Risk Analyst Award to Professor Jonathan Wiener

Main Content

The Society for Risk Analysis (SRA) has awarded Duke Law Professor Jonathan Wiener the highly prestigious 2003 Chauncey Starr Award, which each year honors the individual aged 40 or under who has made the most exceptional contributions to the field of risk analysis. Wiener, who is also a Professor of Environmental Policy at the Nicholas School of the Environment & Earth Sciences, Professor of Public Policy Studies at the Sanford Institute, and the Faculty Director of the Duke Center for Environmental Solutions, specializes in the use of risk analysis in environmental law and policy. His groundbreaking work has focused on how the inescapable interconnectedness of risks challenges and shapes regulatory policy, including the development of the concept, analysis of and remedies for "risk-risk tradeoffs"; analysis of the "precautionary principle" in U.S., European and international law; and the development of risk-based regulatory approaches for global climate change and more generally for better environmental protection at lower cost.

"I am honored to receive this award from the SRA, a group I respect and admire for bringing top experts in diverse disciplines together to help solve truly pressing problems," said Wiener.

Among his many scholarly achievements, Wiener’s book, Risk vs. Risk (Harvard University Press 1995; with John Graham of Harvard), is the leading work in the field of risk-risk tradeoffs, or the phenomenon that a decision to reduce one risk may increase other risks or shift risk to another population. Among other findings, this book showed that risk-risk tradeoffs are ubiquitous and run the gamut from personal choices like taking aspirin for a headache (which may also cause upset stomach) to national and international policies such as airbags in cars (which may save adults but may harm children) and reducing carbon dioxide emissions (which may increase emissions of other greenhouse gases). Wiener and Graham set forth the analytical framework for dealing with risk-risk tradeoffs as well as a set of institutional reforms to help overcome them through "risk-superior" moves that reduce multiple risks in concert. Wiener’s more recent work on the topic of risk-risk tradeoffs includes Managing the Iatrogenic Risks of Risk Management (1998) (showing the importance of risk-risk tradeoffs or iatrogenic side effects in both medical care and administrative regulation, and the criteria for optimal institutional solutions to such tradeoffs); and Sustainable Governance (John Martin Gillroy & Joe Bowersox eds., 2002) (arguing that "sustainable development" must be coupled with attention to the side effects of regulation).

In analyzing the precautionary principle as a basis for regulation, Wiener is currently comparing the degree of precautionary regulation, its causes and its consequences, across countries such as the United States and Europe. Precaution has become the key flashpoint of U.S.-European discord over key issues including genetically modified foods and the Biosafety Protocol, conflicts at the World Trade Organization, climate change and the Kyoto Protocol, and the war on terrorism. Over the last two years, Wiener has taken the lead in organizing a series of transatlantic dialogues on precaution held near Brussels, Washington DC and Berlin, to help foster greater mutual understanding of precautionary regulation between US and European experts and policymakers. The next such dialogue will be held at Duke. His noted scholarship in this area includes: Whose Precaution After All? A Comment on the Comparison and Evolution of Risk Regulatory Systems (2003); Comparing Precaution in the United States and Europe (2002) (with Michael D. Rogers); and Precaution in a Multi-Risk World (Dennis D. Paustenbach ed., 2002), as well as his forthcoming article Precaution, Risk and Multiplicity and a forthcoming book on The Reality of Precaution.

Additional work of note by Wiener in the field of risk analysis includes the development of a risk-based regulatory regime for global climate change policy, as set forth in his recent book, Reconstructing Climate Policy (2003) (with Richard Stewart), and other articles. Wiener has also worked more generally in the area of regulatory reform to orient regulation toward better protection against more serious risks and at lower cost.

Wiener served as President of the SRA’s Research Triangle Chapter (SRA-RTC) for 1998, was elected a Councilor of the national SRA in 2001, and is a member of the Editorial Board of Risk Analysis: An International Journal (1998-present). He is also a University Fellow of Resources for the Future (RFF), the environmental think tank in Washington DC.

Before coming to Duke Law School in 1994, Wiener worked at the White House and the Justice Department in both the first Bush and Clinton administrations. He served as the senior staff economist for environmental and regulatory matters at the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA); as policy counsel to the director of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP); and as special assistant to the head of the Environment & Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. He also served as the environmental adviser to the Americorps National Service Program. He helped negotiate the Framework Convention on Climate Change, including helping to formulate the "comprehensive approach" and emissions trading provisions embodied in the Convention and in the subsequent Kyoto Protocol. He helped develop the "Forests for the Future" Initiative, helped draft federal policy for environmental regulation of biotechnology, and advised on reform of federal water law. He helped draft President Bush's executive order on risk assessment (unissued), and helped draft President Clinton's Executive Order 12866 on regulatory review.

Wiener clerked for Judge (now U.S. Supreme Court Justice) Stephen G. Breyer on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston in 1988-89, and for Chief Judge Jack B. Weinstein on the U.S. District Court in New York in 1987-88 (with special attention to the Agent Orange case). He earned his A.B. in Economics magna cum laude (1984) and his J.D. cum laude (1987) from Harvard University. He was an editor of the Harvard Law Review in 1985-87, and was co-chair of its Centennial celebration in 1987. In 1985 he coached the national collegiate debate champions.

The SRA is an international organization that brings together experts in science, engineering, economics, psychology, law and policy to study the assessment, communication and management of risks to health, safety, environment, and security. The SRA recognizes annually the leading scholars, educators and practitioners in the field of risk analysis through awards such as the Chauncey Starr Award. For more information, please visit