chapter  28
14 Pages

Risk, Uncertainty and Social Controversy: From Risk Perception and Communication to Public Engagement

ByNick Pidgeon

Although philosophers and social scientists have a long history of raising questions about the appropriate relationship between uncertain science and wider society, such questioning is more widespread today as policymakers and members of the public face controversies over the environment, health and the introduction of new technologies. Disputes that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s over the risks of nuclear power have been followed by concerns over chemicals and pesticides, industrial and transport-related pollution, genetically modified agriculture, and, more recently, nanotechnologies. Many such controversies involve differing views about the meaning of risk and uncertainty and their acceptance and distribution across society. In this respect uncertainty becomes not just a matter of producing better scientific modelling, but also a focus of intense political struggle. Accordingly, at a research level one of the key questions has been to identify the different frames of reference for viewing risk and uncertainty and how they come into being and are maintained (expert versus layperson, scientist versus policymaker, practitioner versus activist), and through this to seek to bridge the conceptual and value differences which divide groups and individuals.