RI Columns Chapter 6

Why AV’s? Highway pilot trucks are much cooler!

Truck drivers drive all day, which reduces alertness. For this, a system called 'highway pilot' is developed.

Truck drivers drive all day, which reduces alertness. For this, a system called 'highway pilot' is developed.

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Reduced alertness of truck drivers is the main cause for truck accidents. Other causes are blowouts, file end collision, and haziness around lanes. Every year there is an average of 1000 accidents with trucks within the Netherlands including 23 deaths and 105 serious injured victims (Onderzoeksraad voor veiligheid, 2012).

What do you think about implementing some extra help in trucks? For me, it sounds great to have a kind of automatic pilot in trucks. Well, this already exists. In Germany, the first almost independent driving truck made a trial trip on the highway. Aboard there is a so called ‘highway pilot’ which uses a radar, camera’s and adaptive cruise control. With this, the truck could drive independently. However, the responsibility is the drivers, he or she must monitor the traffic continuously, especially in bad weather circumstances . In contrast of the AV cars, there is no ethic problem about who can be hold responsible, because this is still the driver. What is also nice is that this system can be easily added in existing trucks and not a whole truck has to be replaced, which spares money.  Self-driving trucks will be much safer, because a computer system is always awake and will never be tired and it also will not be distracted (Kraaijvanger, 2015).

When I’m driving I notice a lot of people pull up, accelerate and brake irregularly. This is not only annoying for me when I’m driving because I cannot forecast the movements of the other drivers, but it is also bad for the environment. Also some people don’t switch the poker fast enough which costs more fuel.  In my view, it seems logical that if this is all automatic, fuel and  carbon dioxide emissions will be less. Being sustainable is important to care for our world and because we have lots of emissions out of cars and trucks, it seems an important thing to think about. According to Kraaijvanger (2015), the ‘highway pilot’ system in trucks spares fuel and ensures less carbon dioxide emissions, because the system brakes, accelerates and changes the acceleration efficiently.

However, some ethical consequences exist. Because these trucks brakes automatically, misuse can be provoked. If people know the truck breaks automatically, they can cut off road in front of the truck because they know it is programmed to stop automatically. Also there could be a possibility that the truck will have an emergency stop whereby the driver scares. Another consequence can be that, just because the system is a program, it can be hacked. People can hack the program to cause more accidents, which will make this system less safe. This is why these programs must be inscrutable before this can be applied on the market.

Some people don’t want changes and are afraid for these kind of technologies. I think these technologies make the world better, safer and more sustainable. When this technique is developed better, it can even be applied in cars. I say: let’s go for it!

Sources
Onderzoeksraad voor veiligheid (2012, 29 November). Persbericht. Consulted at the 11th of October 2015, Retrieved from http://www.onderzoeksraad.nl/nl/onderzoek/1007/vrachtwagenongevallen-op-snelwegen

Kraaijvanger (2015). Zelfrijdende vrachtwagen gaat de Autobahn op. Consulted at the 11th of October 2015, Retrieved from http://www.scientias.nl/zelfrijdende-vrachtwagen-gaat-de-autobahn-op/

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Gene technology: creating an (ideal) world!

When you have seen movies like Gattaca and Elysium, you see that gene technology can have great possibilities for human life. Finally, we could cure cancer, ban out social disorders, get rid of stupidity, et cetera. But the downsides of such a technology disrupted this view enormously, for me at least.

When you have seen movies like Gattaca and Elysium, you see that gene technology can have great possibilities for human life. Finally, we could cure cancer, ban out social disorders, get rid of stupidity, et cetera. But the downsides of such a technology disrupted this view enormously, for me at least.

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For those of you who haven’t seen these movies: Gattaca is about a man, Vincent, who has a life expectancy of thirty years. To fulfil his dream, become an astronaut, he has to take over the personality and body of Jerome Morrow, who was supposed to be successful. Due to an accident, he is in a wheelchair now. He helps Vincent to take over his identity to get him through the training programme. Several times in the movie you get the sense that some things where not meant to be so. Jerome had the right genes, but an accident ruined his life.

Elysium is another story, but also characteristic for the possible followings of dividing people. A man, Max, takes on the mission to bring equality to the world. What you see is that the people with money and power are living on a perfect planet without war, sickness and poverty. The poorer people do live on Earth which causes chaos. This movie makes clear that the technology is supposed to help all people on earth, but it will be used in the end to divide the ‘chosens’ from the mob.

This movie made something very clear to me. Gene technology has the potential to have a great positive impact on the world, but it has such a dangerous side. What would happen if we are able to exclude children with a ‘too’ low IQ? What would happen if we are able to actually make humans like we want them to be? What would we do with them? Are we able to handle this power and influence?

I think we don’t. Some medical treatments nowadays are already made too expensive so that only a few percentage of the people on earth can afford them. We have the technology to make enough food for the whole world population, but still around 795 million people on earth do lack the food for a healthy nutrition. Consumption in Western countries is still going up. We can’t handle the welfare we live in. So what would we do if we had the possibility to exclude the people which are not useful for us? Indeed, it would be easy to simply prevent that these people are born or do live long. That is also a reason why I believe there will never be world peace. There is so much to win with war and conflict in the eyes of the world leaders, peace can never outweigh that.

I dream of a world where technologies like gene technology could be used for the people who really need it to improve their daily life. We only increase our already large welfare with it. But in the end, it will be the case that only a small group of people will have access to the pros of the technology, the rest would only have the cons. It has so many dangerous sides that a guaranteed success is excluded from the beginning.

So, creating an ideal world can be seen as impossible, but let us start today with what we already can do for the lesser blessed on earth: transfer a little of our welfare to them, before we’re going to decide who is allowed to live and who is not!

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Will we ever let machines take away the joy of driving?

What I do and don't like about self-driving vehicles.

What I do and don't like about self-driving vehicles.

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Google has been working hard on their self-driving vehicle (SDV) technology in the past six years. They are planning on creating a commercially self-driving vehicle available in 2020. It is amazing to see how this technology has developed itself. Googles goals are to make mobility easier, safer and more enjoyable. I’ll discuss my view these goals.

SDV’s will make mobility easier for certain groups of people. A lot of people are not capable to drive a car. Think of elderly, handicapped and people that are too afraid of driving themselves. With a SDV they will have possibility to go wherever they want to giving them a certain freedom they much deserve. But they are not the only road users.
It’s incredible to see how much road scenario’s the SDV already can handle and I expect this to improve even more in the future. These are, however, mostly normal road scenario’s, like switching lanes and adapting to the surrounding traffic. Every scenario has to be programmed in some way and not every scenario is a common one. It would be really annoying if a SDV wouldn’t know what to do in a situation and causes others traffic delays. Communication between drivers is crucial in some situations. How is a normal driver supposed to communicate with a programmed machine? Maybe technology solves this issue, but I have my doubts.

A classic safety argument is that people are terrible drivers. We drink,  doze and text behind the wheel. In the US, 30.000 people die from automobile accidents every year. Traffic crashes are the primary cause of death worldwide for people aged 15-24, and during a crash, 40% of drivers never even hit the brakes. We’re flawed organisms, barrelling around at high speeds in vessels covered in glass, metal, distraction, and death. This is one of Google’s "moonshots" -- to remove human error from a job which, for the past hundred years, has been entirely human.  
I agree with the fact that a lot of people are terrible drivers, but not all. I consider myself to be an excellent chauffeur. Google reports the following on incidents that have occurred in the last years: “As of July 2015, Google's 23 self-driving cars have been involved in 14 minor traffic accidents on public roads, but Google maintains that in all cases the vehicle itself was not at fault because the cars were either being manually driven or the driver of another vehicle was at fault. In July 2015, three Google employees suffered minor injuries when the self-driving car they were riding in was rear-ended by a car whose driver failed to brake at a traffic light. This was the first time that a self-driving car collision resulted in injuries.“
The amount of incidents seems to be small since they have driven over a million miles with a SDV. I think only time, testing and improvements in the technology will tell if a SDV is actually safer than humans driving vehicles. The SDV seems to handle normal traffic situations quite well, but a lot of accidents also happen in uncommon traffic situations.

Google’s last goal is to make mobility more enjoyable. I have only one thing to say to that. Good luck! I think it is a nice experience to be driven around by a machine for the first time, but it quickly becomes really dull. I fall asleep in every type of public transportation, so I think I’ll even sleep better in a SDV, since they are more comfortable. I really enjoy driving around. Except for the traffic jams, driving is a freeing experience for me. Turn up the music and clearing my head while driving to some nice places is something I won’t want to live without. I hope they will never force me to be driven around in that ridiculous marshmallow on wheels! (See the picture)

 

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Jenner's risk in gene manipulation

In the movie GATTACA, a futuristic world is sketched. In this world gene manipulation has diffused and entrenched itself through society. Even the genomes of human beings are being manipulated to create a superior elite.
This type of movie has the sole purpose to scare people away from gene manipulation and ban all related research. Doing so doesn’t just prove a very small perspective, but it is also very naïve.

In the movie GATTACA, a futuristic world is sketched. In this world gene manipulation has diffused and entrenched itself through society. Even the genomes of human beings are being manipulated to create a superior elite.
This type of movie has the sole purpose to scare people away from gene manipulation and ban all related research. Doing so doesn’t just prove a very small perspective, but it is also very naïve.

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At present day, a world like it is sketched in GATTACA, in which everyone is socially obliged to have designer babies, is very fictional. And it will always remain that way, since people seem to neglect a small phenomenon called ‘epigenetics’.
Genes are a mere blueprint of an organism. Like with all blueprints, the end result can vary, depending on which building blocks, engineers and circumstances are present. For human beings this means that someone with perfect genes doesn’t necessarily have to prove himself superior.

On the contrary. Nature proves that an organism that has only good genes is destined to die out. A living thing can only provide its body with so much energy. When genes start demanding more energy than the body can provide, the organism is bound to die. This can best be described by the principle ‘A jack of everything is a master of nothing’. So in fact, designer babies seem to be nothing more than a hoax.
Sadly, the movie makes a whole other impression on everyone that isn’t specialized on this topic. It makes people believe that gene manipulation, no matter to what extent, is dangerous. That everyone working with gene manipulation threatens all what’s pure and good in the world. It is right this paradigm, that is holding back revolutionary advances in the food industry.
Currently, people are starving because activists have been ruining the testing fields of promising new crops. With these new foods, hunger could have been battled and plagues beaten. The problem of t=x (which is a severe shortage of food) would have been solved. All this proves how blinding fear can be. And how important it is to always keep in mind the potential risks that outsiders fear.

Risk is defined as: “Risk is the probability of a scenario multiplied by its gravity in costs and/or benefits if it does.”
The main fear concerning manipulating the genes of crops is that the plant will spread through nature and start eradicating all the native species. The probability of this happening is very small, as I described before these designed plants are mere jacks and will never be able to survive out in nature.

Besides this, some people are scared that genetically engineered food can be harmful to the person eating it. Ingestion would result in genetic modification of the consumer, too. This fear is much a like the resistance Edward Jenner was confronted with after he had just introduced vaccination to society. Back then, the people were afraid of growing into a cow as a result of being vaccinated against the pocks. Pictures like shown in illustration 1 made it on the front page of every newspaper.

Ill 1.: a cartoon used for propaganda, in which people grow body parts of cows after vaccination. 

But in time, after many a man had died an unnecessary death, people came back to their senses. A new paradigm had emerged. And like the vaccine, it is just a matter of time until a switch of paradigm will occur. It’s pitiful this new paradigm will only find its birth light, after millions of people have starved to death.

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What price would you put on your health?

Costs and benefts. A logical way to consider your options. But when emotions come into play, this might not at all be the right way to go. What to do in cases that are less simple?

Costs and benefts. A logical way to consider your options. But when emotions come into play, this might not at all be the right way to go. What to do in cases that are less simple?

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What does risk analysis and safety engineering really entail? We learn that safety not only implies benefits but also costs. The proper economic evaluation of safety aspects related to new technologies that we develop; a.k.a. a cost-benefit analysis (CBA). We use this day-to-day analysis in our everyday lives in order to see whether the benefits of certain choices outweigh the costs. This allows us to determine sound decisions, justify choices, and consider the feasibility of certain options. On the basis of this logic, a company called ‘proefpersoon.nl’(Guinea-pig projects) gives individuals (mostly students) the chance every day to use this analysis, in order to decide whether they are willing to participate in experiments for new innovations/medications. The question is whether the comparison of the total expected costs of each experiment against the total expected benefits has a positive or negative result.

