Philosophical Society of Washington

Life in the Age of Risk Management

Kimberly Thompson
Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard School of Public Health

2194th Meeting Abstract
Friday, September 9, 2005 at 8:15 PM


This presentation suggests that we're now in the Age of Risk Management, a time in human history where we recognize that life is full of risks, choices often involve tough trade-offs, and good data and risk analysis play a critical role in the decisions we make as individuals and collectively. Relying on both insight and humor, this talk emphasizes the importance of understanding systems as a requirement for effective management, and the ability to analytically characterize variability (i.e., real differences that exist between individuals), uncertainty (i.e., the unknown), and dynamics (i.e., changes with time) essential skills. Using a number of real examples ranging from airbags and airplanes to vaccines and video games, Professor Thompson will demonstrate the significant interactions between engineering and behavior, the necessary but not sufficient role of economic analysis in public policy, and the critical role of improved risk communication and education for all stakeholders.

Kimberly Thompson

About the Author:

Kimberly Thompson is an Associate Professor of Risk Analysis and Decision Science at the Harvard School of Public Health. She holds a M.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Sc.D. from the Harvard School of Public Health. Her research interests and teaching focus on the issues related to developing and applying quantitative methods for risk assessment and risk management, and consideration of the public policy implications associated with including uncertainty and variability in risk characterization. She created and directs the KidsRisk Project, which aims to empower kids, parents, policy makers, and others to make better decisions when managing children's risks. This work builds on Professor Thompson's long-standing interest in the issues related to variability in risk for sensitive sub-populations, particularly children, and the potential risk tradeoffs associated with policies designed to protect them. Professor Thompson continues to explore the implications of using different analytical tools for structuring information, a theme that is central to her teaching. Building on her broad training, Professor Thompson also focuses on the characterization of information and communication of risks. She developed a guide to help consumers take charge of health information that appears in her book called Risk in Perspective: Insight and Humor in the Age of Risk Management.

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