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Perhaps the topic of acceptable risk never had a sexier and more succinct introduction than the one Edward Norton, playing an automobile company executive, gave it in Fight Club:

Take the number of vehicles in the field (A), multiply it by the probable rate of failure (B), and multiply the result by the average out of court settlement (C). A * B * C = X. If X is less than the cost of the recall, we don’t do one.

Of course, this dystopic scene also gets to the heart of the issue in another way: Acceptable risk deals with mathematical calculations about the value of life, injury, and emotional wreckage, making calculation a difficult matter ethically, politically, and economically. This entry will explore the history ...

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