The ethics of truth-telling and the problem of risk

Science and Engineering Ethics 5 (4):489-510 (1999)
  Copy   BIBTEX


Risk communication poses a challenge to ordinary norms of truth-telling because it can easily mislead. Analyzing this challenge in terms of a systematic divergence between expertise and public attitudes fails to recognize how two specific features of the concept of risk play a role in managing daily affairs. First, evaluating risk always incorporates an estimate of the reliability of information. Since risk communication is an effort at providing information, audiences will naturally and appropriately incorporate their assessment of the reliability of the risk communicator into their assessment of the risk as such. Second, one conceptual and grammatical feature of the concept of risk is to categorize experience as non-routine and demanding further deliberation. That is, the whole point of calling something a risk can be to distinguish it from activities or phenomena that need no further attention. Risk communications that stress relative comparisons of measured probabilities and expected utilities can be inconsistent with both features of our concept of risk. At best they mislead; at worst they undermine our society’s capacity to cope with risk. While there are no simple answers to these two conundrums, technical experts should bear them in mind when communicating with the broader public.



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 93,745

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

The Concept of Risk: Risk Assessment and Nuclear Safety.Paul Banks Thompson - 1980 - Dissertation, State University of New York at Stony Brook
Trust, risk and vulnerability : towards a philosophy of risk communication.Madeleine Hayenhjelm - 2006 - Dissertation, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm
Risk, fear, blame, shame and the regulation of public safety.Jonathan Wolff - 2006 - Economics and Philosophy 22 (3):409-427.


Added to PP

81 (#70,962)

6 months
9 (#1,260,759)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Paul B. Thompson
Michigan State University

References found in this work

Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity.Ulrich Beck, Mark Ritter & Jennifer Brown - 1993 - Environmental Values 2 (4):367-368.
The Last Word.Thomas Nagel - 1997 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
The Last Word.Thomas Nagel - 1999 - Philosophical Quarterly 49 (197):529-536.
Food Biotechnology in Ethical Perspective.Paul Thompson - 2007 - Environmental Values 16 (4):544-547.

View all 8 references / Add more references