Rachel's Precaution Reporter #19

"Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World"

Wednesday, January 4, 2006...........Printer-friendly version
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Table of Contents...

A New Measure of Well-Being from a Happy Little Kingdom
  A precautionary approach means setting goals, then working to
  achieve them in the least-harmful way. Bhutan, a small country in the
  Himalayas, sets goals and gauges success not by measuring money but by
  measuring Gross National Happiness.
Dear President Bush, I Recently Returned from a Trip to Bhutan...
  A traveler visits Bhutan, learns that Gross National Happiness is
  the precautionary principle under a different name, and draws some
  lessons for President Bush about restoring his popularity at home.
Perceptions of Risk Vary by Sex and Race, So What's 'Acceptable?'
  Risk is not objectively measurable. "Defining risk is an exercise
  in power," says Paul Slovic, a risk assessment expert. White males
  consistently rank various risks lower than women and non-whites do. If
  risk isn't an objectively measurable quantity, and if assessments vary
  systematically by sex and race, whose idea of risk should be used when
  governments and industries decide what's an "acceptable" risk?


From: The New York Times, Oct. 4, 2005
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By Andrew C. Revkin

What is happiness? In the United States and in many other
industrialized countries, it is often equated with money.

Economists measure consumer confidence on the assumption that the
resulting figure says something about progress and public welfare. The
gross domestic product, or G.D.P., is routinely used as shorthand for
the well-being of a nation.

But the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has been trying out a
different idea.

In 1972, concerned about the problems afflicting other developing
countries that focused only on economic growth, Bhutan's newly crowned
leader, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, decided to make his nation's
priority not its G.D.P. but its G.N.H., or gross national happiness.

Bhutan, the king said, needed to ensure that prosperity was shared
across society and that it was balanced against preserving cultural
traditions, protecting the environment and maintaining a responsive
government. The king, now 49, has been instituting policies aimed at
accomplishing these goals.

Now Bhutan's example, while still a work in progress, is serving as a
catalyst for far broader discussions of national well-being.

Around the world, a growing number of economists, social scientists,
corporate leaders and bureaucrats are trying to develop measurements
that take into account not just the flow of money but also access to
health care, free time with family, conservation of natural resources
and other noneconomic factors.

The goal, according to many involved in this effort, is in part to
return to a richer definition of the word happiness, more like what
the signers of the Declaration of Independence had in mind when they
included "the pursuit of happiness" as an inalienable right equal to
liberty and life itself.

The founding fathers, said John Ralston Saul, a Canadian political
philosopher, defined happiness as a balance of individual and
community interests. "The Enlightenment theory of happiness was an
expression of public good or the public welfare, of the contentment of
the people," Mr. Saul said. And, he added, this could not be further
from "the 20th-century idea that you should smile because you're at

Mr. Saul was one of about 400 people from more than a dozen countries
who gathered recently to consider new ways to define and assess

The meeting, held at St. Francis Xavier University in northern Nova
Scotia, was a mix of soft ideals and hard-nosed number crunching. Many
participants insisted that the focus on commerce and consumption that
dominated the 20th century need not be the norm in the 21st century.

Among the attendees were three dozen representatives from Bhutan --
teachers, monks, government officials and others -- who came to
promote what the Switzerland-size country has learned about building a
fulfilled, contented society.

While household incomes in Bhutan remain among the world's lowest,
life expectancy increased by 19 years from 1984 to 1998, jumping to 66
years. The country, which is preparing to shift to a constitution and
an elected government, requires that at least 60 percent of its lands
remain forested, welcomes a limited stream of wealthy tourists and
exports hydropower to India.

"We have to think of human well-being in broader terms," said Lyonpo
Jigmi Thinley, Bhutan's home minister and ex-prime minister.
"Material well-being is only one component. That doesn't ensure that
you're at peace with your environment and in harmony with each

It is a concept grounded in Buddhist doctrine, and even a decade ago
it might have been dismissed by most economists and international
policy experts as naive idealism.

Indeed, America's brief flirtation with a similar concept,
encapsulated in E.F. Schumacher's 1973 bestseller "Small Is
Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered," ended abruptly with the
huge and continuing burst of consumer-driven economic growth that
exploded first in industrialized countries and has been spreading in
fast-growing developing countries like China.

