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Different Roles and Viewpoints of Scientific Experts in Advising on Environmental Health Risks

Authors

  • Pita Spruijt,

    Corresponding author
    1. Centre for Environmental Health, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Bilthoven, The Netherlands
    • Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
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  • Anne B. Knol,

    1. Centre for Environmental Health, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Bilthoven, The Netherlands
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  • René Torenvlied,

    1. Institute of Public Administration, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands
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  • Erik Lebret

    1. Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
    2. Centre for Environmental Health, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Bilthoven, The Netherlands
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Address correspondence to Pita Spruijt, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Bilthoven, The Netherlands; pita.spruijt@rivm.nl.

Abstract

Environmental health risks are often complex, largescale, and uncertain. The uncertainties inherent in these problems permit differences among experts in the appraisal of risks. This raises the question of whether different expert roles exist and, if so, how this affects the policy advice that is given. Here, we present a pilot study of the different roles and viewpoints that can be discerned among scientific experts in the Netherlands. Q methodology was used to empirically explore existing theoretical treatises on different expert roles. In total, 26 electromag­netic field (EMF) experts and 21 particulate matter (PM) experts participated. The responses were analyzed separately for EMF and PM respondents using Q factor analysis. In both the EMF and PM domain, three different expert roles were identified. This suggests that particular expert roles depend on the specific environmental health risk. The results indicate that different expert roles exist among scientists who provide policy advice on environmental health risks. This empirical study adds new data and insights to the literature on expert roles. The results of this study are relevant for the selection and composition of expert committees and the interpretation of expert advice.

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