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Abstract

This paper looks critically at the emergence and present status of risk analysis with the aim of assessing its usefulness for policy decisions on risk regulation and the acceptability of risk bearing innovations. The authors adopt a personal narrative to illustrate their own involvement in risk research and to comment on empirical trends that have resulted in the current fashion for risk workshops. The second part of the paper confronts specific issues in risk research. These are not new problems-indeed several of the questions asked have been taken directly from a list used to structure a recent risk seminar; but the stand taken here is rather less conciliatory than is usual when these issues are discussed. The pessimistic message of this paper is that risk research, especially in the area of risk perception, is being used as a panacea with which to attempt to remedy what are essentially societal and political matters. Risk research is being used as a tool in a discourse which is not concerned with risks per se, nor with the cognitive processes by which people misperceive the risks of new technologies, but whose hidden agenda is the legitimacy of decision making institutions and the equitable distribution of hazards and benefits. The authors take a subjectivist view, not just of risk but in general, and query the natural science approach to risk perception, with its assumption that universal dimensions of risk perception can be discovered and used in policy-making and setting regulatory standards. Although it is possible to collect subjective data on the wider meanings that risks and benefits associated with technological innovations have for lay publics, the interpretation and recombination of these data into useful policy guidelines is seen as fraught with technical and, above all, political problems.

Additional information

Authors: OTWAY H J JRC ISPRA ESTAB. (ITALY) THOMAS K THE OPEN UNIVERSITY, FACULTY OF SOCIAL SCIENCES, MILTON KEYNES (UK) , JRC ISPRA ESTAB. (ITALY);THE OPEN UNIVERSITY, FACULTY OF SOCIAL SCIENCES, MILTON KEYNES (UK)
Bibliographic Reference: RISK ANALYSIS, VOL. 2 (1982), NO. 2, PP. 69-82
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