Yet many experts say it was this very explosion of affluence that
eventually led social scientists to realize that economic growth is
not always synonymous with progress.

In the early stages of a climb out of poverty, for a household or a
country, incomes and contentment grow in lockstep. But various studies
show that beyond certain thresholds, roughly as annual per capita
income passes $10,000 or $20,000, happiness does not keep up.

And some countries, studies found, were happier than they should be.
In the World Values Survey, a project under way since 1995, Ronald
Inglehart, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, found
that Latin American countries, for example, registered far more
subjective happiness than their economic status would suggest.

In contrast, countries that had experienced communist rule were
unhappier than noncommunist countries with similar household incomes
-- even long after communism had collapsed.

"Some types of societies clearly do a much better job of enhancing
their people's sense of happiness and well-being than other ones even
apart from the somewhat obvious fact that it's better to be rich than
to be poor," Dr. Inglehart said.

Even more striking, beyond a certain threshold of wealth people appear
to redefine happiness, studies suggest, focusing on their relative
position in society instead of their material status.

Nothing defines this shift better than a 1998 survey of 257 students,
faculty and staff members at the Harvard School of Public Health.

In the study, the researchers, Sara J. Solnick and David Hemenway,
gave the subjects a choice of earning $50,000 a year in a world where
the average salary was $25,000 or $100,000 a year where the average
was $200,000.

About 50 percent of the participants, the researchers found, chose the
first option, preferring to be half as prosperous but richer than
their neighbors.

Such findings have contributed to the new effort to broaden the way
countries and individuals gauge the quality of life -- the subject of
the Nova Scotia conference.

But researchers have been hard pressed to develop measuring techniques
that can capture this broader concept of well-being.

One approach is to study how individuals perceive the daily flow of
their lives, having them keep diary-like charts reflecting how various
activities, from paying bills to playing softball, make them feel.

A research team at Princeton is working with the Bureau of Labor
Statistics to incorporate this kind of charting into its new "time
use" survey, which began last year and is given to 4,000 Americans
each month.

"The idea is to start with life as we experience it and then try to
understand what helps people feel fulfilled and create conditions that
generate that," said Dr. Alan B. Krueger, a Princeton economist
working on the survey.

For example, he said, subjecting students to more testing in order to
make them more competitive may equip them to succeed in the American
quest for ever more income. But that benefit would have to be balanced
against the problems that come with the increased stress imposed by
additional testing.

"We should not be hoping to construct a utopia," Professor Krueger
said. "What we should be talking about is piecemeal movement in the
direction of things that make for a better life."

Another strategy is to track trends that can affect a community's
well-being by mining existing statistics from censuses, surveys and
government agencies that track health, the environment, the economy
and other societal barometers.

The resulting scores can be charted in parallel to see how various
indicators either complement or impede each other.

In March, Britain said it would begin developing such an "index of
well-being," taking into account not only income but mental illness,
civility, access to parks and crime rates.

In June, British officials released their first effort along those
lines, a summary of "sustainable development indicators" intended to
be a snapshot of social and environmental indicators like crime,
traffic, pollution and recycling levels.

"What we do in one area of our lives can have an impact on many
others, so joined-up thinking and action across central and local
government is crucial," said Elliot Morley, Britain's environment

In Canada, Hans Messinger, the director of industry measures and
analysis for Statistics Canada, has been working informally with about
20 other economists and social scientists to develop that country's
first national index of well-being.

Mr. Messinger is the person who, every month, takes the pulse of his
country's economy, sifting streams of data about cash flow to generate
the figure called gross domestic product. But for nearly a decade, he
has been searching for a better way of measuring the quality of life.

"A sound economy is not an end to itself, but should serve a purpose,
to improve society," Mr. Messinger said.

The new well-being index, Mr. Messinger said, will never replace the
G.D.P. For one thing, economic activity, affected by weather, labor
strikes and other factors, changes far more rapidly than other
indicators of happiness.

But understanding what fosters well-being, he said, can help policy
makers decide how to shape legislation or regulations.

