A bargain

From time to time I check on Amazon to see if anyone is buying my 1985 thriller Risk and Freedom – not many.

But views about its value vary widely. The act of reading it, and transforming it into a “used” book, apparently increases its value enormously – I would like to think so..

risk and freedom


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Risk and Freedom is a book of historic significance. Published in 1985 and out of print for many years it continues to have a profound influence on road safety policy. It provides the first coherent application of the concept of “risk compensation” to the management of risk on the road. Risk compensation is a term coined by Canadian psychologist Gerald Wilde in the 1970s to describe the behavioural adjustments of people to perceived changes in safety or danger. In Risk and Freedom Adams applies the idea to a wide variety of road safety measures – seat belts, helmets, speed limits, alcohol limits, crumple zones and other crash protection measures, improved brakes and tires, and accident blackspot treatments, to name the main ones.

The idea that risk compensation could explain the failure of such measures to achieve their promised benefits was, at the time, unanimously dismissed out of hand by highway engineers, vehicle designers, and regulators. Today it is widely accepted as mere common sense, and serves as the basis for the new, and increasingly popular, shared space schemes. The most obvious explanation for the success of these schemes is Adams’ argument that road users are not obedient automatons, but alert and responsive participants in what Adams calls in his last book, Risk, “the dance of the risk thermostats”. Also, unlike most books on this subject it is well-written and entertaining.


Global Warming: a debate re-visited.

I have posted a near final draft of what became chapter 9 of my book Risk, published in 1995. The process of writing it transformed me from a firm believer in man-made global warming into a climate change agnostic – a position to which I still adhere. In 1995 it seemed  to me that most of the explanations being offered for what was happening to the climate were extraordinarily crude and simplistic relative to the complexity of  the system that the participants in the debate  purported to understand. I choose to call myself an “agnostic” rather than a “sceptic” because this appears to me to still be the case. The sceptics cast doubt on the “fact” of anthropogenic warming – I simply don’t know.

However my sympathies have shifted in favour of the sceptics in response to the disgraceful treatment of Professor Lennart Bengtsson after he recently proclaimed his scepticism and joined the Global Warming Policy Foundation. It is difficult to imagine a scientist more honoured and qualified to comment on this issue. The vicious personal response to his expressions of scepticism to me speaks volumes for their lack of confidence in the strength of their case.

I intend soon to post a review of these almost 20 year old thoughts – after deciding which ones I still agree with.  But meanwhile …


Fun-loving singles

I recently discovered (thanks Jim) that my website had acquired a sideline in the form of a service for fun-loving singles wearing not very much, and keen to get in touch with others similarly attired. Although many of the postings might be said to have had a risk theme I have decided to focus, for the moment, on less exciting issues such as seatbelt laws and ISO 31000.

Apologies to all disappointed users of the alternative service.

Best wishes



ISO 31000: an update

For those new to ISO 31000  – Risk management – Principles and Guidelines – published by the International Standards Organization – my profoundly negative view of it can be found in earlier postings .

ISO 31000 has spawned, at the moment of writing, 2.9 million Google hits. I cannot say that none of them addresses the concerns raised in my earlier postings – only that I have not seen them addressed. ISO seems to be simply a flag unto which people project whatever is currently bothering them about risk management – without making meaningful connection with ISO 31000 itself. Since it costs CHF 116 it is possible that many have never read it.

This post however addresses a different problem. In an attempt to monitor what was going on in the ISO 31000 world I joined a linked in website called G31000 . It is run by Alex Dali, possibly ISO 31000’s most enthusiastic promoter. He is the owner of an entity called G31000 that describes itself as “The Global Platform for ISO 31000”.  He has a website- and  claims  that his company –  The Global Institute for Risk Management Standards – has 10,001+ employees. So, I thought, a useful portal into the world of ISO 31000. Google maps helpfully provides a view of its headquarters at 6 Residence la Sabotte, Marly-le-Roi, Paris, France.

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 It is not clear whether these are the homes of some of the 10,001+ employees, nor exactly where in this complex the office of the owner is to be found.

Monsieur Dali’s Linkedin site  purports to be a forum for exchanging ideas about ISO 31000.

I say “purports”. I have been a contributor to this forum in the past, but not recently – but I have kept a watching brief. A recent post by a regular contributor, Ian Dalling captured my interest: “Allen [Allen Gluck  vice-president of G31000], this news is very welcome. The incident [the temporary shutting down of the G31000 Linkedin website] has shaken people’s confidence – it would be good if you or Alex could elaborate further on what caused the incident and positively state that there was no truth in any of the accusations?”

