- Kenneth Verosub, UC Davis/State Dept.
In European society, as far back as Roman times, the black swan was symbolic of something that could not possibly exist. Then in 1697, the Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh discovered black swans in Australia, and the certainly about their non-existence came to an abrupt end. Knowledge of the existence of great white whales (à la Moby Dick) probably goes back to the time humans first started venturing out into the open ocean, but white whales have always been recognized as being extremely rare. Thus, black swans are a metaphor for events that radically change the way we look at the world while white whales are a metaphor for very low probability events that we know exist.
This discussion will focus on high-impact, low-probability events, both natural and human-made, that have the capability of wreaking havoc on human populations, i.e., natural disasters. Our knowledge of the existence of some of these goes back hundreds of years while our recognition of the existence of others is much more recent and has often arisen quite suddenly. The former are like white whales; the latter are like black swans. Our ultimate goal in this discussion is to determine how an examination of high-impact, low-probability events can help us understand similar events that occur more frequently. There are several ancillary questions and issues that come out of this broad goal. My task is to identify those questions as they emerge and encourage discussion threads about them. Your task is to engage in vigorous and lively discussions about any aspect of the topic that interests you. Those who have accepted the invitation to join the group range from people who are familiar with specific high-impact, low-probability events (asteroid impacts, massive solar flares, nuclear winter, terrorist attacks, nuclear and chemical accidents, transportation disasters, etc.) to individuals who look at the analysis and assessment of risk, the perception and psychology of risk, and individual and organizational responses to risk.
Watch the Ignite.
Watch the session.