Issues Magazine

Articles about Risk

Against All Odds

By Guy Nolch

How do casinos and bookmakers rig the odds in their favour?

Not long after I first learned to read I became puzzled by a page near the back of the daily newspaper. None of the words made sense and there was no story attached to this complicated list. When I asked my mother what it was she explained that it was the racing form guide. Horses race against each other? From that moment I was hooked, and the form guide joined Enid Blyton as my favourite reading material.

What’s Behind the Risk-Taking Behaviours of Ecstasy Users?

By Sheena Arora

The Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System has surveyed regular users of illicit drugs to build up a picture of their risk-taking behaviours and the consequences they have faced.

The chemical MDMA was first discovered in 1912 by the pharmaceutical company Merck, which synthesised MDMA as an intermediate chemical to be used in the production of blood-clotting agents. It was not until the 1970s that MDMA was used as a recreational drug, mainly in the United States. In the 1980s it began to be known as ecstasy, and its popularity soared. In the 1990s, ecstasy became synonymous with raves and dance parties.

The Monty Hall problem: going with your gut will get your goat

By Adrian Dudek

Suppose you’re on a game show, and you’re given the choice of three doors. Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?

The game show host adjusts his bow tie and flashes you an oh-so-wicked smile as he brings your attention to three closed doors.

“Behind one of these doors is the prize of your dreams!” he announces excitedly. “But oh – do choose wisely! There’s nothing to be won from choosing the other two doors.”

Getting Risk Wrong

By Peter Bowditch

Why do we assess risk so poorly? The answer is elusive, but we do know that it makes us vulnerable to all manner of dangers and misconceptions.

People are notoriously bad at assessing risk. That is, at correctly distinguishing between decisions based on fact and those based on opinion or, to put it another way, decisions based on the head and those on the gut. We tend to overrate some risks and underrate others, often without any apparent logical basis. Much of the work of sceptical organisations and campaigners for critical thinking is generated by this inability to separate emotion from cold hard analysis.

Active Citizenship: Risk or Opportunity for Young People?

By Rosalyn Black

Young people are often held up as our hope for the future, the ones who will protect our democracies and spearhead better social and environmental practices. At the same time, they are subject to a pervasive risk discourse and to a range of mechanisms designed more to govern and control them than to learn from them or let them lead.

Welcome to the Risk Society

Risks from Climate Change

By Dr Kathleen McInnes

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released a summary of its Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation.

In November the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a summary of its key findings from its Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation.

It is the first comprehensive assessment that has focused solely on extreme events – extreme rain, cyclone, flood, heatwave, sea level – and how these events interact with society and ecosystems to cause natural disasters.

Risk Communication

By Craig Cormick

Scientists and regulators tend to talk a lot about how to better communicate risk, and the science of risk assessment to the public, but they don’t tend to talk so much about how to better understand what the public thinks about risk, and why they think what they do. Yet understanding risk perceptions is vital to better risk communications.

What are the biggest risks facing humanity today? Global climate change? Terrorism? The spread of new technologies like genetically modified foods and nanotechnology? Invasion by seven-foot shape-shifting aliens?

Your answer will vary, of course, depending on your perspective and world view. And that’s a key point in better understanding risk communication.

We need to better understand the differences between perceptions of risk as seen by scientists and perceptions of risk as seen by the public.

Lecture Free Zone

By Georgie Oakeshott

The ideas and opinions of more than 30,000 young Australians are at the centre of a new parliamentary report into cyber-safety.

If there’s one loud and clear message from young people when it comes to teaching ways to stay safe online it’s this: no more lectures. Tired of being told what and what not to do, young Australians have responded to a parliamentary online survey with very definite views about what works and what doesn’t.

This article is from About the House, the House of Representatives magazine (

Calculating Risk and Living with the Consequences

By Paul Davis

A risk analyst revisits the assessment and acceptability of risk after losing his house to a forest fire.

