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Patt, Anthony. 1999. "Extreme Outcomes: The Strategic Treatment of Low Probability Events in Scientific Assessments." Risk, Decision and Policy 4(1): 1-15.


Decision-makers rely not only on the central tendency of probability distributions, but also on the extreme values. Policy-makers obtain information about many technical issues from scientific assessments. If some assessments deliberately omit information on extremes, then policy-makers will suffer. This study applies behavioural decision theory to a strategic model of assessments. The model classifies assessment into three groups - consensus, advisory, and advocacy - according to the assessment's intended audience, purpose, and process. It predicts that consensus-seeking assessments will often omit information about extreme events. Advisory assessments will give an honest appraisal of extreme events, if it is within the scope of their mandate. Advocacy assessments will provide limited treatment of extreme events. A case study of assessments of climate change, using the particular extreme event of the rapid melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, finds these predictions to hold. The assessment type explains a large part of the variance between assessments in coverage of extreme events.


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