CCNet 10/2002 - 15 January 2002

"In recent weeks we have been greeted with repeated announcements of
the reduction in funds available to NEO programs, as governments whose
revenues are coming under stress due to the economic slowdown seek to
economize. In view of these developments, which trend is likely to
continue for at least the next couple of years, perhaps it is time to
re-consider the use of the ancient Mayan technique for dealing with
the hazard of asteroid and comet impact, specifically that of human
sacrifice. Now many in the scientific community may scoff at the idea
and dismiss it out of hand, but as the Mayan priests pointed out, once they
began human sacrifice, they were never again pounded by the sky gods. So by
inductive demonstration, the technique appears to work. It has the
further advantage of being an extremely low cost scheme to put into
operation, as it requires no payment for any telescopes, electronic
devices, computers, or staff, and even less payment for the bureaucrats
who manage these programs."
--Ed Grondine, 14 January 2002

"The journalists called it a "near miss", but asteroid 2001 YB5
didn't really come close to earth. It was around 600,000km away when it
whipped past our planet on Jan. 8. The experts did their best to whip up
alarm. But the human race refused to get excited: you can safely
ignore a bullet that misses you by ten kilometres."
--Gwynne Dyer, 14 January 2002

"The rate they're going, the politicians are still not taking this
threat very seriously. I don't know what it's going to take, maybe a
small one hitting us first."
--Bob Farqua, 13 January 2001

"I don't think there is a right answer for how seriously to take it.
A big asteroid hasn't hit in recorded human history, but it could happen
next year. The chances are the same as dying in an airplane crash, with or
without terrorists."
--Clark Chapman, 13 January 2001

    Florida Today, 13 January 2002

    Florida Today, 13 January 2002

    Jordan Times, 14 January 2002

    Ron Baalke <>

    Miami Herald, 13 January 2002

    The Planetary Society <>

    Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), October 2001

    Pavel Chichikov <>


     E.P. Grondine <>


>From Florida Today, 13 January 2002!NEWSROOM/localstoryA8730A.htm

Researchers try to increase alert time for such objects

By Steven Siceloff

CAPE CANAVERAL -- The odds of dying from an asteroid impact are better than
winning the lottery, researchers said, but the nation puts little effort
into preparing for the possibility.

The search for asteroids is critical if humans are to get a chance to rescue
themselves, officials said. That's why Congress ordered NASA to identify
almost all the objects two-thirds of a mile or larger by 2008. So far, more
than 300 have been identified as possible threats to Earth.

"We're running as fast as we can with the technology we have," said
astronomer Stephen Pravdo, project manager for the Near Earth Asteroid
Tracking project.

But by allocating only a few million dollars a year to an effort that must
identify 90 percent of the objects over six years, Congress is playing the
odds, betting scientists will win.

They face a daunting task. The hazard was highlighted Jan. 7, when a
300-yard-long rock missed Earth by 520,000 miles. The asteroid, named YB5,
would have destroyed an area the size of France had it hit this planet.

Researchers had almost no warning, and spotted it only two weeks before its
closest approach.

Increasing the alert time for such objects is the sole goal for the fewer
than 100 astronomers who have turned their attention to so-called near-Earth
objects. They hope to give earthlings enough time to divert an asteroid in
case one is found headed this way, even though the chances are slim there
will be a major impact during their lifetimes.

"I don't think there is a right answer for how seriously to take it," said
Clark Chapman, an asteroid impact specialist at the Southwest Research
Institute in Boulder, Colo. "A big asteroid hasn't hit in recorded human
history, but it could happen next year. The chances are the same as dying in
an airplane crash, with or without terrorists."

Congress authorized as much as $7 million a year for a survey of the solar
system near Earth that hopes to find 90 percent of all the objects larger
than two-thirds of a mile, but only half of that is ever allocated, David
Morrison said. He heads NASA's asteroid and comet impact research effort at
Ames Research Center in California.

The money has provided technological leaps for asteroid astronomers.

Working each year with slightly more than 1/10th the cost of the Odyssey
robotic mission to Mars, astronomers have developed computers that turn
telescopes into celestial sentries.

"Up to the early 1990s, it was a couple (asteroids found) per year," Pravdo
said. "Now it's hundreds per year, sometimes 30 a month."

So far this month, the team has found four new objects, one of which passes
close enough to Earth to be considered dangerous, though it is not expected
to hit the planet. Researchers have spotted 1,739 near-Earth objects, the
majority since 1997. More than 500 of them are larger than two-thirds of a
mile, with 367 classified as potential threats.

Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near Earth Objects program, estimated there
are about 1,000 asteroids in the solar system larger than two-thirds of a
mile. There could be 100,000 rocks big enough to chew up a state if they hit

When Pravdo and astronomers around the world find a new object, other
astronomers use special devices and radar telescopes to determine what it is
made of and calculate the exact path it will take.

The objects of most concern are the relatively large rocks that could
explode over a city and asteroids almost a mile wide that could spell a new
extinction. Earth's atmosphere absorbs the impact of countless small objects

There are few signs of past meetings with asteroids. One of the most famous
is a mile-wide crater in Arizona. A 100-foot meteor traveling 40,000 mph is
thought to have excavated the desert 50,000 years ago.

Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula is thought to be part of the crater left by a
massive boulder from space that eliminated the dinosaurs 65 million years

"We're dealing with this hazard that is very unlikely to happen, but if it
does happen, it will be the biggest event to happen to humanity since we
emerged from the caves," Chapman said.

Morrison puts the odds of dying from an asteroid impact at 1 in 20,000
during a typical lifetime -- the same as dying in a plane crash.

The only way to know with relative certainty is to look for the objects and
figure out where they are going.

"The issue is not statistics, but when the next hit will take place,"
Morrison said. "That is why Spaceguard is finding and tracking real objects,
not trying to improve the statistics."

Many in the space community argue for more funding to quicken the pace of
discovery, and then work on finding smaller but lethal objects.

"If we could get the budget up to $10 million a year, we could accomplish
what we need to accomplish," said Marc Schlather, director of the
Washington, D.C.-based ProSpace grass-roots organization.

Morrison said the Earth needs 10 to 20 years warning to deal with an
incoming object. That is possible with a thorough survey of the heavens. The
country needs the time to develop rockets, spacecraft and plans to divert
the asteroid.

Bob Farqua, who led the NEAR mission that landed on the asteroid Eros last
year, said the space program should develop a small shuttle craft that can
travel from space station Alpha to deep space on short order. With that
capacity, a crew could intercept a killer asteroid years before it has a
chance to threaten the planet.

Shuttle astronauts could attach a small rocket motor that gradually would
push the object's orbit away from Earth. The Hollywood solution -- nuclear
warheads shot at or detonated inside an asteroid -- would not likely solve
the problem, most agree

"That might break it up into smaller pieces, and I'm not sure if that's good
or bad," Farqua said.

For now, Farqua said it is important the country understand there is a
danger that can be averted, but the risk is small during this lifetime.

"The rate they're going, the politicians are still not taking this threat
very seriously," he said. "I don't know what it's going to take, maybe a
small one hitting us first."

Copyright 2002, Forida Today


>From Florida Today, 13 January 2002!NEWSROOM/localstoryA8757A.htm

By Kelly Young

CAPE CANAVERAL -- Asteroids are like the snowflakes of outer space -- no two
are identical.

"Asteroids can run the gamut anywhere from an ex-cometary fluff ball to a
slab of solid iron," said Donald Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near Earth
Objects program. That makes finding a cure-all for destroying an
Earth-approaching asteroid difficult.

"You need to know the enemy and . . . you'd need to know what it was made
of," said Yeomans. "There is some rationale for studying them up close with

More than 100,000 asteroids have been catalogued and named. But "there are
many, many more than that -- millions and millions," said Robert Jedicke, an
asteroid hunter at the University of Arizona.

All of the solar system's asteroids began their life between Mars and
Jupiter. There, a planet tried to form but couldn't because of the
overpowering presence of Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system,
astronomers believe.

"Jupiter kept stirring them up," Yeomans said.

The larger asteroids in the main belt are like miniature planets with an
iron core, a silicate mantle and a surface battered by collisions. These
objects smash into one another, creating fragments that sometimes veer
toward the inner solar system.

Scientists think the asteroid that flew by Earth last Monday was probably
made of silicate like other Near Earth Objects.

Some asteroids are spent comets that have lost all of their ice. The remains
are fragile enough to crumble in someone's hands.

Other asteroids are just conglomerates of rock rubble held together by their
own gravity.

The asteroid Ceres, the first one discovered, spans about 600 miles across,
about the distance from New York City to Dayton, Ohio.

Vesta, the solar system's third largest asteroid, can be seen with the naked
eye. NASA will send the Dawn spacecraft to Ceres and Vesta later this

Copyright 2002, Florida Today


>From Jordan Times, 14 January 2002

By Gwynne Dyer
THE JOURNALISTS called it a "near miss", but asteroid 2001 YB5 didn't really
come close to earth. It was around 600,000km away when it whipped past our
planet on Jan. 8. Given that it was not much bigger than an aircraft carrier
(sic) (though a lot heavier), it was like having somebody fire a .22 bullet
at you and miss by about 10km.

The experts did their best to whip up alarm (sic). "Such an object could
wipe out a medium-sized country if it impacted and lead to a global economic
meltdown," warned asteroid expert Benny Peiser of John Moores University in
Liverpool. But the human race refused to get excited: you can safely ignore
a bullet that misses you by ten kilometres.

But suppose that the maniac with the .22 got a free shot every year or so.
In fact, imagine that there were thousands of near-sighted maniacs with .22
rifles, each taking a shot at you from time to time, plus 700-odd drunken
lunatics with rocket-launchers who also get a free go at you every year or
so. Sooner or later, something's going to hit you, and even a .22 bullet can
hurt. A rocket-propelled grenade can ruin your whole day [note the use of
terrorist imagery to convey the impact hazard to people in the Middle East;

There are an estimated 700 asteroids, give or take a couple of hundred, that
are big enough to change the whole fate of life on earth if they struck it -
between one and ten kilometres across - and in orbits that could one day
lead to a collision. There are literally thousands of others, ranging down
to the size of 2001 YB5, that could wipe out a country the size of France or
Korea if they hit the earth. The problem is the time-scale of the threat:
"long-term planning" in most human contexts is five to ten years.

