Socially constructed risk

The Royal Society's conference on risk in 1992...

"Complete decorum reigned until near the end when a psychologist got up from the floor. When he asked that the term 'social construction or risk' be completely eliminated from the discussion, shouting, clapping, and hissing broke out and the meeting was adjourned."
(Mary Douglas, quoted in Hinde, 1997)

The Society's report has two parts: the second part - by the social scientists - presents a different view of risk from the first

Socially constructed risk

Two problems with qualitative risk
  1. People will believe some things are risk, even when the statistics indicate they aren't (and vice versa). We are "risk illiterate"
  2. Who says what the probabilities are? How do we calculate the risk exposures objectively?
Socially constructed risk says
  1. When seeking to put people's minds at rest, qualitative risk assessment may not be enough
  2. When assessing risk "objectively", we are in fact using subjective judgements

Another thought for the week

An ounce of emotion is equal to a ton of facts
John Junor

Some examples of real risks

Did you know: Chances are your death will be by:

  •  being shot by a stranger...
  • 1 in 22,500
  •  drowning in the bath...
  • 1 in 17,500
  •  plane crash...
  • 1 in 800,000
  •  car accident...
  • 1 in 300
  •  suicide...
  • 1 in 160
  •  accidental fall...
  • 1 in 150
  •  cancer...
  • 1 in 4

    Risk homeostasis

    People accept a certain degree of risk, regardless of what you do to reduce it

    Today, life is "safer" than ever before, but mortality rates remain static (Gerald Wilde, cited in Bryson, 1997)

    Cars with ABS (anti-lock braking systems) no longer attract insurance discounts because their drivers drive more recklessly/carelessly

    As we take measures to make our projects / ISs more predictable and safer, we can expect people to ask us to undertake more risky work

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