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Acceptable EvidenceScience and Values in Risk Management$
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Deborah G. Mayo and Rachelle D. Hollander

Print publication date: 1994

Print ISBN-13: 9780195089295

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195089295.001.0001

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Sociological Versus Metascientific Views of Risk Assessment

Sociological Versus Metascientific Views of Risk Assessment

12 (p.249) Sociological Versus Metascientific Views of Risk Assessment
Acceptable Evidence

Deborah G. Mayo

Oxford University Press

In this chapter I shall discuss what seems to me to be a systematic ambiguity running through the large and complex risk-assessment literature. The ambiguity concerns the question of separability: can (and ought) risk assessment be separated from the policy values of risk management? Roughly, risk assessment is the process of estimating the risks associated with a practice or substance, and risk management is the process of deciding what to do about such risks. The separability question asks whether the empirical, scientific, and technical questions in estimating the risks either can or should be separated (conceptually or institutionally) from the social, political, and ethical questions of how the risks should be managed. For example, is it possible (advisable) for risk-estimation methods to be separated from social or policy values? Can (should) risk analysts work independently of policymakers (or at least of policy pressures)? The preponderant answer to the variants of the separability question in recent riskresearch literature is no. Such denials of either the possibility or desirability of separation may be termed nonseparatist positions. What needs to be recognized, however, is that advocating a nonseparatist position masks radically different views about the nature of risk-assessment controversies and of how best to improve risk assessment. These nonseparatist views, I suggest, may be divided into two broad camps (although individuals in each camp differ in degree), which I label the sociological view and the metascientific view. The difference between the two may be found in what each finds to be problematic about any attempt to separate assessment and management. Whereas the former (sociological) view argues against separatist attempts on the grounds that they give too small a role to societal (and other nonscientific) values, the latter (metascientific) view does so on the grounds that they give too small a role to scientific and methodological understanding. Examples of those I place under the sociological view are the cultural reductionists discussed in the preceding chapter by Shrader-Frechette. Examples of those I place under the metascientific view are the contributors to this volume themselves. A major theme running through this volume is that risk assessment cannot and should not be separated from societal and policy values (e.g., Silbergeld's uneasy divorce).

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