When Facts FailWhen Facts Fail --
Risk perception, CommunicationRisk perception, Communication
and Radiationand Radiation
...
Key propositions
 Radiation professionals need to be ready to
communicate about the radiation risks they
manage
 Scienti...
Psychology and risk
 Why is cancer scarier than heart disease,
(and radiation is the scariest carcinogen)
yet heart disea...
Do you believe pesticides
present a serious risk to public
health?
Do you believe people using
mobile phones when driving
create a serious risk to public
health?
So, how did you go?
 Our brains are hard-wired to react to risk
o The amygdala reacts before the cortex thinks
o i.e. fea...
What are these mental shortcuts?
 Framing
o ‘Emissions reduction scheme’ or ‘a great big new tax’
o ‘No safe level of rad...
Risk perception factors
 Trust matters; breach of trust matters more
o Process matters
 Judgements about risk and benefi...
Risk perception factors
 Uncertainty
o The greater the uncertainty, the greater the fear, the stronger the risk feels
 C...
Perceived relative risks
((FischoffFischoff and and SlovicSlovic))
Perception is reality
Meltdown in credibility and trust
IAEA and risk communication
 Inadequate communication increases risk of
physical harm beyond actual radiological
conseque...
“All serious nuclear and radiological emergencies have resulted in the public
taking some actions that were inappropriate ...
Case study – Sydney dust storm 2009
 Alarmist claims that uranium from OD tailings
would harm people
o Likened to James H...
Helping people make healthier choices
 ‘Mental models’ approach
1) Determine what the ‘experts’ think people need to know...
A guide for the radiation debate
 Individuals and societies do not always act
rationally
 Demonstrate trustworthy behavi...
When Facts FailWhen Facts Fail --
Risk perception, CommunicationRisk perception, Communication
and Radiationand Radiation
...
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When facts fail. talking to people about risks of ionizing radiation clarke

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When facts fail. talking to people about risks of ionizing radiation clarke

  1. 1. When Facts FailWhen Facts Fail -- Risk perception, CommunicationRisk perception, Communication and Radiationand Radiation ARPS Conference, Adelaide, 18 October 2010ARPS Conference, Adelaide, 18 October 2010 Simon Clarke Communication Director
  2. 2. Key propositions  Radiation professionals need to be ready to communicate about the radiation risks they manage  Scientific facts alone will not always be enough to convince the audience  Emotional (affective) aspects of communication are essential
  3. 3. Psychology and risk  Why is cancer scarier than heart disease, (and radiation is the scariest carcinogen) yet heart disease is more likely to kill us.  Why does nuclear radiation scare people more than solar radiation?
  4. 4. Do you believe pesticides present a serious risk to public health?
  5. 5. Do you believe people using mobile phones when driving create a serious risk to public health?
  6. 6. So, how did you go?  Our brains are hard-wired to react to risk o The amygdala reacts before the cortex thinks o i.e. fear overcomes reason o Fight, flee or freeze  We make decisions without all the facts  We take mental short-cuts
  7. 7. What are these mental shortcuts?  Framing o ‘Emissions reduction scheme’ or ‘a great big new tax’ o ‘No safe level of radiation’ (e.g. Medical Practitioners Against War)  The fallacy of the small sample o ‘What one study shows must be true of everything’  Statistical patterns o ‘You can’t throw 100 heads in a row’  Risk/benefit trade-off o We place more weight on risk
  8. 8. Risk perception factors  Trust matters; breach of trust matters more o Process matters  Judgements about risk and benefit o Benefit perceived, risk played down; and vice versa  Control and choice o The more we have the safer we feel  Natural versus man-made risk o We tolerate natural risk, sometimes wrongly o E.g. many people fear radiation from uranium mines more than they fear radon beneath homes  Familiar or new? o New risks will worry you more
  9. 9. Risk perception factors  Uncertainty o The greater the uncertainty, the greater the fear, the stronger the risk feels  Catastrophic or chronic o Chernobyl versus melanoma  Can it happen to me? o The risk looks bigger if you think it can happen to you  Personification o The closer the identification, the greater the perception of risk  Risks to children o The biggest fear factor  ‘Unequal distribution of risk is unfair’
  10. 10. Perceived relative risks ((FischoffFischoff and and SlovicSlovic))
  11. 11. Perception is reality
  12. 12. Meltdown in credibility and trust
  13. 13. IAEA and risk communication  Inadequate communication increases risk of physical harm beyond actual radiological consequences  Poor communication after Chernobyl accident resulted in: o Elements of panic o Perception of inevitable catastrophic effects of radiation  e.g. unwarranted increase in number of abortions  e.g. significant increase in depressive illness with consequential / associated physical illness
  14. 14. “All serious nuclear and radiological emergencies have resulted in the public taking some actions that were inappropriate or unwarranted, and resulted in significant adverse psychological and economic effects. These have been the most severe consequences of many radiological emergencies. These effects have occurred even at emergencies with few or no radiological consequences and resulted primarily because the public was not provided with understandable and consistent information from official sources.” - from IAEA Manual for First Responders to a Radiological Emergency
  15. 15. Case study – Sydney dust storm 2009  Alarmist claims that uranium from OD tailings would harm people o Likened to James Hardy asbestos  Various agencies analysed the dust o No measurable concentration of uranium o Minute amounts of other radionuclides o Greatest risk from silicates  Absence of official communication o Claims left unchallenged may cause uncertainty and fear
  16. 16. Helping people make healthier choices  ‘Mental models’ approach 1) Determine what the ‘experts’ think people need to know to reduce risk (expert mental model) 2) Ask a sample of the audience what they know, what they don’t know, and what they want to know (real world mental model)
  17. 17. A guide for the radiation debate  Individuals and societies do not always act rationally  Demonstrate trustworthy behaviour; use processes to build trust; avoid breaching trust  Share control and enhance choice  Frame messages that respect and account for how people hear and use them  Offer facts in emotionally relevant ways  Reflect audience perceptions, interests, concerns
  18. 18. When Facts FailWhen Facts Fail -- Risk perception, CommunicationRisk perception, Communication and Radiationand Radiation Simon Clarke Communication Director

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