UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction


IRDR Seminar: If things had turned for the worse – learning from downward counterfactuals

12 March 2019, 5:00 pm–6:00 pm

Speaker: Dr Gordon Woo, Catastrophist at RMS and UCL IRDR Visiting Professor

Event Information

Open to



Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction


G22 Lecture Theatre
Pearson Building (North East Entrance)
UCL Main Campus Gower Street Entrance
United Kingdom
The vast majority of thoughts about the past are positive: things would have been better if only this or that had happened.  It is uncommon for people to have negative thoughts about the past: things would have been worse if this or that had happened.  Psychologists call these negative thoughts ‘downward counterfactuals’. 
Everyone involved in risk and disaster reduction needs to learn from exploring these downward counterfactuals to avoid being surprised by unusual ‘Black Swan’ events that may have no historical precedent. A survey of downward counterfactuals from the broad spectrum of natural hazards illustrates the essential value gained from this mode of thinking about disasters.
The seminar is open to everyone.

About the Speaker

Dr Gordon Woo

Visiting Professor to the IRDR at RMS and UCL

dr gordon woo
Dr Gordon Woo is an internationally recognized expert on risk management, with a particular focus on catastrophe risks.  In 2004, Newsweek magazine described  Gordon as one of the world’s leading catastrophists.  As a noted expert in many fields of disaster management, he has served on the Blackett Committee reviewing Black Swan events for the UK government chief scientist.  In October 2017, his pioneering work on counterfactual risk analysis was featured in the Economist magazine. Apart from his scientific papers, he is the author of two books, published by Imperial College Press: ‘The Mathematics of Natural Catastrophes’, and ‘Calculating Catastrophe’.
Gordon was a top mathematics graduate of Cambridge University. He completed his PhD in theoretical physics at MIT as a Kennedy Scholar and was a member of the Harvard Society of Fellows. He is an adjunct professor at the Institute of Catastrophe Risk Management at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and is a visiting professor at UCL.
Recent publication: Counterfactual analysis of runaway earthquakes, Seismological Research Letters, Vol.89, No.6, 2018.