In order to answer this question we have to perform a cost/benefit or risk analysis of ‘proefpersoon.nl’. On this website individuals can register for various experiments such as testing for new medication, the safety and effects of sleeping pills, effects of several cures on a pain test battery, and research on effects of a new solution for treatment of neurologic diseases. It is presented as a volunteering process, however many students are motivated to participate in these experiments due to the generous compensation that you receive afterwards. One example is the safety, tolerability, and effects of a new sleeping pill. When considering this experiment my attention is first caught by the benefits or in this case compensation, 851 euros, which is often the case when considering options. However after reading into the experiment and looking at all of the circumstances that you have to abide to as a subject, you begin to wonder whether it is worth it. Duration of 6 days, 7 nights (total of 5 weeks), 48h before first research day until the end of research period no consumption of alcohol or coffee, not using drugs, nor other medication, homeopathic substances, herbs, vitamins, minerals, nor grapefruit, and prevent intense physical exercise including night shifts. Apart from these ‘costs’ there is always the risk that the new medication does not do what it is supposed to do, leaving you with undesired medical issues.

In a case such as the one described above, it is crucial to perform a risk and cost/benefit analysis, even though it is  very tempting to stop looking any further past the benefits. Yet when it comes to a risk analysis where your health is at stake, and your presenting yourself as a guinea pig for science, is there any price or benefit sufficient? The compensation might give you that extra week in Spain during summer, yet what if you have to spent your entire vacation inside on anti-biotics due to a ‘mistake’ in the experiment? The notion that plays the leading role here is that logical thinking will not give you the right answer every time you weigh the costs against the benefits. It requires critical thinking and personal judgement to decide what is best for you. 

 

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‘The Digital World’

Today’s world is all about digital. We almost seem to live in digital cities, made by our self. With our IPhone or Macbook we can control all our daily contacts. Because the digital world is a world most of the people live in, all the tools in this world are digital. We bank, plan and work digital. But this all takes its toll. What are the risks of this so called Digital World? And how would we analyze this risks?

Today’s world is all about digital. We almost seem to live in digital cities, made by our self. With our IPhone or Macbook we can control all our daily contacts. Because the digital world is a world most of the people live in, all the tools in this world are digital. We bank, plan and work digital. But this all takes its toll. What are the risks of this so called Digital World? And how would we analyze this risks?

Cyber Criminality is a huge threat for the digital world.

The digital world makes us lonely. What? Lonely? No! With the digital ways of communication we can have instant contact with everyone we want to. But the fact that we all communicate using social media, we don’t visit each other. We rather send a Whatsapp message, than to meet at our place to drink a beer. Loneliness is one of the biggest problems in our daily society. The expansion of the digital world is a risk for real communication between each other. That is the situation.

The digital world knows everything. There is no such thing as privacy. Companies and governments know everything of our daily lives. It gives the people a feeling of being watched. Big data contributes to this feeling. A bigger risk of the digital world is that more and more of our life is shared with organizations. How do we determine this risk?

Our data is digitally collected and stored. But hackers can access everything nowadays. Cyber criminality yearly costs billions of dollars. Sensitive information got stolen and causes more societal problems than we already had. When we digitalize more and more information, the risk of cyber criminality gets even bigger.

All this examples are maybe a bit negative, but some of them define reality. The topic of this week was cost-benefit analysis of innovations. Of course the digitalization of the world also has a lot of positive sides. People can communicate faster, can help better and can work more productive. But as I already mentioned, there are also negative sides. How do we determine what to do? There are risks and benefits. In my point of view the moral values of humans always have priority. Innovations need to be responsible for humanity. After that we think about productivity and faster communication.

Responsible innovation can contribute to the problems and risks of the digital world. This is maybe an even better solution. We have to innovate us out of this problem. Think about better ways of securing our data and securing our privacy. And about the loneliness, we need to take more time for each other. That is an innovation that is valuable, in the past, now and future. 

Corné Smaal / Business Administration / Erasmus University 

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The Ford Pinto Case and human life value

Jordi Granés Puig - In 1968, Ford was losing the U.S. car market against smaller and cheaper European cars. The general manager decided to launch a revolutionary car which should be way cheap than the others in order to reconquer the market. The car was released for the price of 2000$ but that price leaded few safety considerations...

Jordi Granés Puig - In 1968, Ford was losing the U.S. car market against smaller and cheaper European cars. The general manager decided to launch a revolutionary car which should be way cheap than the others in order to reconquer the market. The car was released for the price of 2000$ but that price leaded few safety considerations...

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Ford Pinto was designed in 1968 as a consequence of Ford’s loss of U.S. market share against smaller and cheaper European cars. The decision was made to put it onto the market for less than 2000$ in 1970, which was a very affordable price at the moment. The common process of car design is around 43 months but, as Ford Pinto urged to be entered to the market, it had only 24 months. As a consequence, the safety aspect of the design did not receive sufficient priority. Due to a lack of experience in small cars the fuel tank was placed behind the rear axis, which proved wrong during the tests because a back collision could puncture the tank and cause an explosion. Against that problem, Ford had two solutions: Put a rubber involving the tank to protect it or change the position of the tank. Can you guess which one they applied? None of these.

One of the most commonly used techniques in managing risks is a cost-benefit analysis, and that’s what Ford did to study the situation. It was asserted that the extra costs of 11$ to change the position of the tank did not weigh against the benefit that society would derive from a smaller number of wounded passengers or fatalities and the same result was considered with the protection rubber. Nowadays that approach is monstrous but in 1970 Ford needed to reconquer the American market and all the possible measures had to be taken in order to reduce the price to a minimum level. In addition, Ford was legally protected because Pinto was meeting the safety requirements of the government, even with the petrol tank between the rear axis and without rubber protection.

As it use to happen the product was released and there was no problem until an accident happened. Unfortunately, a rear impact is something quite usual in car driving and in October 1970 (the same year that the vehicle was released) three teenagers died because a truck collided against their car and the car exploded. The courts sentenced against Ford and the company had to pay millions in fines and improvements for the already sold vehicles.

We can take several conclusions of that case. First of all, a cost benefit analysis may be a good procedure in some situations but it will never consider all the factors and situations. It has to be a tool to help in decision making but it should never be the only decisive factor. Secondly, how we can value the life of a person? After their study, Ford considered that each causality cost 200.000$ to the global welfare, but personally I think that you can never put a monetary value to a life. This doesn’t mean that you have spend half of the cost of a car in safety systems, but I’m sure that everyone would agree to pay 11 more $ to reduce significantly the death probability. Finally, I would like to put emphasis on the fact that not only the companies but the governments put price to human lives. Of course monetary values are a universal reference that can be very useful to compare the value of diverse things, but we should not forget that if money was created as a tool to trade, we shouldn’t trade with a human life.

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Hydrogen: decentral production, consumption as a whole

Continuing the trend of decentralizing production, hydrogen has the capacity to create a totally different, low-carbon, economy.
A brief analysis on the risks of this transition.

Continuing the trend of decentralizing production, hydrogen has the capacity to create a totally different, low-carbon, economy.
A brief analysis on the risks of this transition.

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We have been hearing it for a while now. Generating your own electricity by means of solar panels, composting organic waste and growing your own food in your garden. Factory products have started to shift to more decentral means of production. But recently a new and fairly surprising product has been added to this list. That product is hydrogen. Now, devices to produce hydrogen from water through electrolyse have been around for a while. However, a company has been working on an affordable system to replace gas fired central heating systems. The idea is that their system will produce both heat and electricity and if it is run on excess power from solar panels, it can prove to be completely emission free. These kind of devices could become the norm meaning we would move to a hydrogen-fuelled economy. But will this be 100% great or will there be some risks?

The short answer would be yes! Yes, it will be 100% great and yes, there will some risks. A carbon free or low-carbon economy based on hydrogen instead of oil would be great news from an environmental standpoint and will provide many business opportunities. There would be a need for hydrogen producing systems, devices that can use this hydrogen like central heating and cars and most importantly, a hydrogen distribution network. Products that use hydrogen are, although not very common, already in production and the distribution network will be discussed in a moment.

First the production aspect. At the moment, most hydrogen is obtained from fossil fuels which defies the potential of hydrogen creating a low-carbon economy. Hence production systems need to be developed to gain this element from renewable sources, like biomass or water, and to gain it at an affordable price.

Next, consumers should have a need for hydrogen. This means widespread use of hydrogen fuel cells in for example cars and the production of heat and electricity in houses. Here, the biggest physical safety risk will be the actual storage of hydrogen. If every household needs to have a tank somewhere to store hydrogen, be it in liquid or gas form, this will pose serious safety hazards. Hydrogen is highly flammable and explosive when handled without care.

Lastly, to facilitate the transition to a hydrogen-powered economy, a widespread infrastructure and network should be constructed. This could pose the same risks as for example the New-York steam pipelines. Although they are fairly safe, it is not unthinkable that a pipeline bursts and causes severe damages to people and property. A hydrogen pipeline could also burst with similar, or even worse, consequences. This calls for a decent risk analysis before construction and decent maintenance afterwards.

It is important not to underestimate the physical risks. Damages to people and property, or even worse, should be avoided wherever possible. Though however severe physical risks can be there is an even larger risk to be taken into account in order to facilitate a hydrogen-economy, that is the financial risk.

A transition as big as moving from an oil-economy to a hydrogen-economy requires massive investments, from people, companies and governments alike. However, as with any investment made, you would like to have a positive return, preferably in profits. Thus it is very important to get every party on the same page about if and how they should contribute to this transition to prevent parties from refusing to cooperate or even from opposing. Analysing stakeholders could mitigate, or at least minimize, these risks. This analysis will probably            result in question like “How to avoid the oil industry from opposing?” or “How to make people embrace this change?”.

So in short, important concerns, important questions and hopefully, as soon as possible, important answers.

 

 

Sources

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http://www.esa.int/dut/ESA_in_your_country/The_Netherlands/Woensdagmorgen.nl_Niet_meer_afhankelijk_van_je_energieleverancier

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Value-sensitive design on Societal Cost-Benefit Analyses: reducing formal-informal discrepancy

Societal Cost-Benefit Analyses (SCBA) have showed to be very useful in monitoring the effects of (technological) projects on the environment. All impacts are taken into account in order to have a clear calculation on the total benefit-cost distribution. However, who is making those SCBA’s? How do those SCBA’s come about? A critical look on SCBA’s.

Societal Cost-Benefit Analyses (SCBA) have showed to be very useful in monitoring the effects of (technological) projects on the environment. All impacts are taken into account in order to have a clear calculation on the total benefit-cost distribution. However, who is making those SCBA’s? How do those SCBA’s come about? A critical look on SCBA’s.

Immoral decisions..

As Renes & Romijn (2014) explained in their article, a Societal Cost-Benefit Analysis (SCBA) offers an overview of the impacts and effects of policy measures, their hazards and uncertainties and the quantified advantages and disadvantages, usually quantified in money (euros for example). This monetarization of benefits and risks leads to the equation ‘benefits minus risks’ and hereby we have calculated the effect of the policy measure on the societal prosperity. Positive means good, negative means bad. SCBA’s are very useful when large projects, e.g. the construction of critical infrastructures, are being developed. Performing this analysis maps all the possible effects of the infrastructure on the environment and thus creates a better understanding of the consequences of the projects’ implementation. Because of its objective weighting of impacts and interests, SCBA as defense of policy remains uncontested. Communication between stakeholders can be enhanced by using SCBA’s, highlighting which parties and groups will be affected by the project. Also the involvement and weighing of broad public values in this analysis, taking the dynamic character of these values into account, makes SCBA a widely accepted ex ante tool for possibly risky projects. Right?

Figure 1. Example of a (simple) Societal Cost-Benefit Analysis

Well, it’s quite different. Although SCBA’s are being supported by the Dutch government and many policymakers [1], still there’s a lot to say about them. Niek Mouter, my former teacher, has done research on using SCBA’s in practice and he concluded that, next to pros, there are several cons on this analysis (Mouter, 2012). I’ll summarize a few of them:

  • Outcomes of SCBA’s are uncertain and contested because of the many assumptions that have to be done with regard to future economic and demographic development
  • Not every impact or effect can be quantified or monetarized
  • Limitations of SCBA’s can be used strategically by policymakers to say ‘no’ to policy; also, parties can hide themselves behind the SCBA so that they don’t have to say ‘no’ themselves
  • As a result of the previous con, the objective value of SCBA’s will lose power

Aad Correlje, also my former teacher, mentioned in his lecture that formal evaluation methods like SCBA’s offer opportunities for public participation and objections, leading to preconditions and operational requirements [2]. However, the gap between those formal evaluation methods and the informal (public) considerations is growing. SCBA’s seem not capable of involving the dynamic public values at the right moment, resulting in social uprisings and clashes. Because of this, SCBA’s can become counterproductive in infrastructure planning. How can SCBA clear its name again?

