4.3 Risk and uncertainty
Assessing risk can be regarded as a balancing act in which benefits are weighed up against possible losses. Deciding whether a risk is ‘worth taking’ is a different approach from an approach that seeks to eliminate risk from our lives. This 'risk balancing' is something that people do, consciously or unconsciously, every day. Have a look at this video made by David Spiegelhalter, Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk.
Activity 4.2 Understanding uncertainty
Watch the video made by David Spiegelhalter below titled Professor Risk (Cambridge University, 2009). What do you think Spiegelhalter’s life would be like if his cautious side won? Make some notes in your learning log .
- drive rather than cycle
- stop drinking
- stop eating bacon sandwiches
- stop doing the lottery
- stick with his job.
By focusing on the risks involved, the risk becomes the focus of concern rather than the person being the focus. In Spiegelhalter’s case, this would seem to diminish rather than enhance his enjoyment of life. This echoes the views of Max Neill and colleagues:
Traditional technocratic and spuriously ‘objective’ approaches to risk ‘lose the person’ – philosophically they treat the person as an object to be assessed by the ‘experts’ rather than as an agent in their own lives, part of a family, community, society, with legal rights and choices. They focus on what is wrong with the person, often treating the person as a problem to be managed rather than a person to be enabled to fulfil their ambitions and offer a contribution to society .(Neill et al., 2008)
This activity also raises some interesting questions about risk of harm and children. Parents have responsibility for keeping children safe, so will make many choices for them, especially when they are younger. (e.g. When their children can cross a busy road, what they can eat and when, when they can be left at home without adult supervision...). Children under the age of 16 do not have the same legal rights and choices as adults, so decision-making about risk involves a balance between the needs and wishes of the child and their parents. At the same time, as Elisabeth reminded us in 4.1 , taking risks (climbing trees, all day bike rides) is important to children's development as well as that of adults. We will come back to this important question later in this section.