Safety in numbers: how social choice theory can inform avalanche risk management



Ebert PA & Morreau M (2022) Safety in numbers: how social choice theory can inform avalanche risk management. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning.

Avalanche studies have undergone a transition in recent years. Early research focused mainly on environmental factors. More recently, attention has turned to human factors in decision making, such as behavioural and cognitive biases. This article adds a social component to this human turn in avalanche studies. It identifies lessons for decision making by groups of skiers from the perspective of social choice theory, a sub-field of economics, decision theory, philosophy and political science that investigates voting methods and other forms of collective decision making. In the first part, we outline the phenomenon of wisdom of crowds, where groups make better decisions than their individual members. Drawing on the conceptual apparatus of social choice theory and using idealised scenarios, we identify conditions under which wisdom of crowds arises and also explain how and when deciding together can instead result in worse decisions than may be expected from individual group members. In the second part, we use this theoretical understanding to offer practical suggestions for decision making in avalanche terrain. Finally, we make several suggestions for risk management in other outdoor and adventure sports and for outdoor sports education.

Risk management; outdoor sports; group decision making; social choice theory; Condorcet’s jury theorem

Output Status: Forthcoming/Available Online

Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning

StatusIn Press
FundersAHRC Arts and Humanities Research Council, NordForsk and The Royal Society of Edinburgh
Publication date online21/01/2022
Date accepted by journal24/11/2021
PublisherInforma UK Limited

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Professor Philip Ebert

Professor Philip Ebert

Professor, Philosophy

Projects (1)