Later this year, the Canadian group plans to release a first attempt
at an index -- an assessment of community health, living standards and
people's division of time among work, family, voluntarism and other
activities. Over the next several years, the team plans to integrate
those findings with measurements of education, environmental quality,
"community vitality" and the responsiveness of government. Similar
initiatives are under way in Australia and New Zealand.

Ronald Colman, a political scientist and the research director for
Canada's well-being index, said one challenge was to decide how much
weight to give different indicators.

For example, Dr. Colman said, the amount of time devoted to volunteer
activities in Canada has dropped more than 12 percent in the last

"That's a real decline in community well-being, but that loss counts
for nothing in our current measure of progress," he said.

But shifts in volunteer activity also cannot be easily assessed
against cash-based activities, he said.

"Money has nothing to do with why volunteers do what they do," Dr.
Colman said. "So how, in a way that's transparent and
methodologically decent, do you come up with composite numbers that
are meaningful?"

In the end, Canada's index could eventually take the form of a report
card rather than a single G.D.P.-like number.

In the United States there have been a few experiments, like the
Princeton plan to add a happiness component to labor surveys. But the
focus remains on economics. The Census Bureau, for instance, still
concentrates on collecting information about people's financial
circumstances and possessions, not their perceptions or feelings, said
Kurt J. Bauman, a demographer there.

But he added that there was growing interest in moving away from
simply tracking indicators of poverty, for example, to looking more
comprehensively at social conditions.

"Measuring whether poverty is going up or down is different than
measuring changes in the ability of a family to feed itself," he
said. "There definitely is a growing perception out there that if you
focus too narrowly, you're missing a lot of the picture."

That shift was evident at the conference on Bhutan, organized by Dr.
Colman, who is from Nova Scotia. Participants focused on an array of
approaches to the happiness puzzle, from practical to radical.

John de Graaf, a Seattle filmmaker and campaigner trying to cut the
amount of time people devote to work, wore a T-shirt that said,
"Medieval peasants worked less than you do."

In an open discussion, Marc van Bogaert from Belgium described his
path to happiness: "I want to live in a world without money."

Al Chaddock, a painter from Nova Scotia, immediately offered a
suggestion: "Become an artist."

Other attendees insisted that old-fashioned capitalism could persist
even with a shift to goals broader than just making money.

Ray C. Anderson, the founder of Interface Inc., an Atlanta-based
carpet company with nearly $1 billion in annual sales, described his
company's 11-year-old program to cut pollution and switch to renewable

Mr. Anderson said he was "a radical industrialist, but as competitive
as anyone you know and as profit-minded."

Some experts who attended the weeklong conference questioned whether
national well-being could really be defined. Just the act of trying to
quantify happiness could threaten it, said Frank Bracho, a Venezuelan
economist and former ambassador to India. After all, he said, "The
most important things in life are not prone to measurement -- like

But Mr. Messinger argued that the weaknesses of the established model,
dominated by economics, demanded the effort.

Other economists pointed out that happiness itself can be illusory.

"Even in a very miserable condition you can be very happy if you are
grateful for small mercies," said Siddiqur Osmani, a professor of
applied economics from the University of Ulster in Ireland. "If
someone is starving and hungry and given two scraps of food a day, he
can be very happy."

Bhutanese officials at the meeting described a variety of initiatives
aimed at creating the conditions that are most likely to improve the
quality of life in the most equitable way.

Bhutan, which had no public education system in 1960, now has schools
at all levels around the country and rotates teachers from urban to
rural regions to be sure there is equal access to the best teachers,
officials said.

Another goal, they said, is to sustain traditions while advancing.
People entering hospitals with nonacute health problems can choose
Western or traditional medicine.

The more that various effects of a policy are considered, and not
simply the economic return, the more likely a country is to achieve a
good balance, said Sangay Wangchuk, the head of Bhutan's national
parks agency, citing agricultural policies as an example.

Bhutan's effort, in part, is aimed at avoiding the pattern seen in the
study at Harvard, in which relative wealth becomes more important than
the quality of life.

"The goal of life should not be limited to production, consumption,
more production and more consumption," said Thakur S. Powdyel, a
senior official in the Bhutanese Ministry of Education. "There is no
necessary relationship between the level of possession and the level
of well-being."

