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Combining Probability Distributions From Experts in Risk Analysis

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Abstract

This paper concerns the combination of experts' probability distributions in risk analysis, discussing a variety of combination methods and attempting to highlight the important conceptual and practical issues to be considered in designing a combination process in practice. The role of experts is important because their judgments can provide valuable information, particularly in view of the limited availability of “hard data” regarding many important uncertainties in risk analysis. Because uncertainties are represented in terms of probability distributions in probabilistic risk analysis (PRA), we consider expert information in terms of probability distributions. The motivation for the use of multiple experts is simply the desire to obtain as much information as possible. Combining experts' probability distributions summarizes the accumulated information for risk analysts and decision-makers. Procedures for combining probability distributions are often compartmentalized as mathematical aggregation methods or behavioral approaches, and we discuss both categories. However, an overall aggregation process could involve both mathematical and behavioral aspects, and no single process is best in all circumstances. An understanding of the pros and cons of different methods and the key issues to consider is valuable in the design of acombination process for a specific PRA. The output, a ”combined probabilitydistribution,” can ideally be viewed as representing a summary of the current state of expert opinion regarding the uncertainty of interest.

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