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Appendix C Risk: A Guide to Controversy BARUCH FISCHHOFF FOREWORD BY THE COMMITTEE This appendix was written by Baruch Fischhoff to assist in the deliberations of the National Research Council's Committee on Risk Perception and Communication. It describes in some detail the complications involved in controversies over managing risks in which risk perception and risk communication play significant roles. It addresses these issues from the perspective of many years of research in psychology and other disciplines. The text of the committee's report addresses many of the same issues, and, not surprisingly, many of the same themes, although the focus of the report is more general. The committee did not debate all points made in the guide. Even though this appendix represents the views of only one member, the committee decided to include it because we believe the guide to be a valuable introduction to an extremely complicated literature. PREFACE This guide is intended to be used as a practical aid in applying general principles to understanding specific risk management contro- versies and their associated communications. It knight be thought of as a user's guide to risk. Its form is that of a "diagnostic guide," show- ing participants and observers how to characterize risk controversies 211
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212 APPENDIX C along five essential dimensions, such as "What are the (psychologi- cal) obstacles to laypeople's understanding of risks?"and "What are the limits to scientific estimates of riskiness?" Its style is intended to be nontechnical, thereby making the scientific literature on risk accessible to a general audience. It is hoped that the guide will help make risk controversies more comprehensible and help citizens and professional risk managers play more effective roles in them. The guide was written for the committee by one of its members. Its substantive contents were considered by the committee in the course of its work, either in the form of published articles and books circulated to other committee members or in the form of issues deliberated at its meetings. As a document, the guide complements the conclusions of the committee's report. CONTENTS I INTRODUCTION Usage, 215 Some Cautions, 216 214 II THE SCIENCE 217 What Are the Bounds of the Problem?, 217 What Is the Hard Science Related to the Problem?, 224 Adherence to Essential Rules of Science, 236 How Does Judgment Affect the Risk Estimation Process?, 238 Summary, 253 III SCIENCE AND POLICY Separating Facts and Values, 254 Measuring Risk, 257 Measuring Benefits, 262 Summary, 268 , · - - - - . 254 IV THE NATURE OF THE CONTROVERSY 269 The Distinction Between "Actual" and "Perceived" Risks Is Misconceived, 270 Laypeople and Experts Are Speaking Different Languages, 272 Laypeople and Experts Are Solving Different Problems, 273
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APPENDIX C Debates Over Substance May Disguise Battles Over Form, and Vice Versa, 275 Laypeople and Experts Disagree About What Is Feasible, 277 I,aypeople and Experts See the Facts Differently, 278 Summary, 280 V STRATEGIES FOR RISK COMMUNICATION.. Concepts of Risk Communication, 282 Some Simple Strategies, 283 Conceptualizing Communication Programs, 286 Evaluating Communication Programs, 291 Summary, 298 213 .282 VI PSYCHOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES IN COMMUNICATION DESIGN..e..ee..e..ee.e..eeeeee...e.e.e....eeeeeeeeeeeee.eee 299 People Simplify, 299 Once People's Minds Are Made Up, It Is Difficult to Change Them, 300 People Remember What They See, 301 People Cannot Readily Detect Omissions in the Evidence They Receive, 301 People May Disagree More About What Risk Is Than About How Large It Is, 302 People Have Difficulty Detecting Inconsistencies in Risk Disputes, 303 Summary, 304 VII C O N C L U SIO N 305 Individual Learning, 305 Societal Learning, 307 BIBI,IOGRAPHY 309
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I INTRODUCTION Risk management is a complex business. So are the controversies that it spawns. And so are the roles that risk communication must perform. In the face of such complexity, it is tempting to look for simplifying assumptions. Made explicit, these assumptions might be expressed as broad statements of the form, "what people really want is . . ."; "all that laypeople can understand is . . .~; or ~industry's communicators fad! whenever they...." Like other simplifications in life, such assumptions provide some short-term relief at the price of creating long-term complications. Overlooking complexities eventu- ally leads to inexplicable events and ineffective actions. On one level this guide might be used like a baseball scorecard detailing the players' identities and performance statistics (perhaps along with any unique features of the stadium, season, and rivalry). Like a balIgame, a risk controversy should be less confusing to specta- tors who know something about the players and their likely behavior under various circumstances. Thus, experts wright respect the pub- lic more if they were better able to predict its behavior, even if they would prefer that the public behave otherwise. Sirn~larly, un- derstanding the basics of risk analysis might make disputes