Review: Cellular Phones, Public Fears, and A Culture of Precaution

Risk analysis today falls broadly into two opposite, methodological camps. Those who appeal to scientific evidence to explain or critique what they consider to be exaggerated public fears, and those who focus on sociological data to highlight people’s perceptions and hence seek to justify a more precautionary outlook. While most recognize that risk contains both a material element and a perceptual element, there is rarely a meeting of ways in their methods of analysis.

This is where Adam Burgess’ contribution to the debate is to be warmly welcomed. Rather than falsely comparing the statistical risk of one activity with another, as many in the scientific camp are prone to doing, Burgess, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Bath has produced an explicitly sociological analysis. But rather than taking people’s perceptions at face value he seeks to explain how these perceptions came to be constructed in the first place, thereby, challenging these and critiquing precaution.

Read the full review (pdf)

Cellular Phones, Public Fears, and a Culture of Precaution, Risk Analysis,
Vol.24, No.4, August 2004, pp.1066-1068

Facing the possibility of bioterrorism

Abstract: The possibility of bioterrorism has been met by significant financial outlays to map out public health responses. These have included comprehensive audits of potential agents, as well as exploring mechanisms for counteracting their impact. Psychological intervention and communication have been identified as key areas requiring further work, as fear of infection could pose a greater strain on social resources than the pathogens themselves. Bioterrorism provides a powerful metaphor for e´ lite fears of social corrosion from within. Accordingly, a broader historical and cultural perspective is required to understand why individuals and societies feel so vulnerable to what remain largely speculative scenarios.

Facing the Possibility of Bio-Terrorism, Current Opinion in Biotechnology, Vol.15, No.3, pp.264-268, June 2004