The current philosophy in Washington is that American productivity is impeded by federal regulations largely spawned in the 1970s. The Reagan administration is intent on a roll-back of the regulations it considers unwise, to give new life to American industry. But regulations were instituted to protect individuals against long-term hazards; reformers cannot commence their holy war without knowing precisely what these risks are.
Wilson and Crouch are unequivocal in their belief that before a regulation is modified, suspended, or implemented, the risk of long-term hazard must be assessed. In Risk/Benefit Analysis, they provide guidance through the intricate and sensitive area of risk analysis. They point out the problems inherent in defining, perceiving, and estimating risk. Throughout, careful theoretical discussions are combined with presentations of actual case studies; these case studies cover the risks associated with nuclear power plants, Saccharin use, mass chest radiography, and others.
The authors emphatically believe that risk assessment should be distinct from decision-making. For example, the Labor Secretary is now considering weakening the regulations designed to ensure a safe workplace. To do this adequately, he needs to know precisely what the industry hazards are and what the probability of a worker being injured is. It is the duty of the risk assessor to supply this information – stated as objectively and clearly as possible – and to point out the uncertainties. Only then can a policymaker arrive at informed and fair decisions.
The timely message of this book is that understanding the pitfalls of risk analysis is imperative not only for risk assessors but for those who will be deciding the scope and direction of regulation in the 1980s.
Richard Wilson is a Professor of Physics at Harvard University. In the last ten years he has been involved with environmental concerns. He helped to start the Energy and Environmental Policy Center in 1973 and served as its director from 1975 through 1978. He has written many articles on environmental risks.
Edmund Crouch is a Research Associate in the Department of Physics at Harvard University, working in the Energy and Environmental Policy Center. He became interested in risk assessment after a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Cambridge University and three years as a Research Assistant at the Cambridge Energy Research Group. His current main interest is in the evaluation of the risks of cancer from chemicals.