Talking about risk: summarizing risk using risk measures and risk indices

Our society is fascinated with risk in many different areas and disciplines. One of the main ways to describe and communicate the level of risk is through risk indices, which summarize risk using numbers or categories such as words, letters, or colors. These indices are used to communicate risks to the public, understand how risk is changing over time, compare among different risks, and support decision making.

keep-calm-and-lets-talk-about-sexGiven the different methods to construct risk indices, including flawed methods such as risk matrices, this article develops specific steps that analysts can follow to create a risk index. This article emphasizes the importance of describing risk with a probability distribution, developing a numerical risk measure that summarizes the probability distribution, and finally translating the risk measure to an index. Measuring the risk is the most difficult part and requires the analyst to summarize a probability distribution into one or possibly a few numbers. The risk measure can then be transformed to a numerical or categorical index. I apply the method outlined in this article to construct a risk index that compares the risk of fatalities in aviation and highway transportation.

Risk Analysis

Cameron A. MacKenzie

Magical food safety app launched, sort of

My favorite food safety-related app is Poop the World — it’s a bit like playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater with, uh, poops. The opening screen says, “Get started! Track your bowel movements in real-time, share with friends, and strive for recognition in a fun and civilized manner!” They had me at bowel movements. Achievement levels like The Daily Quad (4 poops in a day) and Sir Deuce-a-lot (20 poops in a week) are available.

KRQE Albuquerque provides a teaser of a yet-to-be-released iPhone app from a New Mexico-based company, Food Sentry, that is supposed to help shoppers make decisions about food risks. When a specific food is entered, the soon-to-be-released app draws from the company’s double-secret food probation risk database and ranks the relative risk associated with food’s country of origin.

“A lot of things will show up at grocery store that are less than rigorously produced or regulated,” says John Cousins, CEO of Food Sentry.

Subscribers pay $19 a year for access to import and recall alerts, along with a food rating system.

“We have about twelve language skills on staff with our analysis team, and they can search every day to find out what food may be of risk coming into the country and we do the same analysis domestically too,” Cousins says.

Apparently this app is supposed to help a shopper make decisions. I don’t see the utility, especially without knowing how Food Sentry creates their ratings. I want to buy food that has been grown/processed/handled in the safest way – what country it originates in doesn’t matter nearly as much as whether the company who handled it knows what to do and actually does it. And has data to back it up.

High school math word problems often include the phrase, show your work. At least the teacher is able to judge whether the concept is understood, even if the final answer is wrong,

The answer is important – but how someone gets there really matters.

Same with food safety.

Food Sentry doesn’t show their work.