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Uncertainty in risk assessment: contents and modes of communication
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Philosophy.
2005 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other scientific)
Abstract [en]

Assessments of chemical health risks are performed by scientific experts. Their intended use is as bases for decisions. This thesis tries to answer the questions of how uncertainty is, and should be, communicated in such risk assessments. The thesis consists of two articles and an introductory essay.

Article I focuses on the linguistic aspect of the communication of uncertainty in risk assessments. The aim of the article is to elucidate how risk assessors actually indicate uncertainty in risk assessment reports. Because of the prevalent uncertainty in risk assessment, deriving from several sources, uncertainty is communicated in verbal, rather than numerical terms. A typology of uncertainty indicators – phrases used to express uncertainty – is proposed and applied to the reviewed reports. It is found that the use of such phrases is not transparent, and the article concludes by a number of recommendations for improving the practice.

Article II mainly deals with the content of the communication. The overall question treated is what a characterization of uncertainty should include if a decision made on the basis of the risk assessment information is to be as well-founded as possible. A set of conditions is put forward to be fulfilled by a characterization of uncertainty if it is to be adequate from a decision-making point of view.

The greater part of the introductory essay is devoted to the concept of uncertainty which, at the conceptual level, does not appear to have been much discussed by philosophers

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH , 2005. , vii, 25 p.
Series
Theses in philosophy from the Royal Institute of Technology, ISSN 1654-627X
Keyword [en]
uncertainty, scientific uncertainty, characterization of uncertainty, decision-making under uncertainty, risk assessment, risk management
National Category
Philosophy
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-473ISBN: 91-7178-175-7 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-473DiVA: diva2:13657
Presentation
2005-11-01, Seminarierummet, Teknikringen 78B, Stokholm, 10:10
Opponent
Supervisors
Note
QC 20101208Available from: 2005-11-02 Created: 2005-11-02 Last updated: 2010-12-08Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Indicators of uncertainty in chemical risk assessments
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Indicators of uncertainty in chemical risk assessments
2004 (English)In: Regulatory toxicology and pharmacology, ISSN 0273-2300, E-ISSN 1096-0295, Vol. 39, no 1, 33-43 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

For most of the chemical substances that are subject to regulatory and industrial decision making, important toxicological data are missing. The available dataset is often difficult to interpret, and the differences between alternative, scientifically reasonable interpretations may have major impact on decision making. Since such uncertainties are an important factor in decision making it is essential that they be reported in a transparent and understandable way. In order to clarify how toxicologists report uncertainties, 30 risk assessments for one and the same substance (trichloroethylene) from the years 1973-2001 were searched for phrases indicating uncertainty. These phrases can be divided between four categories: contentual, epistemic, conditionalising, and inferential uncertainty indicators. A typology of uncertainty indicators, based on these categories, is proposed. It is concluded that the use of uncertainty indicators in these texts is not transparent and that the development of standardised uncertainty indicators should significantly improve communications both within the scientific community and between scientists and policymakers.

Keyword
regulatory toxicology, risk assessment, risk management, scientific uncertainty, uncertainty indicator, uncertainty, verbal probabilities, european-union, trichloroethylene, exposure, metabolites, workers, cancer
National Category
Philosophy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-23135 (URN)10.1016/j.yrtph.2003.11.001 (DOI)000188704000005 ()2-s2.0-1642473141 (Scopus ID)
Note
QC 20100525Available from: 2010-08-10 Created: 2010-08-10 Last updated: 2010-12-08Bibliographically approved
2. Adequacy conditions for reporting uncertainty in chemical risk assessments
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Adequacy conditions for reporting uncertainty in chemical risk assessments
2006 (English)In: Human and Ecological Risk Assessment, ISSN 1080-7039, Vol. 12, no 5, 834-855 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Uncertainty may influence decision-making. A prerequisite for a decision to be well founded is thus that scientific experts inform decision-makers about all decision relevant uncertainty. A set of conditions is provided for adequate characterization of scientific uncertainty for the purposes of regulatory decision-making. These conditions require specification of (1) the character and degree of uncertainty about the assessment variables, (2) the possibility of reducing the uncertainty, and (3) the degree of agreement among experts. Furthermore, it is required that (4) the information covered by the previous conditions is presented in a clear and comprehensible way. The point of departure is that characterizing scientific uncertainty conceptually means specifying all potentially important possibilities that are consistent with the state of scientific knowledge. The conditions are intended to be applied to human health risk assessment of chemicals. However, the basic approach, to consider potentially important possibilities, should be useful also to environmental, and site-specific risk assessment.

Keyword
uncertainty, risk characterization, characterization of uncertainty, risk assessment, risk management
National Category
Philosophy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-27190 (URN)10.1080/10807030600826748 (DOI)000240352100003 ()2-s2.0-33748501715 (Scopus ID)
Note
QC 20101208Available from: 2010-12-08 Created: 2010-12-08 Last updated: 2010-12-08Bibliographically approved

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Citation style
  • apa
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