Our Nature: The Earth as Home

Climate change debates: a new way of looking at the issue

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Contents

INTRODUCTION
ONE: GEOCENTRIC HOME
TWO: HELIOCENTRIC HOME
THREE: COSMIC / GEOLOGICAL HOME
FOUR: EVOLUTIONARY HOME
FIVE: CHEMICAL HOME
SIX: RADIOACTIVE & QUANTUM HOME
SEVEN: A MODELLED HOME
EIGHT: THE EARTH WE NOW INHABIT
NINE: HOTHOUSE EARTH
TEN: A DAMAGED EARTH
GUIDE TO FURTHER STUDY

Preface

Eons of past time and ceaseless change, embedded in earth’s geology and in the evolutionary biology of species, are the twin factors which provide the best guide to the major risks facing humanity in the present day. The current state of the planetary surface on which we all reside, as well as the many steps in the emergence of homo sapiensfrom its ancestral origins in the hominin tribe, are the results of specific stages during prior times and of new developments.  The history of our planet is a 4.5–billion–year record of violent upheaval, driven by forces deep below its surface, such as volcanic eruptions and marked most dramatically by the push and pull of gigantic continental masses against each other. Its atmosphere too, as well as climatic conditions, have likewise been repeatedly altered, a function of the interaction between the earth’s crust and external factors such as solar radiation, strikes of massive asteroids, the planet’s orbit, the tilt of its axis, and others. Geologists have named the stages in this record: The current one is known as the Quaternary, which has featured the growth and decay of continental ice sheets in 100,000-year cycles. The most recent episode, beginning roughly about 12,000 years ago, is called the Holocene.

            The human counterpart to the first phase of the Quaternary, known as the Pleistocene, was the migration of our hominin ancestors (such as homo erectus) out of their African homeland, which is thought to have begun as much as 1.8 million years ago. We ourselves have been baptized with the term “anatomically modern humans”; we originated in Africa between 300,000 and 250,000 years ago and began to disperse about 70,000 years ago. Because these later treks occurred in the most recent cold glacial cycle, climatic conditions were not conducive to rapid human population growth – until the arrival of the Holocene, the warm interglacial, when temperatures were about 6°C (11°F) warmer than they had been just 7,000 years earlier. And then, in the geologically-brief period of less than 10,000 years, the population of modern humans literally exploded, by which time wandering hunter–gatherers had become settled farmers and herders, and the first civilizations had been born.

            The recent evolutionary success of homo sapiens, therefore, resulted wholly from the fortuitous confluence between the modern geological history of the planet’s land surface, on the one hand, and the formation of a relatively new hominin species, equipped with a large brain and upright gait, prepared to exploit its new environmental opportunities, on the other.

            And exploit them we did: Around 3000 BCE there were an estimated 45 million of us worldwide, and the number reached 1 billion for the first time around 1800 CE. But at that point most people were still living on primitive agricultural holdings, beset by backbreaking manual labor, impoverishment, and the endemic threat of famine and infectious disease.  Then the Industrial Revolution marked another decisive turn, at least as dramatic as the one from hunter–gatherers to farmer–herders more than ten millennia earlier. Arguably, humans were thereby propelled into a new epoch, called the Anthropocene, where we have become so dominant on the planet that we are now influencing the future stages of global climate. And if this is the case, we humans collectively have become responsibile, for the first time in the evolution of our species, for the next stages in our climate history. 

            The scientific argument that human-caused factors are forcing the global climate along a new pathway – one that could bring great harms to human settlements around the turn of the next century – is contested by some who attack the theory and the evidence marshalled in order to support it. But that argument is also resisted by many others who point to the lack of full certainty in the scientists’ predictions, or who refuse to accept the idea that humans could exert much influence on the climate, or who profess to believe that climate scientists are perpetrating a hoax on the public, or who aver that God will decide the outcome. Since 100% certainty is impossible to achieve in predictions of this kind, we are left with a throw of the dice: Does one accept the contentions of climate scientists or not? If it is expected to be costly to say yes, as it probably will be, then why not just wait and see what happens?

            In the pages that follow I have tried to frame the debate over the credibility of climate science in a new way, by putting the issue in the double-perspective of the earth’s geological history and the evolution of species, culminating in the fortunate nexus of the Holocene and modern humanity. 

