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Scientist and public responses to BSE‐related risk: A comparative study

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Social studies of risk repeatedly have found substantial divergences in the way that experts/scientists and members of the general public appraise risks associated with health and environmental hazards. However, empirical evidence for these differences remains controversial. A recent review of literature suggests in particular that divergences between experts and lay people may potentially result from confounding socio‐demographic factors. The purpose of the present article is to investigate and to compare how medical scientists and members of the general population reacted to BSE (“mad cow disease”) in France. A sample of 401 scientists belonging to the French Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and a representative sample of 902 French citizens were asked about their cognitive, affective and behavioural responses to BSE. Results show that non‐scientists tended to express much more concern about BSE‐related risk than scientists, even when socio‐demographic variables were controlled. However, (1) no significant differences were found between these two groups concerning subjective epidemiological predictions, and (2) scientists manifested greater avoidance of beef or beef by‐products avoidance following the BSE epidemic than lay respondents did. The implications of these paradoxical results are discussed.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Centre d'études transdisciplinaires Sociologie Anthropologie Histoire (CNRS‐EHESS), Paris, France 2: Laboratoire d'Economie et de Sociologie du travail (CNRS), Aix‐en‐Provence, France 3: Unité 444: Epidémiologie et Sciences de l'information (INSERM), Paris, France

Publication date: 2005-10-01

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