No country-killer asteroid is likely to hit our planet in the next decade;
indeed, there's only a one per cent chance that it will happen any time in
the next century. As for the really big strikes that could wipe out the
human race, only two such asteroids have hit in the past 251 million years.
In debates about next year's budget, preventing that huge but unlikely
catastrophe will always tend to lose out to more urgent priorities.

Yet there is no reason to despair. Given that nobody had any idea of the
scale of the asteroid threat only 25 years ago, the way we have climbed the
learning curve in a series of huge intellectual leaps is actually quite

First, there was the whole idea of a "nuclear winter": the hypothesis, first
put forward by Carl Sagan et al. during the 1970s, that explosions which
lift large amounts of dust high into the atmosphere could have planet-wide
effects, since the dust would stay up there for years, blocking sunlight,
killing crops and changing the whole climate.

Sagan and his colleagues were mainly concerned about the effects of
thousands of thermonuclear weapons being exploded near the ground, which
seemed alarmingly likely during the cold war. But then, in the early 80s,
the father-and-son Alvarez team - physicist father Luis and geologist son
Walter - looked at the thin layer of iridium that is found worldwide in
geological strata about 65 million years old. They surmised that it could
not have a terrestrial origin, and suggested that it was due to a giant
asteroid strike - which also wiped out the dinosaurs by causing a prolonged
"nuclear winter".

The dates matched, and only a few years later the discovery of a giant
crater of the right age off Mexico's Yucatan peninsula gave the theory added
credibility. Doubters pointed to the enormous volcanic eruptions of the same
time that covered much of southern India with a thick layer of lava (the
"Deccan Traps") as a rival cause of global climatic disruption and the
extinction of the dinosaurs, but now it seems that the asteroid strike and
the intense volcanic activity may actually have been connected.

There was an even larger calamity 251 million years ago: the "Great Dying",
when 70 per cent of land vertebrates and 90 per cent of all marine animals
suddenly became extinct. Last year, scientists at the universities of
Rochester and Washington published a paper in the respected journal Science,
identifying geological evidence of a massive asteroid or cometary strike at
that time too. No crater for this strike has been identified yet, but once
again it coincides with an unprecedented period of massive volcanic
activity, this time in Siberia.

In only 25 years, therefore, we have changed our Darwin-based ideas about
evolution to include rare but massive changes caused by asteroid strikes. We
have begun to suspect that these huge strikes trigger volcanic episodes that
disrupt the planetary environment for long enough to cause mass extinctions
worldwide. And we have identified and plotted at least a significant
fraction of the most dangerous objects in the solar system.

We have not yet developed the technology to divert them, but the average
secondary school graduate today is likely to understand the nature of the
threat. Far more than gestures like the creation of a "Planetary Protection
Office" at the US National Aeronautics and Space Agency, it is this
planet-wide raising of consciousness that will eventually create the
political basis for a real planetary defence programme.

Copyright 2002, Jordan Times


>From Ron Baalke <>

>From Lori Stiles, UA News Services, 520-621-1877
January 14, 2002

University of Arizona scientists in the next week or two will begin field
work on the Chicxulub Scientific Drilling Project (CSDP) near Merida,
Yucatan, Mexico -- an international project to core 1.8 kilometers into an
immense crater created by the impact of an asteroid or comet 65 million
years ago.

The Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) impact is thought to have led to one of the
greatest mass extinctions in Earth history, including dinosaur extinction.
The impact generated ten thousand times more energy than in the world's
nuclear arsenal, and six million times more energy than the 1980 Mount St.
Helens volcanic eruption.

"This is a very special collaboration with our neighbors in Mexico and
highlights the success of international cooperation among scientists
throughout the world," said David A. Kring, UA associate professor of
planetary sciences and co-investigator in the CSDP. "We appreciate the
opportunity to work with our colleagues from UNAM and ICDP member-nations."

Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) is the lead institution on
the project. Kring collaborates closely with Jaime Urrutia Fucugauchi of the
UNAM Instituto de Geofisica, who directs the drilling project. Other
principal investigators include Dante Moran Zenteno (UNAM), Virgil Sharpton
(University of Alaska), Richard Buffler (University of Texas), Dieter
Stoeffler (Humbolt-Universitat zu Berlin, Germany) and Jan Smit (Vrije
University,  Netherlands).

"The hypothesis that a meteorite impact caused the demise of the dinosaurs
and consequently, perhaps paved the way for mammalian evolution has been one
of the most important recent findings in Earth sciences," said UA College of
Science Dean Joaquin Ruiz, professor of geosciences. Discovering what the
object was and the details of the impact "is very important," he added. "The
fact that the University of Arizona has one of the leading investigators in
the field testifies to the quality of science that goes on at this

Ruiz and Rene Drucker, UNAM coordinator of scientific investigation,
tomorrow (Jan. 15) in Mexico City will sign a memoradum of understanding
that will facilitate and pay for the exchange of students and faculty on
this project and future projects involving UA College of Science

The Chicxulub Scientific Drilling Project is being run under the auspices of
the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP),
headquartered in Potsdam, Germany. In addition to Mexico, Germany, and the
United States, nations funding ICDP operations include Canada, China, Japan,
and Poland. Corporate affiliates include UNESCO, the international Ocean
Drilling Program, and Schlumberger Inc.

