Article ID: CBB612758874

The Truthiness about Hurricane Catastrophe Models (July 2017)


In recent years, US policy makers have faced persistent calls for the price of flood and hurricane insurance cover to reflect the true or real risk. The appeal to a true or real measure of risk is rooted in two assumptions. First, scientific research can provide an accurate measure of risk. Second, this information can and should dictate decision-making about the cost of insurance. As a result, contemporary disputes over the cost of catastrophe insurance coverage, hurricane risk being a prime example, become technical battles over estimating risk. Using examples from the Florida hurricane rate-making decision context, we provide a quantitative investigation of the integrity of these two assumptions. We argue that catastrophe models are politically stylized views of the intractable scientific problem of precise characterization of hurricane risk. Faced with many conflicting scientific theories, model theorists use choice and preference for outcomes to develop a model. Models therefore come to include political positions on relevant knowledge and the risk that society ought to manage. Earnest consideration of model capabilities and inherent uncertainties may help evolve public debate from one focused on “true” or “real” measures of risk, of which there are many, toward one of improved understanding and management of insurance regimes.

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Authors & Contributors
Wall, Barbara Mann
Cohen, Michael R.
Knowles, Scott Gabriel
Demeritt, David
Escobar, Maria Paula
Shrum, Wesley
Social Studies of Science
The Bridge: Journal of the National Academy of Engineering
American Jewish History
Public Understanding of Science
Technology and Culture
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
University of Pennsylvania Press
University of North Carolina Press
Yale University Press
Disasters; catastrophes
Hurricanes; typhoons
Technoscience; science and technology studies
Risk assessment
Hurricane Katrina
Weber, Max
Time Periods
21st century
20th century
19th century
20th century, early
20th century, late
18th century
United States
New Orleans (Louisiana, U.S.)
Great Britain
New York City (New York, U.S.)
Gulf of Mexico
San Francisco, CA
American Red Cross
National Weather Service (U.S.)
International Red Cross

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