Seven Myths of Risk

The purpose of this presentation is to introduce both the concept of risk and the precautionary principle, that is a major policy principle in present-day risk management. Since risk has been the subject of many misconceptions I will do this in large part by criticizing seven views on risk that I believe to have caused considerable confusion both among scientists and policy-makers. But before looking at the seven myths of risk, let us begin with the basic issue of defining “risk”. The word “risk” often refers, rather vaguely, to situations in which it is possible but not certain that some undesirable event will occur. In addition, the word has several more specialized meanings. Let me illustrate this by making a few statements about the single most important preventable health hazard in non-starving countries. First: “Lung cancer is one of the major risks that affect smokers.” Here, we use “risk” in the following sense: (1) risk = an unwanted event which may or may not occur. 1 (15).
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