Successes, Failures and Directions for Reform
New Horizons in Public Policy series
Chapter 4: Risk assessment and the regulatory process
On the surface, risk assessment and its role in the regulatory process may seem quite different than cost-benefit analysis and other forms of comprehensive-rational analysis. Risk assessment occurs before cost-benefit analysis in the regulatory process, and more clearly plays a role in priority setting. Rather than relying on social science, it is grounded in “hard” science. As such its practice and its use have been closely examined by the National Academy of Science in multiple reports over the past three decades. It has had its own professional society and journal for much longer than cost-benefit analysis. The academic literature on risk assessment is significantly larger than the literature on cost-benefit analysis. Despite these differences, there are a number of critical similarities between debates over the use and effectiveness of cost-benefit analysis and risk assessment. In both fields, there is concern about the ethics of the practice, the possibility of overly technocratic analysis subverting democratic preferences, and biases inherent in the analytical technique. Meanwhile, advocates of both cost-benefit analysis and risk assessment bemoan the influence in the opposite direction – the interference of political preferences on the practices of their disciplines. Within the regulatory process, both cost-benefit analysis and risk assessment must fit within a pre-existing legal and bureaucratic structure that inevitably affects whether or not they will influence policy decisions.
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