And a follow-on post from Dalling: “given the web gossip may I ask the current status of Madeline Le Blanc within this LinkedIn Group?”

Why Madeleine LeBlanc might feature in web gossip damaging to G31000 is explained here . Her profile claims that she currently works for JLP Events. I phoned the only JLP Events that I could find on Google and they denied knowing anyone of this name. We know that she has been trading under a false photograph. Does she exist? This is not a trivial question. Madeleine.LeBlanc@G31000.org was the email address used in various exercises in the past soliciting significant amounts of money, e.g. http://www.slideshare.net/dali1010/toronto-conference-booking-form-4-16.

At this point I joined the discussion with a post of my own: And at the same time might we have some information about Formascope. I can find lots about this Formascope – http://www.societe.com/societe/formascope-443194733.html – but almost none about this Formascope – http://www.verif.com/comptes-annuels/DALI-ALEXIS-490167905/ – except that it hasn’t filed any accounts of which this website is aware [A notre connaissance, cette société n’a pas déposé ses comptes annuels].”

This appears to have been a sensitive inquiry. Formascope is a company listed on M. Dali’s profile so, I thought, a legitimate subject of inquiry in  the light of the “web gossip” about which Dalling was seeking reassurance. My post appeared briefly before being removed without explanation. And shortly thereafter the Comment Box was removed, ending the discussion – without either of Ian Dalling’s questions receiving an answer.

The message then became clearer:

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There is nothing that pricks my curiosity more than being dropped into the Orwellian Memory Hole. So I took a closer look at the G31000 website – starting with Formascope.    It features in his profile under the heading “Managing Partner” where it is described as a “Training company specialized in global risk management”. If you click on “Managing Partner” you get taken to a list of 100 people who all have “managing partner” in their job titles. Their connection with G31000, if any, is not made clear.

If you click on Formascope here you get an even more intriguing response. You are taken to a page that introduces you to five people without names – two of whom do not even have faces. Certainly they have impressive job titles. Three are “Chefs d’entreprise”, one is “Directeur” and the other “Président”, a position I thought reserved for M. Dali himself . This impressive list of leaders sits uncomfortably alongside the only information I could glean from a Google search: http://www.verif.com/societe/DALI-ALEXIS-490167905/ – namely that Formascope, a company with 10,001+ employees, has not filed any accounts.

If you click your way through the rest of Alex’s Profile you are rewarded with other interesting information. Click on “President” and you get another list of 100 people, all called President. If you click on Global Institute for Risk Management Standards – “The Global Platform for ISO 31000” – you get further confirmation of the fact that he is president of a company with 10,001+ employees!

Clicking on “Managing Director” Atlascope brings up another 100 people all called “Managing Director” but no information about Atlascope.

Click on …. Well perhaps you get the idea.

Perhaps there are simple answers to Ian Dalling’s questions that M. Dali has not yet had time to provide, and explanations for the questions raised by my amateur Internet sleuthing. If so I will be happy to publish them.

Although I have been highly critical of ISO 31000, it makes one point in its introduction with which I am in full agreement: the effective management of risk, it says, will “improve stakeholder confidence and trust.” My brief perusal of the G31000 website and experience of  (and blocking from) one of its associated discussion forums has inspired neither.

Another, more energetic and wide-ranging, inquiry into the activities of G31000 is being conducted by Christopher Paris of Oxebridge. See:

http://www.oxebridge.com/emma/?p=2870 , http://www.oxebridge.com/emma/?p=2668 , http://www.oxebridge.com/emma/?p=2628, and



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A prize!!

This is a graphic record of the event. Jeremy Harrison, the head of the Institute of Risk Management, is laughing because I have just called him a sneaky bastard for inviting me to dinner without warning me that he had this in mind. And I am looking bemused because I was – and still am. I think the photo captures the lifetime bit fairly accurately.

lifetime award

PS It weighs 4 kilos.


Been there. Got the T-shirt.

Yesterday was Risk Day in Birmingham’s Town Hall with numerous events and speakers focused on the theme. My contribution was rewarded with a conference T-shirt.



I suggested that since The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has its headquarters in Birmingham they might like to come over to take part in a discussion about Britain’s seat belt law. Sadly the chair provided for them remained unoccupied.



They will never get the T-shirt. Had they shown up I would have asked them to justify the absurd claim on their website that Britain’s seat belt law has saved 60,000 lives: “We were instrumental in the introduction of the first seat belt law in 1983, with the compulsory wearing of seatbelts thought to have saved 60,000 lives.”

