Advisory Board

Jason G. Matheny, MBA, MPH

The Risk Analysis article Reducing the Risk of Human Extinction said

Projections of climate change and influenza pandemics, coupled with the damage caused by recent tsunamis, hurricanes, and terrorist attacks, have increased interest in low-probability, high-consequence “catastrophic risks”. Richard Posner (2004) has reviewed a number of these risks and the failures of policy and traditional risk assessment to address them. Richard Horton (2005), editor of The Lancet, has recommended creating an international body to rationally address catastrophic risks. The World Economic Forum (2006) recently convened a panel to catalog global catastrophic risks. The OECD (2003) has completed a similar exercise. And national research centers have emerged to study responses to catastrophe — the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently funded a Center for the Study of High Consequence Event Preparedness and Response that involves 21 institutions.
In this article, I discuss a subset of catastrophic events — those that could extinguish humanity. It is only in the last century, with the invention of nuclear weapons, that some of these events can be both caused and prevented by human action. While extinction events may be very improbable, their consequences are so grave that it could be cost effective to prevent them.
A search of EconLit and the Social Sciences Citation Index suggests that virtually nothing has been written about the cost effectiveness of reducing human extinction risks. Maybe this is because human extinction seems impossible, inevitable, or, in either case, beyond our control; maybe human extinction seems inconsequential compared to the other social issues to which cost-effectiveness analysis has been applied; or maybe the methodological and philosophical problems involved seem insuperable.

Jason G. Matheny, MBA, MPH was the author of this article and is a health economist who studies catastrophic risks. He works at the Center for Biosecurity on assessing and mitigating the risks of biological weapons and pandemics, and has previously worked for the World Bank, the Center for Global Development, and the Packard Foundation. He is a Sommer Scholar and PhD student in Health Economics at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In 2007, he published an article in Risk Analysis on the risks of human extinction. He has published elsewhere on health economics, biotechnology, and bioethics.
Jason coauthored How can We Reduce the Risk of Human Extinction?, Financial Effects of an Influenza Pandemic on US Hospitals, Incentives for Biodefense Countermeasure Development, Flexible Defenses Roundtable Meeting: Promoting the Strategic Innovation of Medical Countermeasures, Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) Roundtable, and Expected utility, contributory causation, and vegetarianism. Read the full list of his publications!
His work with New Harvest was covered by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Economist, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, Scientific American, National Public Radio, NOVA, CBS Evening News, Wired Magazine, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Boston Globe, Baltimore Sun, BBC, Financial Times, the Guardian, the Independent, Daily Mail, Der Spiegel, Maclean’s, and more than 100 other media outlets. The New York Times Magazine called it one of the “Best ideas of 2005” and Discover Magazine called it one of the “Top 100 Science Stories of 2005”.
Jason earned his B.A. at the University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois in 1996, his M.B.A. at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, Durham North Carolina in 2003, and his M.P.H. at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland in 2004.