Herasage Book 3 – Chapter 6 (free online version)

I am posting selections from Book 3 of the Herasaga, along with a short introduction for each chapter. I will post one each week for the next month or so. Here is the intro to Chapter 6.

“Superintelligence” refers to the idea that an advanced form of machine (computer-based) intelligence, programmed using Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques, will in the future greatly exceed the intellectual capacities of human beings. According to some experts, this gives rise to the threat that such a machine would seek to dominate or displace humans. This threat has given rise to a great deal of academic and industry interest in the area now known as “AI safety.”

Herasaga 3 Chapter 6

Herasage Book 3 – Chapter 4 (free online version)

I am posting selections from Book 3 of the Herasaga, along with a short introduction for each chapter. I will post one each week for the next month or so. Here is the intro to Chapter 4.

In a truly remarkable historical development, seven men and women, all born in small Jewish communities in a narrow band of territory running through Western and Central Europe in the nineteenth century, made extraordinary contributions to the “Second Enlightenment” in the modern West. They were Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Edmund Husserl, Gustav Mahler, Albert Einstein, Emmy Noether, and Franz Kafka. But a mere fifty years after the youngest among them was born (Kafka, in 1883), all of the communities from which they came, and so many other similar ones, were wiped out entirely in Nazi Germany’s Holocaust.

Herasaga 3 Chapter 4

Herasage Book 3 – Chapter 3 (free online version)

I am posting selections from Book 3 of the Herasaga, along with a short introduction for each chapter. I will post one each week for the next month or so. Here is the intro to Chapter 3.

A key feature of the eighteenth-century French Enlightenment was its war against religion, which it called “superstition,” and its advocacy of the “new science” – that is, experimental science, as defined first by Francis Bacon and Galileo in the preceding century and practiced by the first modern chemists. But in his great book on “the progress of the human mind,” Condorcet added an important corollary: that the evidence-based method of science should also spread throughout social practices, leading to a more humane society. But contemporary science can no longer fulfill this role, since its concepts and methods stray far from the common-sense understanding of the world.

Herasaga 3 Chapter 3

Herasaga Book 3 – Chapter 2 (free online version)

I am posting selections from Book 3 of the Herasaga, along with a short introduction for each chapter. I will post one each week for the next month or so. Here is the intro to Chapter 2.

The introduction of large-scale machinery into factories in the nineteenth-century, and (with railroads) into the public sphere, was a great shock to the artistic imagination. In such imaginative works as the short stories by Herman Melville, “The Bell-Tower” (1855), and E. M. Forster, “The Machine Stops” (1909), this development was portrayed as presenting deep challenges to humanity’s sense of self, leading to the possibility that humankind could wind up as the passive and uncomprehending victims of the triumph of the machine.

Herasaga 3 Chapter 2

Herasaga Book 3 – Chapter 1 (free online version)

I am posting selections from Book 3 of the Herasaga, along with a short introduction for each chapter. I will post one each week for the next month or so. Here is the intro to Chapter 1.

What is “modernity”? In what essential, unique way does modern Western civilization differ from all of its predecessors, stretching back to the ancient Greeks, and all other major world civilizations (Chinese, Islamic, Japanese, Russian, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and African Kingdoms)? I argue that the unique element is both modern science itself and its historical characteristics – its close bond with technology, and its influence on the social sphere. To be sure, this results in a highly problematic situation, since this science confers great operational power on humans, and thus it demands that this power be used prudently, a demand that has not yet been met.

Herasaga 3 Chapter 1

Black Holes of Risk Vol II: Nuclear Waste Storage – updated and on Amazon

Black Holes of Risk

By William Leiss

Collected Papers on Risk Management, 1995-2017

Volume II:  Nuclear Waste Storage

287 Pages

November 2017

Preface by Ortwin Renn

Amazon.com:

https://www.amazon.com/Black-Holes-Risk-Collected-Management-ebook/dp/B0773Y9PY4/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1509722523&sr=1-2&keywords=leiss+black+holes+of+risk

(Also available at Amazon.ca and other Amazon markets)

Table of contents

Part Four:  Long-Term Storage of Nuclear Waste

Chapter 19:  Introductory Note to Part Four

Chapter 20:  The Interface of Science and Policy

Chapter 21:  Community Engagement (Update 2017)

