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Society For Risk Analysis Annual Meeting 2008

Risk Analysis: the Science and the Art

Session Schedule & Abstracts

* Disclaimer: All presentations represent the views of the authors, and not the organizations that support their research. Please apply the standard disclaimer that any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations in abstracts, posters, and presentations at the meeting are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other organization or agency. Meeting attendees and authors should be aware that this disclaimer is intended to apply to all abstracts contained in this document. Authors who wish to emphasize this disclaimer should do so in their presentation or poster. In an effort to make the abstracts as concise as possible and easy for meeting participants to read, the abstracts have been formatted such that they exclude references to papers, affiliations, and/or funding sources. Authors who wish to provide attendees with this information should do so in their presentation or poster.

Common abbreviations

Mechanisms of Communication

Room: Grand Ballroom D   4:00-5:30 PM

Chair(s): Dorian Watts

T4-B.1  16:00  Risk Perception and Communication in the Blogosphere: Data and Observations. Emani S*, Desroches C; MGH Institute of Health Professions

Abstract: The availability and use of weblogs, or blogs in short, have yielded a new medium for the communication of risks. Blogs allow individuals to present news stories and personalized articles but more importantly allow visitors to post comments in response to the stories. Thus, blogs facilitate two-way communication of information among the public. Blogs can also facilitate two-way communication among the public and government. For this reason, blogs and the act of blogging can serve as an important medium for risk communication. In this paper, we explore the role of blogs in the perception and communication of risk via the conceptual framework of social amplification of risk. On the one hand, the personalized nature of blogs and associated comments yield signals about the seriousness and manageability of risk that can drive the amplification of risk. On the other, the information sharing and public discourse aspects of blogging may shape risk perceptions toward the attenuation of risk. In reviewing these linkages between blogging and risk perception and communication, we present data from a case study of a terrorism scare in Boston, Massachusetts. On the morning of January 31, 2007, the City of Boston initiated a massive response to public reports of suspicious devices at a number of locations across the city. Bomb squads were called in, roads were closed, and public life in Boston was disrupted. In contrast to this heightened public perception of risk and public response, the blogosphere portrayed and communicated the risk to be minimal. At the onset of the terrorism scare, bloggers recognized the devices as a promotional advertising campaign for a late night television show and the information was rapidly disseminated among bloggers. We review the implications of these contrasting responses for risk communication. We conclude with a discussion of the role of Web 2.0 technologies and features such as blogging for the perception and communication of risk.

T4-B.2  16:20  Improving communication of weather forecast uncertainty information by understanding its use in decision making. Morss RE*, Lazo JK, Demuth J; National Center for Atmospheric Research

Abstract: Future weather is inherently uncertain, and weather forecasts are received and used every day by millions of people in both everyday and hazardous weather situations. This makes weather forecasting a form of risk communication that is familiar to much of the public. Meteorologists have substantial information about uncertainty in future weather, yet most weather forecasts communicated today are single-valued, in other words, do not reflect the forecasts’ uncertainty. Two important components of providing useful weather forecast uncertainty information are understanding how people perceive and interpret uncertainty information and how different types of uncertainty information affect people’s weather-related decisions. To begin building this knowledge empirically, we incorporated several questions about people’s perceptions, interpretations, and uses of weather forecast uncertainty information into a nationwide, controlled-access Internet survey with over 1500 respondents. The survey included a set of hypothetical scenarios in which the respondents were asked to use precipitation or temperature forecasts to make decisions to protect or not protect (involving monetary costs) from a potential flood or frost (involving monetary losses). For each scenario, respondents were given deterministic forecasts and forecasts that explicitly conveyed uncertainty in different ways, and they were asked what decision they would make with the different information. These scenario questions are similar to experimental economics approaches that empirically assess how individuals use information. Using an expected value framework, we examine whether individuals were able to make better decisions using the forecasts with uncertainty information than without that information, and we explore their inferences of forecast uncertainty. This paper will discuss findings from the uncertainty communication component of the survey, including initial analysis of data from these scenario questions.

T4-B.3  17:00  Service with a smile: Accidental Risk Communicators (ARCs) and the role of emotional labor. Rickard LN*; Cornell University

Abstract: Risk communicators are often envisioned as government officials, PR gurus, or public health workers. Yet much of the public’s risk information comes from alternative sources: unintentional or impromptu messages from “unofficial” carriers. Referred to in this paper as “accidental risk communicators” (ARCs), these individuals routinely relay health and environmental risk information to public audiences, though often informally and outside of the formal job description. Often service workers, ARCs may be judged not only on their ability to execute technical aspects of their jobs but also on how they interact with clients. In terms of client interaction, research has examined the need for service workers to showcase normatively “appropriate” emotions in face-to-face communication, a concept known in the management literature as “emotional labor.” What has not yet been investigated is how emotional labor is affected when the services provided involve risk. Might the “work” of risk communication, like service jobs, require both technical and emotional proficiency? To explore this question, this paper examines the communicative practices of one sect of ARCs: commercial pesticide applicators. I offer data from in-depth interviews with 29 respondents affiliated with the Green Industry (e.g., lawncare, landscaping, etc.) in New York State, and short written questionnaires from 24 participants at the 2007 Empire State Green Industry Show. From acknowledging clients’ concerns, to listening without judgment, applicators perform many of the role requirements described in case studies of other ARCs, including flight attendants, sales clerks, and even rafting guides. As this paper argues, applicators merge their own technical and cultural orientations towards pesticides while displaying empathy in order to construct a unique variety of risk communication. The emotional labor that applicators perform is both highly regarded and seen as vital; less clear, however, is the degree to which this work is recognized, legitimized, and/or supported by employers.

T4-B.4  17:00  Media risk communication methods and the West Nile virus. Watts DE*, Driedger SM; University of Manitoba

Abstract: The public receives much of its information about science, policy and environmental risks through various media presentations. Hence, the media plays a substantial role in the formation of risk perceptions among the lay public. Journalists use emotive language to keep their reader captivated with a story. Thus an important dimension to risk issues lies in the way they are communicated to their audience. At times, the media can be one of the primary sources of information to the public for a health risk event or can play an important role in how they shape the risk communication messages of sources. The goal of this Manitoba based case study is to gain a better understanding of the risk communication methods and messages used to communicate the risk of West Nile Virus (WNV) and the risk of malathion application to the general public. The data for this study will include government materials (both provincial and municipal), the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper, and grey materials from community groups. The media will be examined to determine how risk is presented and defined in the context of WNV and malathion application. There will also be a focus on risk message placement within the story, particularly how positive and negative messages are presented.

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