Varieties of Risk

AHRC sponsored research project

Outdoor Risk

Participation in outdoor sports is on the rise and actively encouraged. For example, the Scottish Government’s performance indicators are, amongst many others, “visits to the outdoors” and “physical activity”. However, outdoor activities have distinctive risks: by mid-March of 2019, there were already four fatalities due to avalanches that winter, and every year there are up to 30 fatalities in the mountains with many more surrfering serious injuries.

Taking part in these activities requires participants to engage in a variety of risk judgements. Moreover, to increase participation in such activities responsibly, will require domain-specific education, as well as improved risk communication to strengthen participants’ decision-making.

We will work directly with outdoor educators and practitioners to understand better the relevant risk judgments, heuristics and biases that are distinctive to competent outdoor decision-making. Naturally, this will create a feedback loop from impact back to research, since understanding the diversity of competent risk judgements and identifying potential sources of disagreement of such judgements provides a basis for risk pluralism. Having engaged with professionals and educators, we will collaborate with them on how these insights can be translated into an outdoor education curriculum so to educate newcomers to outdoor decision-making. Moreover, pluralism about risk will also offer the opportunity to shed a new light on risk perception and help to improve risk communications.

Our impact partners are Glenmore Lodge (National Outdoor Training Centre) and Scottish Avalanche Information Service.

Legal Risk

The research conducted in this project directly bears upon a number of issues about criminal procedure including two that are of current interest to policy makers in Scotland: (I) The use of biometric evidence in criminal prosecution and (II) the corroboration rule.

Recent years have witnessed an increase in the use of biometric evidence in criminal prosecution—including DNA matches, face recognition software, iris recognition and voice pattern analysis. This practice is often justified on the grounds that biometric evidence is probabilistically powerful and, as such, its use minimises the risk of wrongful convictions—reasoning that takes the probabilistic account of risk for granted. Through this project we aim to build awareness of a broader range of legitimate notions of risk, offering a new and valuable perspective on the use of such evidence.

The corroboration rule in Scots law is currently a source of debate amongst Scottish legislators and policy-makers. According to this rule, a defendant cannot be found guilty of a crime unless there are at least two independent sources of incriminating evidence. The rule is controversial, with the 2011 Carloway Review of Scots Law recommending its abolition, though many of Scotland’s high court judges and criminal lawyers highlight its value in reducing the risk of wrongful conviction. The 2015 Bonomy Review recommended a number of further protections for defendants which could mitigate the increased risk of wrongful convictions which could accompany the abolition of the corroboration rule. We aim to contribute to this debate, by highlighting different notions of risk and the different factors that can affect risk judgments.