The story of risk: How narratives shape risk communication, perception, and policy


Book Section

© Cambridge University Press 2017. The organizing question of this volume is when and how events in the world lead to recalibrations of risk perception and changes in policy. A naïve model might assume a simple analytic process: existing regulations are based on prior assessments of risk, new information about risk becomes available, and regulators update their assessments and make cost-effective policy changes. Under some circumstances, such a Bayesian process might not be too far off the mark. Viewed over a sufficiently long time period, regulatory change in some cases might approximate such a rational process. Arguably the cases of lead in gasoline, drunk driving, and smoking are examples. But in myriad other cases – including the nuclear accidents, offshore oil spills, and financial crises covered in this volume – the path from risk to policy strays far from the policy analytic ideal. Sometimes events trigger rapid and significant policy responses, as in the case of America's reaction to the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, Europe's to Chernobyl and Japan's to Fukushima. Indeed, responses to certain events can be greater than warranted by cool analysis: the US policy response after the 9/11 attacks might be one such example. Yet in other cases, even an event that one might presume would lead to considerable change barely makes a ripple: the utter lack of policy response to New Town and other mass shootings is one such example. Clearly, the policy response to new information about risk is a good deal more complicated than the analytic model would suggest. When events occur, information about them may or may not be transmitted accurately by news media or other sources. When citizens and regulators receive information, they may or may not appropriately recalibrate their beliefs. And, not least, even if policy-makers and publics have reasonably accurate assessments of risks, the politics of translating beliefs into policy change is far from straightforward, and depends, among other things, on the political dynamics at play.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Mayer, FW

Published Date

  • January 1, 2017

Book Title

  • Policy Shock: Recalibrating Risk and Regulation after Oil Spills, Nuclear Accidents and Financial Crises

Start / End Page

  • 129 - 148

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9781107140219

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1017/9781316492635.006

Citation Source

  • Scopus