Applying Wisdom to Risk Assessment
“An avalanche of advances will be forthcoming in the sphere of science and technology is not a matter of surmise. … These features will be matched by even more significant developments in the political, social, and moral spheres. Indeed, the pressures of technical changes will themselves intensify problems of adjustment, forcing us to seek solutions in line with our ideals of a good society.”
– David Sarnoff, the founder of RCA and modern radio and television communications, "The Fabulous Future," 1956
New technological discoveries can pose new risks to society. Modern science also allows more advanced risk analysis. Electron-microscopes and computer technology enable scientists to detect substances in our food and environment that were invisible in previous decades. All of these advances make us healthier, and one would hope, wiser.
David Sarnoff made the case of the need for society to thoughtfully approach the impact of science and engineering on society. A free society must deal with the benefits and problems of progress and change, and thoughtfully assess new challenges and threats. Decisions must be based upon fact, not emotion. In our democratic society, public understanding of risk issues will impact how elected officials deal with the challenges facing the country. This section seeks to clarify those issues.
Understanding Toxicology: The Dose Makes the Poison
A primer for policy makers and the media By Dr. Alice Ottoboni
Poison food, poison medicine
Toxic chemicals found in pet food and medicine — with ingredients imported from China — have raised the importance of food and drug safety, and have placed attention on the field of toxicology. See New York Times stories on medicines spiked with diethylene glycol, an industrial solvent and an ingredient in antifreeze. Also see story about contaminated pet food.
AO ISSUE ANALYSIS: See AO primer on toxicology.
Poisoned in Russia
Mother and daughter Russian immigrants return from Moscow after being poisoned with thallium, a toxic metal initially suspected in the death of a former Russian spy in London last year.
AO ISSUE ANALYSIS: See the AO primer on toxicology.
Also see news about the death of Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with polonium-210.
Polonium-210's quiet trail of death
The radioactive substance had killed long before the unsolved poisoning of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in November. The Los Angeles Times chronicles the dubious history of this deadly chemical.
Poisoning of ex-spy leaves wake of intrigue
More associates of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko fall ill with polonium-210 contamination. See the latest news from Britain.
House, Senate seek FDA regulation of tobacco
Bill would grant the FDA legal authority to regulate nicotine. See AO section on risk.
Lettuce processing may spread E. coli
Three recent outbreaks of food-borne illnesses traced to bagged spinach or lettuce from California may be linked packaging systems. See the AO primer on toxicology.
California to increase pesticide regulation
About 194 million pounds of pesticides are applied annually to crops in California. Many of the compounds are highly toxic and can produce long-term effects such as cancer and reproductive or neurological damage. Every year, about 50 major pesticide incidents are reported in California. See the AO primer on toxicology.
Terrorism risk at shopping centers
RAND report looks at the more than 60 terrorist attacks that have occurred at shopping centers in 21 countries since 1998.
Why Americans are afraid of the wrong things
Time Magazine looks at the primitive brain and how it responds to risk.