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November 09, 2011



My problem with this post is that you do not mention uncertainty. Attacking Iran carries uncertain i.e. incalculable risks as it involves future actions of many parties inside and outside Iran. As in the case of Iraq where most of the dangers seem to have been ignored or just not appreciated by the decision takers. So the comparison to criminal or civil justice is an error. If you also ask what good any attack will do in practice there is no convincing answer. Unless you overthrow the Government and occupy the place mere bombardment wont stop only delay any weaponisation. Trying to control the political situation in large foreign countries with an alien culture so as to induce them to adopt the foreign policy you like is extremely hard to do. Bombardment is likely to make them more eager to weaponise the nuclear material. And even if you did invade how long will you stay and at what human and economic cost to invader and invaded? Put a price or utility value on all of that!

Tom Addison

I think people are saying "he's innocent until proven guilty" with regards to Terry not when they're discussing whether he should be stripped of the England captaincy or not, but when discussing whether he should be branded as a "massive racist".

The importance of who's captain of England is overblown enough as it is, and I think Terry's already done enough in his life (as that article from The Mirror shows) to merit being excluded from the list of candidates. The bastard doesn't deserve the satisfaction he derives from being England captain.


I can see that your probabilistic-type analysis may be directly relevant to the question of military action, however I think this is only a subset of the initial question you posed:"what to do about Iran’s possible development of nuclear weapons." The latter is a much broader question involving a far wider range of possible responses.


Issues which we are better equipped to deal with than anything else on earth though. What's your basis for comparison that produces such a downbeat conclusion?

The disagreements are usually over the perception of level of risk. Not surprising given that the only coherent analysis of probability is the Bayesian/subjectivist one.

Miguel Madeira

"This level varies according to circumstance. At one extreme we have the criminal law, which requires that a defendant be proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt. This means we only act upon very high levels of probability - though how high is not (pdf) clear.

But in other cases, we apply the precautionary principle - a small probability of danger is sufficient to act to prevent harm."

The "guilty beyond reasonable doubt" can also be considered an application of the precautionary principle - being the "small probability of danger" the probability of sending an innocent to the jail

Tim Newman

For example, because we consider the cost of imprisoning an innocent man very high, we set the probability trigger high in criminal cases

I'm not sure you're using the right term here in "probability trigger". Normally, at least in industry, decisions are made on the basis of risk, which is the product of probability and consequence. There is no probability above or below which a decision will be made, i.e. no probability trigger, but there are defined (and often quantified) risk criteria.

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