Kring and undergraduate geosciences major Jake Bailey will join operations
at the Yaxcopoil-1 site, 40 kilometers southwest of the province's capital,
Merida. Ruiz will visit the site in a few weeks on a future trip to Mexico.

Workers cleared the site of vegetation, constructed a well to supply water
to the drilling rig, and installed the drilling rig in November and early
December. The governor of Yucatan, UNAM scientists and officials, and a
German delegation inaugurated the project with opening ceremonies on Dec.3.
Actual drilling began Dec. 12, and the crew reached impact breccias late
last week.

"We expect to reach the 1.8-kilometer (one and one-tenth mile) depth after
69 days of drilling," Kring said, at a cost of $1.5 million from the ICDP.

"We planned to hit rocks in the crater between 500 meters (1,640 feet) and
one kilometer (3,280 feet), then continue through the impact crater itself
-- through breccias and the impact melt layer -- all the way down to
continental crust bedrock. If we succeed in getting more funds, we'll core
down to 2.5 kilometers (1 and a half miles)," he added.

The hypothesis that an asteroid or comet impact caused K/T mass extinction
was first proposed in 1980 by Nobel laureate Luis Alvarez, his geologist
son, Walter, and others at the University of California-Berkeley.

Kring was one of seven scientists who confirmed the highly controversial
theory in the early 1990s.

During oil exploration, PEMEX geophysicists Antonio Carmargo-Zanoguera and
Glen Penfield identified the Chicxulub structure as a possible impact
crater. Alan Hildebrand of the University of Calgary (then a UA graduate
student), Kring, and UA planetary sciences professor William Boynton,
working with Penfield, Carmargo-Z., Mark Pilkington of the Canadian
Geological Survey and Stein Jacobsen from Harvard University, confirmed with
petrologic and geochemical studies that the 180-kilometer (110-mile)
diameter Chicxulub structure was indeed formed by giant asteroid or comet

Scientists will analyze cores for details on exactly how the Chicxulub
impact suddenly, catastrophically changed Earth's environment and ecology,
killing more than 75 percent of the plant and animal species on land and in
the oceans.

At the Yaxcopoil-1 site, a professional drilling crew uses a diamond-tipped
drill to extract 64mm-diameter (2 and a half inch-diameter) core in segments
up to 6-meters (19 and a half feet) long. Core segments are placed on a
bench at the work site.

UNAM staff and students -- soon to be joined by the UA team -- then wash,
label, measure, and box the cores. The boxed cores are processed on site and
at a laboratory in Merida, where cores also are scanned as digital images
that Kring and other scientists can view over the Internet.

Kring, his students, and researchers from other institutions will be able to
further analyze the core samples at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and
other labs after the drilling is complete.

Kring's work on the Chicxulub impact crater and K/T boundary mass extinction
event has been supported by NASA, the National Science Foundation, ICDP, and
the University of Arizona.

Related Links
UA Space Imagery Center - Impact Cratering

Downloadable schematic of the drilling site

International Continental Drilling Program

Contact Information

David A. Kring

Joaquin Ruiz


>From Miami Herald, 13 January 2002

Associated Press

PENSACOLA -- Computer expert William J. Clancey tags along when NASA
researchers visit a crater 500 miles from the North Pole to explore its
Mars-like environment.

``The scientists are studying the crater, the geology and biology of this
land, and I'm studying the scientists,'' Clancey says.

He wants to see how they go about their business to develop ways that
computers and other devices can be used to help astronauts explore Mars.

Clancey, a computer scientist specializing in artificial intelligence at the
University of West Florida's Institute of Human and Machine Cognition in
Pensacola, is on loan to the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field,

NASA scientists have found that the Canadian Arctic's Haughton Crater,
formed when an asteroid struck Devon Island 24 million years ago, has many
geological features similar to Mars. ``It was like Mars on Earth, a Mars
park, if you will,'' said Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist for the private
Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute at Mountain View, Calif.

Lee also works at Ames as leader of the Haughton-Mars Project, which studies
the similarities and differences between Devon Island and Mars.


Clancey, as leader of a NASA space exploration research team, has joined the
Haughton scientists on annual visits the past four years, spending 10 days
to a month on the island each summer.

``We want to understand exploration,'' Clancey said during a recent visit to
West Florida. ``How do people explore?''

To make the research realistic, scientists put on space suits that restrict
their visibility and maneuverability. They also limit their time on each
traverse because on Mars they would be restricted by the amount of oxygen
they could take with them.

One of the first lessons from Haughton was that motorcycle-based all-terrain
vehicles with single seats offer better mobility than larger moon buggies
with side-by-side seating for two astronauts.