Recently, I’ve done research on the governance of windfarms in the Netherlands and SCBA’s form a big part of the planning of these farms. Nowadays these ‘Euromasten’ are experienced as great hindrance by the local population. What I thus propose is a ‘governance of SCBA’s’ in order to improve transparency and value embeddedness. Should we want to price the priceless? What if human lives have to be valued? How much is ours worth and who decides this? And what if risks to human beings are strategically being underestimated by self-interested policy makers? This could lead to dangerous situations!

Figure 2. Local population protesting against windmills

SCBA needs a serious Responsible Metamorphosis. Back-room decisions? No, from beginning till end, the local population, being affected by the infrastructure project, has to be involved. No black swans, but a cooperative attitude is key. In order to reduce the growing discrepancy between formal policymakers and the informal public, the methodology and presentation of SCBA’s have to be designed value-sensitive and, more important, have to be 100% transparent. I’ve learned with the Responsible Innovation Minor that value and interest conflicts not automatically lead to bad things. No, these conflicts are opportunities to innovate the analysis as a whole and embed values within it, so that SCBA connects business with the informal. The challenge is to design policy (i.e. construction of infrastructure) such that risks for the local population are minimized while societal prosperity is maximized. Transform SCBA into a societal project in which the local people can fully participate. Only then, this analysis can provide an overview of all the risks being taken and be interpreted meaningfully. After all, it stays a Societal Cost-Benefit Analysis.

 

Sources

Mouter, N. (2012). Voordelen en nadelen van de Maatschappelijke Kosten-en Baten analyse nader uitgewerkt. In Colloquium Vervoersplanologisch Speurwerk 2012, Amsterdam, 22-23 november 2012. Stichting Colloquium Vervoersplanologisch Speurwerk (CVS).

Renes, G., Romijn, G. (2014), Een algemene leidraad voor maatschappelijke kosten-batenanalyse. In ESB, Dossier MKBA: maatwerk in gebruik, Jaargang 99 (4696S), 23 oktober 2014, 6-11.

[1] http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:due7abKJpj0J:www.mkba-informatie.nl/index.php/download_file/force/242/456/+&cd=1&hl=nl&ct=clnk&gl=nl

[2] https://blackboard.tudelft.nl/bbcswebdav/pid-2432740-dt-content-rid-8381517_2/courses/34074-141504/Correlje_Governance%20van%20infrastructuurprojecten_20042015.pdf

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The price of cost-efficient killing

How drone-warfare forms a huge risk to the safety of innocent people, including ourselves.

How drone-warfare forms a huge risk to the safety of innocent people, including ourselves.

Source: http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/americas-500th-drone-strike/

Every technological implementation comes with its own set of values and risks.1 Risk can consist of financial consequences, but safety may also be at stake. Safety engineering is one of the pillars and key values of Responsible Innovation.2 Today I will discuss a very controversial technological innovation. An innovation which is developed in the United States and already used by the U.S. Air Force, but will according to the Dutch Ministry of Defense be fully operational for the Netherlands too, by the year of 2017. According to the poster of the manufacturer itself, it is cost-effective in every sense, with as goal to dwell, detect and destroy. Obviously, the subject here are drones. More specifically, the MQ-9 Reaper drone, of which four units have been bought by the Dutch in 2003. As a Dutchman, I am personally not proud of this decision. The reason for this is that when having a better look at these drones, it will become clear that drone-warfare does not only cause a lot of innocent victims on the grounds where they are operating, but also provides a huge risk to our own safety. So, what is this Reaper drone and why does it form a threat to our safety as well as the safety of others?

Drones are not new to the Dutch army, but there is a large difference between the Reaper and the older drones that are already being used. According to the website of the Dutch Ministry of Defense, the Reaper is the only drone that satisfies the current requirement in terms of among other things, maximum flight speed, maximum airtime and observation. If this would have been the only innovatory aspects of the Reaper, I would not have written this column. The problem lies within the fact that by making small adjustments, it can be armed. And where cost-efficient and safe observation by remote is very desirable, killing by remote is not. Let me explain.

According to data conducted by human rights group Reprieve, shared with the Guardian, 1,147 people have been killed, while only 41 men have been targeted.6 This while drone strikes have been ridiculously sold to the American public on the claim that they’re precise. A cause for this high level of inaccuracy is the so called ‘Military Age Male’ concept, which implies that those who are in the vicinage of the target and are a male of military age, become a legitimate target themselves too.

Unfortunately, drones do not only create an excessive amount of victims in the country that they are operative. They also form a threat to the country that operates the drones. Faisal Shazad, the 31-year-old US citizen who was arrested in 2010 after parking a car full of explosives in New York’s busiest square, has said the following: "Well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don't see children, they don't see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody.” Faisal Shazad will be no exception and the use of drones in foreign warfare will contribute to a growth of the number of terrorists. This only worsens the situation and can eventually make wars permanent.8

Concluded can be, that during the cost-benefit analysis done for the purchase of these drones, there has been a lot of ignorance in the form of a dreadful lack of practical knowledge and insight into the consequences. Drones do not only make a lot of innocent victims, but they also motivate terrorism. These serious short-term and long-term consequences may never be outweighed by anything relatively unimportant as cost-efficiency.

 

 

 

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Sources:

[1] Understanding and Identifying Risks: https://courses.edx.org/courses/DelftX/RI101x/3T2014/courseware/7d4b04ff26aa43d2bc775f339bc4db10/27954a81a08c448e9a5a9656dabf8d5a/

[2] Risk Analysis & Safety Engineering: https://courses.edx.org/courses/DelftX/RI101x/3T2014/courseware/5c314bbf8610470bb8bda4ed370d9945/c5854e08cd564998aca26760048e7090/

[3] Defensie koopt vier Amerikaanse drones: http://www.nu.nl/politiek/3634763/defensie-koopt-vier-amerikaanse-drones.html

[4] Imag(in)ing drones: http://geographicalimaginations.com/tag/reaper/

[5] Ministerie van Defensie- Onbemande vliegtuigen: https://www.defensie.nl/onderwerpen/onbemande-vliegtuigen/inhoud/welke-onbemande-vliegtuigen

[6] The Guardian – the facts on the ground: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/nov/24/-sp-us-drone-strikes-kill-1147

[7] Inside the mind of the Times Square bomber: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/sep/19/times-square-bomber

[8] Hoe drones oorlogen permanent maken: https://decorrespondent.nl/3493/Hoe-drones-oorlogen-permanent-maken-/367359306006-f37277e3

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The safest car in the world.

How Volvo has been the safest car brand for years and still continues to make their cars even safer.

How Volvo has been the safest car brand for years and still continues to make their cars even safer.

2563_2_14.jpg

When I read about this week’s topic, safety engineering, one of the first things I thought about was Volvo. I have always known it as one of the safest car brands that are on the market, so actually it fits perfectly into the safety engineering topic. Do keep in mind, however, that I am not completely unbiased in my opinion, since I have been a regular passenger in Volvo cars for many years now. Also, according to their site, Volvo was chose the safest car manufacturer by at least 70% of independent testers, this number being as high as 95% in the past four years. For these reasons, I decided to research what makes Volvo such a safe car brand.

A good way to start this research is by quoting the founder of Volvo, Assar Gabrielsson. He said: “The guiding principle behind everything we make at Volvo is, and must remain, safety.” This points out the main reason why Volvo has such a focus on engineering for safety; it has been the guiding principle behind all they do since they originally started making cars. This has led to some interesting products and services created by Volvo during the last century.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, Volvo is the original inventor of the three way seatbelt. This might not sound familiar, but it is actually the type of seatbelt most people have been using for their whole lives. Prior to this, a two way seatbelt system was used that was very uncomfortable and was not actually that efficient in preventing injury. With the three way system, which is said to have saved over a million lives since it was implemented, Volvo has reduced injury rates by 90%. Since the seatbelt is the most effective way of preventing injury at low and high speed impacts, it’s surprising that this invention has helped Volvo to be safer than its competitors. Volvo was also the first car manufacturer to implement side- and curtain airbags and baby seats into their commercial cars, way to go!

However, this turns out not to be all Volvo does to ensure safety in and around their vehicles. In consumer cars, most accidents happen by fault of the driver, and the severity can be directly linked to the performance of the car in terms of safety. This is not the case in construction sites. Because Volvo also holds a big market share in construction vehicles, they take safety in construction sites to heart as much as safety in consumer cars. This is why they have established a Security Council. This council takes care of raising awareness of safety in and around construction vehicles provided by Volvo. They raise awareness for use of safety gear, proper utilization of construction vehicles, and also appropriate design of construction sites. This all to reduce the amount of accidents happening in construction sites, which run up into the thousands every year.

So even when Volvo has been the safest car manufacturer around for many years, they still try to bring down the amount of injuries in and around their cars. By building their company around a core value of safety, and innovating around this value, they managed to not only make their own brand the safest, but to invent many features that help make other cars safer as well. This is truly a legacy to be proud of!

 

Sources used:

http://www.volvoce.com/constructionequipment/corporate/en-gb/press_room/articles/safety/Pages/taking_no_risks.aspx

http://www.volvocars.com/intl/about/our-company/sustainability

http://news.snowsgroup.co.uk/6-pioneering-car-safety-measures-volvo/ 

 

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Gas extraction in Groningen...

... And why the Dutch government still has something to learn about Cost-Benefit Analysis.

... And why the Dutch government still has something to learn about Cost-Benefit Analysis.

Demonstration against gas extraction in Groningen

About 8 years ago, in the autumn of 2007, me and my family moved away from a small village in the northeast of the province of Groningen. We moved to the city, about 20 kilometers towards the west, where already 3 out of 4 children went to school and my parents had a job. We found a nice house in the center of the city, and luckily our house in Wirdum, as the village is called, was sold in about 3 months’ time.

Lucky for us, because back then we didn’t know what we know now, which is that Wirdum is located exactly in the middle of that big red spot in the map on the left. The map shows all locations in the province of Groningen where earthquakes occurred in the period 1986-2013. We moved out of the red area just in time: our house in Wirdum is unmarketable now. Just like many old houses in the region, it doesn’t have a strong foundation. The walls are unmistakably starting to show cracks and the construction is becoming more and more unsafe.

All this is the consequence of the extraction of gas from an exceptionally large field just below the surface, discovered in 1959 near Slochteren. This gas has since then been a large source of income for the Dutch government and has been the main reason that in the 70s, already 75% of Dutch households had access to gas. The economic benefit of the Slochteren gas field for the treasury has been estimated at €211 billion and is still increasing.
Next to these monetary benefits, another advantage of the gas field is that we do not depend on Russia or the Middle-East for our gas supply, in contrast to for example Germany. Therefore, political instabilities like the Ukraine-situation affect us less.

Sounds good in the ears of our politicians in the Hague, but it is the population of Groningen that pays the price for the gas extraction. Their safety is on the line, as well as the economic prosperity of the region. But it is clear that for the government, money and an independent position weigh more than the safety of our own people. Although gas extraction has been brought back by about 40% over the last two years, this is not enough to make the earthquakes stop. But extraction won’t be brought to a halt completely until the first accidents will already have happened.

What worries me the most is that their reaction would probably have been completely different if the gas field was located underneath The Hague instead of Slochteren. I empathize with the Groningers who believe that their lives are valued less by our government than those of people in less remote areas. Our politicians don’t care that much about Groningen, simply because it is too far away. And their credibility didn’t increase when two members of parliament came up with the brilliant idea to make all Groningers move to adjacent regions and to turn Groningen into a national park, so that the gas production could be maximized.

Hopefully the Dutch government will quickly come to their senses and make a proper Cost-Benefit Analysis, where the right price is put on the lives of the inhabitants of Groningen. Then they will see that in this case, risks outweigh benefits and that they should start focussing their attention on alternative energy sources. So that I will be able to go back to Wirdum one day, and still see the house where I grew up standing.

Image: Groningers demonstrating against gas extraction in their region.

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Gym at the Office...?

We all know how exercise can make you look good, feel even better, and live a long, healthy life. But now, picture having a gym at the workplace. Could this work? With such high obesity rates in the United States, having one in close quarters could see an improvement moral wise and performance wise! But also to many, the costs outweigh these benefits without thought. After all, the investment needed is significant and there's also the fact not many are inclined to do it in the first place. So why bother in the first place?

I say bother.

We all know how exercise can make you look good, feel even better, and live a long, healthy life. But now, picture having a gym at the workplace. Could this work? With such high obesity rates in the United States, having one in close quarters could see an improvement moral wise and performance wise! But also to many, the costs outweigh these benefits without thought. After all, the investment needed is significant and there's also the fact not many are inclined to do it in the first place. So why bother in the first place?

