CPR Archive for Alyson Flournoy

Painting by Numbers: A Recipe for Disaster

by Alyson Flournoy | September 03, 2010

Five years after Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill offers a chance to learn a lesson that we should have learned five years ago.  Certainly, the two events differ in important ways – the hurricane itself was a force of nature, and the oil well blowout although powered by nature, was clearly the result of human activity. But the hurricane was not just a natural disaster. Its impact resulted from a series of human decisions and actions that exacerbated the hurricane’s effects and impaired the response effort.   The lesson we should learn from these disasters is this: numbers may not lie, but they will fool us if we let them. Numbers – like those that predict how likely a disaster is, or the cost of taking steps to prevent a disaster – can be a helpful tool as we make decisions, like what kinds of levees to build and whether to allow oil drilling in a particular area. But the problem with numbers is the very thing we love most about them. They’re so precise. They seem to give us “the answer”. 

The problem is that numbers appear much more certain than they are.   They give you an answer, but it’s a mistake to assume the answer is the right one. There’s truth to the saying that statistics are like prisoners of war – torture them enough and they’ll tell you anything you want. For example, there are many different ways to calculate the odds of ...

Bingaman-Murkowski Bill on BP Oil Spill Captures Low-Hanging Fruit But Leaves the Environment at Risk

by Alyson Flournoy | June 30, 2010
Senate Bill 3516, introduced by Senators Bingaman and Murkowski in response to the BP oil spill to reform the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), proposes many intelligent and much-needed changes (the Energy & Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the bill today). Among these, the legislation would imposea long-overdue mandate for best available technology for oil exploration and extraction, require that proponents of drilling evaluate the possibility of a well blowout and develop a response plan for a ...

Looking Beyond Deepwater to the Horizon: Government-on-Demand Doesn't Work (Surprise!)

by Alyson Flournoy | June 02, 2010
In following the oil spill disaster, it can be hard to think beyond the control effort du jour to the bigger picture. I was riveted by the latest of BP’s seven failed efforts to stop the flow of oil, hoping it would succeed and that the underwater tornado of oil devastating the Gulf, the coast, and the people whose livelihoods depend on these natural resources, would be contained, at least. And now that the top kill has failed, we’re all ...

Also from Alyson Flournoy

Alyson Flournoy is Professor and Alumni Research Scholar at the University of Florida Levin College of Law in Gainesville. She is a member of the board of directors of the Center for Progressive Reform.

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