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Hindsight and the delusion of control

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PurposeTo draw attention to a philosophical vacuum underlying the current emphasis on risk assessment. Design/methodology/approachDefinitions of chance, probability and risk are drawn from the literature and the development of risk assessment is surveyed historically. A critique of the philosophical basis of risk assessment is outlined. FindingsThe paper argues that emphasis on numerical risk assessment disguises the underlying complexity and uncertainty of modern life and leads to a false sense of control. This has implications for the assignment of responsibility and accountability when unintended consequences arise. Originality/valueThe paper raises questions concerning the meaning of "risk" and "uncertainty", and asks whether "risks" can truly be assessed and managed in a meaningful way. It is intended to provoke thought and debate, and should be of interest to policy makers, academics, business professionals and a general readership.
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Keywords: Risk assessment; Risk management; Uncertainty management

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2005

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