Statistical Science

Sources and Policy Implications of Uncertainty in Risk Assessment

Jack Needleman

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While risk assessment is an element of both regulatory and nonregulatory decision making, the role played by these studies in agency risk management decisions has proven to be limited. Part of the reason for this is the role played by considerations other than risk in the decision making of public agencies. In the risk management process, either formal or informal consideration is given to at least four factors: the feasibility of controlling exposure, the costs of control and economic impacts, the balance of costs and benefits and the importance of the product or agent suspected of causing harm. Part of the reason is uncertainty regarding the findings of risk assessment because of methodologic limits or disagreements among analysts, and the impact of these uncertainties on policymakers. Policymakers come into office with different attitudes about how risk averse government policy should be, and uncertainty in the risk assessment process allows policymakers considerable latitude to interpret the evidence and make decisions consistent with attitudes. Outside groups are actively involved in reviewing and conducting risk assessments, however, and this has both brought additional resources to these tasks and served as a source of external peer review.

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Statist. Sci., Volume 3, Number 3 (1988), 328-338.

First available in Project Euclid: 19 April 2007

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Risk assessment carcinogenesis environmental health policy health effects of toxic substances risk methodology bioassay


Needleman, Jack. Sources and Policy Implications of Uncertainty in Risk Assessment. Statist. Sci. 3 (1988), no. 3, 328--338. doi:10.1214/ss/1177012834.

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