among technical experts seem less capricious to the lay public. More ambitiously, such a guide might be used to facilitate ef- fective action by the parties in risk controversies, like the Baseball Abstract (James, 1988) in the hands of a skilled manager. For ex- ample, the guide discusses how to determine what the public needs to know in particular risky situations. Being able to identify those needs may allow better focused risk communication, thereby using the public's limited time wisely and letting it know that the com- municators really care about the problems that the public faces. Similarly, understanding the ethical values embedded in the defi- nitions of ostensibly technical terms (e.g., risk, benefit, voluntary) can allow members of the public to ask more penetrating questions about whose interests a risk analysis serves. Realizing that different actors use a term like "risks differently should allow communicators to remove that barrier to mutual understanding. 214
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APPENDIX C 215 USAGE The guide's audience includes all participants and observers of risk management episodes involving communications. Its intent is to help government officials preparing to address citizens' groups, industry representatives hoping to site a hazardous facility without undue controversy, local activists trying to decide what information they need and whether existing communications meet those needs, and academics wondering how central their expertise is to a particular episode. The premise of the guide is that risk communication cannot be understood in isolation. Rather, it is one component of complex social processes involving complex individuals. As a result, this fuller context needs to be understood before risk communication can be effectively transmitted or received. That context includes the following elements and questions: The Science. What is the scientific basis of the controversy? What kinds of risks and benefits are at stake? How well are they understood? How controversial is the underlying science? Where does judgment enter the risk estimation process? How well is it to be trusted? Science and Policy. In what ways does the nature of the science preempt the policymaking process (e.g., in the definition of key terms, like "risk" and "benefit"; in the norms of designing and reporting studies)? To what extent can issues of fact and of value be separated? · The Nature of the Controversy. Why is there a perceived need for risk communication? Does the controversy reflect just a disagreement about the magnitude of risks? Is controversy over risk a surrogate for controversy over other issues? Strategies for Risk Communication. What are the goals of risk communication? How can communications be evaluated? What burden of responsibility do communicators bear for evaluating their communications, both before and after dissemination? What are the alternatives for designing risk communication programs? What are the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches? How can complementary approaches be combined? What nonscientific infor- mation is essential (e.g., the mandates of regulatory agencies, the reward schemes of scientists)? · Psychological Principles in Communication Design. What are the behavioral obstacles to effective risk communication? What kinds
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216 APPENDIX C of scientific results do laypeople have difficulty understanding? How does emotion affect their interpretation of reported results? What presentations exacerbate (and ameliorate) these problems? How does personal experience with risks affect people's understanding? SOME CAUTIONS A diagnostic guide attempts to help users characterize a situa- tion. To do so, it must define a range of possible situations, only one of which can be experienced at a particular time. As a result, the attempt to make one guide fit a large universe of risk management situations means that readers will initially have to read about many potential situations in order to locate the real situation that interests them. With practice, users should gain fluency with a diagnostic approach, making it easier to characterize specific situations. It is hoped that the full guide will be interesting enough to make the full picture seem worth knowing. At no time, however, will diagnosis be simple or human behavior be completely predictable. All that this, or any other, diagnos- tic guide can hope to do is ensure that significant elements of a social-political-psychological process are not overlooked. For a more detailed treatment, one must look to the underlying research lit- erature for methods and results. To that end, the guide provides numerous references to that literature, as well as some discussion of its strengths and limitations. To the extent that a guide is useful for designing and interpreting a communication process, it may also be useful for manipulating that process. In this regard, the material it presents is no different than any other scientific knowledge. This possibility imposes a responsi- bility to make research equally available to all parties. Therefore, even though this guide may suggest ways to bias the process, it should also make it easier to detect and defuse such attempts.
