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Chapter 37 : Risks and Rationality in Today's Culture of Fear

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Abstract:

This chapter presents an activity that describes some pitfalls of making choices based on perceived risks rather than actual risks, compares emotion-based risk perception to science-based risk assessment, and discusses the role that government regulatory agencies play in minimizing the potential risks associated with new products, including those developed using biotechnology. A rational explanation is that new risks do arise. A number of emerging infectious diseases, such as human immunodeficiency virus-AIDS and West Nile virus infections, have begun to cause human health problems only recently. For example, viruses that are transmitted in sexual intercourse were a causative agent of cervical cancer centuries before scientists knew viruses existed. The uncertainty of exposure is one of the reasons that risks are discussed in terms of probabilities instead of an absolute assessment of the seriousness of the hazard. To assess the risks of Bt corn pollen to monarchs, regulators must determine: (1) If Bt corn pollen is hazardous to monarch larvae (This step is unnecessary in this case, because it has been widely known for well over 50 years that the Bt protein can kill lepidopteran caterpillars that consume it.); (2) The dose required for harm or injury; (3) The likelihood that an individual larva will be exposed to that dose. In summary, Bt corn pollen can be hazardous to monarch larvae, but the hazard level varies with the dose, the Bt corn variety, and larval age.

Citation: Kreuzer H, Massey A. 2008. Risks and Rationality in Today's Culture of Fear, p 527-553. In Molecular Biology and Biotechnology: A Guide for Teachers, Third Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555816100.ch37

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Figures

Image of Figure 37.2
Figure 37.2

Geographic distribution of (A) monarch breeding and (B) corn-growing areas in the United States. (Maps redrawn from the National Biology Information Infrastructure of the U.S. Geological Survey and USDA-NASS.)

Citation: Kreuzer H, Massey A. 2008. Risks and Rationality in Today's Culture of Fear, p 527-553. In Molecular Biology and Biotechnology: A Guide for Teachers, Third Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555816100.ch37
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Image of Figure 37.1
Figure 37.1

European corn borer outbreaks. (Source: Gianessi and Carpenter, National Council for Food and Agricultural Policy, 1999.)

Citation: Kreuzer H, Massey A. 2008. Risks and Rationality in Today's Culture of Fear, p 527-553. In Molecular Biology and Biotechnology: A Guide for Teachers, Third Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555816100.ch37
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Image of Figure 37.3
Figure 37.3

Corn pollen dispersal. Many studies to measure corn pollen dispersal from cornfields have consistently demonstrated that pollen levels decrease rapidly as the distance from the cornfield edge increases.

Citation: Kreuzer H, Massey A. 2008. Risks and Rationality in Today's Culture of Fear, p 527-553. In Molecular Biology and Biotechnology: A Guide for Teachers, Third Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555816100.ch37
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Image of Figure 37.4
Figure 37.4

Corn pollen shedding and larval feeding. The timing of corn pollen shedding and monarch egg laying affects the probability that young larvae will be exposed to Bt corn pollen. The blue lines indicate the areas where overlap occurs.

Citation: Kreuzer H, Massey A. 2008. Risks and Rationality in Today's Culture of Fear, p 527-553. In Molecular Biology and Biotechnology: A Guide for Teachers, Third Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555816100.ch37
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Image of Figure 37.1
Figure 37.1

Monarch life cycle. (A) Brightly colored black, white, and yellow larvae emerge from eggs and immediately begin to feed on milkweed plant tissues. Like all lepidopteran larvae, monarch larvae molt a number of times as they grow. (Photograph courtesy of the USDA-ARS. Peggy Greb, photographer.) (B) When the larva reaches a certain size, hormonal changes trigger the formation of the pupa. (Photograph courtesy of Herbert A. “Joe” Pase III, Texas Forest Service [http://www.forestryimages.org].) (C) During the pupal stage, the adult butterfly forms. Adult butterflies feed on nectar through highly specialized mouthparts. (Photograph courtesy of the National Biological Information Infrastructure of the U.S. Geological Survey. John Mosesso, photographer.)

Citation: Kreuzer H, Massey A. 2008. Risks and Rationality in Today's Culture of Fear, p 527-553. In Molecular Biology and Biotechnology: A Guide for Teachers, Third Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555816100.ch37
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Image of Figure 37.2
Figure 37.2

Monarch life history. Monarchs in most generations in North America live approximately 2 months. The first month consists of immature stages that are not reproductive. The last generation of one summer overwinters and gives rise to the next year's first generation.

Citation: Kreuzer H, Massey A. 2008. Risks and Rationality in Today's Culture of Fear, p 527-553. In Molecular Biology and Biotechnology: A Guide for Teachers, Third Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555816100.ch37
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Image of Figure 37.3
Figure 37.3

Monarch migration routes. In North America, at the end of the summer, the last generation of butterflies migrates to overwintering sites in California and Mexico.

