Perceptions of Technological Risks and Benefits

Perceptions of Technological Risks and Benefits

Leroy C. Gould
Gerald T. Gardner
Donald R. DeLuca
Adrian R. Tiemann
Leonard W. Doob
Jan A. J. Stolwijk
Copyright Date: 1988
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Perceptions of Technological Risks and Benefits
    Book Description:

    The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 was said to herald a new mood of opposition to government regulation. But at the same time, large and vocal segments of the population have been demanding that corporations and regulatory agencies address public concerns about technological safety. What do we really know about people's perceptions of technological risk and their judgments about appropriate levels of technological regulation?

    Perceptions of Technological Risks and Benefitsanalyzes the results of a unique body of survey data-the only large-scale, representative survey of public attitudes about risk management in such technologies as nuclear power, handguns, auto travel, and industrial chemicals. The findings demonstrate that public judgments are not simply anti-technological or irrational, but rather the product of a complex set of factors that includes an awareness of benefits as well as a sensitivity to the "qualitative" aspects of risk (how catastrophic, dreaded, or poorly understood a hazard seems to be).

    This volume offers striking evidence that whatever Americans may think about government regulation in general, they are remarkably consistent in desiring stricter regulation of technological safety. These conclusions suggest that the current trend away from regulation of technology reflects a less than perfect reading of public sentiment.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-255-8
    Subjects: Business, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Foreword
    (pp. v-x)

    In 1973, world oil prices escalated sharply, and the United States, along with the rest of the world, suddenly faced an “energy crisis.” Following as it did the Watergate crisis, the drug crisis, the civil rights movement, the environmental movement, the consumer movement, and the Vietnam War, this price escalation prompted some to wonder whether the nation’s traditional institutions would survive. They did, although not without change.

    This is a book about one of these changes: people’s perceptions of the risks and benefits of technology and their judgments about appropriate levels of technological regulation, as revealed in surveys conducted in...

  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Although a survey of the evening news might lead some to believe otherwise, most people living in the United States and other industrial nations today manage to survive a majority of the years apparently allotted them by the inherent biological limits of human existence (Gori and Richtee, 1978). Life expectancy at birth in Switzerland, the longest in the world, is 79 years, just exceeding the 78 years in Sweden (World Almanac, 1986). People in the United States have a life expectancy at birth of 75 years.

    It has not always been thus. According to one estimate, a third of the...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Intervenors and the General Public
    (pp. 11-44)

    Table 2.1 summarizes the sample design of our study, which included two full-probability samples of people living in Connecticut and Arizona as well as special samples of “intervenors” living in the same two states. Intervenors were chosen from lists of persons who had given testimony at federal or state hearings related to then-current technological issues. In Connecticut, hearing records were sufficiently detailed for us to choose equal numbers of intervenors from two subpopulations: intervenors who had given testimony favorable to industry, and intervenors who had spoken against current industry practices or plans. Hearing records in Arizona, however, were not as...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Research on Perceptions of Technology: An Overview
    (pp. 45-60)

    Respondents in our study perceived the risks of nuclear weapons, industrial chemicals, and nuclear electric power as being considerably greater than the risks of automobile or commercial air travel. Death statistics would indicate either that these perceptions of risk are inaccurate, or that they are based on something other than the risk of death; no one in the United States has ever been killed by nuclear weapons or nuclear power generation, and few operators or bystanders are killed by accidents at chemical plants (Perrow, 1984).

    Many technological risk-managers have concluded, therefore, that the public simply does not know what the...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Study
    (pp. 61-72)

    Trained interviewers posed approximately 300 questions to each of the 1,320 respondents in the two Arizona and the two Connecticut samples of our study during a one- to two-hour personal interview (Appendix A). The majority of these questions concerned six technologies: automobile travel, air travel, nuclear weapons, nuclear power, handguns, and industrial chemicals. In addition to being asked about their perceptions of the risks, benefits, and safety standards currently regulating these technologies, and their judgments of how strict these standards ought to be, as described in Chapter 2, respondents were also asked to rate three qualitative aspects of the risks...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Risks, Benefits, and Regulation
    (pp. 73-96)

    This chapter reports the findings of our study relevant to Hypotheses 1 through 6 listed in Chapter 3. It begins with a discussion of acceptability and then examines the correlates of our respondents’ views on the acceptability of current technology safety regulations. First the analysis looks at the influence of perceived risks and perceived benefits, and then it explores the influence of various attitudes and sociodemographic variables.

    Data we presented in Chapter 2 showed that a majority of the general public in our Connecticut and Arizona samples favored stricter safety standards and regulations for the six technologies we investigated. Table...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Intervenors, Technology, Nuclear Power, and Salience
    (pp. 97-110)

    Chapter 5 reported on various aspects of Connecticut and Arizona residents’ perceptions of technological risk and benefits and their ideas about technology safety regulation. Chapter 6 extends this analysis in four ways. First, it further explores the views of pro-safety and pro-benefits intervenors, separate from members of the general public. Second, it examines whether the attitudes of individual respondents toward technology are the same or different for different technologies. Third, it considers the possibility of going beyond the relatively simple notion of “acceptability of current safety regulations,” used in previous research and presented in Chapter 5 of this volume, by...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Taking Action
    (pp. 111-128)

    People’s views about the risks and benefits of technologies, and the safety standards that should apply to them, would be of little policy relevance unless they acted on these views at public meetings and in the voting booth. Indeed, Starr (1969, 1972) and other revealed-preference risk researchers presumed that it is just such actions that translate public sentiments about appropriate risk-benefit trade-offs into acceptable public policy.

    Therefore, to assess the relationship between action and other aspects of our study, we asked respondents whether they had ever done any of ten specific things to express their “views on the restrictions and...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Conclusions
    (pp. 129-142)

    Measuring people’s attitudes, and from these predicting their behavior, is an elusive business. Our attempt has been little more productive than those of many others. Although we were able to account for nearly a quarter of the variation in whether or not the members of our samples intervened in the nuclear power risk-management process, we could account for very little of the variation in auto or air travel activism and only modest amounts of the variation in activism directed at nuclear weapons, handguns, and industrial chemicals. The multiple correlations that we did compute, moreover, would have been even smaller had...

  12. APPENDIX A Survey Questions
    (pp. 143-204)
  13. APPENDIX B Data Collection
    (pp. 205-218)
  14. APPENDIX C Scales
    (pp. 219-256)
  15. APPENDIX D Statistics
    (pp. 257-264)
  16. References
    (pp. 265-272)
  17. Index
    (pp. 273-277)