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Expert risk perceptions and the social amplification of risk: a case study in invasive tree pests and diseases

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Title: Expert risk perceptions and the social amplification of risk: a case study in invasive tree pests and diseases
Authors: Urquhart, J
Potter, C
Barnett, J
Fellenor, J
Mumford, J
Quine, CP
Item Type: Journal Article
Abstract: The Social Amplification of Risk Framework (SARF) is often used as a conceptual tool for studying diverse risk perceptions associated with environmental hazards. While widely applied, it has been criticised for implying that it is possible to define a benchmark ‘real’ risk that is determined by experts and around which public risk perceptions can subsequently become amplified. It has been argued that this objectification of risk is particularly problematic when there are high levels of scientific uncertainty and a lack of expert consensus about the nature of a risk and its impacts. In order to explore this further, this paper examines how ‘experts’ – defined in this case as scientists, policy makers, outbreak managers and key stakeholders – construct and assemble their understanding of the risks associated with two invasive tree pest and disease outbreaks in the UK, ash dieback and oak processionary moth. Through semi-structured interviews with experts in each of the case study outbreaks, the paper aims to better understand the nature of information sources drawn on to construct perceptions of tree health risks, especially when uncertainty is prevalent. A key conclusion is that risk assessment is a socially-mediated, relational and incremental process with experts drawing on a range of official, anecdotal and experiential sources of information, as well as reference to past events in order to assemble the risk case. Aligned with this, experts make attributions about public concern, especially when the evidence base is incomplete and there is a need to justify policy and management actions and safeguard reputation.
Issue Date: 1-Nov-2017
Date of Acceptance: 30-Aug-2017
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10044/1/50550
DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2017.08.020
ISSN: 1462-9011
Publisher: Elsevier
Start Page: 172
End Page: 178
Journal / Book Title: Environmental Science and Policy
Volume: 77
Issue: 1
Copyright Statement: © 2017 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/BY/4.0/).
Sponsor/Funder: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Funder's Grant Number: BB/L012308/1
Keywords: Science & Technology
Life Sciences & Biomedicine
Environmental Sciences
Environmental Sciences & Ecology
Social amplification of risk
Expert risk perceptions
Tree health
Ash dieback
Oak Processionary moth
Ash dieback
Expert risk perceptions
Oak Processionary moth
Social amplification of risk
Tree health
Environmental Sciences
05 Environmental Sciences
07 Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences
16 Studies in Human Society
Publication Status: Published
Online Publication Date: 2017-09-12
Appears in Collections:Centre for Environmental Policy
Faculty of Natural Sciences