Friday, March 11, 2011

Risk Assessment

Nuclear and chemical technologies (except for medicines) have been stigmatized by being perceived as entailing unnaturally great risks.

R. Gregory, J. Flynn, and P. Slovic, ‘‘Technological Stigma,’’ American Scientist 83, 220–223 (1995).

The social problem is compounded by the fact that we tend to manage our risks within an adversarial legal system that pits expert against expert, contradicting each other’s risk assessments and further destroying the public trust. The young science of risk assessment is too fragile, too indirect, to prevail in such a hostile atmosphere. Scientic analysis of risks cannot allay
our fears of low-probability catastrophes or delayed cancers unless we trust the system. In the absence of trust, science (and risk assessment) can only feed public concerns, by uncovering more bad news. A single study demonstrating an association between exposure to chemicals or radiation and some adverse health effect cannot easily be offset by numerous studies failing to and such an association.

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