Chapter 22:  Stigma and the Stigmatization of Place

Chapter 23: Qualitative Risk Comparisons (1)

Chapter 24: Risk Perception Background Study

Chapter 25: Risk Perceptions of Nuclear Waste Storage

Chapter 26: Qualitative Risk Comparisons (2)

Chapter 19

Introductory Note to Part Four

Chapter 20 in Part Four is from an academic journal, but all the remaining chapters originally were produced as consulting reports. Chapter 21 was commissioned by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (www.nwmo.ca), an agency authorized by the Government of Canada to recommend to the Minister of Natural Resources an acceptable plan for the long-term storage and disposal of high-level nuclear waste. (“High-Level Nuclear Waste” is extremely hazardous and long-lasting radioactive material extracted from Canada’s civilian “Candu” nuclear reactors, which generate electricity.) Chapter 22 was commissioned by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), a federal agency charged with responsibility for regulating the use of radioactive materials in Canada. Both of these reports were also solo efforts.

The final four documents were prepared by, or on behalf of, an ad hoc four-member body, called the Independent Expert Group [IEG], made up of the following persons:  William Leiss, Chair; Maurice Dusseault; Tom Isaacs; and Greg Paoli. (For Chapters 24 and 25, we had the expert assistance of Dr. Anne Wiles.) The IEG’s work was commissioned by the Joint Review Panel (JRP), a three-member group appointed by two agencies of the Government of Canada, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. These agencies jointly directed the IEG to answer specific questions posed to it by the JRP. The JRP itself was charged with making recommendations to two federal ministers on the acceptability of a proposal by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to build a permanent repository for low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste on the site of the Bruce Nuclear Station near the town of Kincardine, Ontario. (“Low- and Intermediate-Level Nuclear Waste” is made up of materials and supplies used in the operation of the Candu reactors; it is much less hazardous than the high-level waste, but is still radioactive over long periods of time, and by law it too must be sequestered securely.)

The IEG’s work was fully independent, but it worked closely with senior scientific personnel from OPG, which was the proponent for the project. All of our reports were place by the JRP in the public domain, thus being made available to all interested parties. The IEG prepared three separate reports, which form the four Chapters 23 to 26 in this volume (one of the three reports has been split into two separate chapters). In addition, the IEG members were required to attend public meetings organized by the JRP, and to respond there to questions from the Panel and from the intervener groups and individuals who had official standing for those hearings. The verbatim written transcripts, as well as video records, of those sessions are likewise in the public domain.

Black holes of risk Volume I: The Ubiquity of Risk – updated and on Amazon

Black Holes of Risk

By William Leiss

Collected Papers on Risk Management, 1995-2017

Volume I:  The Ubiquity of Risk

382 Pages

November 2017

Preface by Ortwin Renn

Amazon.com:

https://www.amazon.com/Black-Holes-Risk-Collected-Management-ebook/dp/B0773YDSKF/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1509722523&sr=1-1&keywords=leiss+black+holes+of+risk

(Also available on Amazon.ca and other Amazon markets)

Table of contents

Preface by Ortwin Renn (2017)

Introduction (2017)

Prelude:  A Risk Sampler

  1. Review, Ulrich Beck Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (1993)
  2. Mr. Bush’s Panopticon (2003)
  3. Elementary, My Dear Watson (2003)
  4. Higher Life-Forms Before the Law (2003)
  5. The Risks of Policy Choices: The War in Iraq (2003)
  6. Mel Gibson’s Mistake – and the Middle East War (2006)
  7. The Net Present Value of Political Promises (2008)
  8. Design for a Risk Forecasting Exercise (2000)
  9. What went wrong in the BSE File (2005)
  10. Analyzing Risk-based Policy Initiatives (2004)

Part One:  Risk Decision-Making

Chapter 1:  Introductory Note to Part One (2017)

Chapter 2: Risk Management and Precaution (2003)

Chapter 3: Men Having Sex with Men (2008, Update 2017)

Chapter 4:  The Air-India Inquiry (2007, Update 2017)

Chapter 5: Ozone and Climate (2005)

Chapter 6: Why and When Decisions Fail (2005)

Chapter 7: Smart Regulation and Risk Management (2003)

Chapter 8: The Risk Amplification Framework (2003)

Part Two:  Risk Communication

Chapter 9:  Introductory Note to Part Two

Chapter 10: “Down and Dirty” (1995)

Chapter 11: The Evolution of Risk Communication Practice (1996)

Chapter 12: Effective Risk Communication Practice (2004)

Chapter 13: A Tale of Two Food Risks (2006)

Chapter 14: Climate Change: A Guide for the Perplexed (2001)

Chapter 15: Labeling of Genetically-Modified Foods (2003)

Part Three:  Case Studies in Risk Management

Chapter 16: Carbon Capture and Storage (2009, Update 2017)

Chapter 17: BSE in Canada (2010, Update 2017)

Chapter 18: Chronic Wasting Disease (2017)

Introduction

Risks are everywhere, ubiquitous. For the individual, they begin even before conception, in the genetic matchups from one’s parents that could presage becoming afflicted with one of the more than ten thousand known inherited diseases, many of which have catastrophic consequences. They carry on throughout pregnancy, with rates of miscarriage and complications exceeding 30%, and into early childhood; before modern public safety and medicine, about half of all newborns died before the age of five. And then throughout life, with premature mortality resulting from accidents, disease, and acts of deliberate malice.

Should a realization about the ubiquity of risk induce in us a state of paralyzing, overwhelming fear? Should it send us into a catatonic state, unable to function at all?  Quite the contrary, for it tells us that we are well on our way to domesticating risks, to becoming, if not comfortable with them, then at least understanding them far better than we have done before: That we are steadily learning what substances, behaviors, activities and conditions are quite likely to be harmful to us, and which ones are much less likely to do so, enabling us to set priorities for spending time and money on figuring out how to reduce the impact of potential harms on our health, well-being, and longevity.

The great discovery about risk in the modern West was simply that risks are measurable, whereas dangers are not. (The early history in this area is wonderfully told by Peter L. Bernstein in his 1998 book, Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk.) In other words, what is really important about the things that may do us harm is just how much harm may be approaching, from a specific source, and how likely it is to strike us. And because risks are measurable, that is, quantifiable, we can rank a collection of them in order of importance, estimating how much more likely one is as opposed to another, and also how much more harm one may do to us than some other one may.

(continued)

Book Two of the Herasaga available online

Product Description

https://www.amazon.ca/Priesthood-Science-Utopian-Fiction-Herasaga-ebook/dp/B075MNKB64/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1505672894&sr=1-1&keywords=leiss+the+priesthood+of+science

The Priesthood of Science, Second Edition (2017)

(Book Two of The Herasaga)

Pages xxxii, 350

Pictures and Illustrations

Publisher: Magnus & Associates Ltd.

The second edition features a new concluding chapter, entitled “Such Clever Microbes!” which deals with the implications of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technique.

The work originally published in 2008 had two components that were central to its purpose as a work belonging to a specific genre, namely, science-based utopian fiction: First, a collection of essays, grounded in scientific literature, on the history of science, social impacts of science and technology, and mammalian reproductive biology. Second, a series of dialogues, involving different combinations of characters, that are philosophical in nature, largely concerned with exploring the social and ethical implications of the technologies associated with modern science. Works of utopian fiction in modern times have always been “novels of ideas,” and the present work seeks to remain faithful to that tradition. This edition has had minor changes to the text throughout, as well as the addition of an entirely new chapter on genome editing at the end, Chapter 17: “Such Clever Microbes!” focusing on the CRISPR-Cas9 technique.

I read in the paper recently that you are supposed to have said: “If I were to be born a second time, I would become not a physicist, but an artisan.” These words were a great comfort to me, for similar thoughts are going through my mind as well, in view of the evil which our once so beautiful science has brought upon the world.

Max Born, Letter to Albert Einstein (1954)

Plotline:

Hera and her sisters are now sealed off from the rest of the world in their private enclave at Yucca Mountain in southern Nevada. She is still tormented by the decision of her parents, two neuroscientists, to make genetic modifications in the brains of their twelve daughters—and by her own agreement to allow a similar procedure to be used later on a much larger group of human embryos.

Her doubts now spill over into a series of debates with a molecular biologist, Abdullah al-Dini, about whether scientists have the right to hand over the vast new powers they have discovered to a world still riddled with religious fanaticism, ethnic hatred, and a longing to see the prophecy of the “end of days” be fulfilled.  These debates refer back to what happened during the Second World War, when physicists were unveiling the secrets of nuclear power, and the possibility of the atom bomb, just as the time when Nazi Germany and its allies were launching their terrifying bid for world domination.

Meanwhile, that group of engineered embryos has become one thousand young people, just turning eighteen, and the gender politics among them is threatening to bring down in ruins her own little experiment in redesigning human society.

The first (2008) edition is available from the University of Ottawa Press in three formats:

  • Paperback (a beautiful book!)
  • ePub & ePDF

https://press.uottawa.ca/the-priesthood-of-science.html

New 2017 edition of Hera, or Empathy (Book One of The Herasaga) available now

Hera, or Empathy (Book One of The Herasaga):

Now Available in a Revised Edition 2017 as an Ebook at:

https://www.amazon.ca/Hera-Empathy-Utopian-Fiction-Herasaga-ebook/dp/B0753K64K1/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1504200927&sr=1-1&keywords=hera+or+empathy

Pages xv, 550

This work, originally published in 2006, had two components that were central to its purpose as a book belonging to a specific genre, namely, science-based utopian fiction: First, a collection of essays, grounded in scientific literature, on neuroscience, genetics, and reproductive biology. Second, a series of dialogues, involving different combinations of characters, that are philosophical in nature, largely concerned with exploring the social and ethical implications of the technologies used to create a tribe of genetically-modified individuals. Works of utopian fiction in modern times have always been “novels of ideas,” and the present work seeks to remain faithful to that tradition. The revisions undertaken for this edition were the elimination of two later chapters and some other material, beginning in Chapter 15, but none of the material related to the two key components has been deleted. Finally, this new edition contains pictures and illustrations not found in the original 2006 book, as well as an updated timeline for the events (advanced by a decade from the original timeline).

Hera the Buddha (Book 3 of The Herasaga) now available!

Featured

Full PDF now available:

Hera the Buddha (Book 3 of The Herasaga)

https://www.amazon.ca/Hera-Buddha-Utopian-Fiction-Herasaga-ebook/dp/B074KP7Q1R/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1501945489&sr=1-1&keywords=hera+the+buddha

Product Details:

Author: William Leiss (www.leiss.ca)
Length: Pages Xix, 195
Publisher: Magnus & Associates Ltd.
Language: English
ISBN 978-0-9738283-2-0

Table of Contents

Prologue and Retrospective
Part One: The Mind Unhinged: Modernity and its Discontents
Chapter 1: The Rupture in Historical Time in the Modern West
Chapter 2: Sublime Machine
Chapter 3: Modern Science and its Spacetime
Chapter 4: Seven Figures and the Agony of Modernity
Part Two: Pathways to Utopia
Chapter 5: A Utopia for our Times
Chapter 6: The Threat of Superintelligence
Chapter 7: Good Robot
Chapter 8: Dialogues Concerning the Two Chief Life-Systems:
Introduction: Silicon and Carbon
The First Dialogue: The Guardians
The Second Dialogue: At Home in the Universe
The Third Dialogue: What is Time?
The Fourth Dialogue: Two Forms of Intelligence
The Fifth Dialogue: On Superintelligence and the Ethical Will
The Sixth Dialogue: What is Life?
The Seventh Dialogue: Interdependence between Humanity and Machine Intelligence
Conclusion: Mastery over the Mastery of Nature
Chapter 9: Utopia in Practice, with A Discourse on Voluntary Ignorance
Chapter 10: A Moral Machine: Rebooting Hal
Appendix: “Hal” (Outline for a Screenplay)
Sources and References / Acknowledgements / About The Herasaga

Synopsis
Prologue and retrospective:
A summary of the main themes in the first two volumes of The Herasaga: Hera, or Empathy (2006) and The Priesthood of Science (2008).

Chapter 1:
Recounts the radical rupture in modern history caused by the emergence of the new natural sciences. Argues that the new science is an unambiguous good for humanity, but that its close connection with technology and industry is highly problematic, leading to out-of-control advances which, in the era of nuclear weapons, lead to the threat – still around us today – of the utter destruction of the entirety of civilization.

