Spring 2021 - REM 325 D100

Uncertainty, Risk, and Decision Analysis (3)

Class Number: 7231

Delivery Method: Remote


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 10:30 AM – 12:20 PM

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units. Recommended: REM 225 or STAT 201 or STAT 203 or STAT 205 or GEOG 251 or equivalent.



Provides a broad, yet practical, perspective on uncertainty and risk that can be used to improve decision-making abilities in a wide range of settings. Quantitative decision analysis provides a formal approach to accounting for uncertainty in resource and environmental management decision-making.


Environmental decision-makers need to make explicit choices about regulating harmful activities, developing resources, and investing in restoration to meet biological, social and economic objectives across a broad range of stakeholder values. Decisions can be made via ad hoc approaches, usually in response to problems and conflicts as they arise, or by applying the formalism of structured decision-making that anticipates potential problems by explicitly considering objectives, alternative actions, uncertainties, and risks.

Course format: Synchronous lecture and tutorial.

Outline of Topics
A) Uncertainty
   Uncertainty and thinking about the future
   What do you mean “you are uncertain”?
   Types of uncertainty
   Uncertainty, probability, and learning
   Types of probability
   Common probability distributions
   Bayes Theorem

B) Risk
   Bernstein’s “The remarkable story of risk”
   Late lessons from early warnings
   Why risk analysis is difficult
   Are you risk prone or risk averse?
   Stages of risk analysis: perception, assessment, management, communication

C) Decision-analysis
   Uncertainty, Risk, and Decision Analysis
   Ways of deciding
   Decision traps and why past performance does not guarantee future success
   Quantitative decision analysis
   When does uncertainty matter?
   Advanced topics: Value of information, Monte Carlo simulation, fragility/anti-fragility, tail risks in natural resource management


Upon completing Uncertainty, Risk, and Decision Analysis, students will have improved their thinking and decision-making skills in situations involving uncertainty and risk. Specific Learning Objectives in an environmental context include:

A) Uncertainty:
   1. Identify and describe potential types and sources of uncertainty
   2. Quantify uncertainty using Bayesian statistics

B) Risk:
   3. Explain how uncertainty can create both risks and opportunities
   4. Describe the four stages of risk analysis: perception, assessment, management, and communication
   5. Explain the precautionary principle and the precautionary approach
   6. Identify risk prone and risk averse behavioural types

C.)Decision analysis:
   7. Describe common decision traps
   8. Construct simple quantitative decision analyses in MS Excel
   9. Identify situations when taking uncertainty into account matters
  10.Describe decision concepts including: mini-max/maxi-min decisions, value of information, Monte Carlo simulation,
       fragility/anti-fragility, and tail risks in environmental management


  • Participation in classes and weekly tutorials (8) 20%
  • Major project assignments (2) 50%
  • Final exam 30%


Student performance will be evaluated via (approximately) lab assignments, two major project assignments, and a final exam.
A tentative grade scale and grading policy can be found in the REM Undergraduate Grading Guidelines: http://www.sfu.ca/rem/courses/undergraduate.html

Timelines: Effective decisions are unhelpful if they arrive too late. Therefore, students should adhere to the exact stated deadlines for classes, tutorials, and assignments (i.e., all quizzes, assignments, and projects). Specifically, assignments will be eligible for a maximum of
  • 100% of potential marks if submitted on or before the stated deadline;
  • 80% of potential marks if submitted anytime within the first 24 hrs after the stated deadline;
  • 0% of potential marks if submitted 24 hrs or more past the stated deadline.



1. All students will require a laptop in classes and tutorials. The SFU library has free, 4-hr loans of laptops:
     a) https://www.lib.sfu.ca/borrow/borrowmaterials/laptops-equipment/borrow-laptop.
     b) The campus-wide demand for library laptops is high and the library often runs out quickly. If you need to use the library laptops, you should show-up early at the library check-out
2. MS Excel installed on laptop prior to the first class



REM 325 uses a textbook aimed at a general introduction to decision-making and policy analysis under uncertainty.
Morgan, G. and M. Henrion. 1990. Uncertainty: A Guide to Dealing with Uncertainty in Quantitative Risk and Policy Analysis. Cambridge University Press, 332 pp.
E-textbook is available through: http://www.sfu.ca/bookstore/coursematerials

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in spring 2021 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).