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Assessing and Accepting Risk: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Abstract

Risk is about the future, operationalized through risk assessment and management. Risk seems to have become a universally accepted concept applied in innumerable decision-making processes in science, technology, and politics. This chapter analyzes the origins and development of the concept of risk, illuminates the various, sometimes conflicting, paradigms of risk, tracks policies about risk and institutions of decision making as well as national differences, and adds a social science perspective to explain the seemingly unquestioned ubiquity of this term. It includes a debate about the precautionary principle and the role that different cultures and the dependency on experts play in resolving risk-related issues. Thus, this will provide some background as to why it is so perplexing that science-based approaches to coping with risk yield such an array of different results.

Keywords

  • Risk
  • Uncertainty
  • Danger
  • Risk assessment
  • Risk managment
  • Value of statistical life (VSL)
  • Risk-normative aspects
  • Risk-conceptual history
  • Precautionary principle
  • Risk-governance
  • Reflexivity of risk

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Fig. 3.1
Fig. 3.2

Notes

  1. 1.

    Though this book has been translated into some 35+ languages, often republished in multiple (in Germany alone 12) editions, it is almost totally overlooked in the English-speaking world, especially in the US debate (See similar Adam et al. 2000; Rosa et al. 2014).

  2. 2.

    A concise of related issues in Making sense of science for policy under conditions of complexity and uncertainty | SAPEA (2020).

  3. 3.

    https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/nuclear-waste/storage-and-disposal-of-radioactive-waste.aspx.

  4. 4.

    “better safe than sorry”; “look before you leap”; “a stitch in time saves nine”; “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”; “measure twice–cut once”; “It is better to be safe than sorry”; “The trodden path is the safest,” to name a few.

  5. 5.

    See also: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-00-96_en.htm, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=LEGISSUM:l32042.

  6. 6.

    It would lead to the paradoxical demand that one must wait for (or induce) a specific disaster in order to gauge whether one should avoid it.

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Acknowledgments

I am grateful to Malcolm Siegel for his intellectual engagement with my topic, his support, and his editorial help. Thanks to Diane L. Wolf and Leora Jaeger for their editorial advice. I dedicate this essay to Prof. Dr. Franz-Xaver Kaufman, my teacher and mentor, who introduced the topic of security to sociology.

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Hirtz, F. (2021). Assessing and Accepting Risk: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. In: Siegel, M., Selinus, O., Finkelman, R. (eds) Practical Applications of Medical Geology. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-53893-4_3

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