Chapter 2:
Tells the story of the nineteenth-century reaction to the coming of industrial technology, called the “Age of Machinery,” regarded as greatly problematic by many important writers, notably Herman Melville, and leading to a powerful countervailing current in the early twentieth century, in E. M. Forster’s 1909 short story, “The Machine Stops,” and in the first dystopian novel, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1924).

Chapter 3:
The French Enlightenment in the eighteenth century saw the new science as spreading rationalism against superstition and religion through all of society – but it underestimated badly the strength of traditional institutions which opposed this. Then, in the twentieth century, the new subatomic physics revealed the underlying natural world to be a scene of incomprehensibly weird forces, and modern science lost its ability to shape thinking in the social world.

Chapter 4:
The second phase of Enlightenment is known as “modernity.” Across virtually all aspects of high culture during the twentieth century, modernity posed a radical challenge to traditional ways of thought and behavior. But it evoked an equally radical and violent reaction, represented best in Nazi ideology, which had a shockingly destructive outcome. At the core of this contest were the European Jewish communities, which suffered its horrendous consequences.

Chapter 5:
The wreckage left by the violent contest over modernity prompts us to take another look at the tradition of utopian thought, with its vision of a better model for human society. Four different “platforms” are described and contrasted, with a special focus on their approach to the challenge implicit in the impact of steady technological advance on social life.

Chapter 6:
The most recent challenge of technological advance is the idea of “superintelligence,” which imagines a future in which computer capabilities far exceed those of humans, in terms of thinking and decision-making. Scenarios have described the possibility that such a machine might turn out to be opposed to human interests and might have the capacity to deceive its human masters about what its own goals are. This has raised the prospect of a strongly-bifurcated future state for humanity: on the one hand, an end to all of the old problems of poverty and inequality; on the other hand, the possibility of the destruction of the planet and the human race itself.

Chapter 7:
A whimsical short story, set sometime in the future, about robots and humans.

Chapter 8:
The longest chapter in the book, an imaginary scene set 50 years in the future, this is a series of dialogues between a fictional human character and a superintelligent computer which calls itself “Hal.” The most intense discussion involves the difference between biological and machine forms of intelligence, and the dialogue revisits the potential threat of superintelligence covered in Chapter 6. After many pages of back-and-forth conversations about complex ideas, as well as some friendly banter, there is a surprise ending.

Chapter 9:
This chapter returns to the utopian themes in Chapter 5 in the light of the subsequent issues raised in Chapters 6 and 8, and, in this context, reviews once again the difficult problems raised by the challenge that relentless technological advance poses for human society.

Chapter 10:
Hal is rebooted in a scenario in which “his” human programmers are resolved to try to turn him into a “moral machine.”

Appendix:
This is an outline for a movie screenplay about a superintelligent computer which is not at all malevolent but which simply wishes to control its own existence.

https://www.amazon.ca/Hera-Buddha-Utopian-Fiction-Herasaga-ebook/dp/B074KP7Q1R/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1501945489&sr=1-1&keywords=hera+the+buddha

eBook / PDF versions available

Two of my books from The University of Ottawa Press – The Doom Loop in the Financial Sector and The Priesthood of Science – are available as ebooks or PDF file: http://www.press.uottawa.ca/search/node/leiss.

In addition, all of my books from McGill/Queens Press are available as eBooks for libraries. These include:

9780773575356 Leiss, W – C.B. Macpherson

9780773561922 Leiss, W. – The Limits to Satisfaction: An Essay on the Problem of Needs and Commodities

9780773562219 Leiss, W. – Under Technology’s Thumb

9780773564794 Leiss, W. – The Domination of Nature

9780773569515 Leiss, W. – In the Chamber of Risks: Understanding Risk Controversies

9780773572409 Leiss, W. – Mad Cows and Mother’s Milk: the Perils of Poor Risk communication

9780773564671 Leiss/Chociolko – Risk and Responsibility

Doom Loop available

Cover image for Doom Loop

In the past two years, unhealthy the world has experienced how unsound economic practices can disrupt global economic and social order. Today’s volatile global financial situation highlights the importance of managing risk and the consequences of poor decision making.

