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2010 06 17.enel’s scientific paper oxygen


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Michael Zdanowski
ENEL’s scientific paper Oxygen
Hill &Knowlton

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2010 06 17.enel’s scientific paper oxygen

  1. 1. oxygen 09 – 04.2010 Information, by Ilaria Catastini and Viviana Poletti the antidote for fear From the fear of nuclear energy to opposition towards biotechnology regarding food up to the psychosis of the Avian flu: what role does the perception of risks and benefits play in forming public opinion? How do the media and press influence public opinion? How much does participation in the decisional process count?
  2. 2. 081 “An occasion to be fearful is one of the few things ternet, makes it so that the time for the collective that isn’t scarce in these days which are sadly fears to propagate is often much more rapid lacking in certainties, guarantees and security,” than that which is necessary for scientific infor- wrote Zygmunt Baumann in his essay Liquid mation to be divulged. Particularly when the Fear. The growing amount of uncertainties char- propagation of the perception of risk is also as- acterizing our society today fosters new dynam- sociated with an emotional component tied to ics of the collective perception of risks. The risks cultural, affective and ethical-moral factors. (“In are more and more unknown and global, beyond Great Britain, fear that goes back to the dark our control and our acts. times of the Cold War still hovers over the cur- The media today – both traditional and especial- rent debate on nuclear energy, and even today, ly the social media on the Internet – plays a fun- hinders the construction of a new generation of damental role in the phenomena related to the nuclear power plants,” declared Michael collective perception of risk. With almost one Zdanowski of Hill & Knowlton London). As David out of two Italians using the Internet and one out Byrne of the European Committee for Health of three using it actively, 14 million Italians sub- and Consumer Protection stated, the cultural scribing to Facebook and an Italian version of and emotional aspects make it so that “when Wikipedia with at least 700,000 written entries, faced with the problem of risk, the collective re- the Internet is a vitally important place for dis- action often has very little to do with ascertained cussion in every process of building consensus facts, while it is often seemingly incoherently, if and for communication about major issues. The not actually completely irrational.” speed of information, especially through the In- The “case” of the Avian flu in 2005-2006 is em-
  3. 3. oxygen 09 – 04.2010 082 blematic: at the idea of a possible pandemic sumption was also confirmed by Professor originating from the H5N1 virus (which never Lorenzo Montali, social psychology researcher at broke out), the Italians reacted by worrying the University of Milan-Bicocca: “The applica- about it more than any other country in the Eu- tion of biotechnology in the medical field does ropean Union, as a study conducted by Euro- not meet with opposition regarding the public barometro revealed. Notwithstanding the fact opinion: people acknowledge and understand that none of the chickens proved to be infected the benefits, and even though they’re aware of (just one wild duck and some swans), in a few the potential risks, they regard that on the whole months the poultry market suffered a collapse of it’s worth it and that medical biotechnological sales reaching 70% and damage estimated at 800 research is constantly developing. With regards million Euros, bringing the sector to its knees. to food, the attitude is radically different: people A real “psychosis” was triggered, resulting in think that biotechnology, at least in Western highly irrational behavior; some shopkeepers re- countries, is basically useless, and uselessness is ported that customers would not even go close a pre-condition that leads to the development of to the frozen meat section for fear of contagion. a negative attitude.” However, the perception of risk is not always “The topic of the population’s perception of sci- based purely on irrational aspects. This is what ence, technology and the risks involved is a top- has emerged from the American study GM foods ic of the modern age; for the first time in histo- and the misperception of risk perception by G. ry, we find ourselves in the condition of having Gaskell, N. Allum, W. Wagner, N. Kronberger, H. choices about scientific development and tech- Torgersen, J. Hampel and J. Bardes (2004). In an- nology that must be made by people who are not alyzing the opposition from the general public experts on these matters,” Montali continues. So toward genetically modified food (OGM) and try- just exactly how do people manage this power? ing to verify the hypotheses deriving more from What kinds of competence must they have in or- a “lack” of perception of the benefits than from der to decide whether or not today, here and a perception of risks, the authors draw an inter- now, we should open a nuclear power plant, al- esting analogy with the case of nuclear energy. low assisted reproduction or develop new kinds One of the defining elements of innovation or of biotechnology? And what are the forms that new technology is its capacity to offer benefits should be adapted by the private economic ac- superior to what had previously been available. tors and public institutions for establishing a In the acceptance of certain kinds of technology, correct and responsible process of involving and the perception of the benefits seems to count for informing the stakeholders? more than the perception of the risks: this as- In a study conducted in the United States (enti- sumption can be demonstrated by the general tled Public Participation in Hazard Management: acceptance of bio-technology in the field of med- The Use of Citizen Panels in the U.S.), Ortwin Renn, icine (aimed at relieving pain and curing illness- Thomas Webler and Branden B. Johnson ob- es), and in contrast, by the opposition to biotech- served that technicians and experts have tradi- nology when it is applied to food products. In tionally always considered involvement of the this second case, since no tangible advantages general public, even though necessary, to be an are perceived (food is already good and plentiful) intrusion in the decisional process. How to deal what in fact dominates is diffidence. This as- with the problem is often decided first and the
  4. 4. Information, the antidote for fear public is informed only after the fact. The au- based on the experts’ opinions, even if discor- thors believe that this is not a winning strategy dant. The level of discussion regarding the insti- for a number of reasons: citizens feel deceived tutions’ competence in risk management when they are asked to participate and then should focus on the debate about the distribu- learn that actually, the decision has already been tion of the risks and the benefits, and on the made. Experts often do not really know much compatibility of the proposed solutions with the about what is worrying the citizens, about the economic, political and social conditions. This territory and the social fabric: the arguments kind of debate is not based on technical expert- used for balancing the risks with the benefits are ise, even though reducing the lack of scientific rarely convincing for the citizens. Informing the information can be of help. Success in these sit- public can help clarify the problems and the im- uations is obtained by demonstrating that the plications, but in the authors’ opinion, it cannot institutions responsible for the risk manage- resolve the conflicts that are not generated by ig- ment are competent, efficient and open to the norance but by the divergence of interests demands of the public. among the actors involved (industry, decisions, On a higher level, the conflict is then defined by stakeholders and citizens). However, the at- a series of different social and cultural values tempts to propose compensations to citizens for and lifestyles, and by their impact on the risk the added risks have not always demonstrated to management. In this case, neither technical ex- be effective in obtaining public acceptance. In- pertise nor the institutions’ competence and stead, inviting citizens to take part in the process openness constitute conditions that are suffi- right from the very start increases the probabili- cient for ensuring acceptance by the general ties that a certain decision will be accepted. In public. In these cases, we must act simultane- order to bridge the gap of the public’s lack of ously on both the spreading of information and technical and specific knowledge, the way to education, and the full involvement of the stake- build consensus should focus on information holders in the decision-making process.