Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 21 Oct 07 05:31
> We're so used to this kind of crappy, content-free, disrespectful > public 'conversation' that we just turn it off. That's how we respond to broadcast media, a response conditioned by top-down information flows via radio and television in the last half of the last century. The Internet has created a more open, robust, many-to-many communication environment where so much more detailed data and so many more perspectives and arguments are accessible. Does that change the picture? Or is it too amorphous to have an effect? (I was thinking I heard you say initially that we should involve the public as much as possible, and I was envisioning a broad network of deliberative bodies talking through and assessing risks ... but then you also say "the discussion is an official risk assessment, done by some governmental or government-affiliated organization, as a prerequisite to passing a regulation. So John and Jane Q don't have to be interested in the results per se.")
Denise Caruso (denisecaruso) Sun 21 Oct 07 06:47
Ah, I see ... In the absence of regulatory acceptance of these methods, which I guarantee will be a long time coming, there could/should be as many deliberative stakeholder processes as there are decisions that need to be taken, talking through and assessing risks. Of course, and I'm just thinking out loud here, haven't thought of this before, it would be great if all that effort didn't need to be duplicated from scratch every time. I suspect it would be possible to take a decision from a previous risk deliberation and tweak it for the related problem in my community. And that's why, yes, the Internet is such an important aspect to the success of the campaign to get these processes accepted and adopted. The Internet is only as amorphous as you make it, imho. Once someone has published the proceedings and the supporting data from a risk deliberation, the network of people who will be looking for that kind of information won't have any trouble finding it -- even if there's no publicity about it at all. Global online dissemination is a critical piece of the puzzle that the Understanding Risk committee was too early on the timeline to be able to consider.
Robert C. Flink (robertflink) Sun 21 Oct 07 10:22
Is there a dimension to this wherein we are seeking some authority in a world that has moved in significant part to rational discourse? Rational discourse has been described as having the attribute that no appeal to authority is made. Rather, there is a laying out of premises as well as the thinking behind a position. There is also the idea that compulsion is to be avoided. Such a process may be useful in decision making but if the decision will require government, as the only source of legitimate force, the game gets more serious. This force element, IMHO, changes the deliberations as well as the framing, staffing and implementation.
Tell your piteous heart there's no harm done. (krome) Sun 21 Oct 07 13:22
I think the web has done it's most productive work over the last 6 years as it became highly politicized. Colbert appeals to it constantly and tweaks it as well in an effort, I think, to remind people that it can be false as well as true. But you might be surprised at how many here in SF don't have computers or use them only for email. My brother is on the web and as liberal as I am(maybe more so), but when once I told him that I basically keep up with the BIG news via the web he said something like, "but anyone can say anything there". Well, that is true and it turns alot of people off who don't already feel a need to investigate. They may be convinced to read a pdf online that addresses an issue already dear to their heart(gay marriage, the dump next to their house) but for everything else they have their trusted news sources, local and national. These have the imprimatur of authority. As long as you can write stuff in impenetrable legalese or science you can let the salesmen hand out as many copies as they want as they tout the proposed benefits as fact and the stakeholders will likely not be inclined to act if there is already some deliberative body already charged with the process. If they are inlinced to participate they may be publically and officially shutout. Eg. I lived in Austin for more than a decade and during, say, the last 5-8 years there was a battle going on over proposed development of some land that backed up to and drained into a beloved creek. The developer was Freeport/McMoRan(google 'em. One of the most rapacious mining companies ever) which was then headed by Jim Bob Moffat who had gotten his degree at UT and gave the Geo Dept tons of money. When the proposal came up for vote at the City Council, hundreds maybe thousands of people showed up to give their opinions during the five minutes speaking time everyone was allowed. That meeting lasted til 3 or 4 in the morning. Not everyone was eloquent but the popular will was in evidence. Not long after the Council voted to change the public input rules so that you had to show up during some time window(I seem to remember 4:30-5:00 on the tuesday night of the meeting, when most people are still at work). From what I hear, they are(and I haven't lived there in 12 years)still fighting the development. But right before I left they did put up a new biochemistry building named after Moffat and his wife.
