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

(Also available on 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)


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.


Hoaxes and Hobgoblins

This past September we learned of The University of Calgary’s embarrassment over the discovery that oil industry funds had been moved through its research accounts to carry out non-research activities dealing with climate change issues.[1]  These funds were used to support the activities of a group calling itself, buy somewhat mischievously, “Friends of Science” (  Of course one thinks immediately of the old saw:  “With friends such as this, who needs enemies”?  Is the irony implicit in the name intended or not (the case would be more interesting if it were).

Read full article: Hoaxes and Hobgoblins [PDF]

European Debt Crisis in three acts

The Online English Edition of Der Spiegel has a brilliant analysis of the European debt crisis that is not to be missed.

Read “The Ticking Euro Bomb” (October 5-7, no rx 2011):

Act I:

Part 1, advice Section 1:  “How a good idea became a tragedy”:,1518,790138,00.html

Part 1, Section 2:  “The Greeks jump at the opportunity”:,1518,790138-2,00.html

Part 1, Section 3:  “The critics of the Euro”:,1518,790138-3,00.html

Act II:  Life with the Euro (2001 – 2008):

Part 2, Section 1: “How the Euro Zone ignored its own rules”:,1518,790333,00.html

Part 2, Section 2:  “The Greek deception is discovered”:,1518,790333-2,00.html

Act III:

Part 3, Section 1:  What options are left for the common currency?,1518,790568,00.html

Part 3, Section 2:  Greece adrift,1518,790568-2,00.html

Part 3, Section 3:  Design defects, political weakness, public disinterest,1518,790568-3,00.html

Part 3, Section 4:  Are European rescue efforts doomed to fail?,1518,790568-4,00.html

Risk Blogs – Summer 2011

The following series of short essays was written in the period June – August 2011 and posted on my website: Similar pieces will be added to the series on a regular basis. If you are interested in them you may check the website periodically or follow me on Twitter (@WilliamLeiss), where I post a Tweet (a) each time a new short blog appears on my website and (b) when I read something in the current press relevant to risk issues and provide the URL for those who also might want to read it.

LeissRiskBlogsSummer2011rev2 [PDF]

Update: the PDF was updated August 29, 2011

Financial Risk Management: Duping the Rubes

Before 2008 financial industry professionals arranged to deceive local government officials around the world about the risks inherent in their “structured” products, pilule costing the citizens those officials worked for huge losses they could ill afford. Much of this sad story has been told in excellent investigative journalism accounts published in The New York Times, some of which are referred to in my 2010 book, The Doom Loop in the Financial Sector and Other Black Holes of Risk (University of Ottawa Press), pages 38-43. Here I refer to developments occurring after the book was finished, as well as one other newly-reported important episode, involving school districts in the state of Wisconsin.

Duping the RubesRev3 [PDF]

Update: the PDF was updated October 3