Mr. Saul, the Canadian political philosopher, said that Bhutan's shift
in language from "product" to "happiness" was a profound move in
and of itself.

Mechanisms for achieving and tracking happiness can be devised, he
said, but only if the goal is articulated clearly from the start.

"It's ideas which determine the directions in which civilizations
go," Mr. Saul said. "If you don't get your ideas right, it doesn't
matter what policies you try to put in place."

Still, Bhutan's model may not work for larger countries. And even in
Bhutan, not everyone is happy. Members of the country's delegation
admitted their experiment was very much a work in progress, and they
acknowledged that poverty and alcoholism remained serious problems.

The pressures of modernization are also increasing. Bhutan linked
itself to the global cultural pipelines of television and the Internet
in 1999, and there have been increasing reports in its nascent media
of violence and disaffection, particularly among young people.

Some attendees, while welcoming Bhutan's goal, gently criticized the
Bhutanese officials for dealing with a Nepali-speaking minority mainly
by driving tens of thousands of them out of the country in recent
decades, saying that was not a way to foster happiness.

"Bhutan is not a pure Shangri-La, so idyllic and away from all those
flaws and foibles," conceded Karma Pedey, a Bhutanese educator
dressed in a short dragon-covered jacket and a floor-length rainbow-
striped traditional skirt.

But, looking around a packed auditorium, she added: "At same time,
I'm very, very happy we have made a global impact."

Copyright The New Uork Times 2005

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From: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #19, Jan. 4, 2006
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By Joan Reinhardt Reiss

Dear President Bush-

Recently I returned from a trip to Bhutan. I love that country. Mr.
President this small Himalayan kingdom near Nepal holds the key to
your future success in politics. In Bhutan, the King has mastered the
Precautionary Principle under a different name: Gross National
Happiness or GNH.

The GNH is more important than Gross National Product because
happiness trumps economic prosperity. The entire concept rests on
changing your thinking to an upstream mode. Instead of trying to
mitigate after you have behaved destructively, you plan ahead to
prevent a problem. Mr. Bush, if you adopt Gross National Happiness,
your public approval ratings will soar and the majority of Americans
will love you.

Now that I have your attention let me explain the four postulates of
Gross National Happiness.

First is individual sustainability meaning that every person has
enough to eat and a place of shelter. So Mr. Bush, distribute the food
surpluses, restore government subsidies for housing, and end farm

Second, retain the tradition. In Bhutan this means Buddhism where
there is no killing of anything live. Here it means stop the U.S.
participation in Iraq, revoke the Patriot Act and return all our civil
liberties. Needless to say, spying is out.

Third, preserve the environment. Bhutan has 62% of its original
forest cover. So reverse American forest policy and preserve the
trees instead of cutting them down. Stop plans to drill in the Arctic
Refuge. Don't expand the mining law to include protected public lands
and sign the Kyoto Treaty to help curb global warming. Adopt the
European Union approach to the control of toxic chemicals.

Fourth and the final lynchpin is good governance. This is probably
the most difficult for you to attain but it's not too late to try.
Here's a short list: forget the tax cuts, increase Medicaid, Headstart
and the minimum wage.

Gross National Happiness may not be for everyone but Mr. Bush it will
do wonders for you and us!

Best regards,

Joan Reinhardt Reiss, M.S.
San Francisco

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From: Science News (pg. 190), Sept. 16, 2000
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The science of decision making grapples with sex, race, and power

By Ruth Bennett

Try a sports metaphor, Paul Slovic urges psychology graduate students
learning about risk assessment at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

There are umpires who say, "I call them as I see them," and others who
say, "I call them as they are," he tells the students.

In his classes, Slovic, who is president of the firm Decision Research
in Eugene, as well as a psychology professor, has expanded the umping
metaphor first suggested by late Stanford psychologist Amos Tversky.
In their everyday decisions, people are most likely to reason in a
third way, says Slovic: "They ain't nothing 'til I call them."

Welcome to the bold new subjectivism in risk-assessment theory, an
interdisciplinary branch of decision-making research that draws on
psychology, political science, and economics.

