Risks and uncertainty symposium


30th anniversary of Institut Universitaire de France

17th, 18th and 19th November 2021 - Le Mans University

The Covid-19 pandemic and its related lockdown have dramatically displayed the extreme speed with which a crisis can spread at a global scale and how drastic behavior changes or adjustments are enforced by the unknown. During such events, we need to differentiate between risk and uncertainty: a measurable uncertainty or ‘risk’ [...] is different from an unmeasurable one” (Knight 1921)[1]. Scientific research across all fields navigates under non-measurable or radical uncertainty. Its main goal is to mitigate radical uncertainty through knowledge building thus defining a subset of risky events for which uncertainty becomes measurable.

However, the “knowledge about the lack of knowledge” (Hansson, 2005a) [2] remains ambiguous and as the equation of science with certainty is misleading, the result might be a misunderstanding between experts and society. Indeed, “society needs to do a better job of deciding what kind of world it wants to make with the opportunities science offers [...] But the task is as hugely difficult as it is hugely important. And a large part of the difficulty lies in the uncertainties that are an inseparable part of science at the frontier” both enormous and extremely difficult. And a large part of the difficulty lies in the uncertainties that are intrinsic components of science at the frontier” (May 2001) [3].

The pluri as well as interdisciplinary conference allows for a retrospective assessment, as well as a focus on potential new knowledge about “ Risks and uncertainty”. It opens up from the perspective of each and every scientific field to the broad spectrum of its heuristic values as well as representations within the analysis of social, economic, physical, biological and environmental interactions.

This event is particularly important in the context of the IUF’s 30th anniversary, an institution that allows scholars to fully dedicate themselves to their research activities. This commitment to the most fundamental values of research aims to reduce radical uncertainty and develop tools to support both scientific and public decision.

Thus, we should consider, among other possible questions, what are the risk-related decision models in contexts of uncertainty? How might we confront these models to real life social or natural experiences? Can we make them available to decision-makers? What are their limits? Which different realities and topics does the notion of risk encompasses in different scientific communities and research domains? Are some by definition unknown and potential uncertainties of primary concern with respect to others? What are researchers’ relationships to risk and uncertainty? How do they manage it, and is interdisciplinarity a valid approach?



[1] Frank Hyneman Knight "Risk, uncertainty and profit" pg. 19, Hart, Schaffner, and Marx Prize Essays, no. 31. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin. 1921.
[2] Hansson, S., 2005a, The epistemology of technological risk, Techné, 9, 2, pp. 68-80.
[3] May, R. Risk and uncertainty. Nature 411, 891 (2001).


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Why will this Conference take place at Le Mans Université ?


Prior to being worldwide known for its 24 Hours car endurance racing, Le Mans was one of the first cities in France where a mutualist insurance group was created in 1828. Thus, the history of Le Mans is tied to the development of risk management in developed societies.

Based on this history leading to a significant both social and human knowledge about risks, Le Mans University has naturally dedicated part of its teaching and research activities to risk-related issues. Thus, for the last 30 years, it has developed several partnerships with the insurance sector and many of Le Mans alumni whether in science or the humanities work on risk-related topics. Given that risk is also a crossover notion, it equally encourages interdisciplinary approaches.

At Le Mans University, interactions between different fields of knowledge have flourished. This has led to the foundation of various institutes, among which the Risk and Insurance Institute (Institut du Risque & de l’Assurance) which brings together research, training and innovation. Other recently created interdisciplinary institutes focusing on different subject matters, are also likely to include research on environmental, public or societal risks at large.

This IUF focused conference will be held during “The Risks & Uncertainties Weekrunning from November 15th to 19th 2021 at Le Mans University and which will also include the closing conference of PANORisk program, as well as other research activities related to risks stemming from research on waste (MSHS), on noise (school of acoustics), on emergency (Law school), etc.



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