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Reliability rating and reflective questioning: a case study of extended review on Australia's risk assessment of Bt cotton

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The governance of emerging technologies is frequently constructed around risk assessment processes. However, when risk assessment as a decision-making tool is applied to controversial fields such as genetic modification, stem cell research and nano-scaled science and technology, inherent uncertainties and conflicting social values arise to challenge the adequacy of traditional approaches. In this paper, I propose a framework through which risk assessments may be exposed to a process of 'extended review', incorporating both natural and social science quality criteria and modes of reflection. I call this framework 'Reliability Rating and Reflective Questioning'. The framework is developed through a detailed case study review of a particular risk assessment document. The case study risk assessment reviewed in this paper is that performed by an Australian governmental authority on the impact of genetically modified 'Bt' cotton on non-target organisms. Through highlighting errors, misrepresentations, assumptions and embedded value judgements within the risk assessment document, I argue that the framework of 'Reliability Rating and Reflective Questioning' can serve as a useful tool for gauging and improving the quality of risk assessment, especially when used as a decision-making tool for emerging technologies with high levels of uncertainty and strongly conflicting values.
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Keywords: Bt cotton; emerging technologies; quality; risk assessment; uncertainty

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities, University of Bergen, PO Box 7805, N-5020 Bergen, Norway

Publication date: September 1, 2009

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