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Chapter 37 : Risks and Rationality in Today's Culture of Fear
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.
Key Concept Ranking
- West nile virus