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Mixed Messages in Risk Communication

Authors

  • Cynthia G. Jardine,

    Corresponding author
    1. Eco-Research Chair in Environmental Risk Management, Environmental Health Sciences Program, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2G3, Canada.
      To whom all correspondence should be addressed.
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  • Steve E. Hrudey

    1. Eco-Research Chair in Environmental Risk Management, Environmental Health Sciences Program, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2G3, Canada.
    Search for more papers by this author

To whom all correspondence should be addressed.

Abstract

The exchange of risk information between risk managers and affected parties is frequently hampered by differences in the understanding or interpretation of many words and phrases. Much of the terminology used by risk practitioners may have different “technical” and “colloquial” meanings, resulting in “mixed messages” in risk communication. Several words and concepts commonly used in risk management that may be resulting in these “mixed messages” are discussed. These include primary underlying concepts, such as the various meanings of the word “risk” itself, as well as the perplexity of the notions of “safety vs. zero risk” and “probability”. The potential “mixed messages” of the derived concepts of “significant vs. nonsignificant”, “negative vs. positive results”, “conservative assumptions”, “population vs. individual risk”, “relative vs. absolute risk”, and “association vs. causation” are shown to range from mild confusion to the completely opposite interpretation of these words and expressions. Suggested strategies for recognizing and mitigating the use of words and phrases which may create unnecessary confusion are presented.

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