What is risk?

A new book from Cambridge University Press – Successful Science communication, (Bennett and Jennings eds.) – contains 26 chapters with helpful things to say to people concerned to communicate complex ideas to “the public”. Plus a chapter by me entitled Not 100% sure? The “public” understanding of risk; the reader is left to judge whether it too is helpful.

It begins: “Where knowledge (belief) relates to potential future harms or benefits, as it usually does in situations where science communication is seen as problematic or contentious, the issue can be framed as one of risk communication.”

And concludes: “The problem for science communicators is that we, scientist and non-scientist alike, do not respond blankly to uncertainty. We impose meaning upon it. The greater the uncertainty the greater becomes the influence of perceptual biases. These biases have deep cosmological roots and are not easily shifted. Perhaps the best that a science communicator can hope for is that introspection might assist recognition of one’s own biases, and an awareness of the inevitability of different biases in others. Self-knowledge and an ability to stand metaphorically in the shoes of others are key ingredients of the empathy essential to effective communication.”

And the first section is headed “What is risk?”

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  1. Dermot says:

    Rather striking resonance with an episode of Seinfeld.

    [George is in his office at Yankee stadium, he pushes ‘play’ on a cassette recorder. The voice on the tape sounds exactly like George.]

    VOICE: Chapter one. In order to manage risk we must first understand risk. How do you spot risk? How do you avoid risk and what makes it so risky?


    (Sorry to make such a trivial contribution to your excellent and thought-provoking site.)

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