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II THE SCIENCE By definition, all risk controversies concern the risks associated with some hazard. However, as argued in the text of the report and in this diagnostic guide, few controversies are only about the size of those risks. Indeed, in many cases, the risks prove to be a side issue, upon which are hung disagreements about the size and distribution of benefits or about the allocation of political power in a society. In all cases, though, some understanding of the science of risk is needed, if only to establish that a rough understanding of the magnitude of the risk is all that one needs for effective participation in the risk debate. Following the text, the term ~hazard" is used to describe any activity or technology that produces a risk. This usage should not obscure the fact that hazards often produce benefits as well as risks. Understanding the science associated with a hazard requires a series of essential steps. The first is identifying the scope of the prow lem under consideration, in the sense of identifying the set of factors that determine the magnitude of the risks and benefits produced by an activity or technology. The second step is identifying the set of widely accepted scientific "facts" that can be applied to the problem; even when laypeople cannot understand the science underlying these facts, they may at least be able to ensure that such accepted wisdom is not contradicted or ignored in the debate over a risk. The third step in understanding the science of risk is knowing how it depends on the educated intuitions of scientists, rather than on accepted hard facts; although these may be the judgments of trained experts, they still need to be recognized as matters of conjecture that are both more likely to be overturned than published (and replicated) results and more vulnerable to the vagaries of psychological processes. WHAT ARE THE BOUNDS OF THE PROBLEM? The science learned in school offers relatively tidy problems. The typical exercise in, say, physics gives all the facts needed for its solution and nothing but those facts. The difficulty of such problems for students comes in assembling those facts in a way that provides the right answer. (In more advanced classes, one may have to bring some general facts to bear as well.) 217
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218 APPENDIX C The same assembly problem arises when analyzing the risks and benefits of a hazard. Scientists must discover how its pieces fit together. They must also figure out what the pieces are. For example, what factors can influence the reliability of a nuclear power plant? Or, whose interests must be considered when assessing the benefits of its operation? Or, which alternative ways of generating electricity are realistic possibilities? The scientists responsible for any piece of a risk problem must face a set of such issues before beginning their work. Laypeople trying to follow a risk debate must understand how various groups of scientists have defined their pieces of the problem. And, as mentioned in the report, even the most accomplished of scientists are laypeople when it comes to any aspects of a risk debate outside the range of their trained expertise. The difficulties of determining the scope of a risk debate emerge quite clearly when one considers the situation of a reporter assigned to cover a risk story. The difficult part of getting most environ- mental stories is that no one person has the entire story to give. Such stories typically involve diverse kinds of expertise so that a thorough journalist might have to interview specialists in toxicology, epidemiology, economics, groundwater movement, meteorology, and emergency evacuation, not to mention a variety of local, state, and federal officials concerned with public health, civil defense, education, and transportation. Even if a reporter consults with all the relevant experts, there is no assurance of complete coverage. For some aspects of some hazards, no one may be responsible. For example, no evacuation plans may exist for residential areas that are packed "hopelessly" close to an industrial facility. No one may be capable of resolving the jurisdictional conflicts when a train with military cargo derails near a reservoir just outside a major population center. There may be no scientific expertise anywhere for measuring the long-term neurological risks of a new chemical. Even when there is a central address for questions, those occu- pying it may not be empowered to take firm action (e.g., banning or exonerating a chemical) or to provide clear-cut answers to personal questions (e.g., "What should ~ do?" or "What should ~ tell my children?"~. Often those who have the relevant information refuse to divulge it because it might reveal proprietary secrets or turn public opinion against their cause.
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APPENDIX ~ 219 Having to piece together a story from multiple sources, even recalcitrant ones, is hardly new to journalists. What is new about many environmental stories is that no one knows what all of the pieces are or realizes the limits of their own understanding. Experts tend to exaggerate the centrality of their roles. Toxi- cologists may assume that everyone needs to know what they found when feeding rats a potential carcinogen or when testing ground- water near a landfill, even though additional information is always needed to make use of those results (e.g., physiological differences among species, routes of human exposure, compensating benefits of the exposure). Another source of confusion is the failure of experts to remind laypeople of the acknowledged limits of the experts' craft. For exam- ple, cost-benefit analysts seldom remind readers that the