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Neglected and overemphasized risks: the opinions of risk professionals1

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Research on risks has mainly been devoted to detailed analyses of such risks that are subject to public debate and policy decision making. However, many if not most of the risks that are now the subject of regulation were once neglected. Experts in conjunction with regulators have a crucial role in putting risks on the policy agenda. But what views do experts have on the matter of attention to risks? In order to answer this question risk assessment experts were asked to list the risks they considered to be over‐emphasized, respectively neglected. Radiation risks constituted the largest category of risks reported to be over‐emphasized. Other risks often reported to be over‐emphasized included BSE, GMOs, amalgam, and air traffic. Lifestyle risks were the largest category of risks reported to be neglected. Other risks often listed as neglected included radon (as an exception within the radiation category), road traffic, socio‐economic risks, energy production excluding nuclear power, and local accidents (including fires and workplace accidents). Risks mentioned about equally often as neglected and over‐emphasized included chemicals and crime. There was a correlation between perceived risk and neglect: risks considered to be neglected were also judged as larger. For a comparison, the topics of articles in the journal Risk Analysis from 1991–2000 were categorized into the same risk categories that were used for the questionnaire. The risks most commonly treated in the journal (chemicals and cancer) coincided with the risks which experts in our survey considered to be overemphasized rather than neglected.
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Keywords: experts; risk neglect; risk perception

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Center for Risk Research, Stockholm School of Economics 2: Department of Philosophy, School of Engineering, Stockholm 3: Cefos, University of Gothenburg

Publication date: 01 October 2005

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