Advertisement

Politics and Scientific Expertise: Scientists, Risk Perception, and Nuclear Waste Policy

Authors

  • Richard P. Barke,

    1. School of Public Policy, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia 30332-0345.
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Hank C. Jenkins-Smith

    1. Institute of Public Policy, Department of Political Science, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131-1121.
    2. To whom all correspondence should be addressed.
    Search for more papers by this author

Abstract

To study the homogeneity and influences on scientists’perspectives of environmental risks, we have examined similarities and differences in risk perceptions, particularly regarding nuclear wastes, and policy preferences among 1011 scientists and engineers. We found significant differences (p0.05)in the patterns of beliefs among scientists from different fields of research. In contrast to physicists, chemists, and engineers, life scientists tend to: (a)perceive the greatest risks from nuclear energy and nuclear waste management; (b)perceive higher levels of overall environmental risk; (c)strongly oppose imposing risks on unconsenting individuals; and (d)prefer stronger requirements for environmental management. On some issues related to priorities among public problems and calls for government action, there are significant variations among life scientists or physical scientists. We also found that–independently of field of research–perceptions of risk and its correlates are significantly associated with the type of institution in which the scientist is employed. Scientists in universities or state and local governments tend to see the risks of nuclear energy and wastes as greater than scientists who work as business consultants, for federal organizations, or for private research laboratories. Significant differences also are found in priority given to environmental risks, the perceived proximity of environmental disaster, willingness to impose risks on an unconsenting population, and the necessity of accepting risks and sacrifices.

Ancillary