Rachel's Precaution Reporter #19
Wednesday, January 4, 2006

From: The New York Times .................................[This story printer-friendly]
October 4, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: 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.]

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 Disneyland."

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 prosperity.

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 other."

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 minister.

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 decade.

"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 materials.

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 love."

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


From: Rachel's Precaution Reporter #19 ...................[This story printer-friendly]
January 4, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: 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.]

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 subsidies.

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


From: Science News (pg. 190) .............................[This story printer-friendly]
September 16, 2000


The science of decision making grapples with sex, race, and power

[Rachel's introduction: 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?]

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 institutions.

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 disagreed.

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 wealth.

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 difference.

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 assessment.

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 achieve.

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 static.

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 14(December):1101.

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 Japan

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

Paul Slovic 1201 Oak Street Eugene, OR 97401-3575

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

Copyright 2000 Science Service.


Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making decisions, to minimize harm. Rachel's Precaution Reporter tries to answer such questions as, Why do we need the precautionary principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

We often include attacks on the precautionary principle because we believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what their adversaries are saying, just as abolitionists in 1830 needed to know the arguments used by slaveholders.

Rachel's Precaution Reporter is published as often as necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

As you come across stories that illustrate the precautionary principle -- or the need for the precautionary principle -- please Email them to us at rpr@rachel.org.

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