``You have much better balance,'' Clancey said. ``It would be a one-on-one
thing, but in a pinch if one of them breaks down you can get two people on

Cumbersome space-suit gloves quickly posed a challenge to the scientists as
they took notes on their observations. Clancey said the answer could be
audio recordings that may have to be transmitted to earth for transcription
unless sufficient improvements are made in speech recognition software so it
can be done on Mars.

Storing and accessing data, getting it back to earth and communicating with
earth are other issues his team is working on. Astronauts have
near-instantaneous contact with mission control while in earth orbit but
will face lengthy delays from faraway places such as Mars.

``Imagine you're on Mars, and you just had a malfunction,'' Clancey said. It
may be 10 minutes before the message gets to mission control, which uses 10
more minutes to formulate a response that takes yet another 10 minutes to
get back to Mars. ``That's 30 minutes from the time that you said, `Houston,
we have problem,' '' Clancey said.

The answer may be computers such as the fictional HAL 9000 in the film 2001:
A Space Odyssey,  which advised astronauts in emergencies.

``We haven't built HAL, but it's the general notion of artificial
intelligence,'' Clancey said. ``We definitely have it within our
capabilities to have programs that answer basic factual questions about
where stuff is stored, what are the procedures I should follow, what's the


In contrast with past moon exploration, Clancey found scientists at Haughton
returned repeatedly to the same spots instead of trying to sample as many
different places as they could.

``They're not just out there on what we'd call a fishing expedition,''
Clancey said. ``They have a sense in mind of what there is to be found and
where they might look.''

That's important for NASA to understand when designing Mars missions, SETI's
Lee said in a telephone interview from his home in San Jose, Calif. ``Bill
Clancey's work is at the very core of learning how to optimize the living
and working conditions of humans on Mars,'' he said.

Another focus is on what scientists will do inside their Mars habitats. The
Mars Society in 2000 built a research station at Haughton similar to those
that might be established on Mars. Six-member crews rotate in and out from
June through August. The private group is building another station at
Hanksville, Utah, for year-round study.

Clancey, meanwhile, is working on computer software to create a
virtual-reality habitat for testing layouts, designs and procedures and
training future Mars explorers.

There is disagreement inside and outside the scientific community about
whether humans should go to Mars at all or if exploration should be left to
robots. Clancey believes there is a place for both.

``We're not going to Mars just for the science,'' Clancey said. ``We go
because of the adventure. Why do you climb Everest? It's not just to get
samples of rocks.''

Copyright 2002 Miami Herald


>From The Planetary Society <>


The Planetary Society
65 N. Catalina Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91106-2301 (626) 793-5100 Fax (626)
793-5528 E-mail:  Web:

For Immediate Release: January 14, 2002                
Contact: Susan Lendroth

Planetary Society Offers New Scholarships

Students entering space-related fields may want to study the new
scholarships offered by The Planetary Society. The Society will award two
Planetary Society Scholarship for Space Studies each year for the next five
years, beginning with the 2002-2003 school year.

Both high school seniors and full-time college students can apply for the
$1000 scholarships.  Applicants must write a 500-word essay about how they
plan to use the scholarship, and how that use will be related to the mission
of The Planetary Society.

To be eligible to apply students must either be a member of the Society or
nominated by a member of it.  They also need to submit the scholarship
application and required materials no later than April 30, 2002. 

For more information about The Planetary Society's new Scholarships for
Space Studies, visit the Society's website at or call
Linda Wong at (626)793-5100.

The Society is also offering this year a full-tuition scholarship to the
International Space University (ISU) Summer Session.  The scholarship is
open to all candidates who have already been accepted to attend the 2002 ISU
summer session, but who have not yet secured scholarships to cover their
fees.  This year's ISU summer session will be held in Pomona, California.

The Jim and Lin Burke Scholarship was named for James (Jim) and Lin Burke,
long-time advocates and staff participants in the ISU summer session and
active Planetary Society members.  Jim Burke, one of the pioneers of
America's space program, is the technical editor of the Society's magazine,
The Planetary Report.  The Jim and Lin Burke scholarship was made possible
by a donation from ISU graduate, Eric Tilenius.


Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded The Planetary Society in
1980 to advance the exploration of the solar system and to continue the
search for extraterrestrial life. With members in over 140 countries, the
Society is the largest space interest group in the world.

For more information about The Planetary Society, contact Susan Lendroth at
(626) 793-5100 ext. 237 or by e-mail at

The Planetary Society
65 N. Catalina Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91106-2301
Tel:  (626) 793-5100
Fax:  (626) 793-5528


>From the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD),
October 2001$FILE/JT00114276.DOC

1. How is risk identification and assessment integrated into the
policy-making process?

2. Which capacities (e.g. legal and policy framework, human, financial and
institutional capacities) do Governments have to identify risk?

Assessing risk in a context of uncertainty

3. At what point would you consider that a hazard poses an actual risk and
according to which criteria?

Dealing with various perceptions of risk

4. What are the criteria to evaluate the importance of a risk (e.g.
probability, severity of consequences, public perceptions)?

