Adam Finkel:
Take Your Gaze out of Your Navel and Decide: Make Uncertainty Analysis Useful (Again)

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Decision-makers largely have antipathy for uncertainty (and for its “cousin”, human interindividual variability in exposure, susceptibility, and risk), they find it annoying, largely because they don’t understand what it is, how it occurs, or what to do about it. Analysts have for decades responded to this dynamic by leaving the room (leaving the QUA to be misinterpreted or ignored) or by “erasing” important uncertainties to placate decision-makers. Dr. Finkel has been a risk analyst and a regulatory decision-makers, and he believes the proper response is either to force decision-makers to understand and manage uncertainty, or to replace them with people who can and will. His talk will offer a structured process for harnessing uncertainty estimates, so they can improve decisions, emphasizing two main points: (1) we need to describe the uncertainty in the costs and benefits of actual choices, not merely the uncertainty surrounding inchoate risks; and (2) the sophistication of existing uncertainty analyses of hazards is so far beyond the miserable state of acknowledging uncertainty in the costs of regulatory and other controls that nothing good can come out of improving the former and ignoring the latter.

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Dr. Adam Finkel is currently Clinical Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Dr. Finkel’s broad research interests reflect his interdisciplinary training and experience in environmental health, public administration, economics, law, and decision theory—all applied to the quantitative assessment of risks to health, safety, and the environment and to regulatory designs to ameliorate these risks in fair and cost-effective ways. He has pioneered methods to quantify uncertainty and interindividual variability in cost-benefit analysis, and to elicit public preferences for regulatory interventions that affect longevity and economic welfare. He has worked on a wide spectrum of hazards, ranging from workplace carcinogens to global climate change, to the benefits and risks of synthetic biology and its applications, to the problem of neurotrauma in professional football. He conceived the idea for “enforceable partnerships” at the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, wherein industry groups, their customers, and their employees jointly craft codes of practice that government can agree to monitor in lieu of traditional regulation. He is an advocate for the new paradigm of “solution-focused risk assessment,” wherein analysts and decision-makers collaborate to propose and evaluate ambitious solutions to multiple risks, rather than to assess risks in a vacuum and declare only aspirational goals to lower them by unspecified means.