Comparative risk analysis of technological hazards (a review)

Robert W. Kates and Jeanne X. Kasperson | 1983

Hazards are threats to people and what they value and risks are measures of hazards. Comparative analyses of the risks and hazards of technology can be dated to Starr (1969) but are rooted in recent trends in the evolution of technology, the identification of hazard, the perception of risk, and the activities of society.

These trends have spawned an interdisciplinary quasi profession with new terminology, methodology, and literature. A review of 54 English-language monographs and book-length collections, published between 1970 and 1983, identified seven recurring themes:

  1. overviews of the field of risk assessment
  2. efforts to estimate and quantify risk
  3. discussions of risk acceptability
  4. perception
  5. analyses of regulation
  6. case studies of specific technological hazards
  7. agenda for research

Within this field, science occupies a unique niche, for many technological hazards transcend the realm of ordinary experience and require expert study. Scientists can make unique contributions to each area of hazard management but their primary contribution is the practice of basic science.

Hazards are threats to people and what they value and risks are measures of hazards.

Beyond that, science needs to further risk assessment by understanding the more subtle processes of hazard creation and by establishing conventions for estimating risk and for presenting and handling uncertainty.

Scientists can enlighten the discussion of tolerable risk by setting risks into comparative contexts, by studying the process of evaluation, and by participating as knowledgeable individuals, but they cannot decide the issue. Science can inform the hazard management process by broadening the range of alternative control actions and modes of implementation and by devising methods to evaluate their effectiveness.

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Starr, C. (1969) Science 165, 1232-1238.

This publication is part of the web-book Public Risk Canon