I say bother.

gym work.jpg

Studying Economics at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, I have become accustomed to analyzing and acknowledging factors affecting employee and hence, overall firm performance. Could implementing a gym really bring benefits to a company, via a cost-benefit analyses, and change the outlook of a company's culture and performance? 

Obesity and poor physical fitness seems to be the common in many countries, like the US, where 1/3 of the population are obese and many more are just simply unhealthy. Sure, this raises causes for concern, but why should employers or any company for that matter care...it doesn't effect their profits; or can it? Perhaps caring can provide further benefits that you may have not foreseen.

I believe every company should have a gym or physical fitness center on-site at every workplace. Lets take a look at a rational cost-benefit analysis.

Say goodbye to the lame old excuse of "not having time" to go to the gym or exercise. If it is 5 days a week of work, there's 5 more days of having zero excuses of not having time. Many will find that it is now so convenient to keep fit and healthy, and do not necessarily have to go out of their way to exercise. This will certainly provide enough motivation to take even 2 or 3 of those days to work out. They can even find the energy boost they needed to get through the day more efficiently with being more focused and relaxed. Having a more positive attitude at the workplace will even make the whole 9-5 thing much more enjoyable. Keeping healthy and fit can also prevent sicknesses and absences. But that's getting into the employer benefits, which are quite substantial to say the least.

Whatever investment the employer carries out; be it via on-site centers with trainers and spas, or even simple little gyms; the benefits can be gained in every way. We know that a positive attitude and increased morale can benefit a company, through increased productivity and reduction in sicknesses and absenteeism. This can even save on insurance costs!

But what happens if no one uses the gym, and you've wasted some significant capital? Well, no need to worry. Companies can introduce incentives for exercising, such as a requirement to use the gym facilities at least 2 times a week and deducting membership fees from salaries if unmet. Simply giving extra time off on breaks can see employees more inclined to use the gym. A good idea would be to host competitions such as a "biggest loser contest", where the employee who reduces the most weight can receive extra incentives like gift cards or other fringe benefits. This can create a healthier, happier, and more competitive employee workplace. All of these improvements in morale can boost company image and make attracting top managers much easier. Everyone wants to be a part of a successful, morale-driven organization with high regard for employee well-being. 

Further research into this area shows remarkable evidence of how much companies can save in reduction of medical costs for obesity. There is billions of dollars spent on medical services on this issue, and many of them are of course employed by millions of companies! It all adds up in the end, and will affect everybody.

Providing a gym/fitness facility can truly impact a company in more ways than just financial. The savings in costs, improved employee production, and a a more positive, mindful culture makes this an easy investment decision; benefits far outweighing the costs. I truly believe a healthy body is a healthy mind, and having such easier access to these facilities can provide these multitude of benefits!

 

 

 

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Cost to Benefit Analysis of Free Higher Education for All in the U.S.A.

An important issue in the 2016 American Presidential Election, brought to the center of attention by candidate Bernie Sanders, is the government funding of higher education. Since 1978, the price of college tuition has gone up 10 times [1]. It’s obvious that the entire nation and arguably, the world, would benefit from having a more educated population, but this is still facing opposition. Funding for this program can come from many sources; spending cuts, new taxes, etc. Ultimately, a better educated population will result in a higher benefit to the economy than the cost required to provide such education.

An important issue in the 2016 American Presidential Election, brought to the center of attention by candidate Bernie Sanders, is the government funding of higher education. Since 1978, the price of college tuition has gone up 10 times [1]. It’s obvious that the entire nation and arguably, the world, would benefit from having a more educated population, but this is still facing opposition. Funding for this program can come from many sources; spending cuts, new taxes, etc. Ultimately, a better educated population will result in a higher benefit to the economy than the cost required to provide such education.

tuition.gif

Previously, President Obama made a proposal for the federal (75% contribution) and the state governments (25% contribution) to provide two free years of (tuition for) community college to “everybody who is willing to work for it,” Obama said in a video message released by the White House [2]. To qualify, the community ‘colleges would be required to offer programs where credits could count toward a four-year college and university degree’ [2]. While this is a step in the right direction, 2 years of community college amounts to an Associate’s degree, resulting in weekly earnings below the median wage [3]. Currently, only 16% of two-year college students go further to earn a bachelor’s degree [3]. If most well-paying jobs require 4 year degrees, why should we only contribute half of the education required to later earn a median wage to students? This 2 year free community college tuition proposal faced opposition by the Conservative party, who holds the majority of seats in the House of Representatives and is likely to strike it down.

Senator Bernie Sanders goes steps further, declaring “every American who studies hard in school can go to college regardless of how much money their parents make and without going into debt” [4]. He plans to stop the federal government from profiteering on student loans, “Over the next decade, it has been estimated that the federal government will make a profit of over $110 billion on student loan programs” [4]. He will also allow students with existing loans to refinance them to lower interest rates. He wants low income students to have 100% of their financial needs covered at their college or university! He plans to pay for this project by imposing, “a tax of a fraction of a percent on Wall Street speculators who nearly destroyed the economy seven years ago. More than 1,000 economists have endorsed a tax on Wall Street speculation and today some 40 countries throughout the world have imposed a similar tax” [4]. Over time, the benefits of this innovative plan will outweigh the cost by a growing American economy that impacts all other economies in the world.

Other candidates claim to have similar plans, but don’t have the same motives and methods to achieve the goals. During the first 2016 Democratic Presidential Debate, it seemed all of the candidates had shifted more to the left. For example, Hilary Clinton spoke negatively of Wall Street activity, while Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan have consistently been top donors throughout her career!

Since Wall Street relied on us to help them in 2008, we should expect them to do the same. We should impose the cost of taxing speculation that Senator Sanders recommends to benefit the collective public and the economy with access to higher education. This will encourage more people to educate themselves, leading to a growing economy and a sustainable future.

 

Sources:

Image from [1]

  1. My Money Blog,. 'Charts: College Tuition Vs. Housing Bubble'. N.p., 2010. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
  2. Reuters,. 'UPDATE 1-Obama Proposes Idea Of Two Free Years Of Community College'. N.p., 2015. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
  3. Kohli, Sonali. 'Obama’s Dream Of Free Community College Is Headed To Congress'. Quartz. N.p., 2015. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
  4. Bernie Sanders,. 'On The Issues: It's Time To Make College Tuition Free And Debt Free'. N.p., 2015. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
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Is your life worth more than the image of a billion dollar company?

How could it be that even when the engineers warned that it was very unsafe to launch the shuttle, the shuttle was still launched? The Teacher in Space program was a very prestigious project for the NASA. Cancelling the mission would mean that the whole world would see that they were not capable enough to launch the rocket. The NASA didn’t want to lose its image of the most renown space agency.

How could it be that even when the engineers warned that it was very unsafe to launch the shuttle, the shuttle was still launched? The Teacher in Space program was a very prestigious project for the NASA. Cancelling the mission would mean that the whole world would see that they were not capable enough to launch the rocket. The NASA didn’t want to lose its image of the most renown space agency.

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Since the beginning of men, we make cost-benefit analysis (CBA). In the stone age, the CBA was about whether if it was worth to attack that mammoth and maybe lose some men but have diner for everyone for the rest of the week, or attack a smaller animal and not lose any men but don’t have enough food for the rest of the group. In the later middle ages the question was for example do we use that route with an higher chance of being attacked but be twice as quick or use a safe route but way slower. What is the price you put on your own life? Would you take that risk or would you rather play it on safe? But maybe an even harder question is, what price would someone else put on your life?

In 1984 NASA set up a program called the Teacher in Space project. Ronald Reagan announced that the program was designed to inspire students, honor teachers, and spur interest in mathematics, science, and space exploration. 40.000 teachers applied for the program and finally 11.000 were invited to NASA. In the end, Christa McAuliffe was the teacher who would really go into space and who would give two 15 minute lessons from out of space. This went terribly wrong as the space shuttle exploded mid-air.

The crowd stood there bewildered, watching the shuttle come down in pieces. Later it would turn out to be a mechanical failure, but the story behind it tells a different story. Initially, the launch was supposed to happen on the 22nd of January 1986, but due to bad weather conditions the launch had to be postponed to the 23rd and then to the 24th. Finally after 2 more postpones due to bad weather, the shuttle could be launched on the 28th. The forecasts predicted extremely cold weather that day with temperatures beneath 0 degrees Celsius.  The day before engineers already warned that the O-rings, rubber rings that sealed the factory joints on the shuttle, could not handle such low temperatures. With the O-rings marked as “criticality-1” meant that when they broke, the shuttle would be destroyed.

How could it be that even when the engineers warned that it was very unsafe to launch the shuttle, the shuttle was still launched? The Teacher in Space program was a very prestigious project for the NASA. Cancelling the mission would mean that the whole world would see that they were not capable enough to launch the rocket. The NASA didn’t want to lose its image of the most renown space agency. With such pressure the managers didn’t want to take the risk of losing image. They had to choose between the safety of the astronauts or the image of the NASA. Unfortunately they decided to launch the shuttle with a catastrophic result.

Those managers actually made the tradeoff between the astronauts and NASA’s image. The most scary thing is that the astronauts themselves were not aware of the problem at all. They did not have the ability to assess the risk of the launch. To choose to fly or stay on the ground safe until the problem was resolved. Instead, managers put a price on their head and decided that the risk of losing image was more valuable than the risk of losing its astronauts.

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Aerospace as an Innovation Platform

As this silly cosmonaut demonstrates, innovation has brought some major changes to the aerospace industry. Let's see what the future of this platform looks like.

As this silly cosmonaut demonstrates, innovation has brought some major changes to the aerospace industry. Let's see what the future of this platform looks like.

There's always room for improvement.

 

Being an aerospace engineer, the first thing that naturally comes to mind when I think of safety engineering is aircraft safety. These 200-tonne monsters rise up to the sky and back down to Earth daily over their quite long lifespans – average ‘age of retirement’ of aircraft is around 25-30 years! [1]

These flying contraptions have been over-engineering beyond perfection. Although people usually freak out when you tell them there is literally a millimeter or two of metal between them and 11,000 meters of freefall, the amount of thought that went into designing each individual plane is mind boggling. Nevertheless, accidents do happen, and when they do, they are usually extremely fatal. We have seen a few major aircraft crashes happen in the recent years, which brings the question: Are today’s aircraft safe enough, and is there room for innovation?

Quite a morbid thought, but a lot of today’s aviation safety standards were implemented in response to fatal accidents. Aircraft manufacturers and operators are constantly asked to innovate due to unforeseen risks that are discovered a little too late. And while the statistics portray it as a low risk transport, 1 in 45 million passengers [2], most of the plane fatalities involve unpredicted failures, of which is again low, but it still happens every so often. Millions fly daily though, and air travel has been growing exponentially [3]. Although we get to see a lot of crashes on the news, the number of people dying in air crash accidents has actually been in the decline!

Even though the risk would be considered as negligible, had it not have involved human lives, there’s always room for improvement! Aerospace giants such as Boeing and Airbus invest billions in research and development, but there are also smaller companies creating innovative ways to increase aircraft safety. A perfect example is a small company named BRS Aviation, which created a parachute system for smaller aircraft, like one pictured bellow [5].

 

This just goes to show the possible niche innovations that are still to be explored in the aerospace industry. And with the inevitable commercialization of space travel [6], the possible fields of innovation yet remain unexplored. As it was demonstrated with previous leaps in technology, new advances in a field follow a law of accelerating returns, meaning the development in a certain field has an exponential growth, not linear (as most people perceive it [7]). The reason why I mention this is that the safety engineering opportunities found in these developing fields are enormous, and the only action we can take is predict what changes will occur, i.e. where an innovation space exists. A Responsible Innovation space, one might call it. :)

 

Sources:

1)      http://aviationweek.com/awin/aircraft-retirement-age-drops-again

2)      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/12/business/2012-was-the-safest-year-for-airlines-globally-since-1945.html?_r=0

3)      http://openi.nlm.nih.gov/imgs/512/152/3194117/3194117_ijerph-08-03777f3.png

4)      https://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch3en/conc3en/airfatalities.html

5)      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballistic_Recovery_Systems#/media/File:Caps_deploy.jpg

6)      http://www.commercialspaceflight.org/

7)      http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returns

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Pool party anyone?

How do we perceive risk?

How do we perceive risk?

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Our daily lives are full of dangers, from driving our cars to cholesterol in our food. But how good are we really at assessing these risks? And when do we feel safe making these decisions? It appears our emotions are back in the picture when we make these judgments, surprise! 