Citation: Kreuzer H, Massey A. 2008. Risks and Rationality in Today's Culture of Fear, p 527-553. In Molecular Biology and Biotechnology: A Guide for Teachers, Third Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555816100.ch37
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Image of Figure 37.4
Figure 37.4

Bt proteins. The insecticides in B. thuringiensis subspecies kurstaki are proteins that form crystals (e.g., Cry1A and Cry2A) under certain conditions. The genes encoding the Bt proteins vary within a single strain of the bacterium, as do the shapes of the crystallized proteins they encode.

Citation: Kreuzer H, Massey A. 2008. Risks and Rationality in Today's Culture of Fear, p 527-553. In Molecular Biology and Biotechnology: A Guide for Teachers, Third Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555816100.ch37
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Image of Figure 37.5
Figure 37.5

Geographic distribution of corn-growing areas in the United States. (Map redrawn from USDA-NASS.)

Citation: Kreuzer H, Massey A. 2008. Risks and Rationality in Today's Culture of Fear, p 527-553. In Molecular Biology and Biotechnology: A Guide for Teachers, Third Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555816100.ch37
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References

/content/book/10.1128/9781555816100.chap37a
1. Altheide, David. 2002. Creating Fear: News and the Construction of Crisis . Aldine de Gruyter, New York, NY.
2. Ames, Bruce, et al. 1987. Ranking possible carcinogenic hazards. Science 236:271279.
3. Cook, R. J., 2000. Toward science-based risk assessments for the approval and use of plants in agricultural and other environments, p. 123131. In G. J. Persley, and M. M. Lantin (ed.), Agricultural Biotechnology and the Poor . CGIAR Secretariat, The World Bank, Washington, DC.
4. Furedi, Frank. 2002. Culture of Fear: Risk-Taking and the Morality of Low Expectation. Continuum, New York, NY.
5. Gilovitch, Thomas,, Dale Griffin,, and Daniel Kahneman (ed.). 2002. Heuristics and Biases: the Psychology of Intuitive Judgment . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom.
6. Glassner, Barry. 1999. The Culture of Fear . Basic Books, New York, NY.
7. Glimcher, Paul W. 2003. Decisions, Uncertainty and the Brain . MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
8. Hahn, Robert (ed.). 1996. Risks, Costs and Lives Saved: Getting Better Results from Regulation . Oxford University Press, New York, NY.
9. Horowitz, Daniel. 2004. The Anxieties of Affluence . University of Massachusetts Press. Amherst, MA.
10. Kahneman, Daniel,, and Amos Tversky (ed.). 2000. Choices, Values and Frames . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom.
11. Losey, John E.,, Linda S. Raynor,, and Maureen E. Carter. 1999. Transgenic pollen harms monarch larvae. Nature 399:214.
12. National Research Council. 1993. Issues in Risk Assessment . National Academy Press, Washington, DC.
13. Slovic, Paul (ed.). 2000. The Perception of Risk . Earthscan, London, United Kingdom.
14. Sustein, Cass R. 2002. Risk and Reason: Safety, Law and the Environment . Cambridge University Press, New York, NY.
15. Wildavsky, Aaron. 1997. But Is It True: a Citizen's Guide to Environment, Health and Safety Issues. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Tables

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Table 37.1

Toxicities of pollen from different varieties of Bt corn

Citation: Kreuzer H, Massey A. 2008. Risks and Rationality in Today's Culture of Fear, p 527-553. In Molecular Biology and Biotechnology: A Guide for Teachers, Third Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555816100.ch37
Generic image for table
Table 37.1

Natural plant toxins

Citation: Kreuzer H, Massey A. 2008. Risks and Rationality in Today's Culture of Fear, p 527-553. In Molecular Biology and Biotechnology: A Guide for Teachers, Third Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555816100.ch37
Generic image for table
Table 37.2

Carcinogenic substances

Citation: Kreuzer H, Massey A. 2008. Risks and Rationality in Today's Culture of Fear, p 527-553. In Molecular Biology and Biotechnology: A Guide for Teachers, Third Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555816100.ch37
Generic image for table
Table 37.3

U.S. federal regulatory agencies for transgenic products and processes

Citation: Kreuzer H, Massey A. 2008. Risks and Rationality in Today's Culture of Fear, p 527-553. In Molecular Biology and Biotechnology: A Guide for Teachers, Third Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555816100.ch37
Generic image for table
Table 37.4

Relative risks

Citation: Kreuzer H, Massey A. 2008. Risks and Rationality in Today's Culture of Fear, p 527-553. In Molecular Biology and Biotechnology: A Guide for Teachers, Third Edition. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555816100.ch37

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