Keywords: epistemic uncertainty, epistemic values, risk perception, safety, risk assessment, consequence dominance, knowledge asymmetry, expert advice, experts, public acceptance, irrationality, risk management
Should we follow the experts' advice? Epistemic uncertainty, consequence dominance and the knowledge asymmetry of safety
It is a common opinion in risk research that the public is irrational in its acceptance of risks. Many activities that are claimed by experts to be safe are not deemed to be safe by the public, and vice versa. The aim of this article is to put forward a normative critique against a common argument, viz. the claim that the public should follow the experts' advice in recommending an activity whenever the experts have the best knowledge of the risk involved. Even after making plausible limitations to exclude 'external' considerations, the claim remains incorrect. The importance of safety in risk acceptance, together with the phenomenon of epistemic uncertainty, highlights the vital concern: not whether the expert knowledge of the risk is the best one available, but whether that knowledge is good enough. This introduces an 'internal', yet extra-scientific, value component, invalidating the claim. The scope of the objection covers not only risk management but also risk assessment.