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I wrote:Any risk assessments made prior to this time can be segregated into one of two categories:
1) the probability of an event like this occurring this year was estimated to be near unity
Such is the double-edged sword of stochastic processes. Knowledge about a process only establishes confidence that you'll win, not assurances you won't lose. Post-hoc devaluation to zero is the par for the course when it comes to risk assessment; the value is strictly a priori.
Hazard mitigation often comes down to the simplest of arithmetic. The product of numerical assignment of severity and calculated probability of occurrence give a rough measure of how much you need to worry about a given condition. This is an honest and useful metric but naturally is contingent on the quality of the probability estimation. Unfortunately, outcomes having extremely low probability are the most difficult cases to estimate, and one hopes the most severe cases are the least likely to occur.
NASA risk estimates prior to the Challenger disaster entered the round-file stage on January 28, 1986. Now would probably be a good time to archive the public risk assessment documents from the nuclear industry if you're interested in before/after comparisons of the practical efficacy. The problem is simply this: Actuals for these types of events are comprised almost exclusively of the null result. The third exception just happened a few weeks ago. Some assurance is had in that these events are essentially uncorrelated, thus no clustering of incidents are expected, if you discount the fact that there are actually 7 incidents going on right now.
If it's possible to do large numbers of trials such that a failure rate is established with confidence, theoretically only dynamic factors act to change the assessment: process or materials change, environmental change, age of the system...
Catastrophic failure is a distinct category in itself. Small components can be proof tested by the millions to establish a high confidence performance profile, including the entire spectrum of failure modes. As the systems become more complex and expensive, the number of catastrophic event instances to establish the profile reduces. Cars are fairly liberally crash tested, passenger jets are not. Shuttles never are. Obviously, subsystems are tested to failure but any systems engineer will tell you an integrated systems test is the only way to assess the functioning of the system as a whole. The shuttle risk assessment prior to Challenger was, by definition, composed solely of statistical aggregation of unit test results.
So systems like space shuttles and nuclear plants get integration testing only while in-service. Nuclear plants go a step farther because, by their nature, catastrophic failure must be avoided. Not only can you never induce failure in the lab, should failure occur the forensics can be sharply limited. There's no collection of wreckage to assemble in a hangar as the NTSB does for an airline crash.
As James Lovelock states: "There have been seven disasters since humans came on the Earth, very similar to the one that's just about to happen."
He argues that billions of people are likely to die in the ensuing famine. "Enjoy life while you can.
"Because if you're lucky it's going to be 20 years before it hits the fan".
The only reaction I remember - perhaps I was blinded by my own reaction - was a very considerable elation and excitement, and there were parties and people got drunk and it would make a tremendously interesting contrast, what was going on in Hiroshima. I was involved with this happy thing and also drinking and drunk and playing drums sitting on the hood of - the bonnet of - a Jeep and playing drums with excitement running all over Los Alamos as the same time as people were dying and struggling in Hiroshima.
I had a very strong reaction after that was of a peculiar nature - it may be from just the bomb itself and it may be for some other psychological reasons, I'd just lost my wife or something, but I remember being in New York with my mother in a restaurant, immediately after (Hiroshima), and thinking about New York, and I knew how big the bomb in Hiroshima was, how big an area it covered and so on, and I realized from where we were - I don't know, 59th Street - that to drop one on 34th Street, it would spread all the way out here and all these people would be killed and all the things would be killed and there wasn't only one bomb available, but it was easy to continue to make them, and therefore that things were sort of doomed because already it appeared to me - very early, earlier than to others who were more optimistic - that international relations and the way people were behaving were no different than they had been before and that it was just going to go the same way as any other thing and I was sure that it was going, therefore, to be used very soon. So I felt very uncomfortable and thought, really believed, that it was silly: I would see people building a bridge and I would say "they don't understand." I really believed that it was senseless to make anything because it would all be destroyed very soon anyway, but they didn't understand that and I had this very strange view of any construction I would see, I would always think how foolish they are to try to make something. So I was really in a kind of depressive condition.
With regard to moral questions, I do have something I would like to say about it. The original reason to start the project, which was that the Germans were a danger, started me off on a process of action which was to try to develop this first system as Princeton and then at Los Alamos, to try to make the bomb work. All kinds of attempts were made to redesign it to make it a worse bomb and so on. It was a project that we all worked very, very hard, all co-operating together. And with any project like that you continue to work trying to get success, having decided to do it. But what I did - immorally I would say - was to not remember the reason that I said I was doing it, so that when the reason changed, because Germany was defeated, not the slightest thought came to my mind at all about that, that that meant now that I have to reconsider why I am continuing to do this. I simply didn't think, Okay?
The leaders who originally sponsored the EU viewed nation states as having plunged the continent into a millennium of warfare. But today, finance is the new mode of warfare. Its objective is the same as military conquest: to seize the land and basic infrastructure, and to levy tribute – euphemized as bailout repayments, as if the financial system were necessary to fuel industry and labor rather than siphoning off their surplus.
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