The emerging direction of this field is less about the mathematical
deduction of risk than it is about the perception of risk. Slovic put
it another way in the August 1999 Risk Analysis: "Danger is real, but
the concept of risk is socially constructed."

The science of risk assessment -- formerly characterized by actuarial
tables that insurance companies use to calculate premiums -- is
getting a whiff of postmodernism. Studies are revealing differences in
the way different groups of people look at danger, raising questions
about the fixed and possibly biological nature of those perceptions.

For many, the idea of subjectivity in risk-perception research can be
unsettling. Isn't there a particular number that could be assigned to,
say, the odds of dying from radon exposure or from having an
infelicitous encounter with a semitrailer truck?

The problem with that view, Slovic argues, is that there are multiple
ways to measure the costs involved. Consider the risk of death from
radon. It could be expressed, for example, as deaths per million
people exposed, as years of life expectancy lost due to exposure, as
deaths as a function of the concentration of radon present, or in lots
of other ways.

Moreover, the way risk is measured reveals the value system of the
measurer, Slovic claims. Framing a risk in terms of reduction in life
expectancy, for example, values the lives of the young over those of
older adults, who have less of that resource to lose. Simply measuring
deaths per million equates the suffering of those who expired quickly
with those who lingered painfully.

Because the way risk is defined dictates the best course of risk
reduction, any definition is fraught with value judgments. Says
Slovic: "Defining risk is thus an exercise in power." Since studies
repeatedly show that definitions of risk depend on people's racial
group or their gender, this conclusion intensifies the stakes in
assessing risk.

Group differences

The first evidence of group differences caught researchers by
surprise, says Slovic. In the early 1990s, he and his colleagues were
analyzing data from a survey of perceptions of environmental health
risks in the United States. "We just happened to run the data by race
and gender, and [the effect] kind of leapt out at us," he says.

They called their discovery the "white male effect." White men rated a
variety of risks, from nuclear waste to street drugs, as significantly
less threatening than did white females or men and women of other
races. The white men who rated the risks the lowest also scored
differently from the rest of the participants on several other
factors. They put more trust in experts and resisted the idea that the
public should give input on decisions about risk made by government

Melissa L. Finucane, a colleague of Slovic's at Decision Research,
recently tried to reproduce the white male effect, this time sampling
more broadly from nonwhite populations. In the July Health, Risk &
Society, she and her colleagues found the effect first reported in
1994 still to be valid.

Her team interviewed 1,204 U.S. adults who identified themselves as
white, Hispanic, black, Asian, American Indian, or multiracial. The
researchers asked participants for their views on the threat to
themselves and their families of 13 activities and technologies. They
also considered the risk level for 27 hazards to the U.S. public as a
whole. Moreover, the team presented statements expressing various
sociopolitical attitudes and asked participants whether they agreed or

Women and nonwhites provided higher risk estimates for every question
about risk to self and family as well as to nearly all questions about
risk to the U.S. public.

In addition to their lower risk estimates, white males reported
different perceptions regarding other factors, Finucane says. They
were significantly more likely to disagree with the statement that
they had little control over risks to their health, for example.

From the survey responses, Finucane suggests that white males may have
a lower risk perception in part because they view their own social
power and control over risks as high. These attitudinal differences
between the groups mean the white-male effect is probably based on
sociopolitical factors and not biological differences, the research
team asserts.

Differing perceptions

Margo Wilson, a psychologist at McMaster University in Hamilton,
Ontario, bristles at the suggestion that the data from the University
of Oregon researchers eliminate biology as an agent of the differing
perceptions. "I think they've misrepresented what a biological model
might be," she says.

With psychologist Martin Daly, Wilson has argued that young, single
males may have an adaptive advantage to being blind to dangers, at
least for certain types of risks in certain types of circumstances. If
derring-do proves irresistible to potential mates, the payoff in
reproductive success may outweigh the decrease in overall life
expectancy for this group.

A young-male effect that results from men's and women's different
sexual strategies, rather than from culture, makes sense from an
evolutionary perspective, Daly and Wilson claim.

Many of the risk-perception questions posed in Slovic's and Finucane's
work, such as those having to do with nuclear technology, are simply
beside the point for any evolutionary model, Wilson says. Men and
women have faced mating dilemmas that have essentially remained
unchanged as long as there have been people to mate, so successful
strategies have had time to manifest themselves as sex-specific,
biologically embedded psychologies. Nuclear technology, on the other
hand, is simply too recent for any talk of a biologically adapted
response to be meaningful.