calculations consider only total costs and benefits and, hence, ignore questions of who pays the costs and who pays the benefits (Bentkover et al., 1985; Smith and Desvousges, 1986~. Finally, environmental management is an evolving field that is only beginning to establish comprehensive training programs and methods, making it hard for anyone to know what the full ni~.t`~,re in and how their work fits into it. ~_ ~ An enterprising journalist with a modicum of technical knowI- edge should be able to get specialists to tell their stories in fairly plain English and to cope with moderate evasiveness or manipula- tion. However, what is the journalist to do when the experts do not know what they do not know? One obvious solution is to talk to several experts with maximally diverse backgrounds. Yet, sometimes such a perfect mix is hard to find. Available experts can all have common limitations of perspective. Another solution is to use a checklist of issues that need to be covered in any comprehensive environmental story. Scientists themselves use such lists to ensure that their own work is properly performed, documented, and reported. Such a protocol does not create knowledge for the expert any more than it would provide an education to the journalist. It does, however, help users exploit all they know-and acknowledge what they leave out. Some protocols that can be used in looking at risk analyses are the causal model, the fault tree, a materials and energy flow diagram, and a risk analysis checklist. me, ~,, _
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220 HAZARD \ CAU SAL ) SEQUENCE / ~ , Lit APPENDIX C HUMAN HUMAN NEEDS WANTS ;C> FOOD l l SHOPPING __ _ _ MODIFY CHANGE LIFE STYLE CHOICE OF TECH NOLOGY USE AUTO" MOBILE MODIFY USE PUBLIC TRANSIT INITIATING EVENT LOSE CONTROL . . .. BLOCK BLOCK ; WARNING MEDIAN SIGNS DIVIDERS OUTCOM E HEAD-ON COLLISI ON _ _ _: _ 1 . BLOCK OCCUPANT RESTRAINT CONSE QUENCES HEAD INJURIES 1 2 3 4 5 6 | TIME ~ HIGHER OR DER CONSE QUENCES DEATH ~ _ BLOCK EMER GENCY MEDICAL AID FIGURE II.1 The causal chain of hazard evolution. The top line indicates seven stages of hazard development, from the earliest (left) to the final stage (right). These stages are expressed generically in the top of each box and in terms of a sample motor vehicle accident in the bottom. The stages are linked by causal pathways denoted by triangles. Six control stages are linked to pathways between hazard states by vertical arrows. Each is described generically as well as by specific control actions. Thus control stage 2 would read: "You can modify technology choice by substituting public transit for automobile use and thus block the further evolution of the motor vehicle accident sequence arising out of automobile use." The time dimension refers to the ordering of a specific hazard sequence; it does not necessarily indicate the time scale of managerial action. Thus, from a managerial point of view, the occurrence of certain hazard consequences may trigger control actions that affect events earlier in the hazard sequence. SOURCE: Figure- Bick et al., 1979; caption Fischhoff, Lichtenstein, et al., 1981. The Causal Mode] The causal mode! of hazard creation is a way to organize the full set of factors leading to and from an environmental mishap, both when getting the story and when telling it. The example in Figure Il.1 is an automobile accident, traced from the need for transportation to the secondary consequence of the collision. Between each stage, there is some opportunity for an intervention to reduce the risk of an accident. By organizing information about the hazard in a chronological sequence, this scheme helps ensure that nothing is left out, such as the deep-seated causes of the mishap (to the left) and its long-range consequences (to the right). Applied to an "irregular event" at a nuclear power station, for example, this protocol would work to remind a reporter of such (left- handed) causes as the need for energy and the need to protect the large capital investment in that industry and such (right-h~nded) consequences as the costs of retooling other plants designed like the
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APPENDIX C 221 affected plant or the need to burn more fossil fuels if the plant is taken off line (without compensating reductions in energy consumption). The Fault Tree A variant on this procedure is the fault tree (Figure IT.2), which lays out the sequence of events that must occur for a particular accident to happen (Green and Bourne, 1972; U.S. Nuclear Regu- latory Commission, 1983~. Actual fault trees, which can be vastly more involved than this example, are commonly used to organize the thinking and to coordinate the work of those designing complex technologies such as nuclear power facilities and chemical plants. At times, they are also used to estimate the overall riskiness of such fa- ciTities. However, the numbers produced are typically quite imprecise (U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 1978~. In effect, fault trees break open the right-handed parts of a causal mode! for detailed treatment. They can help a reporter to RELEASE OF RADI OACTIVE WASTES TO BIOSPHERE r 1 1 IMPACT OF lARGE METEORITE OR NUCLEAR WEAPON 1 TRANSPORTATION BY GROUNDWATER VOLCANIC ACTIVITY l | | EROSION UPLIFT | I ACCIDENTAL I I r~ FA GLACIAL EALING OF | STREAM l l DRILLING l AMINE THAW PLASTIC SUDDEN RELEASE DEFORMATION OF STORED l AND ROCK PRESSURE RADIATION ENERGY FIGURE II.2 Fault tree indicating the possible ways that radioactivity could be released from deposited wastes after the closure of a repository. SOURCE: Slovic and Fischhoff, 1983.
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Representative terms from entire chapter:
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