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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

Assessing Tools for Informing Decisions

Room: Commonwealth A   4:00-5:30 PM

W4-D.1  16:00  Difficulties in risk communication: Frequency formats do not automatically elicit Bayesian reasoning. Siegrist M*; ETH Zurich

Abstract: Research in the tradition of the heuristics and biases paradigm suggests that most people don't follow the laws of probability when making decisions under uncertainty. This pessimistic view has been challenged by a number of studies. Several researchers concluded that evolution shaped the human mind to make accurate judgments based on natural frequencies. In all these studies, however, students or academics were tested. The goal of our first study was to examine how often both probability-based and frequency-based versions of a medical diagnostic problem elicit Bayesian responses in a random sample of the general female population. In line with previous studies, we found that subjects are more likely to correctly solve a Bayesian problem when the information is presented in a frequency format compared with a probability format. The percentage of respondents who correctly solved the frequency problem was much lower than the percentage reported in earlier studies. The present results call into question the proposition that humans are automatically good intuitive statisticians when information is presented in a frequency format. Humans may not be suitably adapted to solve medical decision problems, but humans could be well adapted to solve Bayesian problems in the domains of food and social cognition. Results of two additional studies with participants from the general population suggest that people’s abilities are domain specific. People are better able to solve a Bayesian problem stated in natural frequencies within the context of a social problem as compared within the context of medical decision making. The present study demonstrates that the results of information format studies employing student samples should not be generalized to the general population.

W4-D.2  16:20  Understanding perceptions about cancer and other health risks held by pesticide applicators in New York State's Green Industry. Dantzker HC*, Snedeker SM; Cornell University

Abstract: In New York State (NYS), a growing number of local laws governing the application of lawn and garden pesticides reflects rising public concern about the health risks associated with these chemicals. Health risks such as cancer are often cited as reason for such legislation. Indeed, over 150 pesticide products registered for turf and ornamental use in NYS contain ingredients rated as probable or likely human carcinogens by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Yet in NYS, applicator certification curricula include little or no training for applicators on understanding, or communicating to co-workers and clients about the long-term health risks posed by these chemicals. The purpose of this study is to improve communication among Green Industry professionals—such as golf course managers, landscapers, arborists, and others—about the cancer risks associated with common turf, lawn, and garden pesticide chemicals. A mail survey was administered to 1,200 NYS-certified turf and ornamental pesticide applicators (n=412) to better understand their attitudes about the potential health risks associated with pesticide exposure. Results integrate applicator risk perceptions related to pesticide exposure with those related to illness and diseases, including cancer. Discussion will include how risk perceptions may be influenced by such factors as high exposure experiences, personal experience with cancer, and workplace safety culture. The health risk information needs and preferences reported by applicators will also be discussed.

W4-D.3  16:40  Increasing stakeholder uncertainty while increasing trust in science: An exploratory study. Scherer C.W.*, Sengco M., Bauer M.; Cornell University, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center,NOAA National Ocean Service

Abstract: Involvement of stakeholders in complex decisions related to science continues to grow in popularity. However, it remains unclear how successful these efforts are at explaining complex science to the public, or its role in increasing their trust of the sponsoring scientific groups. Uncertainty Reduction Theory suggests that increasing information to the public will result in decreasing their uncertainty. The underlying assumption has been that messages providing specific, reliable, and accurate messages purposefully designed to reduce uncertainty has a high likelihood of success. However, accurate science messages about many topics must or should recognize the scientific uncertainty ubiquitous to science. Consider the uncertainty of scientific information related to genetically modified foods, or climate change. To be scientifically accurate, messages must recognize that there are many areas in which science is uncertain, resulting in increasing stakeholders’ uncertainty: Are GMO’s safe? How do we balance economic interests with climate change prevention? This line of argument would suggest that non-expert stakeholders tend to have a seemingly simplistic view of possible solutions to complex problems. What if more information increases uncertainty, not decrease it? This study examines Florida Coast stakeholders’ understanding and reaction to a presentation of science information about red tide. The science-based presentation included discussion of costs, benefits, known and unknown effects about the proposed approaches to red tide control, monitoring, mitigation and prevention. Stakeholders responded to a pre and post-test questionnaire as a part of a series of group meetings across the state of Florida. Results discuss the relationship between uncertainty reduction and trust in science and the sponsoring science-based organizations.

W4-D.4  17:00  To know or not to know? A framework of risk information seeking in the sphere of industrial risks. ter Huurne EFJ*; University of Twente

Abstract: Communication regarding industrial hazards and the risks involved for humans and their assets is subject to major changes in contemporary society. The rapid growth of modern communication media such as the Internet create opportunities for both risk communication practitioners and the public. Governments and other purveyors of risk information could make risk information permanently available and accessible to the public, for example on the Internet. Similarly, the public could obtain and seek personally relevant risk information whenever perceived necessary or desired. A mass-media campaign aimed at stimulating people to go out of their way to seek and use the information provided on the Internet could be an effective effort to promote self-protective behavior in regard to external safety risks. As risk information seeking has not been seen as important self-protective behavior until recently, little is known about how the public could be stimulated to actually use various information channels to gain personally relevant risk information. This study looks at predictors of the information seeking or avoidance strategies people employ regarding external safety risks. Specifically, a framework of risk information seeking (FRIS) is proposed and tested based on survey data (N=466). FRIS is a model that identifies factors leading people to seek risk information through various channels or, alternatively, avoid additional information. As such, it accounts for the various social-psychological risk-related factors that drive such decisions. Results indicate that, next to cognitive information needs, affective and social factors are just as important predictors of the risk information seeking strategy that people employ. Of equal importance, a certain level of interest or involvement in the topic is found to play a key role in public responses to risk information.

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