Denise Caruso (denisecaruso) Sun 21 Oct 07 15:25
Robert writes, "Rational discourse ... no appeal to authority is made... if the decision will require government, as the only source of legitimate force ... this ... changes the deliberations as well as the framing, staffing and implementation." Well, I would call this rational discourse, lower-case, as it is definitely rational and also quite clearly discourse, but it's also not what you describe. The raison d'etre of these risk deliberations as they were was laid out in Understanding Risk is to inform government decision-makers, be they regulators or legislators. They are neither rhetorical nor theoretical -- they're wholly practical in nature, meant to be acted upon by someone with the authority to take a decision. Can you explain why would that change any of the factors you mention -- i.e., the nature of the deliberations as well as framing, staffing and implementation?
Cupido, Ergo Sum (robertflink) Mon 22 Oct 07 05:51
>Can you explain why would that change any of the factors you mention -- i.e., the nature of the deliberations as well as framing, staffing and implementation? < If an advisory body develops a reputation for advice that the government follows with few exceptions, the members will become aware of the effective power they wield. Positions of obvious (and less obvious)power attract, among others, people that pursue power for its own sake. Those with power frame issues carefully so as to increase the chances of preserving or increasing their power. Deliberation in groups with significant power may well be as much in the service of continuing the power as to solving the problem at hand. Power becomes as much of a goal as the project at hand. Since the groups in question tend to address substantive problems, their decisions will affect profits, reputations, political parties, careers, history, ideologies, beliefs, etc.. All these considerations will be in play in the minds of members of a group with significant power. They (the considerations) cannot help but affect deliberations. BTW, I don't consider rational discourse to assure right decisions but it does tend to make deliberations more transparent.
Denise Caruso (denisecaruso) Mon 22 Oct 07 08:59
You may want to look at how OTA was structured and operated. It seemed to avoid the pitfalls you mention.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 22 Oct 07 10:10
Transparency is a significant factor. If a deliberative body's work is both transparent and inclusive, that mitigates the potential for political distortion. I recently reviewed the National Charrette Institute's _Charrette Handbook_ (http://www.worldchanging.com/archives//007383.html), and the charrette process described there is an open deliberation, structured to give ongoing visibility to the general public and include public input. Perhaps risk management groups could adopt some of the charrette structure, which is used quite a bit for urban planning. If your process is transparent and inclusive, you can build public support that could feed into effective grassroots efforts to influence policy. Grassroots or bottom-up political activity is increasingly effective using the Internet to organize, communicate, and to track and contact legislators. It seems to me that, as a next step, you could facilitate an intervention network of deliberative groups and civic action groups...?
Denise Caruso (denisecaruso) Mon 22 Oct 07 11:02
The link below is to today's L.A. Times story on the next generation of transgenic foods. (registration required, I think) http://link.latimes.com/r/9UIJ7Y/T1ZY/47WRJ4/0ZH/M9QA3/LE/h The question of risk comes up in the middle of the story and is actually given some space -- this is highly unusual -- but even then, doesn't raise what I think is the most important question: how credible was the process that decided they were safe in the first place? And for those who are interested, here's a link to the white paper I wrote for the Rockefeller Foundation about the history of risk assessment, called "Risk: The Art and the Science of Choice." http://hybridvigor.net/health-determinants/publications/risk-the-art-and-the-s cience-of-choice
Denise Caruso (denisecaruso) Mon 22 Oct 07 11:08
That is a GREAT idea, Jon. I just met a group of people this weekend who do nothing but deliberations and dialog, and I've been cogitating on how we could leverage our various expertise(s). I will approach them about this. And you're right, transparency is the key. OTA was very transparent. They had to be -- one party or another would commission a report, and the other side would be ultra-sensitive to skew and bias, so I believe that all their deliberations were open to the public and their reports were also public. (In fact, I think OTA was the first government office to disseminate their reports online, but I may be making that up.) Their studies were created by assembling committees of relevant stakeholders and experts industry and academia, similar to how the National Academies studies work, only more transparent and, I think, less susceptible to skew because Congressional scrutiny kept them in such a fishbowl.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 22 Oct 07 14:06
Can you say who they are?