And adopting a risk management approach 

5. What lessons and insights on risk identification can you offer to others?
I. Why should governments focus on risk identification?

1. Conventional risks tend to take on new dimensions due to a number of
factors (e.g. an increase in extreme weather conditions, growing
geographical concentration of populations and wealth, etc.). At the same
time, emerging issues such as bio-terrorism and new technologies are
occurring, many of which are characterised by extreme uncertainty and the
possibility of extensive harm. Risks often have a strong economic impact
(e.g. on infrastructure, tourism, budget, public health, etc.) which should
not be underestimated.  Most of the time, risks have no borders: they can
spread and entail a series of adverse effects in several countries.

2. Government capacity to adjust to traditional and new risks seems
increasingly challenged by modern complexities, while at the same time
people seem more ready to accept risks resulting from "private" decisions
rather than those resulting from "public" decisions.

3. In this fast-moving environment, the identification of risk can be a
difficult task. Identifying risks, in particular environmental risks,
represents a real challenge for governments when considering burning issues
such as cloning, contaminated blood, foot-and-mouth disease, flooding,
earthquakes, typhoons or BSE. The Centres of government are strategically
placed to bring the concrete implications of risk identification to the
attention of political leaders.

Defining the issue

4. Risk can be generically defined as "the probability that the actual input
variables and the outcome results may vary from those originally estimated"
(Remenyi, 1999). Thus, risk can inherently be both positive and negative.
Taking a risk or not is a question of finding a balance between risk and
opportunity, that is to say between the perceived risk and the expected
benefits. For instance, one can wonder at what point an innovation like
cloning is to be considered as an actual risk.

5. One should try to differentiate risk from hazard, which are two
interrelated, but distinct concepts:

- A hazard represents a substance that has the potential to harm the
economy, health, the environment, etc.  Fortunately, many hazards can be
either contained or avoided, so not every potential hazard poses an actual
risk. In term of frequency and strength, true hazards remain broadly
uninfluenced in human activity over time.

- A risk, in turn, is the likelihood of adverse effects arising from
exposure to a hazard, resulting from two factors, the probability of
exposure and the severity of the consequences.

6. The definition of risk involves one or more of three essential elements:

- a time frame over which risks are being considered;
- a probability of the occurrence of one or more events; and
- a measure of the consequence of those events.

Analysing a multifaceted risk

7. Global risks can be analysed in a number of identified contexts:
"natural" disasters; new technologies; the provision of services -
especially in the medical field - and political risk.

A short typology of risks

Natural disasters and accidents constitute the first category where public
expectation is that there will be well-developed plans to respond - and
ensure that in the case of accidents there is no recurrence. It includes
risks related to hazards (e.g. earthquakes). This is the "traditional"
category of risks, although they may have increased in frequency and
intensity in recent years, in particular through global warming (e.g.
possible side-effects of climate change).

New technologies are a field of emerging risks where public aversion to risk
at any level has been increasing. Technology-related risks are often an area
where confidence in governments' objectivity and the degree of reassurance
offered is decreasing. This is particularly true of the consequences of
accidents/failures in large-scale units (e.g. nuclear power plants,
supertankers), major dysfunctioning of network technologies (e.g.
cyberterrorism), and major accidents related to biotechnology (e.g. spread
of harmful "rogue" genetically modified genes, bioterrorism).

In addition to these two major categories, the provision of services,
particularly in the medical field, is also raising important issues related
to potential risks. In general the public is less tolerant of failure in the
medical field than in the past. This is especially true for state provision,
but it also applies to private sector provision where there is an
expectation of state regulation. The emergence of new diseases (e.g. AIDS,
BSE), resurgence of diseases hitherto thought to be largely eradicated (e.g.
TB, malaria), as well as issues related to possible pandemics (e.g.
influenza) are very significant phenomena.

Risk is also a component of long-term planning and the evaluation and
management of large-scale investments (e.g. IT investment). Long-term
planning typically generates political risks, where particularly in the case
of long-term strategies, early and unpopular action is required, but where
the penalties for inaction appear remote or the benefits are not immediately

Understanding the importance of risk identification

8. Many risks have consequences not only on the environment but also on
politics, economics and society at the local, national and international
level. Decision-makers should thus not underestimate the importance of risk
identification and management for the good of the general public. 

9. In addition, the public will evaluate decision-makers' ability to
anticipate, act, react and communicate during a crisis and will draw more
general conclusions on their leadership capacity. Citizens' scrutiny has
become more and more vigilant in recent years, making political
accountability central to the risk management process. 

II. What are the challenges of risk identification?

Assessing risk in a context of uncertainty

10. Uncertainty is at the heart of risk. Indeed, most risk assessment
findings are carefully couched in terms of the strengths and weaknesses of
the evidence of risk, uncertainties about the degree of risk, and guarded
statements about the likely effectiveness of various remedies.

11. This cautious approach, while frustrating in its complexity, permits
regulators and political decision-makers to make the final choice to
intervene or not while having in hand a range of scientific analyses.  It
also helps to evaluate various options for controlling risks without being
restricted to a predetermined risk estimate and a single control option.

