Risk Assessment in Science Policy

As part of the effort to revive the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (with citizen input), team member Todd LaPorte, Associate Professor, School of Public Policy, George Mason University, sent the following:

“Here’s a 2002 paper on risk assessment that may be of interest with respect to the “relaunch OTA effort.” Tracks the evolution of the concept and practice of risk assessment in science and policy in a series of four National Academy of Sciences reports beginning in the 1980s. The paper was done for the Rockefeller Foundation Global Inclusion Program.”

Assessing levels of real and perceived risks of new technologies is just one area where the public can provide valuable insight to Congress. A new OTA can provide the mechanism to seek and measure public input and report such information to Congress BEFORE policies are voted upon.

caruso_risk_2002

  • I would add that risk assessment isn’t always done well, when it’s done at all. Too many times, the “risk” that’s being assessed is risk of a red herring occuring, so that the alternative always appears less risky. Take commercial fishing. Historically, when confronting a decision to reduce or end fishing on a particular stock, the “risk” assessed was whether the stock could suppost a certain level of fishing, so as to keep certain human economic interests going at or near present levels. The alternative was always presented as an immediate closure which usually had disasterous and unplanned consequences. Rarely did anyone present tha alternative of runnign out of fish at some future date, which could be planned for. Guess which way the decision often went? and guess what the real outcome often was?

    My point here is that, while a reinvigorated OTA can performa risk analyses for new or emerging technologies nad areas of scientific inquirey, it has to do so from a reasonable set of real choices, as opposed to cherry picking the most detrimental option.

  • I would add that risk assessment isn’t always done well, when it’s done at all. Too many times, the “risk” that’s being assessed is risk of a red herring occuring, so that the alternative always appears less risky. Take commercial fishing. Historically, when confronting a decision to reduce or end fishing on a particular stock, the “risk” assessed was whether the stock could suppost a certain level of fishing, so as to keep certain human economic interests going at or near present levels. The alternative was always presented as an immediate closure which usually had disasterous and unplanned consequences. Rarely did anyone present tha alternative of runnign out of fish at some future date, which could be planned for. Guess which way the decision often went? and guess what the real outcome often was?

    My point here is that, while a reinvigorated OTA can performa risk analyses for new or emerging technologies nad areas of scientific inquirey, it has to do so from a reasonable set of real choices, as opposed to cherry picking the most detrimental option.

  • Pingback: Obama puts his stamp on science policy (AP) — But As For Me()

  • Pingback: Obama opens up stem cell work, science inquiries (AP) — But As For Me()