Robert C. Flink (robertflink) Mon 22 Oct 07 18:40
BTW, it may be useful to look at the sites that deal with the precautionary principle and various reactions to it including the proactionary principle. Did the OTA have any thing to do with the group that conducted the "Science Courts" with the idea of sorting out what the state of the relevant arts were before the policy deliberations took place by the politicians. Some information is available at: http://www.piercelaw.edu/risk/vol4/spring/mazur.htm
Jamais Cascio (cascio) Mon 22 Oct 07 19:09
(here's a discussion from last year of the precautionary and the proactionary principles, as well as an alternative of my own: http://www.openthefuture.com/wcarchive/2006/03/the_open_future_the_reversibil. html )
Denise Caruso (denisecaruso) Tue 23 Oct 07 10:16
Jon - they who? The people I met with, or the OTA studies? If the former, I'd rather not just yet. Not that it's a secret, I just haven't spoken to them about it and I'd rather wait. And if the latter -- I can look around and see if I kept the book on the "active" bookshelf.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Tue 23 Oct 07 10:23
hi denise, jon just wanting to butt in with a realworld realtime instantiation of what is being discussed here (and i too remember the most excellent OTA): i dont know if you folks know about what's going on here in the monterey bay area with regard to spraying for the australian brown apple moth. long story, but the calif dept of ag, aided and abetted by the epa, started spraying for it last month in monterey, and will start in november here in santa cruz. huge fuss/fight: suterra, the company that makes the pheromone-based spray, hasnt been willing to release what its Checkmate actually contains (the santa cruz sentinel 'mistakenly' printed some of the ingredients, and then got in the middle of a freedom-of-the-press vs intellectual property lawsuit. according to what i could tell, the msds for one of the ingredients said it was 'harmful', another was termed worse, as 'poisonous'. and i am not a scientist). the mayor of sc; the city councilmembers; the county supervisors; and even some of the state reps keep saying 1) who says there is an emergency? according to local nursery owners, the only emergency has been the costly monitoring of their plants by the cal ag dept, with its insistence on spraying with chlorpyrifos (nasty organophosphate). the nursery owners dont see any sign of crop damage 2) what is actually in the stuff that will be sprayed? 3) what are the short-term effects? 4) what are the long-term effects? 5) why havent other means (such as pheromone-baited traps) been used? to which the response has been 'trust us'/'you have emotional issues'/ this stuff has never before been sprayed in residential areas; no one has been able to find any long term studies on its us; the folks at the monterey bay aquarium dont want it used;, etc etc. only positive bit of news (there have been temporary injunctions) is that the gubernator insisted that suterra actually publish what is Checkmate (as we all know, the dispersants/excipients can be as toxic if not more so than an 'active' ingredient) was so struck in all this misery that a) WE NEED THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE b) as a friend said, who used to be a staff scientist for audubon, and now works as an in-house scientific expert for a toxic tort lawfirm, the model in the u.s. is 'show us the stacked-up bodies, then we might do something about it'. i.e. after the fact. and morbidity and mortality has to be 50 percent greater than the general pop. c) long-term ecological effects dont get factored into this model, of course. because as things have played out, the temporary injunction was lifted because according to the law, the judge said the harm has to be demonstrated first. but he did direct the county to set up a hotline for health complaints (fat lot of good that will do, particularly for the ecosystem in general). one could make vast right-wing conspiracies about this (everything from the contributions suterra made to the gubernator's campaign to the fact suterra has a large $ contract to do the spraying to suterra's parent company owning lots of central valley ag, so wanting to protect its assets from the spread of the moth). but really, i think it is a mindset of nuke'em/what's the big deal? chlorpyrifos, mentioned above, will be banned in a few yrs --- but not yet! a classic example of tptb having their way with the locals...who are only asking reasonable questions. risks. feh.
Denise Caruso (denisecaruso) Tue 23 Oct 07 10:24
As for the precautionary principle -- I didn't mention it in the book on purpose. I don't find the discussion of it useful and in fact, I find it counterproductive. It's a tremendously polarizing concept in the United States, at least, and everyone seems to have their own definition of it. I think this is because, fairly or not, the very phrase precautionary principle leads you to believe that a decision ("no") has been made without looking at the evidence first. Once you bring it into a conversation, everyone lines up on both sides of it and any discussion from that point on seems more like a justification of position -- for or against technology/progress/economic growth/etc/etc/etc/etc -- rather than encouraging and nurturing a conversation about the actual risks and benefits of the technology or process at hand.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Tue 23 Oct 07 10:25
response 65 hidden for length --- it;s a real-live instantiation of this entire discussion!
Paulina Borsook (loris) Tue 23 Oct 07 10:44
hosts, i can unhide my post 65 --- i just thot maybe i should because it is long, and rather concrete? your call...
