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Risk Analysis: An International Journal

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Differences in the conceptual frameworks of scientists and non-scientists may create barriers to risk communication. This article examines two such conceptual problems. First, the logic of "direct inference" from group statistics to probabilities about specific individuals suggests that individuals might be acting rationally in refusing to applying to themselves the conclusions of regulatory risk assessments. Second, while regulators and risk assessment scientists often use an "objectivist" or "relative frequency" interpretation of probability statements, members of the public are more likely to adopt a "subjectivist" or "degree of confidence" interpretation when estimating their personal risks, and either misunderstand or significantly discount the relevance of risk assessment conclusions. If these analyses of inference and probability are correct, there may be a conceptual gulf at the center of risk communication that cannot be bridged by additional data about the magnitude of group risk. Suggestions are made for empirical studies that might help regulators deal with this conceptual gulf.



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