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Forecasts or fortune-telling: when are expert judgements of safety risk valid?

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JournalSafety science
DateAccepted/In press - 25 Feb 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 6 Mar 2017
DatePublished (current) - Nov 2017
Issue numberB
Number of pages11
Pages (from-to)156-165
Early online date6/03/17
Original languageEnglish


Safety analysis frequently relies on human estimates of the likelihood of specific events. For this purpose, the opinions of experts are given greater weight than the opinions of non-experts. Combinations of individual judgements are given greater weight than judgements made by a lone expert. Various authors advocate specific techniques for eliciting and combining these judgements. All of these factors – the use of experts, the use of multiple opinions, and the use of elicitation and combination techniques – serve to increase subjective confidence in the safety analysis. But is this confidence justified? Do the factors increase the actual validity of the analysis in proportion to the increase in subjective confidence?

In this paper, by means of a critical synthesis of evidence from multiple disciplines, we argue that it is plausible that expert judgement deserves special standing, but only for well understood local causal mechanisms. We also conclude that expert judgements can be improved by using appropriate elicitation techniques, including by combining judgement from multiple experts. There is, however, no evidence to suggest that fuzzy algorithms, neural networks, or any other form of complicated processing of expert judgement have any advantage over simple combination mechanisms.

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© 2017 Elsevier Ltd. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.

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