12. This implies two main steps for policy-makers in determining the nature
of risk: risk characterisation and risk estimation.

- Risk characterisation is the estimation of the incidence and severity of
the adverse effects likely to occur due to actual or predicted exposure to a
substance, i.e. integration of the effects and exposure assessments.

- Risk estimation is the quantification of the likelihood (i.e. probability)
that adverse effects will occur due to actual or predicted exposure to a

Risk probability versus risk consequences

Decision-makers often have to balance risk characterisation
(incidence/severity of consequences) and risk estimation (probability)
before taking a decision.

For instance, asteroids would have an enormous impact on environment and
human health (risk characterisation) but their probability (risk estimation)
is very low. On the contrary, the impact of global warming is still
indeterminate (risk characterisation) whereas its probability (risk
estimation) is high.

Dealing with various perceptions of risk

13. Once a risk has been identified and analysed, decision-makers should be
able to anticipate, analyse and take into account the reactions of the
public when facing a risk. Indeed, citizens are puzzled about how they
should react to the acceleration of scientific innovation and are
increasingly reluctant to put their faith in science and governments'

14. Furthermore, citizens consider that exposure to hazardous situations is
acceptable, assuming of course, there is a personal choice in deciding
whether or not to subject oneself to these hazards (personal risks on the
roads). On the contrary, collective risks are barely tolerated, regardless
of the anticipated degree of risk. Accordingly, citizens have an increasing
aversion to any perceived risk in the public domain.

15. Uncertainty also comes from the fact that there are many risk
stakeholders including politicians, scientists, the public and journalists.
These people often have different perceptions of risk as their "time
reference" varies. The media, who strive for news and work on "hot news",
usually have a short-term view ("striking headlines") whereas scientists
would have a more balanced and long-term perspective on a risk issue. As for
citizens, their risk perception is closely linked to their own experience of
risk and the memory they have of them.  And of course decision-makers take
into account various political factors such as public representations of
risk or the imminence of elections.  Furthermore, perceptions might vary a
lot among a single category of stakeholders (e.g. lack of consensus of
scientists on a risk issue), which makes the problem even more complicated.
The myth of scientists' and journalists' objectivity

Many problems can be traced to the myth of objectivity resident in both
scientific and journalists' disciplines. For instance, the journalistic
construction of an environmental risk mirrors only partially, or not at all,
the scientific construction of environmental issues and risk. Scientists and
journalists who acknowledge that a degree of bias is normal are likely to be
better prepared to distinguish facts from value judgements, in both expert
statements and media accounts of risk debates.

Accordingly, the different stakeholders should share their knowledge so as
to get a view on a risk issue that is as unbiased as possible before taking
a decision.

And adopting a risk management approach

16. Accordingly, the risk management process is the means by which
governments and other standard-setting organisations seek to define a
rational level of acceptable or tolerable risk for a hazard. This means
considering the severity and probability of harmful effects (on health,
psychology, economy, etc.), the amount of exposure experienced by human
populations and the expected costs and benefits of various risk-reduction

17. Politicians take very different types of decisions depending on the
imminence of risk and its probability. Their approach would be completely
different when facing a potential risk and a risk that has already occurred
and that has to be dealt with. In the same way, risk communication is to be
managed in a very different way when dealing with a risk with a low
probability and a risk that is very likely to occur.

18. Risk management derives its greatest advantage, not from technocratic
rationality, but from its ability to organise and examine scientific and
socio-economic information in a public forum open to free communication and
debate by all concerned parties. In this sense, risk management should be
viewed as a means of promoting public accountability by communicating
information about risk among stakeholders, with the objective of producing
decisions that include both scientific advice and prudent decision making.



>From Pavel Chichikov <>

Dear Dr. Peiser and all,

Friends and acquaintances of mine who are scientists - lovable as they may
be - very often take for granted that societies, presented with a rational
choice, will seize upon it. But that's not how societies are mobilized, at
least those I'm familiar with.

I don't sense any *urgency* in people about a spaceguard program. If
Shoemaker-Levy didn't make it happen, what will? But that was Jupiter, this
is Earth.

It usually works this way: immediate demonstrated threat (show them the
instruments), resultant fear and anxiety (ample amounts of it on an
illustrative September 11), followed by action, with money to back it up.

Threats seen as abstract will not get decisive attention, especially not in
the US.

Those are the social ground rules.

There may be programs in the less public, shall we say, areas of the US
federal budget which have to do with surveillance and possible interception
of Earth impactors. Who knows? I certainly don't, but if I did I might not
be writing about it to a public forum like this one.

In any case, if you want money for progams you have to give reasons that
make sense to the people with the money bags and the votes. You have to make
them nervous, and so far you haven't.

All best wishes.



Dear Benny,

are you aware that item (9) (RISK AND DISASTER CONFERENCE Anna McGuire) of
todays normally excellent unmissable missive is simply an advertisement to
attract fee-paying participants?  I would discourage you from incorporating
such material in the future as it dilutes the scientific content of your
otherwise admirable service. Anonymous: Name withheld.

