From the Editors


  • Michael Greenberg,

  • Karen Lowrie

Our Area Editor for Decision Sciences, Warner North, has been involved in U.S. high-level nuclear waste management for decades. His essay in this issue is not only full of important historical information but offers a clear message and path forward that needs to be incorporated into the public policy discussion initiated by the President's Blue Ribbon Commission.

The rest of this issue features a broad range of articles in risk analysis, policy, assessment, perception, and communication. First, we highlight three studies that focus on expert judgment in risk analysis. Ibsen Chivata Cardenas et al. worked with experts to assess tunnel-related risks. Eliciting viewpoints at three stages, they document an interesting approach that seems to work and is able to identify different sources of expert bias. Roger Flage et al. describe several methods to represent uncertainty in expert risk assessments. They tested their probabilistic, possibilistic, and hybrid approaches and compare the results, observing that each has advantages and disadvantages. The authors emphasize that the user's goals are imperative in selecting an approach. James Hammitt and Yifan Zhang also considered expert judgments. Supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. EPA, and the European Research Council and using simulated data, they compared five approaches, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Three articles focus on public policy issues. Laurence Ball-King and colleagues tell an interesting story about the development of regulations for the adventure sports industry in the United Kingdom. They show that this regulatory program has been under attack and has been undermined by concerns such as excess paperwork. Petrissa Eckle and Peter Burgherr considered oil-related accidents causing five or more fatalities classified by nine different activities. By normalizing the data and then comparing the results across nations, the authors found the highest risk is the transportation of crude oil and products in non-OECD countries. They also observed marked differences among stages of the oil life cycle. The article flags challenging policy dilemmas for business and regulators.

Diana Effio et al. point to the U.S. policy that permits each state to choose risk values for new chemicals that leads to interstate differences. The authors contrast this approach, using trichloroethylene as an example, with others, especially the collaborative efforts of the European Union.

Two articles focus on risk assessment. G. Brorby et al. concentrate on exposure to chrysotile-containing joint compounds (JCC). Using historical data, the authors model respirable dust particle data in order to reconstruct fiber concentrations. Ning Li et al. studied 79 dust storms in Inner Mongolia. Supported by the National Basic Research Program of China, the authors demonstrate the utility of the copula function as a tool to simulate the likelihood of severe natural events.

Three articles are about risk perception and communications. Wim Kellens et al. reviewed 57 peer-reviewed articles regarding risk perception and communication about floods. They characterize the majority of these articles as exploratory and lacking a clear theoretical foundation. The authors suggest an agenda to improve the quality of the research. A commentary from Michael Greenberg points out the disparate risks and impacts of floods on the elderly and calls for a risk communications and perception research program directed at seniors. In another commentary, Michael Siegrist applauds the Kellens et al. review, but calls for more longitudinal studies on risk perception and mitigation behaviors.

Kazuya Nakayachi studied the impact of providing the public with positive information in order to determine if the information was reassuring. Using an experimental design and case studies of GMO and train accidents, Nakanachi found that the reassuring information partly alleviated concern about the specific hazard, but not about other hazards in the same category (e.g., rail accident risks as part of public transportation).

Agnieszka Hunka et al. compared stakeholder expectations about ecological modeling and pesticide risk assessments. Stakeholders expect models to be more inclusive and useful in the future, yet the authors found differences in trust and other factors that they believe will hinder public acceptance of mechanistic models in ecological risk assessment.