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Is Risk Analysis Scientific?

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Abstract

This article discusses to what extent risk analysis is scientific in view of a set of commonly used definitions and criteria. We consider scientific knowledge to be characterized by its subject matter, its success in developing the best available knowledge in its fields of study, and the epistemic norms and values that guide scientific investigations. We proceed to assess the field of risk analysis according to these criteria. For this purpose, we use a model for risk analysis in which science is used as a base for decision making on risks, which covers the five elements evidence, knowledge base, broad risk evaluation, managerial review and judgment, and the decision; and that relates these elements to the domains experts and decisionmakers, and to the domains fact-based or value-based. We conclude that risk analysis is a scientific field of study, when understood as consisting primarily of (i) knowledge about risk-related phenomena, processes, events, etc., and (ii) concepts, theories, frameworks, approaches, principles, methods and models to understand, assess, characterize, communicate, and manage risk, in general and for specific applications (the instrumental part).

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