Take for example, parents : a social group that takes danger very seriously but often worries about the wrong things. A great illustration of that of a small child wanting to play at one of her friends’ house. Her parents know that the father of one of her friends keeps a gun in their house, so they decide that she is not allowed to play there. Instead they feel that she would be much safer spending time at another friend's house, where there are no guns, but there is a swimming pool. You may think this is the right choice, but according to the statistics, you would actually be wrong. Every year, one child per 11,000 private swimming pools is drowned in the United States. However, only one child is killed by a gun for every million guns. This means that a child is 100 times more likely to die in a swimming accident than because of playing with a gun.

The parents of this child are not unique in their decision making. Generally people are just not very good at assessing risk. The risks that scare people and the risks that kill people are very different things.  Compare the dangerous bacteria in our kitchen and diseases such as mad cow disease: the first is very common, but for some reason not very frightening; the second is extremely rare, but it somehow terrifies us. It is simply a fact that risks that you can control are much less worrying than risks you can not control. We can not tell if our meat is infected, whereas we can control how clean our kitchen is.

This 'control factor' probably explains the typical example of why flying tends to scare people more than driving.  People tend to think that since they control the car, they are the ones keeping themselves safe; but because they do not have control over the airplane, they are without any protection against external factors and have no control over their fate. So is the well known theory that planes are safer than cars true? Statistics show that, although a larger amount of people die each year in car accidents than in plane crashes, driving is not automatically more dangerous. This is because generally people spend far less time flying than driving. In fact, statistically, the number of deaths for each hour of driving compared with each hour of flying is about the same. So flying and driving carry a very similar risk. It is just our lack of control when flying that makes it seem more scary.

Another aspect of risk behavior is that people tend to be much more scared of short-term dangers than long-term ones. The chances of someone being killed in a terrorist attack is immensely smaller than the chances that this same person will eat too much junk food and die of heart disease. This difference in thought arises, because a terrorist attack happens now, right at this moment. Yet death from heart disease is a distant and quiet tragedy. The control freak in us is just screaming at the top of its lungs. The acts of terrorists lie beyond our control, but chomping down Happy Meals do not.

Finally there is 'the dread factor', that is how terrifying we consider something to be. We are horrified by the thought of being killed in a terrorist attack, but for some reason we are not horrified by the thought of death from heart disease. It is simply explained by this equation: for most people risk = hazard + outrage. When the hazard is high but the terror is low, people underreact. When the hazard is low and the outrage is high, people overreact. Which is why so many parents will do more to protect their children from a gun accident than from a swimming pool accident. Little do we realize that we built the real risk in our own backyard. 

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The do-it-yourself generation in the Open World

With the advent of Open Source and Open Design a whole new third industrial revolution is created. Intellectual knowledge is free and open for anyone and is improved by everyone. Are there risks in this new Open World?

With the advent of Open Source and Open Design a whole new third industrial revolution is created. Intellectual knowledge is free and open for anyone and is improved by everyone. Are there risks in this new Open World?

IKEA land

An interesting example of Open Design is the WikiHouse. The concept is similar to Wikipedia: sharing information for free around the world. The concept can be explained in the following quote of John Maynard Keynes: ‘ It’s easier to ship recipes than cakes and biscuits.’ It allows anyone who wants to build their own house to download free designs from a shared global library, which are then “printed” and assembled in a matter of days, no skills required (1). The new Open Source for architecture makes a job of an architect slightly different. Because the open source movement isn’t only revolutionizing technology and how we share things; it also promises to transform the way we design, construct and interact with our buildings (2).

 

Open Source has a lot of advantages. It makes people around the world collaborate, that normally won’t collaborate. Problems in software are also quickly resolved. The design that belongs to Open Source is called Open Design. You can find different categories in Open Design. On the one hand projects for the common good for example developing countries or to help spread ecological or cheaper technologies. On the other handopen design may provide a framework for developing advanced projects and technologies that might be beyond the resource of any single company or country (3). New innovations can be created because particular parts can be copied from Open Design. There is also a new third category developed: where these two methods come together to use high-tech open-source (e.g. 3D printing) but customized local solutions for sustainable development. An example of this third category is the WikiHouse.

If the new Open Architecture concept will collaborate with the Smart City concept, useful data of cities can be translated in designs accessible for anyone. But these concepts also create certain risks. The biggest risk lies in the force of the concept: the openness. Because everyone can contribute to the Open Community, also bad ideas can spread easily. The Open Source/Design/Architecture also includes no boundaries. This can be a problem in for example the architecture industrie. Different laws and values are applied in every country and this is not taken into account in the general design. For example the fire safety rules. Also the safety and privacy of people can be damaged. Because it is a new promising market, a risk analysis would be a great idea.

I think the future lays in Open Source and Open Architecture. It would be profitable for technical and designing studies to learn about this subject and the risks because it will be a big part of our future.

 

Sources:

1. and 2.            Kimberley Mok (2014). WikiHouse: Open Source Sustainable House Designs That Anyone Can Build.http://thenewstack.io/wikihouse-open-source-sustainable-house-designs-that-anyone-can-build/ 

3. and 4.            exaplantion Open Design https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_design

5. WikHouse exaplantion. Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fB3SFgKPog

6. Risks using open source software. Source: https://powermore.dell.com/technology/risks-using-open-source-software/ 

7. Open Source information. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_source

8. Image: welcome in IKEA land made by Lisa Gerards

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Tesla introducing the autopilot-function

Tesla has been the favourite when looking at new technologies in cars. They now introduced an auto-pilot function and the try-outs are with consumers. This isn't safe and they should take the risks more into account.

Tesla has been the favourite when looking at new technologies in cars. They now introduced an auto-pilot function and the try-outs are with consumers. This isn't safe and they should take the risks more into account.

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Tesla is one of the favourites of the public when it comes to responsible innovations in the car industry. They have these beautiful cars which are really fancy, luxurious, fast and at the same time electric and so a responsible car. They are definitely my favourite, every time I see one I praise the owner for having a car driving on sustainable energy and at the same I admire the Tesla for its performance and appearance.

Tesla was founded with the idea of creating a sports car which would be full electric. This they did and with success, they now even sell their technology to other car companies as well. After introducing this sports car they introduced more family car like models as well. Last week Tesla introduced a system which makes the cars self-driving on highways, though it did mention not to take your hands of the steering wheel. Why, because the system sometimes fails and the car makes unexpected manoeuvres. I believe that this then can’t yet be seen as a real self-driving system and it seems dangerous to me now.

We expect Tesla to excel with their technologies in cars, which puts pressure on them to stay ahead the other car brands and to keep introducing new technology. Unfortunately the new technologies used in the self-driving cars are not reliable so I think they should not have brought it on the market. Especially looking at the debate about self-driving cars, with this not properly working system they confirm the opposition that self-driving cars indeed are not safe. Tesla does take all cars back with which something is wrong but now it will be harder for people to trust self-driving cars again. They did warn people that the autopilot is still in its starting phase and so they collect data from consumers driving with the autopilot to improve the autopilot system. I think this risk they take with consumers is too big, looking at the movies people made of the manoeuvres the cars make they really introduce uncertain and unsafe driving behaviour which may cause accidents. The risk is just too big that something does go wrong and then self-driving cars will experience a throwback and Tesla as well. I think this is a pity because I do think there is much potential for self-driving cars.

Tesla has great perspectives but I think they should not yield under the pressure of expectations. As it shows it works against them because people lose their trust in Tesla cars. Now they will have a harder time convincing people next time that their self-driving system is safe. People are very anxious when it comes to technology taking their lives in their hands. They often do not feel safe and as this is a form of risk as well, Tesla should have taken this into account and not just brought the technology on the road.

So Tesla I really love your cars and your ideas which roughly woke up the traditional car brands but please do not think too easily about the risks involved when already using your autopilot system on the roads. It isn’t safe yet and now you put people’s lives in danger. 

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Cost-Benefit Analysis: To Frack or not to Frack?

This column tries to asses briefly the costs and benefits of fracking and the international risks and implications of the technology.

This column tries to asses briefly the costs and benefits of fracking and the international risks and implications of the technology.

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With the price of crude oil on the rise, and many critical supply lines situated in or near conflict zones following the turn of the century, the world was ready and in anticipation for a new, readily available and cheap source of energy: hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” is a relatively new process, which extracts fossil fuels contained within geological formations by forcing fracking fluid, a water-based mixture of chemicals and sand deep underground. The resulting pressure causes cracks or fissures to form, along which natural gas or oil can flow into a pre-bored well. Often, a well can collect fuel from a radius of multiple kilometres. In many parts of the United States, especially those traditionally invested in energy production, which have been in economic decline recently, fracking has been adopted and hailed as a boon. It is being acknowledged for rejuvenating entire communities by providing jobs and has led to oil exports, and lower energy prices internationally. This has been welcomed by most nations recovering from the financial crises of the last decade.

However, evidence is mounting to suggest that this practice creates a collection of environmental hazards including surface water pollution and even increased earthquake frequency. There are also concerns s that the horizontal drilling necessary for cost-effective extraction leads to the contamination of the water table. Residents have complained of contaminated wells affecting their own water supply as well as the supply for their cattle or crops. While acknowledging that their findings may be inaccurate due to an insufficient amount of collected data, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has stated that fracking does not contribute to wide-spread contamination and pollution, if done correctly. This conclusion was based on the fact that the number of cases in which claims of contaminated water were made, are relatively low to the amount of fracking wells being bored. However, digging wells and fracking has become so widespread that it is difficult to monitor and assess the situation or enforce safety measures. Especially in states such as North Dakota, which has seen economic developments in key areas, previously unimagined, the idea of threatening economic growth by curtailing fracking is proving politically unpalatable. Large business interests lobby local government to support the industry. The result internationally has been that different countries and localities have adopted the practice to varying degrees depending on their own cost benefit analyses. Do the potential environmental concerns outweigh the economic boons and renewals afforded?

Countries outside of the United States have begun to answer this question; some have begun to frack, while others have instituted laws banning the practice. If there are negative effects, they will influence more than just the local population; the international community as a whole could be indirectly affected. Moreover, effects could be permanent or difficult to assuage, suggesting that quick profits will incur long term unforeseen costs. Also, the costs and benefits may be unfairly distributed such that rural farmers are more negatively affected and ignored than urban populations. Moreover, countries not fracking may still benefit indirectly from lower energy prices while not incurring any of the potential environmental issues. Whether the practice of drilling contaminates the environment or not, it is clear that the practice of fracking will be unsustainable. In the long run, the final product is still energy in the form of a fossil fuel, which when combusted, produces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses. As such, it should be seen as a temporary economic band-aid and not a green solution for a sustainable future. Governments should be wary and skeptic of adopting the practice and if they do, they should ensure that the appropriate measures are taken to ensure public and environmental safety in order to mitigate associated risks and costs.

Sources:
http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/6/4/epa-says-fracking-doesnt-contaminate-water.html
http://www.thewillislawgroup.com/uploads/file/Frack%20You.pdf
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/will-reynolds/can-illinois-learn-from-n_b_6402508.html
Images:
https://translegalllc.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/636px-eia_world_shale_gas_map-en-svg.png
http://cdn.frack-off.org.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/europe-map-copy3.jpg
http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/.a/6a00d834515c5469e2017d3fbaabcd970c-pi

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Mirror, Mirror, Facebook wall, Who's the prettiest of them all?

Social risks should be included in a risk analysis of Facebook.

Social risks should be included in a risk analysis of Facebook.

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Most of you will probably have Facebook. Facebook can be used in multiple ways: you could tell people you went on vacation, tell all your friends about your diploma or show your new haircut. You can even invite a group of friends to join a festival or invite people to your birthday. There is however another side to all of this. Let’s call it the dark side of Facebook. The dark side of Facebook consists of several social and societal risks which should be considered in a risk analysis.


A risk can be defined as ‘The probability of something happening multiplied by the cost or benefit if it does’. A risk analysis consists of many different risks, but we will only look at a few social risks. Now when looking at social risks we will focus on a few examples: Narcissism and depression.

Facebook has increasingly become attached to our self-esteem, in a way it is our modern mirror.

The difference between this mirror and an ordinary one is that Facebook gives people a chance to present themselves in the most favourable way possible. This on its own is not a bad thing. However it creates some problems: one the one hand narcissism and on the other hand depression.

  

Facebook is considered a contributor to narcissism. Narcissism is characterized by feelings of grandiosity, by arrogance and vanity and, in most cases, by preoccupation with appraisals of others (Kauten, et al., 2015). Facebook enables all of these characteristics. For example Amy who places 25 selfies on her Facebook wall every day and is very preoccupied with receiving positive feedback. When Amy will gain appraisal, her online self-presenting behaviour will most likely increase. Also Amy will increase her own self-esteem even further by giving attention to her own Facebook wall (Pantic, et al., 2012).