Denise Caruso (denisecaruso) Tue 23 Oct 07 12:25
I am a fan of the concrete, personally. Jon?
Paulina Borsook (loris) Tue 23 Oct 07 16:48
ok with denise's go-ahead, i'll unhide my response #65...
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 23 Oct 07 18:11
Denise: I was talking about the former. Paulina: Glad you joined us! Perfectly okay to make long posts... we have poetic license in Inkwell. Howard Rheingold was telling me that Hillary Clinton wants to bring the OTA back as part of her "comprehensive plan to reform government." Her site says that "Hillary would work to restore the OTA and ensure that we restore the role of evidence and facts, not partisanship and ideology, to decision making." (http://www.hillaryclinton.com/feature/realplan/) The OTA was taken down during Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America," though I think the claims at the time were that the OTA was redundant with other resources and wasn't all that effective. How helpful would it be to get another OTA? It sounds good on paper, but is a government agency going to be the best source of evaluative data? Do we have other alternatives, as Gingrich et al claimed?
Paulina Borsook (loris) Tue 23 Oct 07 21:23
hi jon was musing reading all this about how with my locus of trouble, initially the spraying took place in monterey with relatively little notice. a fuss was kicked up tjere afterwards; so when it came time for sc spraying (and after one lawsuit was filed), many many community meetings have been held. these alas take the forms of - citizens/consumers/victims of either the emotional/ frootbat/reasonable persuasion - patronizing tptb saying 'there there not to worry' and/or ducking all answers to pointed questions. it's this sort of experience that has always made me feel pessmistic skeptical and 'if we really could "come let us reason together" then we wouldnt be in most of the messes we are in...'
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 24 Oct 07 13:10
This has interesting political implications. The conservative/libertarian philosophy is that "too much government" creates inefficiencies, but we too often find that the real intention is to undermine precaution because it's a barrier to commerce. My favorite analogy is the mayor, played by Murray Hamilton, in the film "Jaws." We're gonna lose money if you close the beach. You wouldn't think of him as a bad guy, necessarily, he just chooses to be in denial of the obvious. He wants to ignore the shark and focus on revenues. Didn't Camus argue that what we call evil is really just this kind of ignorance?
Paulina Borsook (loris) Wed 24 Oct 07 13:30
i was thinking of political implications today, actually: latest news is the the city of sc is suing the state of calif, because no EIR was done and the city sees no state of emergecnct/clear and present danger (i.e. the circumstances when an EIR can be done without). the previous lawsuit in monterey county was dismissed. but that was filed by an environmental nonproft. i wonder if a lawsuit from a city, vs a dept of the state of calif, has different standing. yeah, commerce is for sure driving this issue (my local congresscritter, sam farr, usually as earthmuffiny/lefty as i would want him to be, has come out in favor of the spraying. it;s clear he's drunk the koolaid on the zazillion-dollar threat to ag...because this is a startling position for hinm). but fear, and ignoring larger consequences, is also driving this...
Denise Caruso (denisecaruso) Wed 24 Oct 07 13:46
Whether a government agency is a good source of evaluative data depends entirely on how they collect it and the methods they use to analyze it, including the transparency of the process. OTA or not, I think it is absolutely necessary to have an unbiased technology assessment function in government. Regulators are political appointees, so they skew to whoever's in the White House -- this administration has been particularly egregious in terms of protecting corporate interests, but the Dems weren't always that much better. And Congress serves these interests as well. According to study directors, even National Academy reports on innovations are subject to political pressure from corporate interests. If my memory serves me correctly, Gingrich's (unstated) political reason for wanting to dump OTA was that it got in the way of being able to skew assessments to presidential and/or Congressional whim. Here's a clear albeit biased explanation from a former OTA staffer, Joel Hirschhorn: "It had a budget of only about $22 million out of roughly $2 billion in annual expenditures for all congressional activities. Obviously, it was not about a major budget cutting objective. What conservatives hated about OTA was its true independence from congressional manipulation. Even more than the General Accountability Office, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Congressional Research Service, whose budgets were cut, OTA was designed to seek all perspectives on difficult and contentious issues and all of its results were openly published, except for a very few works that involved secret military information. Members of congress might delay publication or put their own spin on OTA report findings, but they could not prevent release of OTA findings and reports." You can read OTA's reports here: http://www.wws.princeton.edu/~ota/
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