Understanding Risk

  • Bernard L. Cohen


The third major reason for public misunderstanding of nuclear power is that the great majority of people do not understand and quantify the risks we face. Most of us think and act as though life is largely free of risk. We view taking risks as foolhardy, irrational, and assiduously to be avoided. Training children to avoid risk is an all-important duty of parenthood. Risks imposed on us by others are generally considered to be entirely unacceptable.


Coal Burning Nuclear Regulatory Commission Highway Safety Overweight Person Mobile Intensive Care Unit 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Reference Notes

  1. 1.
    B. L. Cohen, I. S. Lee: “A Catalog of Risks ” Health Physics, 36, 707 (1979). This paper cites a large number of references to original sources of information.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    B. L. Cohen: “Perspective on Occupational Risks,” Health Physics, 40, 703 (1981).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, “Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation,” United Nations, New York (1977).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    B. L. Cohen: “Society’s Valuation of Life Saving,” Health Physics, 38, 33 (1980), This paper cites a large number of references to original sources of information.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    A. R. Karr : “Saga of the Air Bag,” Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Status Report, November 30 (1976).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    U. S. Bureau of Census, Vital Statistics of the United States (published annually).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    NCHS (National Center for Health Statistics), “Mortality from Selected Causes by Marital Status,” NCHS Series 20, No. 8a,b, December (1970).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    H. A. Kahn, “The Dorn Study of Smoking and Mortality Among U.S. Veterans,” in National Cancer Institute Monograph 19, W. Haenszel (ed.), U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (1966); E. C. Hammond, “Smoking in Relation to the Death Rates of One Million Men and Women,” in National Cancer Institute Monograph 19 W. Haenszel (ed.), U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (1966); PHS (U.S. Public Health Service), “The Health Consequences of Smoking—A Public Health Service Review—1967” (1967).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Statistical Bulletin, Feb., 1960; Mar., 1960; Society of Actuaries, Build and Blood Pressure Study (1959).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    B. L. Cohen: “Body Weight as an Application of Energy Conservation,” American Journal of Physics, 45, 867 (1977).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    U.S. Bureau of Census, “Statistical Abstract of the United States—1975” (1975).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    PHS (U.S. Public Health Service), Vital Statistics—Special Reports, Vol. 53, No. 4 ( 1962 ); Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Statistical Bulletin, Socio-economic Mortality Differentials, January (1975).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Registrar General, 1961 Occupational Mortality Tables ( Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1971 ).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    E. M. Kitagawa, P. M. Hauser: “ Education Differentials in Mortality by Cause of Death in the U.S.,” Demography, 5, 335 (1968).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, Vol. 10, No. 12 (9 July, 1975 ); U.S. Department of Transportation, “The Car Book, ” Document DOT HS 805 580 (1981).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., Statistical Bulletin, “Mortality from Accidents by Age and Sex,” May (1971).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    NCHS (National Center for Health Statistics), “State Life Tables, 1969–71,” DHEW Publication No. (HRA) 75–1151 (1975).Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    R. Wilson and J. Chase, “Problems Associated with Intercomparisons of Risk,” in First International Conference on Health Effects of Energy Production, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. Document AECL 6958 (1979).Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Statistical Bulletin, “Hazardous Occu-pations and Avocations,” March ( 1974 ); Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Statistical Bulletin, “Fatalities in Motor Vehicle Racing,” December (1976).Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Registrar General, Occupational Mortality (Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, Lon-don, 1978); Society of Actuaries, “Occupational Studies,” Chicago (1967); U.S. Public Health Service, “Vital Statistics,” Special Reports 53 (4), (1962).Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    NRC (U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission), “Reactor Safety Study,” WASH- 1400, NUREG-75/014 (1975).Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    NSF (National Science Foundation) Science and Technology Policy Office Report, “Chemicals and Health” (1973).Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration), in Federal Register, 42 (73), 20001 (15 April 1977); also press release.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Calculations by author unpublished.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), “The Risks of Nuclear Power Reactors,” Cambridge, Massachusetts (1977).Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, “Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation,” United Nations, New York (1977).Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    C. Starr: “Social Benefits vs. Technological Risks,” Science, 165, 1232 (1969).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    R. Wilson, W. I. Jones: Energy, Ecology, and the Environment (Academic Press, 1979); M. Glasser, L. Greenburg: “Air Pollution and Mortality and Weather, New York City 1960-64,” Archives of Environmental Health, 22, 334 (1971).Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    W. Winkelstein etal.: “The Relationship of Air Pollution and Economic Status to Total Mortality and Selected Respiratory System Mortality for Men,” Archives of Environmental Health, 14, 162 (1967).Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    M. Chappie, L. Lave: “The Health Effects of Air Pollution: A Reanalysis,” Journal of Urban Economics, 12, 346, July (1981); T. D. Crocker, W. Schulze, S. Ben-David, and A. Kneese, “Methods of Development for Assessing Air Pollution Control Benefits,” Volume I, “Economics of Air Pollution Epidemiology,” U.S. EPA Report EPA-600/5-79–001a, U.S. EPA, Washington, D.C., (1979); S. Gerking, and W. Schulze, “What Do We Know About the Benefits of Reduced Mortality from Air Pollution Control?” American Economic Review, 71(2), 228–234 (1981); J. J. Gregor, Mortality and Air Quality, The 1968–1972 Allegheny County Experience (Center for the Study of Environmental Policy, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 1976); R. J. Hickey, D. E. Boyce, R. C. Clelland, E. J. Bowers, and P. B. Slater, “Demographic and Chemical Variables Related to Chronic Disease Mortality in Man,” Technical Report No. 15, Department of Statistics, University of Pennsylvania (1977); R. Koshal and M. Koshal, “Air Pollution and the Respiratory Disease Mortality in the United States—A Quantitative Study,” Social Indicators Research, 1:263–278 (1974); L. B. Lave and E. P. Seskin, “Air Pollution and Human Health,” Science, 169, 723-733 (1970); L. B. Lave and E. P. Seskin, “An Analysis of the Association Between U.S. Mortality and Air Pollution,” Journal of the American Statistical Association, 68(6), 284–290 (1973); L. B. Lave and E. P. Seskin, Air Pollution and Human Health (Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1977); L. B. Lave and E. P. Seskin, “Epidemiology, Causality and Public Policy,” American Scientist, 67,178-186 (1979); F. W. Lipfert, “Statistical Studies of Geographical Factors in Cancer Mortality: Association with Community Particulate Air Pollution,” presented at the 71st Annual Meeting of the Air Pollution Control Association, Houston, Texas, June 25–30 (1978); W. Lipfert, “The Association of Human Mortality with Air Pollution: Statistical Analyses by Region, by Age, and by Cause of Death,” Long Island Lighting Company (1978); B.C. Liu and E. S. H. Yu, “Mortality and Air Pollution Revisited,” Journal of the Air Pollution Control Association, 26(10), 968–971 (1977); R. Mendelsohn and G. Orcutt, “An Empirical Analysis of Air Pollution Dose-Response Curves”, Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 6, 85-106 (1979); R. C. Schwing and G. C. McDonald, “Measures of Association of Some Air Pollutants, Natural Ionizing Radiation, and Cigarette Smoking with Mortality Rates,” The Science of the Total Environment, 5,139–169 (1976); S. Selvin, D. Merrill, L. Kwok, and S. Sacks, “Ecologic Regression Analysis and the Study of the Influence of Air Quality on Mortality,” Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory preprint LBL-12217, Berkeley, California (1981); J. J. Seneca, P. Asch, and K. Brennan, “Mortality and Air Pollution in New Jersey,” In 12th Annual Report—“Economic Policy Council and Office of Economic Policy,” State of New Jersey, Dept. of the Treasury, New Jersey (1979); V. K. Smith, “The Measurement of Mortality— Air Pollution Relationships,” Environment and Planning, 8, 149–162 (1976); V. K. Smith, The Economic Consequences of Air Pollution (Ballinger Publishing Co., Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1976); T. J. Thomas, “An Investigation into Excess Mortality and Morbidity Due to Air Pollution,” Ph.D. dissertation, Purdue University, W. Lafayette, Indiana (1973).Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    R. W. Buechley, W. B. Riggan, V. Hasselblad, J. B. VanBruggen: “S02 Levels and Perturbations in Mortality: A Study in the New York-New Jersey Metropolis,” Archives of Environmental Health, 27, 134–137 (1973); A. T. Gore and C. W. Shaddick, “Atmospheric pollution and mortality in the county of London,” British Journal of Social Medicine, 12, 104 (1958); H. Heimann, “Episodic Air Pollution in Metropolitan Boston: A Trial Epidemiological Study” Archives of Environmental Health, 20,230 (1970); L. B. Lave and E. Seskin, Air Pollution and Human Health, (Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1977); A. E. Martin and W. H. Bradley, “Mortality, Fog and Atmospheric Pollution: An Investigation During Winter of 1958–59,” Monthly Bulletin of Mining Health (London), 19, 56-72 (1960); H. Schimmel and L. Greenberg, “A Study of the Relation of Air Pollution to Mortality, New York City 1963–1964,” Journal of the Air Pollution Control Association, 22, 606 (1973); H. Schimmel and T. J. Murawski, “The Relation of Air Pollution to Mortality,” Journal of Occupational Medicine, 18, 316 1976; J. A. Scott, “The London Fog of December, 1952,” The Medical Officer. (London), 109, 250–252 (1953); R. E. Wyzga, “The Effect of Air Pollution on Mortality—A Consideration of Distributed Lag Models,” Journal of the American Statistical Association, 73, 463–472 (1978); A. E. Martin, “Mortality and Morbidity Statistics and Air Pollution,” Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 57, 969 (1964); T. A. Hodgson, “Short-Term Effects of Air Pollution on Mortality in New York City,” Environmental Science and Technology, 4, 589 (1970); M. D. Lebowitz, “A Comparative Analysis of the Stimulus-Response Relationship Between Mortality and Air Pollution-Weather,” Environmental Research, 6, 106 (1973); M. Glasser, and L. Greenburg, “Air Pollution and Mortality and Weather: New York City, 1960–64,” Archives of Environmental Health, 22, 334 (1971); S. E. Burgess and C. W. Shadick, “Bronchitis and Air Pollution,” Royal Society Health Journal, 79, 10 (1959); S. Mazumder and N. Sussman, “Relationships of Air Pollution to Health: Results from the Pittsburgh Study,” Proc. of 74th Annual APCA Meeting, Philadelphia, June (1980); S. Mazumder, H. Schimmel, and I. Higgens, “Daily Mortality, Smoke, and S02 in London, England, 1959-72,” Proc. of APCA, Pittsburgh Meeting, September (1980), p. 219.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Air Quality Criteria for Particulate Matter and Sulfur Oxides (1981).Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Air Quality Criteria for Oxides of Nitrogen” (1980); U.S. EPA, “Health Assessment Document for Polycyclic Organic Matter,” EPA 600/9-79-008 (1979); U.S. EPA, “Health Assessment Document for Arsenic” ( 1980 ); U.S. EPA, “Air Quality Criteria for Lead” (1977).Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    B. L. Cohen: “Long Term Consequences of the Linear-No Threshold Dose-Response Relationship for Chemical Carcinogens,” Risk Analysis, 1, 267 (1981); P. D. Moskowitz etal., “Photovoltaic Energy Technologies: Health and Environmental Effects Document,” Brookhaven National Lab. Report BNL-51284 (1980).Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    B. L. Cohen: “Health Effects of Radon from Insulation of Buildings,” Health Physics, 39, 937 (1980).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Population Reference Bureau, “1976 World Population Data Sheet,” 1754 N St., N.W., Washington, D.C. (1978).Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    B. L. Cohen: “Society’s Valuation of Life Saving in Radiation Protection and Other Contexts,” Health Physics, 28, 33 (1980).Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    A. R. Karr: “Saga of the Air Bag,” The Wall Street Journal, Reprinted in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Status Report, 11, 18 (November 30, 1976); L. M. Patrick, “Passive and Active Restraint Systems—Performance and Benefit-Cost Comparison,” Society of Automotive Engineers Transactions, Paper 750389 (1975); W. Stork, “The Cost Effectiveness of International Vehicle Regulations,” Automotive Engineering, March, 32 (1973).Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    L. Dickinson: “Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Cytologic Screening for Cervical Cancer,” Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 47, 550 (August 1972); J. B. Thorn, J. E. Macgregor, E. M. Russell, and K. Swanson, “Costs of Detecting and Treating Cancer of the Uterine Cervix in North-East Scotland in 1971,” Lancet, 674 (March 22, 1975; R. J. Walton, “Cervical Cancer Screening Programs: The Walton Report,” Canadian Medical Association Journal, 114,(11) (June 5, 1976); R. N. Grosse, “Cost-Benefit Analysis of Health Service,” Annals of the American Academy, 399, 89 (1972); JEC (Joint Economic Committee), U.S. Congress, “The Analysis and Evaluation of Public Expenditure: The PPB System” (1969); S. E. Rhoads, “How Much Should We Spend to Save Lives?” The Public Interest, Spring, 74 (1978).Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Gallup Organization (Princeton, New Jersey), January 1977. Survey sponsored by American Cancer Society (1977).Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    J. P. Ruchinskas: Private communications giving generally accepted value, General Electric Co., Housewares Division, Bridgeport, Connecticut (1978).Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    R. J. Walton, cf. Ref. 39.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    M. Kristein: “Economic Issues in Prevention,” Preventive Medicine, 6, 252 (1977).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    R. J. Bolt: “Sigmoidoscopy in Detection and Diagnosis of the Asymptomatic Individual,” Cancer, 28, 121 (1971); V. A. Gilbertson, “Proctosigmoidoscopy and Polypectomy in Reducing the Incidence of Rectal Cancer,” Cancer, 34,(3), Supplement, 936 (1974); R. N. Grosse, “Cost-Benefit Analysis of Health Service,” Annals of the American Academy, 399, 89 (1972).Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    R. S. Fontana, D. R. Sanderson, L. B. Woolner, W. E. Miller, P. E. Bernatz, W. S. Payne, W. F. Taylor: “The Mayo Lung Project,” Chest 67, 511 (1975).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    F. A. Nash, J. M. Morgan, J. G. Tomkins, “South London Cancer Study,” British Medical Journal, 2, 715 (1968); G. Z. Brett, “Earlier Diagnosis and Survival in Lung Cancer,” Ibid, 4, 260 (1969); K. R. Boucot, and W. Weiss, “Screening for Lung Cancer,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 227, 566 (1973); J. R. T. Colley, “Diseases of the Lung,” Lancet, ii, 1125 (1974).Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    S. Shapiro, P. Strax, L. Venet, W. Venet: “Changes in 5-year Breast Cancer Mortality in a Breast Cancer Screening Program,” Seventh National Cancer Conference, Los Angeles, California (1972); M. Kristein, “Economic Issues in Pre-vention,” Preventive Medicine, 6, 252 (1977); L. M. Irwig, “Breast Cancer,” Lancet, ii, 1307 (1974); R. N. Grosse, “Cost-Benefit Analysis of Health Service,” Annals of the American Academy, 399, 89 (1972).Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    J. Stamler, R. Stamler, W. F. Riedlinger, G. Algera, R. H. Roberts: “Hypertension Screening of One Million Americans,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 235,2299 ( 1976 ); J. Stokes and D. C. Carmichael, “A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Modern Hypertension Control,” National Heart and Lung Inst., NIH, Bethesda, Maryland (1975).Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    R. Zeckhauser, D. Shepard: “Where Now for Saving Lives,” Law and Contemporary Problems, 40(5), 5 (1976); J. P. Acton, “Evaluating Public Programs to Save Lives: The Case of Heart Attacks,” Rand Corp. Report R-950-RC, Los Angeles, California (1973).Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    J. Riordan: Private communication, Health Services Administration, Washington, D. C. (1979).Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    B. Ward: Paper presented at UNICEF New World Food Conference, Rome (1974); E. Egan, Private communication, Catholic Relief Services, New York (1977); see also Ref. 23.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    H.N. Barnum: “An Economic Analysis of an Expanded Program of Immunization in Indonesia,” U. of Michigan Report (1978).Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    General Accounting Office, “Effectiveness, Benefits and Costs of Federal Safety Standards for Protection of Passenger Car Occupants,” Washington, D.C. (1976).Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    J. W. Sparks, “Development of an Effective Highway Safety Program,” Traffic Engineering, January, 30 (1977).Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    U.S. Department of Transportation, “The National Highway Safety Needs Report” (1976).Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    R. C. Schwing,: “Expenditures to Reduce Mortality Risk and Increase Longevity,” General Motors Research Lab. Report GMR-2353-A (1978).Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), Report EPA-570/9-76-00, Washington, D.C. (1976).Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Circular A-94 (1972).Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Code of Federal Regulations, Title 10, Part 50, Appendix I; U.S. Nuclear Reg-ulatory Commission, (NRC) Regulatory Guides 1.109-1. 113 (1976).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Bernard L. Cohen 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernard L. Cohen

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations