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Catastrophe: Risk and Response
     

Catastrophe: Risk and Response

by Richard A. Posner
 

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Catastrophic risks are much greater than is commonly appreciated. Collision with an asteroid, runaway global warming, voraciously replicating nanomachines, a pandemic of gene-spliced smallpox launched by bioterrorists, and a world-ending accident in a high-energy particle accelerator, are among the possible extinction events that are sufficiently likely to warrant

Overview

Catastrophic risks are much greater than is commonly appreciated. Collision with an asteroid, runaway global warming, voraciously replicating nanomachines, a pandemic of gene-spliced smallpox launched by bioterrorists, and a world-ending accident in a high-energy particle accelerator, are among the possible extinction events that are sufficiently likely to warrant careful study. How should we respond to events that, for a variety of psychological and cultural reasons, we find it hard to wrap our minds around? Posner argues that realism about science and scientists, innovative applications of cost-benefit analysis, a scientifically literate legal profession, unprecedented international cooperation, and a pragmatic attitude toward civil liberties are among the keys to coping effectively with the catastrophic risks.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
During his career as a federal appeals court judge, Posner has become a prominently outspoken commentator on a variety of legal and cultural issues. Reading Margaret Atwood's Oryx & Crake, for example, was the springboard for this reflection on the current lack of plans for dealing with large-scale disasters, like environmental upheavals, after which law and public policy would be open to blame for failing to keep pace with rapid scientific advancement. Those familiar with Posner's extensive writings will not be surprised when he advocates applying cost-benefit analysis to determine which catastrophic threats are worth tackling first, though other suggestions will likely spark controversy. Criticizing the "blinkered perspective" of civil libertarians hung up on constitutional law, he finds certain curtailments of freedom an acceptable trade-off for preventing terrorist attacks and offers a lengthy justification of torture as one such option. Posner also offers subtle insights into the psychology of disaster preparedness, noting, for example, that science fiction movies in which the world is routinely saved inure us to the possibility of facing such threats in real life, as well as create undue faith in the saving grace of scientists. And his call for increased scientific literacy among public policy leaders may be too pragmatic to fault. Though clearly not for general readers, this thoughtful analysis may trickle down from the wonkocracy. (Nov.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This collection of 17 essays provides a detailed discussion of torture and whether it is ever morally justified. Including scholarly contributions from both Americans and Europeans, it is divided into four parts. First, Henry Shue, Michael Walzer, and Jean Bethke Elshtain discuss whether torture is ever allowable and, if so, under what circumstances. The second part presents John H. Langbein on the legal history of torture in Western law, plus essays by Jeremy Skolnick and Mark Osiel on the use of torture by American and Argentine security services. In the third part, John Parry, Miriam Gur-Arye, Finonnuala Ni Aolain, and Oren Gross discuss attempts to outlaw torture in international law. Also appearing in this section is the text of a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court outlawing the use of specific interrogation practices by that country's security services. In the final section, Alan Dershowitz and Richard Posner argue for the establishment of guidelines allowing torture to gain information under specific circumstances, while Elaine Scarry and Richard Weisberg maintain that torture is not allowable under any condition. Closely argued, well written, and quite readable, these essays jointly constitute a valuable contribution to the field. Recommended for all libraries.-Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ., Parkersburg Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"We would be well advised to... take the message of this book seriously. We ignore it at (a small risk of) our (very great) peril."—Peter Singer, The New York Times Book Review

"[Posner] addresses what can be done to improve the assessment of...catastrophic risks and of the possible responses to them. [Catastrophe] examines a number of possible institutional reforms at the law-science interface that may aid in coping with [these] risks."—Journal of Economic Literature

"Catastrophe is worth the price of the book simply for Posner's lively and readable summary of the apocalyptic dystopias that serious scientists judge to be possible."— Graham Allison, The Washington Post Book World

"Interesting and provocative...it is well worth reading."—The Federal Lawyer

"A fine lawyerly analysis.... Posner's perspective, very different from those held by most scientists, is a welcome addition to considerations of catastrophic risks."—Science

"Will likely spark controversy.... subtle insights...[and] thoughtful analysis."—Publishers Weekly

"Once again, Judge Posner has added to our cultural dialogue in a useful and interesting way."—Law and Politics Book Review

"A valuable contribution to the study of risk control and management."—Natural Resources Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195178135
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
11/28/2004
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
9.30(w) x 6.20(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Richard A. Posner is Judge of the U.S. Court Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of numerous books, including Overcoming Law a New York Times Book Review editors' choices for best book of 1995 and An Affair of State, one of their choices for Best Book of the Year in 1999.

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