From the Editors


  • Michael Greenberg,

  • Karen Lowrie

Welcome to our first issue of 2012.

In a letter to the editor, Yacov Haimes and colleagues expand on points raised by Marco Percoco in a perspective article about extensions of the inoperability input-output model (IIM) using the concept of fields of influence.(1) The writers, who have authored many papers on the IIM, point out some additional considerations. Percoco then responds specifically to the issues raised in the letter about uncertainty and sensitivity of the IIM.

Next is a perspective piece by Cory Lindgren that addresses the increasing risk of widespread plant disease associated with international trade. He asserts that risk assessors need to increasingly use both geographical information system and ecological niche models to better prepare risk managers for assessing likely ecological risks. In another perspective article, Helene Hermansson jumps into the ongoing debate about risk as subjective or objective. Drawing from the feminist literature, she argues that the idea of objective risk should not be abandoned, but that it is essential that risk assessors and managers acknowledge the reality and interplay of values, emotions, public preferences, and perceptions about risk.

Two research articles in this issue underscore the value of multidisciplinary risk analysis. Poor sanitation threatens the health of more than a billion of the world's people. Supported by the National Science Foundation, Joseph Arvai and Kristianna Post developed and tested a public participation process in Tanzania, East Africa that would guide the selection of water treatment capacity technologies. The authors describe the process and the difficulties of implementing it.

Lester Lave and Eugene Seskin's article on air pollution and mortality in the United States had a major impact on clean air legislation four decades ago.(2) Neal Fann and colleagues at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revisit the issue of the relationship between air pollution, morbidity, and mortality. While acknowledging the improvements in air quality in the United States, based on a study of the geographical distribution of ground-level ozone (O3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5), they estimate years of life lost as a result of exposure to these regulated contaminants.

This issue also features six interesting risk perceptions and communication articles. As gatekeepers of information, the media are assumed to influence risk perceptions and, presumably, behaviors. Michael Dahlstrom, Anthony Dudo, and Dominique Brossard, using an experimental design and college students as respondents, examined the relative influence of precise risk information, sensational information, and self-efficacy information on worrying, perceptions of risk, and behavioral intent. They found that more precise risk information led to increased risk perceptions and moderated sensationalized information, while none of the variables influenced worry in this younger population.

Thomas Deroche et al. explore how exposure to a hazard impacts self-perception of risk and personal vulnerability. Using athletes as cases, the authors observe that injury leads to personal reclassification to a higher risk status. This observation is consistent with findings concerning the impact of other hazard exposures such as having contracted cancer and lived through floods.

We know that people have difficulty imagining the future beyond one generation, and that this limitation impacts their decisions and behaviors. Corinne Moser et al. use long-term storage of high-level nuclear waste to demonstrate that scientists with different disciplinary backgrounds view time through the lenses of their training and experiences and that these conceptions of time influence how experts respond to long-term containment of nuclear waste.

Brandon Johnson conducted a telephone survey of residents of industrialized Paterson, New Jersey (Alexander Hamilton's designation as the industrial center of the United States in the late 18th century). Public perception of air quality did not strongly correlate with official monitoring data, and the public instead relied on how they felt and their senses to measure air quality and to inform their behavior.

Funded by the U.S. NSF, John Besley et al. examines how anger influences feelings of fairness. The authors use a hypothetical nuclear energy decision in the Southwest United States. Anger is found to be a moderator of fairness, and more anger is associated with greater concern about fairness.

A puzzle to those who practice risk communication is how people process information. Using two experimental designs, Chris Smerecnik et al. develop and test a tool that differentiates between systematic and heuristic processing. The authors conclude that their scale separates the two dimensions.

Three articles are about risk assessments that have risk management implications. For example, risk assessments often require counts of deaths, injuries, system failures, accidents, and other negative outcomes. Royce Francis et al. introduce the Conway-Maxwell Poisson distribution and demonstrate its efficacy compared to alternatives.

Some nations rely on waste site cleanup standards geared to the needs of existing land uses, and others require cleanup to a higher residential standard. Aiichiro Fujinaga et al. illustrate a risk-based approach for an actual waste site in Japan, comparing it with the current approach in Japan and assessing some of the difficulties of applying it in the Japanese context.

Gregory Pratt and colleagues at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency test two air quality modeling approaches that they apply in Minnesota. Given the wide range of contaminants and scales of analysis, it is not surprising that they found substantial variation in the ability of the models to predict reality.