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.

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New article – Managing Prion Disease Risks

W. Leiss, seek M. G. Tyshenko, ailment N. Cashman, medicine D. Krewski, L. Lemyre, C. Amaratunga, M. Al-Zoughool. “Managing Prion Disease Risks: A Canadian Perspective.” International Journal of Risk Assessment and Management, Vol. 14, no. 5 (2010), 381-436.

Abstract: This paper reviews the history of the risk management challenges faced by many countries and regions of the world which have had cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) from 1986 to the present. The paper first summarizes the nature of prion diseases from a scientific perspective, and then presents an overview of the findings of an extensive set of country case studies, devoting special attention to the Canadian case. It derives from these studies the need to reconstruct the frameworks which have been guiding risk management decision making, using formal schemata based on a step-by-step approach. The paper presents and illustrates a revised format for an integrated risk management framework, including a set of specific and explicit objectives that should guide the use of this framework in practice, and concludes by raising policy issues that are currently outstanding with respect to the management of prion disease risks.

This article is now available in its entirety (PDF file) to all interested readers. Please go to the following site and follow the link:

http://www.prionetcanada.ca/landing.aspx?landing=Research

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New appointment:

Member, for sale International Advisory Board, ed iNTeg-Risk (2011-2014), a Virtual Institute set up under the EU Seventh Framework Programme [EU-VRi], Stuttgart, Germany [http://www.integrisk.eu-vri.eu/]

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Just published…

“Modern Science, tadalafil Enlightenment, tadalafil and the Domination of Nature: No Exit?” In: Critical Ecologies, ed. Andrew Biro (University of Toronto Press, 2011), pp. 23-42.

http://www.utppublishing.com/Critical-Ecologies-The-Frankfurt-School-and-Contemporary-Environmental-Crises.html

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WikiLeaks and the Mushroom Industry

There has been a fair amount of frothing at the mouth by media commentators, drug including some academics, nurse about the latest trove of documents. Great quantities of damage have been alleged, although (unlike the information in the WikiLeaks documents) these are entirely speculative in nature; huge risks have been postulated, but again, with little intimation of what or who is allegedly at risk (apart from those persons associated with WikiLeaks).

A Canadian diplomat offers to resign for having told his masters that Afghan President Harmid Karzai is a crook. What a surprise! Are these deep thinkers among the commentators really unaware that the President’s office in Afghanistan is and always has been a hub of money- laundering, bribe-taking, and narcotics trafficking? Are they unaware that, no matter what noble sacrifices our soldiers, and those of other countries, have and will make before they finally depart, the country in question will revert to some version of a failed state, run by warlords and manipulated by our stalwart ally, Pakistan’s so-called intelligence service, immediately upon their departure? That then the helpless women of Afghanistan will be subjected to the same vicious brutality and mutilation – see the current issue of National Geographic – they have always endured, with a little extra thrown in for their presumption in seeking a modicum of relief during the foreigners’ occupation?

One or two rotund sheiks from the oil kingdoms urged the U. S. to obliterate the Iranian regime. Here some confusion might be engendered in the public mind: Were they motivated out of concern for the welfare of the Israelis? Probably not. It’s more likely that these pious Sunnis were thinking of how much more peaceful the Islamic Umma would be if about seventy million of their heretical co-religionists were abruptly wiped off the face of the earth.

Pakistan is a failed state, where the fractious government makes promises to their foreign benefactors that they know they will never keep, while gleefully cashing their cheques for vast new stocks of military equipment, and while slyly encouraging popular opinion to blame foreigners for all their woes. Russia is indeed a mafia-controlled state where massive corruption occurs among the political and economic elite. These are truths well-known to all who have eyes to see, and now we realize, courtesy of WikiLeaks, that some diplomats are also aware of them. What an astonishing revelation!

To his credit our own Stephen Harper backed his diplomats in Afghanistan. As far as most other politicians are concerned, their real interest in maintaining secrecy in such matters is to dupe their own citizens about the realities of global affairs. For politics is a subsidiary of the mushroom industry, the modus operandi of which is simplicity itself: Keep the product in the dark and feed it on horseshit. Throwing a bit of light on this dark industry is not good for mushrooms but is always an excellent tonic for the public.