 

 

The depression problem is amongst other reasons created because of people’s tendency to compare themselves with others. When someone compares the most favourable image of others to the realistic or even negative image of oneself this will create low self-esteem and feeling of loneliness. Low self-esteem, loneliness and depression enhance each other.

 

 

 

 

 

These examples show that social effects of Facebook could be severe. Social risks such as these must be considered in the risk analysis of Facebook. Social risks such as these can have a severe impact on multiple stakeholders. Two of those stakeholders are: Firstly the individual such as Amy, having to deal with the consequences on a daily basis. And secondly Facebook, which risk consists of reputational damage and potential legal risks in the form of lawsuits. Now considering all these risks I think that the legal and reputational benefits of avoiding damage will outweigh the costs of preventing the problem when including a cost-benefit analysis. It will be in Facebooks best interest to prevent potential harm and include social risks in the risk analysis.

 

List of References.

                Kauten, R. L., Lui, J. H. L., Stary, A. K., & Barry, C. T. (2015). “Purging my friends list. Good luck making the cut”: Perceptions of narcissism on Facebook. Computers in Human Behavior, 51, 244-254. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.05.010.

                Pantic, I., Damjanovic, A., Todorovic, J., Topalovic, D., Bojovic-Jovic, D., Ristic, S., Pantic, S.(2012) Association between Online Social Networking and Depression in High School Students. Psychiatia Danubina, 24, 90-93.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gattaca, the consensus on where to improve

If we can gentically modify, what would we change and how should we involve al stakeholders

If we can gentically modify, what would we change and how should we involve al stakeholders

Genetic modification

Gattaca, the consensus on where to improve

The movie Gattaca has the topic that it is able for people to genetically influence their children. This way it is possible to prevent sickness and negative effects that the parents poses but do not want their children to poses them as well. The movie points out how natural born children and modified children differ and interact in society.

A student group presented this idea with an interaction part where students, paired in groups, had to think how different stakeholders would have their vision on this idea and what actions they would take. I was, with my group, representing the church, which I changed to religion to be more overarching. And as religion we decided to not be overly radical because this could lead to endless discussions with other stakeholders. But be rational with some clear points. This way we decided that genetically modification should only be used to cure and help people. The original hospitals where the church’s (or other religions) initiative to take care for the ill and lost souls. So why should the church not want to help children born with leukemia, or with Alzheimer running in the family? But it should only be implemented when it is affordable for everybody, so not that only the richest 1% could pay for it, because why should the elite top become even more elite, that is not something religion would approve. Also it should not be used to create the perfect child or the gender of the child. This could lead to unbalanced society which could possibly have serious negative future impacts.

After this we as religion (church) went out and got to discuss with other stakeholders, in this way all the different points of view where shared with other stakeholders. What I noticed was that in my group we had very similar points in what we wanted and what we definitely did not want and that was the prevention of the elite becoming even more elite.

Now came the most interesting part of the interaction. We as different stakeholders got six aspects on which we could genetically improve and 20 points we had to divide over these different aspects. These where:

-          Increased IQ, for people with a lower than average IQ,

-          Criminal behavior, preventing new generation to behave criminally,

-          Cancer, prevent cancer,

-          Social disorder, the social behavior in society,

-          Depression and addiction, reducing these aspects in society,

-          Neuro diseases, diseases as alzeheimer.

We decided to give 5 points to neuro diseases and criminal behavior and social disorder, this because neuro disease are very often genetically heritage and puts a heavy load on the family. Criminal behavior has a huge impact on society and conflicts with religion.  3 points to depression and addiction, we found this to be a mindset but does influence society. And 2 point to cancer, not to prevent this terrible disease but to reduce it, this because cancer is no genetic disease and is getting better curable

Interesting was that there where in total 3 points given to IQ, where 47 points where given to cancer.

This is because of two aspects. Cancer got a high emotional value, close ones we lost because of the disease and the anxiety of the disease, anyone can get the disease, and the fact that we as students believe that everybody has got their own talent. But is this rational thought or just because we do not want to do the “dirty jobs”. This is a harsh statement but we also need to realize that people with a lower IQ level want to be smarter. It would be very interesting to repeat this exercise on different levels in society. What are the outcomes and would this be possible solutions for future implementation where all stakeholders are represented?

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Imperfect? Perfect!

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As every Thursday morning I am sitting in the bus heading towards the railway station. The rain is dripping down the windows. Typical Dutch weather in autumn. Next to me sitting in a wheel share a disabled boy is looking out the window. The position and the way his legs and arms look suggest that he barely can use both.  When he turns around mumbling something I could not understand I realize myself that he cannot speak properly as well.  The idea of not being able to use your feed, no running, no riding your bike, is already terrifying to me. Not be able to speak seems even more frustrating.  But even with all his handicaps this boy does not seem to be unhappy. He even smiles at me. Like he wants to say “Hey! How is it going”.  I do not believe that disabled people cannot have a happy life. So why do we treat it as a diseases?  Why do parents choose to abort a disabled child? Is that responsible?

A disabled child can be a big burden for parents in sense of that it changes their life entirely. Children do that anyway but the attention and the live long dependency on help of a disabled child is different from a “normal” child.  I really would like to think that this reason is the one reason why parents decide to abort. But I actually believe that a lot of parents do not want an “imperfect” child. Maybe it is because they do not want their child to be different. Maybe it is because they want their child to be as successful as they were or even more successful.

On the other side stands the argument that parents choosing for abortion are killing an already fully functioning human being. The question behind that argument is when a human being is alive. Sure there is no easy answer to that.  Another argument is the question of the risk. No doctor can tell parents definitely if their child will be disabled. So it is as well a question of what risk you are willing to take.

The most important reason to me why disabled children deserve to live is because their life’s are just as valuable. They can have as a fulfilling live as “normal” children. For sure you cannot obligate parents with the burden of a disabled child. But what at least should be done is to make them think. Not make it feel like it is normal and a common procedure because it is everything but that. I would like to see that parents to take their responsibility and do not choose for the most easy and common solution. In the end it id imperfection what makes our world so great. No one is alike. Everybody has his own personality and its own story to tell. 

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COLUMN 6/7: BLAME}}GAME{{SHAME

A chance to get amused, surprised and be carried away from a safe distance, by the opportunities and challenges that take place at the Responsible Innovation minor.
Driven by the motto of the Faculty of Social Sciences; 'Discover people. Discover society!' an Erasmus Student is trying not to get lost in the new world of Technology, Policy and Management.

A chance to get amused, surprised and be carried away from a safe distance, by the opportunities and challenges that take place at the Responsible Innovation minor.
Driven by the motto of the Faculty of Social Sciences; 'Discover people. Discover society!' an Erasmus Student is trying not to get lost in the new world of Technology, Policy and Management.

MORAL//OVERDOSE//RIDICULOUS//

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Do we need the Terminator?

This column discusses two scenarios of digitalization and their concerns. One where cyber security becomes very important and one where computers control everything.

This column discusses two scenarios of digitalization and their concerns. One where cyber security becomes very important and one where computers control everything.

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“I’ll be back”, this is one of the most famous quote of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Terminator. In this movie the artificial intelligent machines, led by the computer system Skynet, oppress humans. This is of course a science-fiction movie and this has nothing to do with reality. But is this true?

Digitalization is a process that is taking place worldwide. Everyone owns a computer and we cannot go back, we are depending too much on a pc. The attack on the computers of the nuclear program of Iran, could be concerning. What if some people hacked their security program and decided to fire a nuke? This is something else than the Terminator story, because this concerns cyber-security. Digitalization can even go so far that everything is controlled by computers. There are two scenario’s for digitalization. The first is where everything is controlled by computers. Here the concern is the one shown in the movie Terminator. If everything is controlled by intelligent computers then humans are not needed anymore. Artificial intelligence computers can think that humans are not needed anymore and that they are a threat to themselves or to the computers. We could not do anything if the computers wanted to annihilate us because computers would own everything even our military department.

The second scenario is a more realistic scenario and that is that we would have a different kind of war, the digital war. We would not invade a country with soldiers but just take the country over by hacking  their computers. Countries could hack the power supply systems and win the war. This can also mean that terrorists can have a bigger impact than they now have! This is very worrisome. If a terrorist group hacks a military system, they can harm a lot of people and it would mean that the world would be under a lot of threat. But this war can be also about information. America accuses China of hacking in to their systems. There were personal data of four million employees stolen. This was the biggest cyberattack in US history. Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, “Cyberattacks are anonymous, cross-border and hard to trace. If you keep using the words “maybe” or “perhaps” without making a thorough study, this is irresponsible and unscientific. We hope the U.S. side will shed its suspicions.” Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin said: “(The office) says it 'has undertaken an aggressive effort to update its cybersecurity posture.' Plainly, it must do a better job, especially given the sensitive nature of the information it holds." This would make the relationship between China and the US worse than it is. These wars can have a big impact on the world. Cyber-security will be important and in the future governments will spend big money on it. It is the new form of military. Hacking is even used for defending your honor.  Sony corporate servers were allegedly hacked by North Korea, probably because of the movie ‘the interview’.

Digitalization can mean that we need one man, the Terminator, he already said to us: “I will be back” and now we know the reason!

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Security or Privacy?

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Each country has its own laws and regulates itself how about the law for the internet? The internet is a borderless interface which connects to the world. What if there is an international crime in several countries? How can they judge this crime? Let me ask you this question. Do you actually know the role of cyber security? Maybe you would answer in order to protect from cyber terrorism. What is cyber terrorism exactly then? Some people might be able to answer some not. Let me explain it to you shortly. Basically it is an internet terrorism which includes disrupting or stealing personal data from computers by sending viruses or installing software.

Do you know that Islamic State currently started cyber-attack through twitter? IS is trying to promote # AmericaUnderHacks in order to create panic and fear among in the U.S. IS emphasized that they celebrate 9.11 attacks in 2001. Since then the U.S. is asking private companies to sweep data mining in order to prevent from cyber-attack.

Recently cyber-crime have occurred more in Europe rather than in the U.S. For example, in 2014 December hackers had executed a huge attack that triggered enormous damage on Germany. This became the first successful cyber-crime on governmental system. In 2015 January, nearly twenty thousands of websites were temporarily disabled including Defense Ministry. In 2015 May, German government confessed that twenty thousand of computers from politicians have been infected by malware virus which steals data. All those crimes happened because of movement of IS. A cyber-attack just keeps growing rapidly in Europe. Because of those incidents EU is now focusing more on security rather than individual privacy. On the contrary, the U.S government is postponing the law regulation regarding cyber security. It seems like that they do not want to deal with it. In order to have extreme security you need to give up privacy from terrorism.

I believe security is more important than privacy because I do not want to get stolen my information by terrorist. I actually prefer to give my information to the government and be safe. On the other side maybe it is safer to protect privacy rather than collecting all information into one place such as governmental institution or big internet companies such as Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Youtube and etc. This is because if you keep everything into one place it is easy to break in if there is no sufficient security. The ideal solution is to balance between security and privacy.

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Oversight in the cost-benefit analysis

Column on who provides oversight in the cost benefit analysis

Column on who provides oversight in the cost benefit analysis

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Oversight of cost-benefit analysis

Where did my money go? This is the question that a lot of people who gave money for a certain kind of aid initiative asked and ask themselves.  International aid initiatives had built up a reputation of being corrupt in a lot of ways. People were wondering if their money ever made it to the goal that was originally set. To clear things up the International Aid Transparency Initiative, in short IATI, was set up. The goal of IATI was to make international development aid as transparent as possible. The reasoning behind this was that people would know and could see where their money was going. In this way they could also make the process more efficient.  With more transparency, however, comes less safety in certain situations.

 

Imagine the situation there is a girls’ school being built by an international aid initiative somewhere in close proximity to areas controlled by Boko Haram. When progress on this school is being published online and available to the public, there is a safety risk for the people that will eventually go to this school. Boko Haram also has access to this information and could thus use this for harm.

In this situation, the cost-benefit analysis is a hard one to make. On one hand you want to make the process as transparent as possible, this way you can gain more trust and reach your goals more efficiently, on the other hand there is the safety of those involved.

Can a NGO decide whether the cost of the risks is worth the profits of the benefits by complying to IATI standards? We are now talking about aid initiatives, where I believe companies will sooner choose for the safety of the people they are working with then choose for more benefits. But this situation does learn us a lesson for other areas. Are companies in other industries as concerned with the safety as in this case aid initiatives.

Again in my opinion the government is of utmost importance in setting safety standards for companies. We now know aid giving initiatives would have a hard time getting away with being corrupt in developing countries but do we have such a confidence in our MNOs? Multinational organisations can operate rather freely in developing countries since they provide a high number of working places for the country. They should take into account the safety and comfort of those employees as well and when applicable their export market there. From previous reports it has become quite clear this is not always the case when MNOs settle in developing countries.