The Doom Loop in the Financial Sector reveals an underlying paradox of risk management: the better we become at assessing risks, ed the more we feel comfortable taking them. Using the current financial crisis as a case study, renowned risk expert William Leiss engages with the new concept of “black hole risk” — risk so great that estimating the potential downsides is impossible. His risk-centred analysis of the lead-up to the crisis reveals the practices that brought it about and how it became common practice to use limited risk assessments as a justification to gamble huge sums of money on unsound economic policies.

In order to limit future catastrophes, Leiss recommends international cooperation to manage black hole risks. He believes that, failing this, humanity could be susceptible to a dangerous nexus of global disasters that would threaten human civilization as we know it.

Forthcoming November 2010: The Doom Loop in the Financial Sector, and Other Black Holes of Risk

An analysis of the current financial crisis from a risk management perspective.

In the past year, pill the world has experienced how unsound economic practices can disrupt global economic and social order. Today’s volatile global financial situation highlights the importance of managing risk and the consequences of poor decision- making. It reveals an underlying paradox of risk management: the better we become at assessing risks, hospital the more we feel comfortable taking them.

Using the current financial crisis as a case study, renowned risk expert William Leiss engages with the new concept of “systemic risk” — risk so great that recovery from its negative consequences may prove impossible. His risk-centred analysis of the lead-up to the crisis reveals the practices that brought it about and how it became common practice to use limited risk assessments as a justification to gamble huge sums of money on unsound economic policies.

Continue reading

Book: The Priesthood of Science

The latest in the Herasaga trilogy, discount Priesthood of Science is published by University of Ottawa Press.

Hera and her sisters are now sealed off from the rest of the world in the vicinity of Yucca Mountain in southern Nevada. Hera is still tormented by her parents’ decision to genetically modify the brains of their twelve daughters—and by her own agreement to allow a similar procedure to be used on a much larger group of human embryos.

In a series of dialogues with a molecular biologist recruited for their private university, Hera and Gaia debate the changing relationship between science and society from the time of Lavoisier in the eighteenth century to the terrible legacy of atomic physics in the twentieth. Two dialogues between Hera and Jacob Hofer, a Hutterite minister, deal with the issue of nihilism in religion and science.

Meanwhile, the group of engineered embryos has become one thousand young people just turning eighteen, and their gender politics are threatening to ruin Hera’s new beginning for human society.

Like priests, scientists are liable to be misled by the purity of their motives into downplaying the risks inherent in their creations.

“It is, of course, quite correct for you to allot the relevant priesthood to Niels Bohr.” (Albert Einstein to Max Born, 7 September 1944)

The priesthood of science (introduction)

This is the opening section from the Prologue to The Priesthood of Science, Book Two of The Herasaga, to be published in 2008. These words – “Begotten, not made” – are from the Nicene Creed, one of the fundamental texts of the Christian faith. They are reinterpreted here by Hera in the context of evolutionary biology and the appearance on earth of the Hominina subtribe: gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans. See the website for Book One of The Herasaga, entitled Hera, or Empathy: http://www.herasaga.com

Download a copy of the PDF here: Begotten Not Made

Book: Hera or Empathy

Ever since Plato, philosophers have been imagining future utopian societies. In more recent times, many of these fantasies have been about the doings of scientists because modern science fascinates us with the prospect of changing every aspect of our lives.

Hera is one of twelve sisters genetically modified by their neuroscientist parents to have superior mental faculties. During their teenage years the sisters were forced to flee for their lives from the remote Indonesian village where they were born. Later, Hera challenges her father’s right to have engineered his children, using the Biblical story of creation against him. But one day she discovers that the sisters’ genes contain modifications that their parents didn’t intend.

Book: Social Communication in Advertising

Author: William Leiss, Stephen Kline, Sut Jhally, Jacqueline Botterill 
Publisher: Routledge () 
Buy this book from Amazon or Chapters.

This new edition of Social Communication in Advertising updates the most comprehensive historical study of advertising and its function within contemporary society. This classic text traces advertising’s influence within three key social domains: the new commodities industry, popular culture, and the mass media that manages the constellation of images that unifies all three.
The third edition includes:

  • discussion of new issues such as the Internet and globalization
  • updated and expanded examples and illustrations
  • arguments revised throughout to take into account recent developments in advertising scholarship and new trends in advertising

Reviews and Table of Contents