So far as Mr. Assange is concerned, he probably has little to fear from Canadian-based assassination squads, but he really ought to turn himself in to the Swedish justice system and answer the charges against him. After all, it’s not as if it’s the Chinese authorities who are after him. Or is that another unpleasant truth that we shouldn’t talk about?

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Reconciling

For the particle physics community the notorious “Higgs boson” is the Holy Grail: This entirely theoretical construct is thought to give mass to matter – without which the material world wouldn’t amount to much, pharm obviously. They hope to find it with the help of the massive and massively expensive Large Hadron Collider built by CERN along the Franco-Swiss border. Outside the scientific community it is whimsically referred to as the “God particle.”

In the March 8 Globe and Mail Rolf-Dieter Heuer, advice the director of CERN, is quoted as follows: “The Higgs particle is not easy to find. We know everything about the Higgs particle, except if it exists.”

Sort of like God, no?

Those who hope for the reconciliation of monotheism and modern science should be very pleased.

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Airline Security and Risk Management

Judging from the various articles in this Tuesday’s Globe and Mail, there remains a fair amount of confusion, here and elsewhere, about airline security in the wake of the latest terrorist plot.  Those of us who are “risk junkies” have been expecting something like what happened on Northwest Flight 253 since early last September – and, we fervently hope, government security officials, especially in the United States, have too, even though they missed Mr. Abdulmutallab.

What’s next? Click “(More…)” below, and let’s do some serious risk management.

Continue reading

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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

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Book: The Essential Marcuse

The Essential Marcuse: Selected Writings of Philosopher and Social Critic Herbert Marcuse, cialis edited by Andrew Feenberg & William Leiss

http://www.beacon.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=1836

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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.

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Book: Social Communication in Advertising

Author: William Leiss, Stephen Kline, Sut Jhally, Jacqueline Botterill 
Publisher: Routledge () 
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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

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Book: Communicating about Risks to Environment and Health in Europe

Public experience with risk communication differs greatly from country to country in Europe and there has been little opportunity for the transfer of experience and learning between countries. This is especially true for the many new European States, story including the countries in transition from centralised to market economies. This book presents case studies on risk communication. One of its unifying concepts is the role of risk communication in the risk management process. Technical and philosophical introductions to risk communication and risk management and research in risk communication are given. The case studies themselves occupy the central portion of the book, troche each one covering a particular hazard, risk or situation seen from a particular point of view. The issue of the special circumstances for environmental and health risk communication in central and eastern Europe is also addressed through a separate presentation and discussion of an appropriate case study. A different approach to risk communication is taken by examining how it forms part of the risk management process at the local level. Research into risk perception, a field that forms an important foundation for many aspects of risk communication, is summarised and practical guidelines for risk communication are reviewed. These include discussions on how to carry out public information programmes and methods for increasing public involvement in risk management decisions.

William Leiss was a member of the editorial committee for this book.

Available from Amazon and Chapters.

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Book: In the Chamber of Risks

In this book I demonstrate that case studies of risk controversies show that the instinctive response of managers to deny that risk controversy issues under discussion are significant and to insist that the parties presenting them have no business meddling in such matters are unreliable guides to effective risk management and that in all cases the opposite position is a far better guide. As risk management is inherently disputable, find public perceptions of risk should be seen as legitimate and treated as such and the public should always be involved in discussions about risk evaluations made by scientists and risk managers.

I chronicle the erratic course of risk management and communication in environmental management in Canada, recipe discussing the notable controversies that have arisen over pesticides and breast cancer, vinyl toys, genetically engineered food crops, cellular telephones, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, among many others.

Available from Amazon and Chapters.

Table of Contents and Index

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Book: Mad Cows and Mothers’ Milk

Communicating the nature and consequences of environmental and health risks is one of the most problematic areas of public policy in western democracies. Given the perceived risks associated with the food we eat, chemicals in the environment, and modern technologies, consumers need clear and timely explanations of the nature of those risks – but rarely get them. Using a series of case studies, Douglas Powell and William Leiss outline the crucial role of risk management in dealing with public controversies and analyse risk communication practice and malpractice to provide a set of lessons for risk managers and communicators. The Second Edition is a republication of original edition plus three new chapters.