The author kindly thanks Helena Dunn, James Counts, James Syme and Jeremy Weiss for volunteering the time, energy and patience to edit this article.

Risky Business: Risk Management, Sexual Violence and the Night-Time Economy

By Bianca Fileborn

Are young women at risk of sexual assault when they go out for a night on the town, and how can this risk best be managed?

NSW Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, has recently called for young women to take responsibility for themselves and their safety when they go out for a night on the town. In a Sydney Morning Herald article, Scipione cautioned young women to “have a plan, how you’re getting home, who you’re going home with”. Such comments raise a series of questions around the supposed “risks” young women face when they go out at night – particularly the risk of sexual assault – how these risks should best be managed, and by whom.

Who Will Protect the Cuttlefish from BHP Billiton and Other Polluters?

By Jochen Kaempf (1) and Dan Monceaux (2)

BHP Billiton has recently received South Australian and federal government pre-approval to pollute Upper Spencer Gulf, one of the most fragile and distinctive marine ecosystems in Australian waters. Is this a sign of gross failure of environmental legislation in Australia, or is technology advanced enough to eliminate natural disasters in this region?

For many years, and against the advice of marine experts, the world’s richest multinational, BHP Billiton, has insisted on constructing a large seawater desalination (“desal”) plant at Point Lowly near Whyalla in the Upper Spencer Gulf in South Australia. This plant will supply up to 280 megalitres per day of desalinated water to the Olympic Dam Mine expansion, deep in South Australia’s arid heart. This new mine will become the largest open-pit mine in the world, offering a trillion dollar bounty of uranium, copper, gold and silver.

A list of references and supporting documents are available on request. Further information and videos are available online at At the time of writing (October 2011), the South Australian Parliament was in the process of amending legislation that will grant BHP Billiton the permission to pollute the Upper Spencer Gulf with toxic desalination brine in close vicinity to the world’s only mass aggregation of the giant Australian cuttlefish. The final decision in this matter was expected before the end of the year.


By Sally Woollett

In this edition of Issues...

Like it or not, risk is a fact of life. It underscores many of our decisions, big or small. Issues 97 explores the idea of risk, its forms, its settings and the consequences of miscommunicating or misunderstanding it.

Seasonal Climate Forecasts: Can Decision Analysis Help Agriculture?

By Peter Hayman

Because decisions are about the future they involve uncertainty, yet we make most decisions with a minimum of effort. Hard decisions usually involve high levels of uncertainty and have significant consequences: they are risky decisions. Climate is a major source of uncertainty, often with significant consequences for agricultural decision-makers.

Modified from P. Hayman, “Communicating Climate Risk: Choices, Chances and Chocolate Wheels”. Presentation at Greenhouse 2011 conference, Cairns, April 2011.

Electromagnetic Fields and Public Health: Mobile Phones

By World Health Organization


Mobile or cellular phones are now an integral part of modern telecommunications. In many countries, over half the population use mobile phones and the market is growing rapidly. At the end of 2009, there were an estimated 4.6 billion subscriptions globally. In some parts of the world, mobile phones are the most reliable or the only phones available.

Given the large number of mobile phone users, it is important to investigate, understand and monitor any potential public health impact.

First published by the World Health Organization ; accessed 1 November 2011.

Danger, you're at serious risk of ... no, sorry, it's all relative

By Jonathan Borwein (1) and David H. Bailey (2)

1. Laureate Professor of Mathematics at University of Newcastle
2. Senior Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and Research Fellow, University of California, Davis

We assess risk every day. But very few of us receive any formal training in the requisite mathematics and statistics, and, partly as a result, poor decisions are made, both by individuals and governmental bodies.

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins suggests we may be neurologically ill-equipped to make the sort of decisions called for by modern society; and Nobel prize-winning behavioural economist and psychologist Daniel Kahneman makes it clear in his book Thinking Fast and Slow that making careful (slow) judgements is a very complicated mental process.