Furthermore, just what participants are responding to when they answer
Finucane's questions isn't exactly clear, Wilson continues. For
example, men and women might -- for reasons that are biologically
based -- react differently to questions involving risk to the family.
White and nonwhite males may answer the questions differently because
of sociologically based disparities, such as those in education or

The real comparison, Wilson says, shouldn't be across race and sex,
but within groups closely matched in cultural factors. For example,
data from Daly and Wilson's book Homicide (1988, Walter De Gruyter)
indicate that in each ethnic group and culture they studied, males
kill each other at a significantly greater rate compared with females
killing females. And yet, she says, women in Chicago kill other women
more than men kill other men in England.

Does that say there isn't a sex difference? Wilson asks. She contends
that it merely shows that cultural variables can obscure a noncultural

Immediate concern

The question of group differences in risk perception isn't just
academic. It's also of immediate concern to policy analysts. If risk
isn't an objectively measurable quantity, and if assessments vary
systematically by sex and race, whose standard should prevail when
governments and industries must determine an acceptable risk level?

John D. Graham, director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis in
Boston, says that researchers at his center have found that female
scientists perceive higher risk from a number of potential hazards
than male scientists do. That result confounds any attempt to reframe
the debate as one pitting educated opinion against lay beliefs.

In Graham's view, the problems raised by the white male effect can be
avoided as long as the public has sufficient input into risk

In practice, says Nils-Eric Sahlin, a soft-spoken professor of
philosophy at Lund University in Sweden, risk experts don't often
indulge the judgments of the public. Experts, says Sahlin, are quick
to characterize nonspecialists' risk judgments as naive. That's wrong,
he says.

This opinion -- that views differ not because of naivete but because
each group accurately reports its own, very different life experiences
of risk -- is gaining popularity as part of the political movement
known as environmental justice, says Robin Collin, a law professor at
the University of Oregon in Eugene.

Collin is a supporter of the movement, which advocates an equal
distribution among people of benefits and burdens from decisions
affecting the environment and the use of natural resources. She claims
that in any government decision about risk, the most precautionary
standard should be embraced.

"If we are concerned about protecting future generations, we ought to
be following the risk perceptions and judgments of women and people of
color," she says.

For Sahlin, attempting to solve policy difficulties by favoring one
group -- any group -- isn't the answer. The issue goes deeper than
differences in gauging risk levels. Even if all groups assessed risks
equally, opinions could diverge. "You and I might agree the
probability of a fatal accident is .9," he says, "but you say it's
worth taking it, and I say it's not. Then, we have a problem."

It's a problem, Sahlin says, that can only be solved by providing full
information about what experts know and don't know about particular
dangers. The white male effect reflects a gap in trust between people
with power and those without, between the sexes, and among the races,
he says. The effect can be erased only by full disclosure and
information sharing, a suggestion he acknowledges is not mainstream.
"Paul [Slovic] says this is a crazy idea," Sahlin adds with a laugh.

Indeed, the dogma that the public will settle for nothing less than a
risk-free society is well rooted in the risk-perception field. As
early as 1981, Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University and Stanford's
Tversky demonstrated that people value a risk reduction from 1 percent
to zero more highly than the equivalent reduction from 2 percent to 1
percent. The general public, risk researchers have assumed, would not
take kindly to the news that risk elimination may be impossible to

In an actual test of this assumption, however, Kazuya Nakayachi of the
University of Shizuoka in Yada, Japan, reported in 1998 that people's
trust in a fictitious risk-management agency wasn't diminished when
the agency stated that risk elimination is impossible, compared with
when it claimed that all risk indeed could be eliminated.

Furthermore, Nakayachi reports in a paper scheduled for publication in
the October Risk Analysis, although people highly valued a total
removal of risk, as Tversky and Kahneman found, they put an even
greater premium on a risk reduction that took the first step in
combating a hazard. His results suggest that, contrary to researchers'
assumptions, people don't irrationally respond to their fears about
risk and may be amenable to honest, trust-restoring news from the
agencies charged with the scientific management of risk.

