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The Development of Risk Analysis: A Personal Perspective


  • Based on a presentation to the Second World Congress on Risk (Society of Risk Analysis), Guadalajara, Mexico, June 8, 2008.

Richard Wilson, Department of Physics, Jefferson Physical Laboratory Rm. 257, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA; tel: +1-617-495-3387; fax: +1-617-495-0416;


This article reflects on my experiences observing and participating in the development of risk analysis for environmental and health hazards since the 1970s with emphasis on its critical role in informing decisions with potentially high consequences, even for very low probability events once ignored or simply viewed as “acts of God.” I discuss how modern society wants to protect itself from hazards with limited or no immediate historical precedent such that prediction and protective actions must depend on models that offer varying degrees of reliability. I believe that we must invest in understanding risks and risk models to ensure health in the future and protect ourselves from large challenges, including climate change, whether anthropogenic or otherwise, terrorism, and perhaps even cosmic change.