Microbes and Microbiota: Benefits and Risks

First of Five Reasons to Follow SRA

Scientists and the public can benefit by connecting with Society for Risk Analysis (SRA), the world’s leading authority on risk science and its applications.

 Society for Risk Analysis (SRA)  podcast series ; list of topics appended

Society for Risk Analysis (SRA) podcast series; list of topics appended

I offer the first of five reasons to follow SRA: access to the free podcast series by SRA experts from around the world on diverse, risky topics,

Let’s Talk Risk.

Two podcasts caught my eye and ear as a risk practitioner:
Emotions Control Your Appetite for Risk; and

How Do We Determine If Our Food Is Safe?

Readers unfamiliar with SRA may be surprised that both podcast speakers mention the inter-disciplinary, multi-dimensional nature of risk analysis, particularly that objective scientific evidence AND subjective attitudes, beliefs, and emotions influence risk. One speaker is an accomplished professor, the other a gifted doctoral student, yet both have a voice in SRA and a concern for communicating about risk to scientists and the public. They emphasize the importance of communicating uncertainty (incomplete knowledge) and ambiguity (alternative interpretations of evidence).

Future posts on this blog will describe 4 more reasons to follow SRA. Click for more information on benefits of SRA membership from the SRA website.

Highlights from Two Selected SRA Podcasts

 Professor Peter Ayton, City University of London

Professor Peter Ayton, City University of London

Professor Peter Ayton, the speaker on emotions controlling risk, is a behavioral economist at City University of London. He acknowledges economic psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s Nobel prize in 2002 as testimony that the economic establishment accepted that it must make adjustments to traditional assumptions about how people make decisions that did not prove to be true. Professor Ayton’s research demonstrated the previously unexpected influence of psychological factors when people project their feelings into their risk decisions.

A compelling example from his research on bicycle accident rates noted higher rates of bicycle accidents in London due to misplaced fear after the recent terrorism incident in the public transportation sector. Evidence-based risks were expected to be low for public transportation and higher for cycling. However, people actually increased their transportation risks by switching to cycling when it was emotionally perceived as lower risk than public transportation (though actually safer) due to projection of fear of another terrorism attack. The term ‘dubious rationality’ was introduced. Click here to listen to or download Professor Ayton’s podcast.

Professor Ayton's Research interests include: Behavioral decision theory and decision-making; Risk; Uncertainty; Affect; Well-being; and Psychology.

 Christine Haßauer, Technical University of Munich, recipient of the 2018 SRA-Europe Conference Scholarship Award

Christine Haßauer, Technical University of Munich, recipient of the 2018 SRA-Europe Conference Scholarship Award

Christine Haßauer, the speaker on determining if food is safe, is a research associate and doctoral candidate at the Technical University of Munich and the recipient of the 2018 SRA-Europe Conference Scholarship Award. In the podcast, SRA Fellow Tony Cox interviewed Christine about her work, focused on the process of generation, use and embedding of evidence in the debate on food safety using different qualitative research methods. The ideal tier of inputs for risk analysis (knowledge, values, standards) is weakened for food safety since science is evolving faster than regulation and policy. It seems to me that this point is particularly relevant to the ‘Microbiome Revolution’ that is transforming outdated dogma about natural microbiota of foods and healthy ecosystems. Christine’s work examines evidence practices of consumers and scientists and their interaction, dynamics and role in the negotiation of food safety.

She points out that people need to understand and acknowledge the complexity of food safety determinations. Tony and Christine discuss ‘bright lines’ or safe levels. In particular, there is no consensus method for simply calculating acceptable risk or safe levels. Christine describes mixed methods that use both inductive and deductive reasoning. They consider tradeoffs and behaviors (Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty conceptual framework), describing or predicting behavior of different stakeholders (farmers, regulators, scientists, urban consumers). From my perspective, Christine’s qualitative methods would be helpful in exercising ‘analytic-deliberative process’ (Understanding Risk) with stakeholders for many controversial debates in food safety in addition to her work in the pesticide arena. Methods and processes for determining acceptable risk or safety may be critical in negotiating solutions with stakeholders when public trust and credibility are low and emotionality is high. Readers of this blog will find many posts relating to the highly emotional debates of evidence of benefits and risks of fresh unprocessed (raw) and pasteurized milks from healthy humans and cows.

Christine’s qualitative analyses are designed to deepen understanding of complex phenomena in food safety, incorporating psychology, economics, social science, and other disciplines in ‘mixed methods’ that go beyond simplistic one-dimensional analysis. Her methods of qualitative analysis are powerful tools to build new structures with the evidence that are better described with terms ‘credibility’ and ‘transferability’ than validation from quantitative methods. Click here to listen to or download Christine Haßauer’s podcast.

Christine Haßauer’s Research Interests include: Evidence practices in food safety; Food safety policy; and Risk perception and evaluation.

Full list of SRA podcasts available for download as of September 14, 2018:

1: The Uncertainty Component

2: We've Been Underestimating Climate Change

3: The Preservation of a Culture

4: Clearing House at the EPA: An Attack on Science

5: Infrastructure Management: Communities Can Profit From Disaster

6: Boundaries in Risk Analysis: What's In and What's Out?

7: Power Systems Resilience: Can We Rely on Renewables?

8: Emotions Control Your Appetite for Risk

9: A Paradigm Shift in Injury Risk Reduction

10: Risk Science & the Regulatory Environment

11: Building Urban Resilience

12: How Do We Determine If Our Food Is Safe?

13 (NEW!): Facing Extreme Weather: How do YOU Prepare?