Statistics/Computer Science/Political Science C79
Societal Risks and the Law
Spring 2013

  Philip B. Stark, Statistics
  David Wagner, Computer Science
  Jasjeet Sekhon, Political Science and Statistics
  Cathryn Carson, History
  Nicholas P. Jewell, Biostatistics and Statistics
  Stephen Mahin, Civil and Environmental Engineering

  Wally Abrazaldo
  Wayne Lee

  Tue Thu, 2:00-3:30pm, 2 LeConte

  102. Wed 10-11, 344 Evans, Lee
  104. Thu 10-11, 344 Evans, Abrazaldo
  105. Thu 11-12, 344 Evans, Abrazaldo
  108. Thu 1-2, 344 Evans, Lee

Office hours:
  Carson: by appointment
  Jewell: Mon 2:30-5pm or by appointment, 107 Haviland
  Stark: Tue 11-12:30pm, 403 Evans
  Abrazaldo: Tue 4-5pm and Wed 3-5pm and Thu 4-5pm, 307 Evans
  Wagner: Thu 12-1pm, 733 Soda
  Mahin: Thu 12:40-2pm, 721 Davis
  Sekhon: Thu 4:30-5:30pm or by appointment, 250C Barrows
  Lee: Wed 5-6pm and Thu 12-1pm, 4-6pm, 307 Evans


The following schedule of lectures is tentative and subject to change. You should read the required readings before lecture.

Topic Readings
1/22 Welcome How to Lie with Statistics, all chapters
1/24 Counting SticiGui 12: Counting
1/29 Calculating probabilities using counting SticiGui 13: Meaning of Probability
SticiGui 14: Set Theory
1/31 Probabilities vs rates, Interpretation of probabilities (none)
2/5 Calculating probabilities, Expected value SticiGui 17: Probability Axioms
2/7 Life tables (postponed)
2/12 Conditional probability, Bayes Rule, Probability and Risk SticiGui 18: Let's Make a Deal
2/14 Interpretation of probability, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy Proposed rulemaking on BSE, Declaration from Louis Cox, Declaration from Philip Stark, Appellate court decision.
2/19 BSE/Interpretation of Probability SticiGui 33: Case Study: Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE)
Risk: A Very Short Introduction, Chapters 1-3
2/21 Decision under Uncertainty Risk: A Very Short Introduction, Chapters 4-5
The Science of Fear, Chapters 3
2/26 Decision under Uncertainty Tversky, A., and D. Kahneman, 1974. Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases
2/28 Decision under Uncertainty Huber, Hill, and Lenz. 2012. Sources of Bias in Retrospective Decision-Making: Experimental Evidence on Voters' Limitations in Controlling Incumbents

Extra reading (not required):
Kahneman, D. and A. Tversky, 1979. Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk
3/5 E-voting A Gentle Introduction to Risk-Limiting Audits (Lindeman and Stark),
Evidence-Based Elections (Stark and Wagner),
Risk-Limiting Post-Election Audits: Why and How (Bretschneider et al).
3/7 Decision/Health Care The Science of Fear, Chapters 4-5
Jonathan Gruber and Jasjeet Sekhon. Fundamental health care reform for the United States.
Ezra Klein. The Health of Nations
David Squires. The U.S. Health System in Perspective: A Comparison of Twelve Industrialized Nations
3/12 Healthcare Risk: A Very Short Introduction, Chapter 6
Kenneth Arrow, 1963. Uncertainty and the Welfare Economics of Medical Care
Primer on Premium support
Primer on Medicare
Primer on Obamacare
Primer on Medicaid
3/14 In-class midterm midterm solutions
3/19 Infectious diseases 1976: Fear of a great plague
Communicable Diseases (Tulchinsky & Varavikova)
3/21 Adverse drug effects Under-Reporting of Adverse Drug Reactions
3/26 No class
3/28 No class
4/2 Technology: Electronic privacy How Companies Learn Your Secrets (NY Times)
Letting Down Our Guard With Web Privacy (NY Times)
On Facebook, smart people like The Colbert Report and curly fries (Ars Technica)
Optional: TMI: Information, Identity, and Privacy (Felten)
Optional: Americans and Online Privacy: The System is Broken (Turow)
4/4 Technology: Computer security Hacked! (The Atlantic)
How I Stole Someone's Identity (Thompson)
How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking (Wired)
How Digital Detectives Deciphered Stuxnet, the Most Menacing Malware in History (Wired)
Risk Aversion (Geer)
Optional: Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran
4/9 Earthquake Hazards
4/11 Earthquake Hazards
4/16 Nuclear Power and Waste Repositories handout
4/18 Group project status reports
4/23 Risk Thinking and Nuclear Power
4/25 Historical Perspective on Risk Thinking Risk: A Very Short Introduction, Chapter 7
4/30 Historical Perspective on Risk Thinking
5/2 Wrap-up

The lecture itself is a combination of traditional presentation of material and discussion and debate among the instructors, who have quite different perspectives: Statistics and Biostatistics, Computer Science, Political Science, History, and Civil Engineering.