 

International aid organisations have become transparent in order to create trust at their home base, with this transparency also comes risk. The IATI standards aim to mitigate these risks and maximise the transparency. MNOs on the other hand have a “carte blanche” when it comes to operating in developing countries. Making similar standards for them in cooperation with the local governments could increase the position of the country by less exploitation.

 

Bas Krijnen

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The price of cost-efficient killing

How drone-warfare forms a huge risk to the safety of innocent people, including ourselves.

How drone-warfare forms a huge risk to the safety of innocent people, including ourselves.

Source: http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/americas-500th-drone-strike/

Every technological implementation comes with its own set of values and risks.1 Risk can consist of financial consequences, but safety may also be at stake. Safety engineering is one of the pillars and key values of Responsible Innovation.2 Today I will discuss a very controversial technological innovation. An innovation which is developed in the United States and already used by the U.S. Air Force, but will according to the Dutch Ministry of Defense be fully operational for the Netherlands too, by the year of 2017. According to the poster of the manufacturer itself, it is cost-effective in every sense, with as goal to dwell, detect and destroy. Obviously, the subject here are drones. More specifically, the MQ-9 Reaper drone, of which four units have been bought by the Dutch in 2003. As a Dutchman, I am personally not proud of this decision. The reason for this is that when having a better look at these drones, it will become clear that drone-warfare does not only cause a lot of innocent victims on the grounds where they are operating, but also provides a huge risk to our own safety. So, what is this Reaper drone and why does it form a threat to our safety as well as the safety of others?

Drones are not new to the Dutch army, but there is a large difference between the Reaper and the older drones that are already being used. According to the website of the Dutch Ministry of Defense, the Reaper is the only drone that satisfies the current requirement in terms of among other things, maximum flight speed, maximum airtime and observation. If this would have been the only innovatory aspects of the Reaper, I would not have written this column. The problem lies within the fact that by making small adjustments, it can be armed. And where cost-efficient and safe observation by remote is very desirable, killing by remote is not. Let me explain.

According to data conducted by human rights group Reprieve, shared with the Guardian, 1,147 people have been killed, while only 41 men have been targeted.6 This while drone strikes have been ridiculously sold to the American public on the claim that they’re precise. A cause for this high level of inaccuracy is the so called ‘Military Age Male’ concept, which implies that those who are in the vicinage of the target and are a male of military age, become a legitimate target themselves too.

Unfortunately, drones do not only create an excessive amount of victims in the country that they are operative. They also form a threat to the country that operates the drones. Faisal Shazad, the 31-year-old US citizen who was arrested in 2010 after parking a car full of explosives in New York’s busiest square, has said the following: "Well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don't see children, they don't see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody.” Faisal Shazad will be no exception and the use of drones in foreign warfare will contribute to a growth of the number of terrorists. This only worsens the situation and can eventually make wars permanent.8

Concluded can be, that during the cost-benefit analysis done for the purchase of these drones, there has been a lot of ignorance in the form of a dreadful lack of practical knowledge and insight into the consequences. Drones do not only make a lot of innocent victims, but they also motivate terrorism. These serious short-term and long-term consequences may never be outweighed by anything relatively unimportant as cost-efficiency.

 

 

 

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Sources:

[1] Understanding and Identifying Risks: https://courses.edx.org/courses/DelftX/RI101x/3T2014/courseware/7d4b04ff26aa43d2bc775f339bc4db10/27954a81a08c448e9a5a9656dabf8d5a/

[2] Risk Analysis & Safety Engineering: https://courses.edx.org/courses/DelftX/RI101x/3T2014/courseware/5c314bbf8610470bb8bda4ed370d9945/c5854e08cd564998aca26760048e7090/

[3] Defensie koopt vier Amerikaanse drones: http://www.nu.nl/politiek/3634763/defensie-koopt-vier-amerikaanse-drones.html

[4] Imag(in)ing drones: http://geographicalimaginations.com/tag/reaper/

[5] Ministerie van Defensie- Onbemande vliegtuigen: https://www.defensie.nl/onderwerpen/onbemande-vliegtuigen/inhoud/welke-onbemande-vliegtuigen

[6] The Guardian – the facts on the ground: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/nov/24/-sp-us-drone-strikes-kill-1147

[7] Inside the mind of the Times Square bomber: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/sep/19/times-square-bomber

[8] Hoe drones oorlogen permanent maken: https://decorrespondent.nl/3493/Hoe-drones-oorlogen-permanent-maken-/367359306006-f37277e3

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The Ford Pinto Case and human life value

Jordi Granés Puig - In 1968, Ford was losing the U.S. car market against smaller and cheaper European cars. The general manager decided to launch a revolutionary car which should be way cheap than the others in order to reconquer the market. The car was released for the price of 2000$ but that price leaded few safety considerations...

Jordi Granés Puig - In 1968, Ford was losing the U.S. car market against smaller and cheaper European cars. The general manager decided to launch a revolutionary car which should be way cheap than the others in order to reconquer the market. The car was released for the price of 2000$ but that price leaded few safety considerations...

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Ford Pinto was designed in 1968 as a consequence of Ford’s loss of U.S. market share against smaller and cheaper European cars. The decision was made to put it onto the market for less than 2000$ in 1970, which was a very affordable price at the moment. The common process of car design is around 43 months but, as Ford Pinto urged to be entered to the market, it had only 24 months. As a consequence, the safety aspect of the design did not receive sufficient priority. Due to a lack of experience in small cars the fuel tank was placed behind the rear axis, which proved wrong during the tests because a back collision could puncture the tank and cause an explosion. Against that problem, Ford had two solutions: Put a rubber involving the tank to protect it or change the position of the tank. Can you guess which one they applied? None of these.

One of the most commonly used techniques in managing risks is a cost-benefit analysis, and that’s what Ford did to study the situation. It was asserted that the extra costs of 11$ to change the position of the tank did not weigh against the benefit that society would derive from a smaller number of wounded passengers or fatalities and the same result was considered with the protection rubber. Nowadays that approach is monstrous but in 1970 Ford needed to reconquer the American market and all the possible measures had to be taken in order to reduce the price to a minimum level. In addition, Ford was legally protected because Pinto was meeting the safety requirements of the government, even with the petrol tank between the rear axis and without rubber protection.

As it use to happen the product was released and there was no problem until an accident happened. Unfortunately, a rear impact is something quite usual in car driving and in October 1970 (the same year that the vehicle was released) three teenagers died because a truck collided against their car and the car exploded. The courts sentenced against Ford and the company had to pay millions in fines and improvements for the already sold vehicles.

We can take several conclusions of that case. First of all, a cost benefit analysis may be a good procedure in some situations but it will never consider all the factors and situations. It has to be a tool to help in decision making but it should never be the only decisive factor. Secondly, how we can value the life of a person? After their study, Ford considered that each causality cost 200.000$ to the global welfare, but personally I think that you can never put a monetary value to a life. This doesn’t mean that you have spend half of the cost of a car in safety systems, but I’m sure that everyone would agree to pay 11 more $ to reduce significantly the death probability. Finally, I would like to put emphasis on the fact that not only the companies but the governments put price to human lives. Of course monetary values are a universal reference that can be very useful to compare the value of diverse things, but we should not forget that if money was created as a tool to trade, we shouldn’t trade with a human life.

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Value-sensitive design on Societal Cost-Benefit Analyses: reducing formal-informal discrepancy

Societal Cost-Benefit Analyses (SCBA) have showed to be very useful in monitoring the effects of (technological) projects on the environment. All impacts are taken into account in order to have a clear calculation on the total benefit-cost distribution. However, who is making those SCBA’s? How do those SCBA’s come about? A critical look on SCBA’s.

Societal Cost-Benefit Analyses (SCBA) have showed to be very useful in monitoring the effects of (technological) projects on the environment. All impacts are taken into account in order to have a clear calculation on the total benefit-cost distribution. However, who is making those SCBA’s? How do those SCBA’s come about? A critical look on SCBA’s.

Immoral decisions..

As Renes & Romijn (2014) explained in their article, a Societal Cost-Benefit Analysis (SCBA) offers an overview of the impacts and effects of policy measures, their hazards and uncertainties and the quantified advantages and disadvantages, usually quantified in money (euros for example). This monetarization of benefits and risks leads to the equation ‘benefits minus risks’ and hereby we have calculated the effect of the policy measure on the societal prosperity. Positive means good, negative means bad. SCBA’s are very useful when large projects, e.g. the construction of critical infrastructures, are being developed. Performing this analysis maps all the possible effects of the infrastructure on the environment and thus creates a better understanding of the consequences of the projects’ implementation. Because of its objective weighting of impacts and interests, SCBA as defense of policy remains uncontested. Communication between stakeholders can be enhanced by using SCBA’s, highlighting which parties and groups will be affected by the project. Also the involvement and weighing of broad public values in this analysis, taking the dynamic character of these values into account, makes SCBA a widely accepted ex ante tool for possibly risky projects. Right?

Figure 1. Example of a (simple) Societal Cost-Benefit Analysis

Well, it’s quite different. Although SCBA’s are being supported by the Dutch government and many policymakers [1], still there’s a lot to say about them. Niek Mouter, my former teacher, has done research on using SCBA’s in practice and he concluded that, next to pros, there are several cons on this analysis (Mouter, 2012). I’ll summarize a few of them:

  • Outcomes of SCBA’s are uncertain and contested because of the many assumptions that have to be done with regard to future economic and demographic development
  • Not every impact or effect can be quantified or monetarized
  • Limitations of SCBA’s can be used strategically by policymakers to say ‘no’ to policy; also, parties can hide themselves behind the SCBA so that they don’t have to say ‘no’ themselves
  • As a result of the previous con, the objective value of SCBA’s will lose power

Aad Correlje, also my former teacher, mentioned in his lecture that formal evaluation methods like SCBA’s offer opportunities for public participation and objections, leading to preconditions and operational requirements [2]. However, the gap between those formal evaluation methods and the informal (public) considerations is growing. SCBA’s seem not capable of involving the dynamic public values at the right moment, resulting in social uprisings and clashes. Because of this, SCBA’s can become counterproductive in infrastructure planning. How can SCBA clear its name again?

Recently, I’ve done research on the governance of windfarms in the Netherlands and SCBA’s form a big part of the planning of these farms. Nowadays these ‘Euromasten’ are experienced as great hindrance by the local population. What I thus propose is a ‘governance of SCBA’s’ in order to improve transparency and value embeddedness. Should we want to price the priceless? What if human lives have to be valued? How much is ours worth and who decides this? And what if risks to human beings are strategically being underestimated by self-interested policy makers? This could lead to dangerous situations!

Figure 2. Local population protesting against windmills

SCBA needs a serious Responsible Metamorphosis. Back-room decisions? No, from beginning till end, the local population, being affected by the infrastructure project, has to be involved. No black swans, but a cooperative attitude is key. In order to reduce the growing discrepancy between formal policymakers and the informal public, the methodology and presentation of SCBA’s have to be designed value-sensitive and, more important, have to be 100% transparent. I’ve learned with the Responsible Innovation Minor that value and interest conflicts not automatically lead to bad things. No, these conflicts are opportunities to innovate the analysis as a whole and embed values within it, so that SCBA connects business with the informal. The challenge is to design policy (i.e. construction of infrastructure) such that risks for the local population are minimized while societal prosperity is maximized. Transform SCBA into a societal project in which the local people can fully participate. Only then, this analysis can provide an overview of all the risks being taken and be interpreted meaningfully. After all, it stays a Societal Cost-Benefit Analysis.

 

Sources

Mouter, N. (2012). Voordelen en nadelen van de Maatschappelijke Kosten-en Baten analyse nader uitgewerkt. In Colloquium Vervoersplanologisch Speurwerk 2012, Amsterdam, 22-23 november 2012. Stichting Colloquium Vervoersplanologisch Speurwerk (CVS).

Renes, G., Romijn, G. (2014), Een algemene leidraad voor maatschappelijke kosten-batenanalyse. In ESB, Dossier MKBA: maatwerk in gebruik, Jaargang 99 (4696S), 23 oktober 2014, 6-11.

[1] http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:due7abKJpj0J:www.mkba-informatie.nl/index.php/download_file/force/242/456/+&cd=1&hl=nl&ct=clnk&gl=nl

[2] https://blackboard.tudelft.nl/bbcswebdav/pid-2432740-dt-content-rid-8381517_2/courses/34074-141504/Correlje_Governance%20van%20infrastructuurprojecten_20042015.pdf

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Cost to Benefit Analysis of Free Higher Education for All in the U.S.A.

