From pacemakers to power-plants, we are surrounded by technologies that cannot be allowed to fail. For this reason, we must know the reliability of such technologies before we approve them. The high stakes demand high certainty, yet such knowledge is often more ambiguous than we are led to believe.
Downer's paper 'When Failure is an Option: Redundancy, reliability and regulation in complex technical systems' explores our ability to understand complex machines by focusing on the history and logic of 'redundancy' in mechanical engineering. Using civil aircraft as a case study, it shows how reliability assessments of potentially hazardous technologies are built on redundancy, and explains why that foundation is frailer than it appears.
John Downer is a Research Officer at the ESRC Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation (CARR) at the London School of Economics. He is author of "When the Chick Hits the Fan: Representativeness and Reproducibility in Technological Testing." in Social Studies of Science. Vol. 31 No.1 Feb. 2007 pp.7-26
The ESRC Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation (CARR) is an interdisciplinary research centre at LSE. Our core intellectual work focuses on the organisational and institutional settings for risk management and regulatory practices.
Analysis of risk and regulation
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