Reading quizzes

The reading quiz must be completed online once a week, before noon on each Tuesday. The quizzes will check your progress so far, so you should be doing the reading for that Tuesday's lecture before taking the quiz. Quizzes must be done on your own (no collaboration, and no discussion of the questions or your answers with others).

The reading quizzes are all online. They are listed on the same page as the online homeworks; follow the same instructions as for the online homeworks. You only get one submission (you cannot re-submit).


Homeworks will be posted here when they are available. Homeworks are due Mondays at 11:59pm, unless otherwise noted.

Online homeworks: For the online homeworks, click on the link provided. Enter in your first name, last name, student ID, and the email address on record with the Registrar (this is almost certainly an email address that ends in Then, click on the button labelled "assignment" to get to the homework. Fill in the answers, and click "Submit for grading" when you are done. Your homework will be auto-graded immediately; wait for the confirmation screen before closing your browser. You can submit each homework up to a maximum of 5 times. Only the last submission counts towards your grade. On the first 3 submissions, you receive feedback about your total score. On the 4th submission, you are provided with feedback that lists which problems you got wrong. The 5th submission is final.

Browser requirements: For online homeworks, we recommend that you use the latest version of the Firefox browser (Firefox 18, at time of writing) for the best experience. Alternatively, an up-to-date version of Chrome or Safari should work as well for most or all functionality. We do not recommend using Internet Explorer.

The lowest homework score will be dropped.


Group term project: 35%
Homeworks: 35%
Reading quizzes: 10%
Midterm: 20%

The cut-offs for each grade will be determined at the end of the semester.

The group term project will require collaborative research, analysis, synthesis, and data analysis. It will culminate in a written report and oral presentation. Presentations will take place on May 6, 2013 during RRR week, in 20 Barrows Hall, from 10am-noon and 1-3:30pm. Written reports are due on Friday May 3, 2013, in lieu of a timed final exam. See the detailed assignment page for details.

There will be an in-class midterm on Thursday, March 14, 2013. Attendance is required. If for some reason you cannot attend, you are required to contact the instructors during the first week of classes. If you need accomodations for the midterm, please contact us before February 14, 2013. You can try the practice midterm to help you study and prepare for the midterm (solutions are available).


The required textbooks are:

The following recommended textbooks provide additional interesting reading, but are not required:

The following articles provide additional interesting reading, but are not required:

Course policies

Contacting us. The best way to get questions answered quickly or otherwise get help is to use Piazza or our office hours. Piazza is a discussion site that helps you efficiently get questions answered by instructors, GSIs, or fellow students. The course staff (instructors and GSIs) will check Piazza regularly, and other students may be able to help you, too. Feel free to help out your fellow classmates, but please do not post the answers to homeworks or quizzes on Piazza before the due date.

Please do not email us; rather, post your question on Piazza. If the question is personal and private, you may post a private question on Piazza (select "post to... individual instructors", and type "instructors" so that it goes to all instructors). (Alternatively, you may send email to ???. This will reach all the instructors and GSIs.) If you wish to talk with one of us individually, you are always welcome to come to our office hours.

Collaboration policy. You must work on homeworks and quizzes individually, unless otherwise noted. You must never read or copy the solutions of other students. You may use books or online resources, but you must always credit all such sources in your writeup and you must never copy material verbatim.

The course project will be done in a group. See the detailed assignment.

Warning: Your attention is drawn to the Policy on Academic Dishonesty. In particular, you should be aware that copying solutions, in whole or in part, from other students in the class or any other source without acknowledgment constitutes cheating. Any student found to be cheating risks automatically failing the class and being referred to the Office of Student Conduct.

©2012 P.B. Stark, D.A. Wagner, J. Sekhon, C. Carson, N. Jewell, S. Mahin.