An important issue in the 2016 American Presidential Election, brought to the center of attention by candidate Bernie Sanders, is the government funding of higher education. Since 1978, the price of college tuition has gone up 10 times [1]. It’s obvious that the entire nation and arguably, the world, would benefit from having a more educated population, but this is still facing opposition. Funding for this program can come from many sources; spending cuts, new taxes, etc. Ultimately, a better educated population will result in a higher benefit to the economy than the cost required to provide such education.

An important issue in the 2016 American Presidential Election, brought to the center of attention by candidate Bernie Sanders, is the government funding of higher education. Since 1978, the price of college tuition has gone up 10 times [1]. It’s obvious that the entire nation and arguably, the world, would benefit from having a more educated population, but this is still facing opposition. Funding for this program can come from many sources; spending cuts, new taxes, etc. Ultimately, a better educated population will result in a higher benefit to the economy than the cost required to provide such education.

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Previously, President Obama made a proposal for the federal (75% contribution) and the state governments (25% contribution) to provide two free years of (tuition for) community college to “everybody who is willing to work for it,” Obama said in a video message released by the White House [2]. To qualify, the community ‘colleges would be required to offer programs where credits could count toward a four-year college and university degree’ [2]. While this is a step in the right direction, 2 years of community college amounts to an Associate’s degree, resulting in weekly earnings below the median wage [3]. Currently, only 16% of two-year college students go further to earn a bachelor’s degree [3]. If most well-paying jobs require 4 year degrees, why should we only contribute half of the education required to later earn a median wage to students? This 2 year free community college tuition proposal faced opposition by the Conservative party, who holds the majority of seats in the House of Representatives and is likely to strike it down.

Senator Bernie Sanders goes steps further, declaring “every American who studies hard in school can go to college regardless of how much money their parents make and without going into debt” [4]. He plans to stop the federal government from profiteering on student loans, “Over the next decade, it has been estimated that the federal government will make a profit of over $110 billion on student loan programs” [4]. He will also allow students with existing loans to refinance them to lower interest rates. He wants low income students to have 100% of their financial needs covered at their college or university! He plans to pay for this project by imposing, “a tax of a fraction of a percent on Wall Street speculators who nearly destroyed the economy seven years ago. More than 1,000 economists have endorsed a tax on Wall Street speculation and today some 40 countries throughout the world have imposed a similar tax” [4]. Over time, the benefits of this innovative plan will outweigh the cost by a growing American economy that impacts all other economies in the world.

Other candidates claim to have similar plans, but don’t have the same motives and methods to achieve the goals. During the first 2016 Democratic Presidential Debate, it seemed all of the candidates had shifted more to the left. For example, Hilary Clinton spoke negatively of Wall Street activity, while Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan have consistently been top donors throughout her career!

Since Wall Street relied on us to help them in 2008, we should expect them to do the same. We should impose the cost of taxing speculation that Senator Sanders recommends to benefit the collective public and the economy with access to higher education. This will encourage more people to educate themselves, leading to a growing economy and a sustainable future.

 

Sources:

Image from [1]

  1. My Money Blog,. 'Charts: College Tuition Vs. Housing Bubble'. N.p., 2010. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
  2. Reuters,. 'UPDATE 1-Obama Proposes Idea Of Two Free Years Of Community College'. N.p., 2015. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
  3. Kohli, Sonali. 'Obama’s Dream Of Free Community College Is Headed To Congress'. Quartz. N.p., 2015. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
  4. Bernie Sanders,. 'On The Issues: It's Time To Make College Tuition Free And Debt Free'. N.p., 2015. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
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Cost-Benefit Analysis: To Frack or not to Frack?

This column tries to asses briefly the costs and benefits of fracking and the international risks and implications of the technology.

This column tries to asses briefly the costs and benefits of fracking and the international risks and implications of the technology.

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With the price of crude oil on the rise, and many critical supply lines situated in or near conflict zones following the turn of the century, the world was ready and in anticipation for a new, readily available and cheap source of energy: hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” is a relatively new process, which extracts fossil fuels contained within geological formations by forcing fracking fluid, a water-based mixture of chemicals and sand deep underground. The resulting pressure causes cracks or fissures to form, along which natural gas or oil can flow into a pre-bored well. Often, a well can collect fuel from a radius of multiple kilometres. In many parts of the United States, especially those traditionally invested in energy production, which have been in economic decline recently, fracking has been adopted and hailed as a boon. It is being acknowledged for rejuvenating entire communities by providing jobs and has led to oil exports, and lower energy prices internationally. This has been welcomed by most nations recovering from the financial crises of the last decade.

However, evidence is mounting to suggest that this practice creates a collection of environmental hazards including surface water pollution and even increased earthquake frequency. There are also concerns s that the horizontal drilling necessary for cost-effective extraction leads to the contamination of the water table. Residents have complained of contaminated wells affecting their own water supply as well as the supply for their cattle or crops. While acknowledging that their findings may be inaccurate due to an insufficient amount of collected data, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has stated that fracking does not contribute to wide-spread contamination and pollution, if done correctly. This conclusion was based on the fact that the number of cases in which claims of contaminated water were made, are relatively low to the amount of fracking wells being bored. However, digging wells and fracking has become so widespread that it is difficult to monitor and assess the situation or enforce safety measures. Especially in states such as North Dakota, which has seen economic developments in key areas, previously unimagined, the idea of threatening economic growth by curtailing fracking is proving politically unpalatable. Large business interests lobby local government to support the industry. The result internationally has been that different countries and localities have adopted the practice to varying degrees depending on their own cost benefit analyses. Do the potential environmental concerns outweigh the economic boons and renewals afforded?

Countries outside of the United States have begun to answer this question; some have begun to frack, while others have instituted laws banning the practice. If there are negative effects, they will influence more than just the local population; the international community as a whole could be indirectly affected. Moreover, effects could be permanent or difficult to assuage, suggesting that quick profits will incur long term unforeseen costs. Also, the costs and benefits may be unfairly distributed such that rural farmers are more negatively affected and ignored than urban populations. Moreover, countries not fracking may still benefit indirectly from lower energy prices while not incurring any of the potential environmental issues. Whether the practice of drilling contaminates the environment or not, it is clear that the practice of fracking will be unsustainable. In the long run, the final product is still energy in the form of a fossil fuel, which when combusted, produces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses. As such, it should be seen as a temporary economic band-aid and not a green solution for a sustainable future. Governments should be wary and skeptic of adopting the practice and if they do, they should ensure that the appropriate measures are taken to ensure public and environmental safety in order to mitigate associated risks and costs.

Sources:
http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/6/4/epa-says-fracking-doesnt-contaminate-water.html
http://www.thewillislawgroup.com/uploads/file/Frack%20You.pdf
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/will-reynolds/can-illinois-learn-from-n_b_6402508.html
Images:
https://translegalllc.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/636px-eia_world_shale_gas_map-en-svg.png
http://cdn.frack-off.org.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/europe-map-copy3.jpg
http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/.a/6a00d834515c5469e2017d3fbaabcd970c-pi

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A wakeup call bombing

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Last week the news came out that a hospital in Afghanistan manned by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was bombed-out by the United States military force acting in the middle east. By bombing this hospital 19 people were killed, of which 12 staff members of MSF, and over 50 people are seriously injured. MSF is speaking of the biggest disaster in the history of the organization.

At first the Afghan ministry of foreign affairs stated that there were terrorist hiding in the hospital and therefor it was bombed. The terrorist were supposedly killed and the MSF staff that was killed was collateral damage. Later on the United States admitted that the actual target was a location in the neighborhood of the hospital and not the hospital itself. The GPS location of the hospital was known to all fighting parties in the area.  

The first statement made was very strange because the doctors are putting their life on the line by helping every person in need for medical care, irrespective of a patient’s ethnicity, religious beliefs or political affiliation. Which means quit a lot, if you imagine that most wars are being fought over these three subjects. The case where two people who were fighting each other in the battlefield and lie next to each other in hospital beds a few hours later is not unthinkable and does happen on a day to day basis. The fact their lives are accepted as collateral damage is very strange.

The neutral position of MSF in helping patients also means it will not accept any money from governments or government like organizations. This indirectly results in the fact that MSF will not hand over any wounded soldiers who are suspected terrorists. This leads to great irritation of the international military coalition active in the region.

It didn’t take long before the protesters, who are against the Afghan war and always eager in stopping the war, were back on the streets. Everyone was pointing fingers to the US military and soon the general responsible for the Afghan war was accused of war crimes against humanity. The MSF has called in the Fact-Finding Commission to investigate these accusations.

The Afghan war has cost the lives of thousands of soldiers and civilians, and is estimated to have cost over 14 million dollar an hour since 9/11. And what does it have to show for, most of the afghan society is still living in poverty, corruption, political strife and women are still be repressed heavily despite the massive effort put into. Needless to say, the country is a big mess.

Taking this all into account the MSF organizations first priority is to get the hospital back up and running, because there are a lot of lives on the line. Before the hospital was bombed it was able to treat over 22.000 patients in one year (2014). The doctors want to go back there as soon as possible, even though the place was just bombed. They value saving human lives over the risk they are taking by being stationed in these conflict areas where they can provide the most help.

The doctors who go back to Kunduz deserve the upmost respect of the whole world for the work they are doing, but isn’t there a bigger picture here. Isn’t this the wakeup call for the United States and the international coalition that this war is useless and not worth the risk of losing more (innocent) lives. Let this be a message to the international community and stop fighting wars which aren’t ours to fight.

 

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Why ‘Big Pharma’ gets a bad rap for doing what everyone else does: Common business practice

The Pharmaceutical industry often gets bad publicity for developing medicine solely to achieve the highest profits. While this may sound unacceptable, it’s common business practice seen in a variety of other industries. This might seem unfair, especially because their business model is based on the same principles: Balancing risk and safety using a cost-benefit analysis to evaluate if that investment for a new drug for cancer is safe and sound. These analyses should be sound as well, because people’s lives are at stake.

The Pharmaceutical industry often gets bad publicity for developing medicine solely to achieve the highest profits. While this may sound unacceptable, it’s common business practice seen in a variety of other industries. This might seem unfair, especially because their business model is based on the same principles: Balancing risk and safety using a cost-benefit analysis to evaluate if that investment for a new drug for cancer is safe and sound. These analyses should be sound as well, because people’s lives are at stake.

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In pharmaceutical companies, risks and safety resonate throughout the companies’ layers. At the top, people are concerned with safe investments, in the lab risks are avoided as much as possible to work safely. But these principles are most clearly visible on the product level: The newly developed drug should be tested thoroughly to assess its effectiveness, but also if the drug would cause a risk itself (i.e. side-effects) and most importantly, if these risks are lower than the benefits. (i.e. successful treatment)

Cisplatin used to be a very popular medicine in cancer treatment. It effectively stops (tumor) cells from dividing, which would potentially result in the cancer being cured. It targets the cells that duplicate the fastest, usually tumor cells, but also others, (hair cells and mucosal cells in the digestive system) which causes its known side-effects: Hair loss and digestive problems. When Cisplatin was developed people deemed the cost of getting these side-effects was less than the benefit of treating the cancer successfully.

Cancer-treatment is known for its side-effects, because the hypothetical cost of dying rises above the cost for treatment. When this gap gets smaller, we get more critical. We wouldn’t want to lose our hair every time we pop in a painkiller to treat our headache. Or feel extremely dizzy or sleepy when taking allergy medicine. We urge pharmaceutical companies to look for safer alternatives, or we simply won’t take the medicine, or competitors could quickly develop a safer drug for our disease.

This is exactly why cisplatin USED to be popular. It’s when alternatives with less side-effects came to the market we started to reject the use of cisplatin. Newer treatments include antibody-treatments like Herceptin, against breast-cancer are more specific, targeting just the tumor cells effectively, causing less side-effects. But switching to these alternatives comes with a cost: A monetary one. More specific treatments will work on a smaller group of people, meaning the research costs will be divided over a smaller group, making the drug more expensive.

This illustrates the problem ‘Big Pharma’ has: With all the money in the world, it probably wouldn’t take long before cancer could be treated with a safe drug with few or no side-effects. But to regain the investment into developing such a drug, its price would be enormous. And then we turn to the Risk-Benefit Analysis of the doctor and patient: Opt for the perfect but super expensive drug, or receive a far cheaper treatment while enduring some nasty side-effects.

Pharmaceutical companies have realised switching to cheaper alternatives is more preferable, and therefore they deem their chances of returning their investment too low for the benefits it could reap. Their costs would be too high for their hypothetical benefits, which could mean saving lives. Essentially, the pharmaceutical industry chooses to preserve itself, and maintaining profit, instead of doing everything it can to aid the ‘customer’. And while it may not be ethical, it’s common business practice.

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