Risk assessment

The question about biology's role in the white male effect and in risk
assessment in general remains open, and it will stay open for a long
time, Sahlin says. In 100 years, he points out, a demographic group
other than white males may have the greatest control of society's risk
factors and therefore will perceive less risk than other groups do. If
the sociologists are right, he says, the white male effect is not

In the past, theories about risk have been prescriptive. They have
assumed that people ought to behave in certain ways based on certain
objective calculations made by experts. The study of risk perception,
however, is descriptive. Under its framework, says Rajeev Gowda, a
political scientist at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, some of
what has previously been termed error in assessing risk or as
differing perceptions accompanying race and sex may simply reflect
people's values in a way that hasn't been recognized before.

From the perspective of risk science's mathematical roots, attempting
to cater to a multitude of viewpoints may be an inefficient way to set
risk-based policies. But, Gowda says, "if people's values say it's OK
to live with some inefficiency, then in a democratic setting we say
'OK," and get on with it."


Regarding this article, the challenge is how to increase the anomalous
risk perceptions of white males. Their low risk perception may lead to
higher use of cigarettes and other addictive drugs, lower use of
condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, driving at unsafe
speeds and while intoxicated, poor eating practices, higher use of
guns, and so on. These behaviors put others at risk and cost society
in insurance premiums, excess medical costs, and more. The risk
observations are not trivial. How can white males be socialized so as
to heighten their risk perceptions and make us all a bit safer and a
bit wealthier? -- Sandy Conners, Starkville, Miss.

This article shows that one of the preeminent centers for the study of
risk has become contaminated with the spores of relativism. Every
person's perception of reality is accepted as equal, and objective
truth is just a tool for oppression by that dominant caste of
exploiters, the white males. Paul Slovic is quoted as saying,
"Defining risk is thus an exercise in power." Years ago, I looked at
Paul Slovic's early work as the first hope for rational policy making
in matters of risk. I'm very disappointed. -- Critz George,
Albuquerque, N.M.


Daly, M., and M. Wilson. 1988. Homicide. New York: A. de Gruyter.

Finucane, M.L., P. Slovic, et al. 2000. Gender, race, and perceived
risk: The "white male" effect. Health, Risk & Society 2(July
1):159-172. Abstract.

Flynn, J., P. Slovic, and C.K. Mertz. 1994. Gender, race, and
perception of environmental health risks. Risk Analysis

Nakayachi, K. 2000. Do people actually pursue risk elimination in
environmental risk management? Risk Analysis 20:705-711.

______. 1988. How do people evaluate risk reduction when they are told
zero risk is impossible? Risk Analysis 18(October):235.

Sheffield, D., et al. 2000. Race and sex differences in cutaneous pain
perception. Psychosomatic Medicine 62(July/August):517-523. Available
at http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/cgi/content/full/62/4/517.

Slovic, P. 1999. Trust, emotion, sex, politics, and science: surveying
the risk-assessment battlefield. Risk Analysis 19(August):689.

Tversky, A., and R.H. Thaler. 1990. Anomalies: Preference reversals.
Journal of Economic Perspectives 4:201.

Tversky, A., and D. Kahneman. 1981. The framing of decisions and the
psychology of choice. Science 211:453.

Further Readings:

Additional information about the journal Health, Risk & Society can be
found at http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/carfax/13698575.html.


Robin Collin
School of Law
University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97404

Melissa Finucane
1201 Oak Street
Eugene, OR 97401-3575

M.V. Rejeev Gowda
Department of Political Science
University of Oklahoma
Energy Center S 202
Norman, OK 73019

John D. Graham
Harvard Center for Risk Analysis
718 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115-5924

Kazuya Nakayachi
School of Administration and Informatics
University of Shizuoka
52-1, Yada, Shizouka-shi

Nils-Eric Sahlin
Philosophy Department
Lund University
Box 117, SE-221 00

Paul Slovic
1201 Oak Street
Eugene, OR 97401-3575

Margo Wilson
Department of Psychology
McMaster University
1280 Main Street West
Hamilton, ON L8S 4L8

Copyright 2000 Science Service.

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