

The High Reliability Organizations (HRO) community (e.g. [19–21, 33]) tried to
define the features shared by organizations that seem to be “highly reliable” in their
management of safety. The classical model of the pyramid organization is a homeo-
static hierarchical control model, where the control centre (at the top) regulates the
conditions of process coupling to the real environment (at the bottom) to reach its
objectives by compensating for the variations it is subjected to. The HRO trend has
shown that organizations capable of maintaining their reliability levels do not fol-
low such a bureaucratic hierarchical structure, but are rather characterized by both
a powerful centralized and strategic decision making process (i.e. consistent with
the classical hierarchical model), and a powerful decentralised operational decision
making process, which confers on operators at the bottom a strong empowerment,
for safety issues in particular.

Along the same lines, the collibrationist7 movement [9], considers that in risk
management, the idea that societies formulate objectives based on acceptable levels
of risk and seek to achieve them through a rational management is a fiction, espe-
cially because there is no social rationality to define an ‘acceptable level of risk’.
Therefore risk regulation is not a homeostatic process regulating a target, but the
outcome of the game between many antagonist forces representing the interests of
different stakeholders, through a process of ‘coopetition’ [5], that is to say, cooper-
ation and competition at the same time. Rather than trying to introduce an illusory
teleology, collibrationists advocate institutionalizing a game of ‘tug of war’ between

7The term co-libration comes from the English verb “to librate” meaning to give a little tap on the
pan of a balance to check that it has reached equilibrium.

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4 Recognizing Complexity in Risk Management: The Challenge … 53

the opposing tensions, so that they are included in the institutions, that all parties are
identified and represented, that the conflicting values involved are publicly debated,
and that all interests can defend themselves, so that the final balance is not found by
crushing one of them. Control is exercised by the regulatory power by changing the
constraints in action in balancing mechanisms, for example by adjusting the regu-
latory constraints, the taxes, the access to information, etc. in order to maintain an
equilibrium between powers.

Such ‘polycentric structures’8 have a number of favorable characteristics for
resilience. They generate more cross-checks, a better balance of forces, a better dis-
cussion and a more open competition of ideas, more alternatives in case of failure of
the ongoing policy. In long-term, this improves the management of transactions and
compromises, the distribution of responsibilities, and the coordination of behaviors.
In particular, as institutions are established by those familiar with local conditions,
they have a better fit and a greater adaptability to these conditions, a greater legitimacy
and a higher level of participation.

At the price of redundancy and of some apparent short term waste, polycentric
governance is seen by its supporters as globally more efficient, especially in the
long term, to manage conflicts of interest towards common resources (the ‘tragedy
of commons’), or between conflicting goals, especially when the characteristic time
horizons are not the same between the different interests. Organizations usually have
multiple and partially contradictory objectives, which can vary depending on the
components (e.g. various job profiles) and also have different time-frames. Orga-
nizations attempt to balance their performance to achieve these various objectives,
and thus, in a bounded world, tradeoffs are necessarily at stake. Resilience some-
how measures the quality and robustness of these tradeoffs, i.e. their stability in the
presence of disturbances. In this respect, another important resilience characteristic
relates in particular to the ability to make “sacrificing” decisions, such as accepting
the failure to reach an objective in the short term to ensure another long term objec-
tive, or ‘cutting one’s loss’ by giving up initial ambitions to save what is essential
[31]. A ‘sacrificing’ decision is an acceptable solution found at a higher level of the
means-goal abstraction hierarchy to a conflict that could not to be solved at the initial
level of that hierarchy.

4.4 Conclusion

In safety management, uncertainty is seen as the enemy, and the prevailing para-
digm tends to eradicate it through anticipation of all situations and predetermination
of corresponding responses. But uncertainty is everywhere, and the current safety
strategy generates a vicious cycle of predetermination and vulnerability, more pre-
determination generating more vulnerability, which requires more predetermination,
hence “robust yet brittle” systems, less and less able to handle disturbances outside

8The notion of ‘polycentric governance’ was generalized by [27], who earned the Nobel Prize in
2009, for her work on the governance of complex ‘socio-ecological’ systems that share common
resources (such as water).

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8 Conclusion 111

of uncertainty. It is the case for example of the incomplete information we have
in situations we are dealing with. Most people make their way safely through life
despite a number of major uncertainties and unexpected situations. A way forward
could be to build on this existing ability at a broader scale.

Why are we so afraid of uncertainty? Has it always been the case? The residents of
Edo chose to stay there and live there. They didn’t flee from the city and its repeated
fires. Closer to us, there is no major reluctance from the general public to use mobile
phones despite today’s uncertainty on the electromagnetic hazards of these devices.
There are numerous examples of known-unknowns that we all live with, sometimes
willingly. Why is it so?

It seems that for the accepted risks or uncertainty the associated benefits are clearly
perceived as such. How many people feel lost when they forget their mobile phones
or when the network is down? Who would envisage spending a week on a boat to
cross the Atlantic one way (except for cruise addicts)? However, is this risk/benefit
balance sufficient to make a risk or uncertainty widely accepted? In fact, the alchemy
seems to be more subtle. Even when uncertainty is not perceived only negatively,
there appears to be some conditions to make it possible to live with it. Even though
most people are not ready to significantly reduce their electrical power consumption
in countries where nuclear power is used, there are strong opponents to the nuclear
industry. What else is then needed beyond perceived benefits to make uncertainty
more acceptable to most people?

The Edo case described in Chap.7 highlights at least two complementary major

• giving people some control over their fates;
• the hierarchy of values is respected in the way risk is managed.

If we consider how the general public is currently involved in risk management
or can feel in control, it is mainly through intermediaries, be they Regulators or
other more or less formal organized bodies. Feeling in control and involved thus
necessarily relies on a key element: Trust.

More generally, at all levels the question of trust appears as a central one when it
comes to living with uncertainty, especially when the magnitude of potential conse-
quences is high. Trust in experts, trust in decision-makers, trust in Authorities and all
the ones who may have different interests and/or a different perimeter of uncertainty.

8.5 Living with Uncertainty: Beyond Organizations
and Regulators...

If innovative hazardous activities tend to learn from classical ones such as nuclear,
aviation..., they can also help us further reflect on what is needed to build trust and
ultimately live with uncertainty in other hazardous industries. The example of gene
therapy research, acknowledged as being a hazardous activity with a high level of

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112 C. Bieder

uncertainty, brings a new perspective on this question. More precisely, it broadens
the scope of the question to its societal and ethical dimensions.

Indeed, it seems today that most research on new risk management approaches
based on uncertainty focuses largely on organizations themselves (e.g. resilience) or
tackle regulation regimes. However, hazardous industries operate in a much broader
framework. Modern society models have created a pathological relation to risk, the
illusion of control. They changed mankind’s relation to risk.

Acknowledging that risk/uncertainty management is embedded in a political
context/process—exerting a significant influence—led gene therapy research to get-
ting back to fundamental questions: the questions ofmoral responsibility and societal
benefits. Eventually, it also led to evolving towards a morally responsible approach
to risk/uncertainty management [1].

If the questions of moral responsibility and societal benefits were certainly raised
at the advent of nowwell-established hazardous technologies, acknowledging uncer-
tainty as part of hazardous industries’ operations may require revisiting these ques-
tions and integrating them into a broaddynamic societal riskmanagement framework.


1. Baram MS (2004) Managing the risks of testing new gene therapies on humans. How to man-
age experience sharing: from organizational surprises to organizational knowledge. Elsevier,

2. Taleb NN (2007) The black swan: the impact of the highly improbable. Random House, New

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