Society For Risk Analysis Annual Meeting 2013

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

Public Understanding of New Technology

Room: Peale A&B   10:30 AM- 12:00 PM

Chair(s): Cindy Jardine, Dominic Way

M2-G.1  10:30  Recycled water and risk communication: How citizens evaluate new technologies for municipal water systems. Binder AR*, Zechman EM; North Carolina State University

Abstract: Population growth, drought, and climate change increase the stresses on water supply, and the potential for increased water scarcity has drawn attention to the possibilities of water reuse for re-engineering the urban water cycle. However, research indicates that consumers may have an initial reaction of disgust to the idea of using recycled water, and scholars have therefore investigated ways to encourage adoption of its use. Because of the possibility of initial negative reactions, there is a substantial set of existing literature on how citizens assess subjective risks of technologies and how those perceptions and interpretations reverberate throughout a social system. The current study builds upon the psychometric and social amplification of risk frameworks by investigating how citizens make sense of a new technology to augment water supplies in their communities. With a representative survey of adults residing in the United States, we measured knowledge, attitudes, interest, behavioral intentions, and other variables surrounding the issue of recycled water. Our data offer a novel look at individual- and social-level sense-making of a new, immediately tangible technology carrying a unique risk signal. Preliminary findings indicate that risk/benefit evaluations of recycled water are not only based on psychological factors such as trust and knowledge, but also highly influenced by social factors such as interpersonal discussion and social networks. Our findings contribute to applied knowledge about the relationship between activities that municipal water utilities may or may not control, such as educational campaigns or word-of-mouth communication, to gain insight to the factors that may drive the success of plans by cities and towns to incorporate recycled water into their water supply infrastructure.

M2-G.2  10:50  Informing Science Teachers’ Knowledge and Preferences of Low-Carbon Electricity Technologies through a Continuing Education Workshop. Fleishman LA*, Bruine de Bruin W, Morgan MG; Carnegie Mellon University

Abstract: Do U.S. middle school and high school teachers have the knowledge they need to correct students’ common misunderstandings about strategies to limit emissions of carbon dioxide from the generation of electricity? This paper examines that question with a sample of 6th-12th grade science teachers from Pennsylvania. We find that many of these teachers shared public misunderstandings such as: believing that all Pennsylvania’s electricity needs can be met with wind and solar power, underestimating the cost of solar power, believing nuclear plants emit CO2, and being unsure whether it is possible to capture and sequester carbon dioxide. We found that teachers with more pro-environmental attitudes were more likely to have incorrect knowledge about these topics. In a second stage of the study, we presented teachers with comprehensive and balanced information materials about electricity technologies as part of a continuing-education workshop. Overall, teachers who entered the workshop with less knowledge learned more from our information materials. Moreover, teachers were able to use the materials to form consistent preferences for technologies and to construct low-carbon portfolios of these technologies that were similar to preferences reported in previous work with members of the general public. Teachers reported that the information materials and continuing-education course were useful, and could be easily adapted to their high-school classrooms. We conclude that the materials and continuing-education workshop could benefit science teachers and ultimately their students.

M2-G.3  11:10  Fractured discourse: Social representations of shale gas development in the USA and Canada. Evensen DT*, Stedman RC; Cornell University

Abstract: In the five years since discussion of shale gas development proliferated in eastern North America, this topic has dominated conversation for many scientists, policy makers, elected officials, and citizens at large. Our interest is in how this conversation evolves and moves forward. How do communities come to focus on certain issues related to shale gas development? Why do people discuss risks or opportunities associated with shale gas development in specific ways? We sought to answer these questions through the theoretical lens of social representations theory, which examines how complex, scientific issues are translated into and communicated via common sense language. Social representation theory also postulates that representations of complex phenomena are not only socially held, but also socially emergent, meaning that they develop through social processes and exchanges. To study social representations of shale gas development, we conducted in-depth interviews in nine communities across three regions currently or potentially exposed to shale gas development (three each in the states of New York and Pennsylvania, and in the province of New Brunswick). We spoke with individuals heavily involved in shaping or facilitating discourse on shale gas issues (total n = 50). Interviews revealed that issues of community character and an aspiration to preserve or foster a desired community lifestyle dominated representations from individuals in favour of shale gas development and from those opposed to it; these representations are often absent in mass media coverage. Also common on both sides of the issue were representations of shale gas development as a policy issue that needs to be informed by factual information. Both sides were quick to characterise the other side as misinformed and short-sighted in its perceptions of risks and benefits. We discuss implications of this research for creative ways to improve the policy discourse on shale gas development.

M2-G.4  11:30  Transition, Trauma, and Information: Immigrant Women’s Relationship with Immunization Risk Communication. Kowal SP*, Jardine CG, Bubela TM; University of Alberta

Abstract: Effective vaccine risk communication strategies by health agencies increase compliance with immunization programs. Unfortunately, current strategies do not address the needs of specific target groups, such as recent immigrants in Canada, who have lower vaccination rates than non-immigrants. Our study examined how foreign-born women access and use information to make personal and childhood immunization decisions. We conducted interviews with recently immigrated women from South Asia, China, and Bhutan who were pregnant or new mothers living in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Using NVivo qualitative software we generated an inductive coding scheme through content analysis of the interview transcripts. Results showed that transitional traumas associated with immigration impact women’s desire to access or critically assess immunization information. These transitional traumas included political marginalization, as experienced by Bhutanese refugees, or the loss of a strong traditional family system, for South Asian women. Such hardships impacted the women’s information gathering practices. Additionally, the degree to which women exercised agency in their health decisions in their countries of origin influenced how they accessed information in Canada, with a high proportion of participants demonstrating passive information gathering. Finally, there were widespread misconceptions amongst the study participants about Canadian vaccination programs (e.g. whether vaccines are mandatory) and whether women should be vaccinated before or during pregnancy. Our research uncovered the shortfalls of current risk communication strategies for immigrant women in Edmonton. Risk communicators must respond to the passive information gathering practices of these individuals to prevent misunderstandings about immunization policy and its importance. The lack of access to culturally relevant immunization risk communication for immigrant women in Canada potentially limits their ability to effectively make decisions to protect themselves and their children from communicable diseases.

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