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Risk and Reason: Safety, Law, and the Environment Paperback – January 12, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0521016254 ISBN-10: 0521016258

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Risk and Reason: Safety, Law, and the Environment + Laws of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle (The Seeley Lectures) + Worst-Case Scenarios
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (January 12, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521016258
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521016254
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #756,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Splendid..." The New Republic

"Valuable insights..." The Washington Times

"Regulatory policy debates often fail to serve a constructive role. Advocates of risk and environmental regulation maintain that only with zero risk will we be safe. Economic critics seek to impose cost-benefit tests on these policies that many believe ignore the distinctive character of safety and the environment. In Risk and Reason, Cass Sunstein eliminates the impasse in the regulatory policy debate with a balanced policy perspective. W. Kip Viscusi, Harvard Law School

"a masterly and multifaceted analysis of government policy towards the protection of the population from risks. The central theme is analyzed in an extraordinary variety of viewpoints. The author has drawn, with deep knowledge and originality, on recent developments in cognitive psychology and in legal doctrine to complement rationalistic and economic viewpoints." Kenneth J. Arrow, Stanford University

"The University of Chicago professor merges psychology, legal doctrine and economic principles to address questions of safety, from terrorism to genetically engineered food." The Washington Post

"...an excellent book...This book could not be more timely." Financial Times

"A thought-provoking and timely introduction to risk..." Forecast

"...fascinating...Sunstein is almost certainly correct in arguing that cost-benefit thinking would eliminate some of the follies of the environmentalism of the 1970's." Commentary

"Professionals in risk assessment and risk management will find this thought-provoking book challenging." Choice

Book Description

What should be done about airplane safety and terrorism, global warming, nuclear power, and genetically engineered food? Risks to safety, health, and the environment are a subject of intense interest worldwide. Unfortunately, too much of the time, we fear the wrong things, and sometimes we make the problem even worse. Risk and Reason explains the source of these problems and shows what can be done about them. It points the way toward a sensible system for reducing risks, one that could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on December 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The bottom line on this book is clear: our governance of risk to the public tends to be managed by political gut reaction rather than informed investigation; there is no clear doctrine for studying and articulating risk (for example, distinguishing between high risks to a few and low but sustained risks to the many, or between three levels of cost-benefit analysis so that choices can be made); and the best form of risk management may be through the effective communication of risk information to the public rather than imposed costs on private sector enterprises.
As reasoned as the book is, it also constitutes a direct attack on all those who expouse the "precautionary principle." While I do not agree completely with the author, who seems to feel that rational study allows for the discounting of any risk to the point where it can be economically and politically managed at an affordable cost, he certainly take the debate to an entirely new level and his book is--quite literally--worth tens of billions of dollars in potential regulatory risk savings.
Most compelling is his methodical aggregation of data from several sources to show that the cost of saving one life (he notes that we fail to distinguish adequately between a life saved for a few years and a life saved for many years, or between young lives saved for a lifetime and old lives saved for a brief span of time). Table 2.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Robert V. Jacobson on January 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
While this book focuses on government regulation of health and environmental risks (regulation is government-speak for risk management), IT risk managers can learn a lot about IT risk management from the book. For example, Chapter Three is entitled "Are Experts Wrong?", which will tell you why you need to be cautious about adopting "Best Practices." Chapter Five is entitled "Reducing Risks Rationally," just what every risk manager should be striving to do. Sunstein makes a very convincing case for the value of cost benefit analysis in managing risks. If you are responsible for risk management, get this book and read it.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Pieter van Gelder on August 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
It is sometimes referred to as "emotional decision making", when after accidents which cause loss of life, government authorities decide to spend irrational huge budgets to try to prevent these accidental risks from happening again. This 2002-book of Prof. Sunstein from the U of Chicago explains the sources of such irrational behaviour and comes up with novel ideas what can be done about it. This book contains a great deal of new material, but it also draws on Sunstein's publications in the J of Risk and Uncertainty, Stan L Rev., and his 2001-book 'The cost-benefit state', amongst others.

The book gives the reader a lot of recent case studies, such as the sniper murders in the Washington DC area in fall 2002, the SARS epidemic, the Love Canal controversy in the 80s, as illustrations of people's unjustified fear, which in the same time neglects the real hazards, such as obesity, indoor air pollution, sun exposure, etc.

Risk and Reason advocates the government to produce cost benefit analyses (CBA) before choosing an emotional course of action. Sunstein argues in his book to see CBA as a pragmatic tool, designed to promote a better appreciation of the consequences of a certain regulation, rather than a form of unethical, barely human calculation, treating health and life as variables for some kind of huge maximising objective function. The author succeeds in delivering this message to the reader very well.

Sunstein urges toward four alternative strategies in optimal cost-saving risk regulation: disclosure of information to the public, economic incentives, risk reduction contracts and free market environmentalism. With the economic incentives he means financial penalties for harm producing behaviour, and tradable emission rights (similar as the Kyoto protocol is designed to reduce global warming. The alleged fact that risk creators might be given a right to create harm is shown to be false.
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8 of 63 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Sunstein is a lawyer. He is neither a scientist nor an economist. His advocacy of (what he calls) "rational" and "scientific" models of risk evaluation appears to be motivated by politics, not good science or economics. Be wary of his methodology and his rigor.
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