RoSPA’s persistence with a claim that they have to know is nonsense – http://www.john-adams.co.uk/2013/02/11/open-letter-to-tom-mullarkey-ceo-of-the-royal-society-for-the-prevention-of-accidents/ – is a deepening mystery. For more on seat belts see –  http://www.john-adams.co.uk/category/seat-belts/ .


Slides from my lecture on the public perception of risk

Powerpoint presentation delivered at Imperial College on October 14th 2013.


Tom Vernon: Fat Man on a Bicycle

My old friend Tom Vernon has died aged 74. I was honoured to be asked by his wife Sally to write his obituary for the Guardian. Here it is – http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/sep/18/tom-vernon


Pater knows best?

Risk compensation – the proposition that a person’s perception of risk influences their risk-taking behaviour – has now become conventional wisdom.  No one now disputes that rock climbers with ropes will attempt manoeuvres that they would not attempt without them, or that trapeze artists will attempt manoeuvres with nets that they would not attempt without. The insurance industry calls it “moral hazard” and accepts that people with insurance take more risks than those without.  Financial regulators now acknowledge that banks that believe themselves, and their trading partners, to be too big to fail will take risks that others would not – confident of their government safety net.

Risk compensation has become conventional wisdom with a peculiar blind spot  – seat belt laws. Seat belts have become the popular metaphor for just about anything that offers protection against just about anything. Googling “fasten your seat belts” yields half a million hits – almost none of which has anything to do with road safety: the top hit at the time of writing this is “Fasten your seat belts – a balance of payments crisis looms”.

Repetition has created a constantly self-reinforcing myth that has rendered belief in the efficacy of seat belt laws impervious to attack. A new book entitled Against Autonomy: justifying coercive paternalism has just been called to my attention.  Its cover announces seat belts as its iconic exemplar of effective “coercive paternalism”. Conly deploys the “success” of seatbelt laws as a justification for further applications of coercive paternalism such as banning smoking:

“… we see widespread acceptance of seat belt laws, even for adults who are sober, rational, competent, and so on, because they so clearly prevent great harms in circumstances where there is no other way to stave off the damage that will otherwise ensue. “ (p5)

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 No need to cite evidence. Their prevention of great harm is so clear and obvious.

Such routinely reiterated publicity for the life-saving effect of seat belt laws helps to explain why they don’t save lives. The risk compensation effect works through perception. If you perceive that something will make you safer you will modify your behavior. Both the belt itself, and the incessant publicity for hugely exaggerated claims for its effectiveness, help to account for the fact, now acknowledged even by supporters of the law amongst the leadership of Britain’s Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, (see “Seat belt laws: why we should keep them”), that Britain’s seat belt law led to an increase in the numbers of pedestrians and cyclists killed.

The law didn’t work precisely because coercive paternalism was overridden by autonomous drivers. Pater could compel them to belt up, but could not compel them to want to be safer than they chose to be.

A thoughtful review of Against Autonomy by the person who brought it to my attention can be found here – http://grumpyarthistorian.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/sarah-conlys-against-autonomy-reviewed.html .

Readers new to this argument can catch up here – http://www.john-adams.co.uk/category/seat-belts/


Change has to take root in people’s minds

The main headline in today’s Daily Mail reads:

£90 fine if you’re texting at the wheel: Minister warns of safety crackdown

US experience suggests that the crackdown is unlikely to achieve its desired effect. There the success of attempts to deal with the texting-while-driving problem by means of legislation has been the subject of a number of natural experiments. In the US such laws are a matter of state jurisdiction and some states have passed laws while others have not. This has permitted before-law and after-law  comparisons of states that passed laws with adjacent states that did not.

The results were interesting. A study by the Highway Loss Data Institute in 2009 found that banning texting while driving had a perverse effect – crashes increased. The HLDI explanation for the this result was that after the ban texters texted with their phones in their laps – where they were less visible to the police –  rather than on the steering wheel as before, with the result that they were even more distracted from the driving task. Here is the result for California.

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California – Collision claims per 100 insured vehicle years, by month before and after law for all drivers, compared with Arizona, Nevada, and Oregon.

As philosopher Michael Sandel has observed, “Change has to take root in people’s minds before it can be legislated.” Nowhere is this more obvious than on the road. Countries in the early stages of motorisation have death rates per vehicle many times higher than those of highly motorised countries. And yet most of them have on their statute books the full panoply of imported road safety legislation – from seat belt laws and speed limits to bans on drinking and driving. These laws are simply not enforced, not obeyed, or both.

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