Risk Management and Political Culture

Risk Management and Political Culture

Sheila Jasanoff
Copyright Date: 1986
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 104
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  • Book Info
    Risk Management and Political Culture
    Book Description:

    This unique comparative study looks at efforts to regulate carcinogenic chemicals in several Western democracies, including the United States, and finds marked national differences in how conflicting scientific interpretations and competing political interests are resolved. Whether risk issues are referred to expert committees without public debate or debated openly in a variety of forums, patterns of interaction among experts, policy makers, and the public reflect fundamental features of each country's political culture.

    "A provocative argument....Poses interesting questions for the sociology of science, especially science produced for public debate."-Contemporary Sociology

    A Volume in the Russell Sage Foundation's Social Science Frontiers Series

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-310-4
    Subjects: Business, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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

    Risk management is one of the most difficult and challenging tasks confronting industrial nations today. Most hazardous technologies confer substantial benefits on society in the form of better health, increased productivity, and, in general, a higher quality of life. A socially acceptable risk management strategy has to consider both the positive and the negative impacts of technology. The balancing process, however, is controversial because technological risks and benefits are often intangible, and there is no agreement on the way they should be valued. Scientific uncertainty also contributes to controversies about risk. Science cannot predict rare events with any accuracy, and...

  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Chapter 1 The Case for Comparative Analysis
    (pp. 1-8)

    Avoiding technological risks is a central preoccupation of our age. We are haunted daily by risks of varying probability, magnitude, and emotive impact: dioxin in the air, trihalomethanes in the drinking water, pesticides on our food, drunken drivers on the highways, nuclear power plants in our backyards, and overarching all, the threat of extinction through war. Toxic chemicals figure prominently in our images of disaster. Most technologically advanced countries have experienced their distinctive national trauma with toxic substances: chemical plant explosions in Italy and Great Britain, a calamitous gas leak in India, mercury poisoning in Japan, the slow death of...

  5. Chapter 2 The Many Faces of ʺCancer Policyʺ
    (pp. 9-16)

    Cancer is not only one of the leading causes of death in industrial societies, but a disease that inspires particular terror. Its unpredictability, frequent irreversibility, and long latency have invested cancer with the special symbolic resonance described by Susan Sontag inIllness as Metaphor.18For many, the name of the disease remains taboo. Kipling said in 1924, in a powerful story about obsession and loss, “Human nature seldom walks up to the word ‘cancer.’ ”¹

    Nearly half a century has passed since Auden wrote of cancer:

    Nobody knows what the cause is

    Though some pretend they do;

    It’s like some...

  6. Chapter 3 Identifying Carcinogens
    (pp. 17-24)

    In its simplest dictionary meaning, a carcinogen is a cancer-causing substance or, in slightly more technical language, anything that increases the incidence of neoplasms insomespecies. National regulatory agencies, however, are most concerned with carcinogens when there is reason to believe that they may cause cancer in humans. For the vast majority of potential carcinogens, the scientific basis for determining whether they will increase the incidence of human cancer is highly uncertain. Because of this uncertainty, labeling a substance as a “carcinogen” for regulatory purposes almost always involves a hypothetical exercise. The question regulators must ask is not “Does...

  7. Chapter 4 Risk Assessment
    (pp. 25-32)

    Perhaps the most dramatic shift in U.S. policy on carcinogens in this decade has been the acceptance of quantitative risk assessment as an indispensable analytical instrument for regulatory decision-making. Before 1980, the agencies concerned with regulating carcinogens took a cautious approach to quantifying risk. The position adopted by the Interagency Regulatory Liaison Group (IRLG) in its 1979 guidelines, for example, was that quantitative assessments of cancer risks should be used only in establishing priorities and for purposes of obtaining very rough estimates of the magnitude of risk.47The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) expressed an even more skeptical attitude...

  8. Chapter 5 Accommodating Scientific Change
    (pp. 33-40)

    The decade-long controversy about regulating carcinogens offers unique opportunities for studying how different policy systems accommodate to changes in scientific knowledge. In risk management, as in many areas of governmental policy-making, public officials recognize the importance of predictability and continuity. A consistent policy approach is fair to affected parties—it tells them what to expect, and they can modify their behavior accordingly—and enhances the decision-maker’s credibility. Advances in science, however, pose a fundamental challenge to continuity in the risk-management process, since new knowledge tends to undercut established assumptions about risk and to reveal errors in past policy decisions. The...

  9. Chapter 6 Regulation of Formaldehyde
    (pp. 41-54)

    This chapter looks at the regulation of a single carcinogen, formaldehyde, to see how the differences in policy approach described in earlier chapters affect specific regulatory outcomes in several countries. The case is particularly interesting for comparative study because it is prototypical of the most difficult problems in chemical risk management. Formaldehyde, the twenty-sixth largest volume chemical in the United States, is a versatile substance, Widely used in manufacturing a variety of products from plywood and home insulation to embalming fluids and cosmetics.90Exposure to fonnaldehyde can occur through several environmental pathways, as well as through food, tobacco smoke, and...

  10. Chapter 7 The Cultures of Participation
    (pp. 55-68)

    One feature that clearly distinguishes modern risk management from past policy disputes is the increased demand by private citizens for a role in public decision-making.123Technological hazards not only threaten individual health and safety, but raise thorny distributive questions about apportioning the costs and benefits of development across societies and between present and future generations. Increasingly, citizens in the industrialized nations are reluctant to commit the resolution of such issues to the exclusive jurisdiction of experts and the state. The desire for greater participation is frequently coupled with demands for more decentralized decision-making, through local administrative proceedings or a local...

  11. Chapter 8 Neutral Expertise
    (pp. 69-78)

    The formaldehyde case illustrates how governmental attempts to regulate the risks of carcinogenic substances are beset to varying degrees by expert controversies about the interpretation of scientific data. Yet the vision of science as a source of policy guidance retains extraordinary appeal, and science continues to play a central role in the public justification of risk management decisions. Indeed, a large part of the official effort to resolve risk controversies is directed toward the design of institutions and procedures that improve the scientific basis for regulatory actions. In particular, governmental agencies are always under pressure to ensure that the science...

  12. Chapter 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 79-84)

    The efforts of modem governments to regulate chemical carcinogens reveal deep-seated differences in national attitudes about the characterization and control of risk. The universality of science and its crucial role in risk regulation are recognized in all Western societies. Yet an examination of existing political and administrative frameworks indicates why science fails to exert a greater harmonizing influence on risk management. In dealing with uncertainty and expert conflicts, national regulatory systems take into account a host of interests besides the scientific community’s views about risk. Cultural factors influence goals and priorities in risk management, as is evident from the varying...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 85-93)