590.01 Risk Regulation in the US, Europe and Beyond


Faced with myriad health, safety, environmental, security and financial risks, how should societies respond?  This course studies the regulation of a wide array of risks, such as disease, food, drugs, medical care, biotechnology, chemicals, automobiles, air travel, drinking water, air pollution, energy, climate change, finance, violence, terrorism, emerging technologies, and extreme catastrophic risks. (Students may propose to research other risks as well.)

Across these diverse contexts, the course focuses on how regulatory institutions deal with the challenges of risk assessment (technical expertise), risk perceptions (public concerns and values), priority-setting (which risks should be regulated most), risk management (including the debates over "precaution" versus benefit-cost analysis, and risk-risk tradeoffs such as countervailing harms and co-benefits), and ongoing evaluation.  It examines the rules and institutions for risk regulation, including the roles of legislative, executive, and judicial functions; oversight bodies (such as judicial review by courts, and executive review by US OMB/OIRA and the EU RSB); fragmentation and integration; and international cooperation.

The course examines these issues through a comparative approach to risk regulation in the United States, Europe, and other countries (especially those of interest to the students in the course each year).  It examines the divergence, convergence, and exchange of ideas across regulatory systems; the causes of these patterns; the consequences of regulatory choices; and how regulatory systems can learn to do better.

This is a research seminar, in which students discuss and debate in class (in person or online), while developing their own research.  We may also have some guest speakers.  Students' responsibilities in this course include active participation in class discussions, and writing a substantial research paper.  Students’ papers may take several approaches, such as analyzing a specific risk regulation; comparing regulation across countries; analyzing proposals to improve the regulatory system; or other related topics.

This course is cross-listed as ENV 733.01 and PUBPOL 891.01.  Graduate and professional students outside the Law School are welcome and should enroll via those course numbers.  (The Law School does not use “permission numbers.”)

Fall 2020

Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor
Course Credits
Research paper, 25+ pages
Class participation
Jonathan B. Wiener
Sakai site: https://sakai.duke.edu/portal/site/LAW.590.01.F20
Email list: LAW.590.01.F20@sakai.duke.edu