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Facts and Fears: Understanding Perceived Risk

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Subjective judgments, whether by experts or lay people, are a major component in any risk assessment. If such judgments are faulty, efforts at public and environmental protection are likely to be misdirected. The present paper begins with an analysis of biases exhibited by lay people and experts when they make judgments about risk. Next, the similarities and differences between lay and expert evaluations are examined in the context of a specific set of activities and technologies. Finally, some special issues are discussed, including the difficulty of reconciling divergent opinions about risk, the possible irrelevance of voluntariness as a determinant of acceptable risk, the importance of catastrophic potential in determing perceptions and triggering social conflict, and the need to facilitate public participation in the management of hazards.
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