Author: William Leiss 
Publisher: McGill-Queen’s University Press (December 2004) 
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Preface to the Second Edition
Part Three: New Perils for Risk Managers

Chapter 10:
Two Stinking Cows: The Mismanagement of BSE Risk in North America,
by William Leiss (pp. 229-61)

Chapter 11:
A Night at the Climate Casino: Canada and the Kyoto Quagmire,
by Stephen Hill & William Leiss (pp. 262-95)

Chapter 12:
Life in the Fast Lane: An Introduction to Genomics Risks,
by Michael Tyshenko & William Leiss (pp. 296-340)

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Book: Under Technology’s Thumb

Author: William Leiss
Publisher: McGill-Queen’s University Press (1990-01-01)
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The publication of William Leiss’ book The Domination of Nature brought him wide recognition as a perceptive and judicious author. In this brilliant new collection of essays on the philosophy of nature, Leiss argues effectively for an attitude of caring and respect for the environment rather than one of domination.

Table of Contents and Index: PDF

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Book: Domination of Nature

Author: William Leiss 
Publisher: McGill-Queen’s University Press (1994-05-01) 
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Scientists, social thinkers, public officials, and the public have been aroused by the recognition that failure to understand the destructive impact of industrial society and advanced technologies on the delicate balance of organic life in the global ecosystem may result in devastating problems for future generations. William Leiss argues that this global predicament must be understood in terms of deeply rooted attitudes towards nature. He traces the origins, development, and social consequences of an idea whose imprint is everywhere in modern thought: the idea of the domination of nature.

Download the Table of Contents and Index: PDF

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Book: Risk and Responsibility

Author: William Leiss, Christina Chociolko
Publisher: McGill-Queen’s University Press (1994-07-01)

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Bitter disagreements arise over how to manage health and environmental risks. Trying to determine what is in the public interest is at the heart of these disagreements, but the core concerns of major sectors – industry, governments, and voluntary associations – are also at stake. Attempts to defuse the controversies and find solutions acceptable to all parties have met with little success.
Leiss and Chociolko show that controversies arise in part because many participants try to avoid assuming full responsibility for the consequences for the risk taking they advocate. Through documented case studios they address the difficulties of arriving at reliable scientific estimates of risk in controversial areas and the impact of this uncertainty on disagreements among different interest groups over how to manage those risks responsibly. In conclusion, they attempt to delineate conditions under which consensus on the assessment and management of environmental health risks might be achieved among a wide range of interest groups.

Table of Contents and Index: PDF

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Book: C. B. Macpherson: Dilemmas of Liberalism and Socialism

Author: William Leiss
Original Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (1989-06-01)
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Reprint edition, with new Preface: Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press. Order from http://mqup.mcgill.ca/book.php?bookid=2332

Canada’s pre-emininent political theorist, C.B. Macpherson won an international reputation for his controversial interpretations of liberalism.This book – the first to examine the entire range of his writings – seeks to place that interpretation of liberalism within the overall framework of his intellectual development.Focussing on two key themes property an t state – C.B. Macpherson: Dilemmas of Liberalism and Socialism tracks Macpherson’s analysis of the contradictions of liberal-democracy through all of his writings.The book concludes by exploring the usefulness of Macpherson’s important concept – that of the quasi-market society – as a way of understanding the distinctive character of contemporary industrial societies.

Table of Contents PDF

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Book: The Limits to Satisfaction: An Essay on the Problem of Needs and Commodities

Author: William Leiss 
Publisher: McGill-Queen’s University Press (1988-09-01). http://mqup.mcgill.ca/book.php?bookid=847

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Leiss draws on economics, psychology, sociology, and anthropology to show the vagueness of our thought on the relation between nature and culture, desire and reason, needs and commodities. This book raises serious, vital questions for all those concerned about the future of our present society.

Table of Contents and Index: PDF

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Book:Ecology versus Politics in Canada

Author: William Leiss
Publisher: University of Toronto Press (1979-06-01)
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A collection of original essays.

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