MODERATOR'S NOTE: If I were to stop posting announcements of academic
conferences that charge a fee for participation, there would be hardly any
posted on CCNet. I always thought that conference announcements are all
about attracting fee-paying participants? Whether the presentations at the
conference in question are value for money, is another matter. BJP


>From E.P. Grondine <>

Hello Benny -

In recent weeks we have been greeted with repeated announcements of the
reduction in funds available to NEO programs, as governments whose revenues
are coming under stress due to the economic slowdown seek to economize. In
view of these developments, which trend is likely to continue for at least
the next couple of years, perhaps it is time to re-consider the use of the
ancient Mayan technique for dealing with the hazard of asteroid and comet
impact, specifically that of human sacrifice.

Now many in the scientific community may scoff at the idea and dismiss it
out of hand, but as the Mayan priests pointed out, once they began human
sacrifice, they were never again pounded by the sky gods.  So by inductive
demonstration, the technique appears to work. It has the further advantage
of being an extremely low cost scheme to put into operation, as it requires
no payment for any telescopes, electronic devices, computers, or staff, and
even less paynment for the bureaucrats who manage these programs.

Of course, one does run into the problem of obtaining human sacrificial
victims. While the Mayan resolved this problem by sacrificing their
unwanted, literally their poor bastards, given the current economic
conditions and the prevalence of extra-marital sex, such a plan may not gain
wide public support today. But perhaps a ready solution to this problem may
lie immediately at hand, specifically, in the use of lawyers as human
sacrificial victims.
To my knowledge I do not believe that anyone in the NEO community has ever
previously considered the use of lawyers for this purpose. What advantages
does the use of lawyers as human sacrificial victims bring, aside from the
fact that there appears to be an over-abundant supply of them? Well, first
off, they seem to be universally despised, and this seems to be true in
every nation. Given the international scope of the NEO effort, it is nice to
find a common point about which the ciizens of most nations can agree.
Second, lawyers could easily be captured for this purpose by the simple
technique of placing a newspaper advertisement seeking an attourney for a
lawsuit against a wealthy corporation.  Once obtained, my understanding is
that lawyers may usually be sedated by the administration of flavored
alcoholic beverages.
Of course, one problem with the plan may lie in ripping their beating hearts
out out of their living bodies, as it is widely reported that lawyers have
no hearts. On the other hand, it is also widely reported that lawyers have
no feelings, and this may make the entire process somewhat easier to
accomplish, in the case that lawyers can indeed be found who have hearts.

In the case where it does turn out that lawyers indeed do not have hearts,
then that does not necessarily mean that the scheme of using human sacrifice
to fend off the next asteroid oor comet impact must be abandoned. It is
still possible that the scheme could be realized by the use of government
accountants or bureaucrats instead.

Yours in science,

[addendum from bjp]:
Good British cynicism always good for a laugh :-)

>From The Times, 15 January 2002,,161-2002022962,00.html
Have you noticed how the further into outer space (and towards the fringes
of known science) a documentary reaches, the more its narrator sounds like
one of those salesmen on the shopping channel who struggle to convince you
that you really do need a revolutionary new grillpan that drains away fat
from the food you are cooking and magically processes it into handy
firelighters? Both sound just a little too eager; as if they are trying to
convince themselves of what they are saying as much as they are trying to
convince you.

Take the outer space series that Channel 4 is currently screening. "Edge of
the Universe" promises to explore "the most terrifying and mysterious
phenomena that we know of in the universe." What, including Stephen Byers's
political longevity? Last night's episode, dramatically entitled Killers in
Space, warned us that "the asteroid belt is unstable". Maybe it is. But so
are half the people we come across every day; several of whom have ready
access to sharp implements. One of them may even have invented the
revolutionary grill pan that neatly drains away fat from the food you are
cooking and magically processes it into handy firelighters (banish barbecue

John Hurt, the narrator, went on to say that: "Orbiting within striking
distance of Earth are at least 10,000 asteroids half a mile or more across;
there are more than 100,000 the size of a football field; and 100 million
the size of a house." And so? And so "if a near Earth object should be
discovered heading our way, what could we do to avert disaster? There is no
international plan on how to defend the Earth from the catastrophe of an
impact from space. It has been left up to individual scientists to dream up
ways of saving the planet."

Now, that really is terrifying. Saving the planet? Most scientists are
barely able to save their ties from getting covered in egg stains. But you
know what? There doesn't seem to be any international plan to save the world
from nuclear holocaust either, which - if I really have to worry about
something - seems to me a worthier target for my hand-wringing.

Scientists are justifying their interest in asteroids by speculating that
"robot communities could be dispatched to mine rich resources. Then there
would follow human settlements." Really? When might that be, exactly? The
Government reckons that it will take at least a decade to get Britain's
trains running in a way that bears some resemblance to the published
timetable. How quickly do you think it might finally get around to
organising the dispatch of robot communities to lumps of rock in outer
space? Then Hurt played his final ace in his game of trying to scare us into
being interested: "It's 65 million years since the last great impact. The
next one could happen at any time!" Actually, that frequency does sound a
little similar to Britain's rail service....

Copyright 2002, The Times

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