SRA Member and Past President Warner North: A Career in Risk

North, who received the Best Book Reviewer award at SRA’s 2014 Annual Meeting in Denver, has a biography punctuated by an extensive list of risk-related accomplishments at the national and international level. He also sings!

Warner North received his Ph.D. in Operations Research from Stanford University in 1970 and has served in a number of leadership roles in the SRA, including president in 1991-1992. He has been an area editor for Risk Analysis since 2008. The Society awarded him an Outstanding Risk Practitioner award in 1999. In 1997, the Decision Analysis Society awarded him the Frank P. Ramsey Medal for his contributions to the field of decision analysis.

It is sometimes said that musical and mathematical ability might be related. If so, readers should not be too surprised to learn that North, who also holds two degrees in physics and one in mathematics, has been actively singing in choral and a capella groups since his student days and was once a semi-professional opera singer.

The December 2014 SRA annual meeting in Denver was the occasion for a new performance: At the President’s Reception, North sang Franz Schubert’s “Serenade” (in German) plus a song entitled “Bright is the Ring of Words” (with music by Ralph Vaughn Williams and words by Robert Louis Stevenson). His wife Cheryl North, a noted music columnist in the San Francisco Bay Area, accompanied him on piano. Adam Finkel and Katrina von Stackleberg contributed another classical song, and to round out the cross-Atlantic cultural exchange, SRA President Ortwin Renn demonstrated his skill as a honky-tonk piano player.

This demonstrates, North commented, that “a number of us risk analysts enjoy music as participants as well as listeners.”

North is president and principal scientist of NorthWorks, Inc. Until 2009 he also was a consulting  professor at Stanford University. A contributor to numerous reports from the National Research Council, a consultant to government and industry on a wide range of major risk-related projects, and a National Associate of the National Research Council, North recently served on the Steering Committee for two 2013 NRC workshops on shale gas development; the project summary report, entitled “Risk and Risk Governance in Shale Gas Development: Summary of Two Workshops,” can be accessed here. He is currently working with the Council of Canadian Academies on an upcoming report on the effectiveness of health risk communication, expected to be released later in 2015.

North testified before the House Energy & Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, on the report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future at a hearing held on February 1, 2012. He published a perspective article entitled “Can Sisyphus Succeed?” in Risk Analysis based on this testimony in January 2013.

To add to his long list of accomplishments, North received the “Best Book Reviewer” award at the December 2014 Annual Meeting. His review essay, discussing five different recent books that he particularly recommends on topics related to safety, uncertainty and predictability, was published in Risk Analysis in February of 2014. For more of North’s biography and publications, go to his website here

Susanna Priest, SRA News Editor, with Warner North