Mobile Phones: IARC
The annual Science & Wireless series, held in Australia, provides an opportunity for researchers, regulators, industry specialists and members of the community to meet and discuss topical issues in a public forum.
In November 2011 the event was organised by Professor Andrew Wood and Adjunct Professor Ray Kemp of RKCL and the Brain and Psychological Sciences Centre (BPsyC) of Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorne, Melbourne.
The meeting provided an opportunity to consider the implications of the International Agency for Research into Cancer (IARC)’s recent classification of Radiofrequency (RF) as 2B – ‘possibly carcinogenic’.
The keynote speaker was Dr Robert Baan from IARC. Dr Baan was the officer in charge of the development of Monograph 102 on Radiofrequency (RF) Electromagnetic Fields. Other contributors included Professor Malcolm Sim, from the Monash University Department of Epidemiology & Preventive Medicine and member of the IARC panel, Dr Carl-Magnus Larsson and Lindsay Martin of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and Leigh Dayton, science writer for the national newspaper The Australian, to provide an epidemiologist’s, a regulator’s, and a science communicator’s point of view.
A panel session was facilitated by Professor Ray Kemp who was also interviewed about public perception of mobile phone risks.
Shale Gas: Hydraulic Fracking
Hydraulic Fracking is a classic High Concern / Low Trust situation in terms of public and stakeholder perceptions of risk. And the non-conventional gas industry, scientific and regulatory communities need to accept this if they want their ideas and views to carry any weight.
Hydraulic Fracking to extract hidden reserves shale gas could be a major contributor to (inter)national energy reserves. The potential social and economic benefits are judged to be enormous. However, those benefits will be unrealisable if it is not recognised that Fracking is perceived as a high risk process that is feared because:
The association with Earthquakes or Tremors raises the spectre of Catastrophic Environmental Harm How the Mechanism of Fracking works is poorly understood Uncertainty - scientific opinion differs about the risk levels involved People feel they have no personal control over the process People's exposure to the perceived impact is Involuntary There are thought to be possible Delayed effects or associated negative impacts from Fracking There have been Victims of harm from Fracking in the past There is very Low Trust in those responsible for the process and for its regulation There is extensive negative Media attention There is a perceived history of problems in the USA There is felt to be unequal distribution of risk and benefit The effects may be permanent The overall benefits are unclear Human culpability – any impact from Fracking is a result of actions by man – not natural occurrences
Of these perceived risk factors, the most important are Uncertainty, Trust, Voluntariness and Benefits. Perceptions will not change if those involved are not trusted. It is essential not to try to persuade people that "science and engineering knows best" but to address the risk perception factors outlined above.