The 2000 BSE Inquiry report points out that the most serious failure of the UK Government was one of risk communication. This paper argues that the government''s failure to communicate the risks BSE posed to humans to a large degree can be traced back to a lack of transparency in the first risk assessment by the Southwood Working Party. This lack of transparency ensured that the working party''s risk characterization and recommendations were ambiguous and thus hard to interpret. It also meant that uncertainties were not addressed in a satisfactory way. In the recommendations, the attitude to uncertainty was implicit rather than explicit.The risk communication based on the report amplified these flaws. Most importantly, it did not address the uncertainty at all. Apparently, the reason for this was fear of overreaction by the public. However, the result was counter-productive, because the risk communication did not then appear trustworthy. Later risk assessments and risk communication omitted to correct these flaws. Indeed, the fact that, following receipt of new information, advisory experts and policy makers had changed their views of the risk to humans was never clearly communicated to the public. There seemed to be little faith in the public''s ability to reach a balanced judgment regarding the uncertainties.
Keywords normative premises  scientific advice  transparency  trust  uncertainty
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DOI 10.1007/s10806-004-5186-3
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