NATF Academic reports

How we perceive risk factors

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In their new Academic Report, the National Academy of Technologies of France (NATF) – recalling that their motto is ‘Sharing reasoned, chosen Progress – analyses the question of how we perceive risks that accompany any form of innovation. The Report acknowledges the controversies that surround certain applications of science and certain technological innovations and raises the implicit political issue of the ‘city’s project’ and its objectives: what do we wish to do collectively with new knowledge and powers conferred by science and technology?

Embedded in the controversies that certain applications of science and certain technological innovations raise, progress per se in science and more so with technical developments are no longer systematically perceived as factors of ‘Progress’.

Genetically modified plants (GMPs), mobile phone antennae, nanotechnologies … so-called scientific expertise has become suspicious, partisan and influenced by conflicting interests … Various chemical, nuclear, ecological and sanitary catastrophes which, during the preceding century severely impacted on the prestige of sciences and technology, can be considered instrumental in the degree of defiance that is expressed today in this respect.

In this new context, the communities of research scientists and engineers are summoned, not only to avoid at all costs a catastrophic situation, and even the faintest inkling of a catastrophe. In this light, the ‘catastrophe’ thematic has acquired a new level of power and media legitimately even if the supposedly impending catastrophe is purely fictional in reality. 

When we observe that when certain therapeutic, energy production and management or agronomic protocols are not permitted because of the fears expressed, the question remains as to who is in a position to assess precisely the damage that will arise through an interruption of the “technology-intensive arborescence”? The authors of the Report deem that is legitimate to consider application of the precautionary principle, but not to the point that it would lead to stifling any hope to identify and exploit sources for progress; they also strongly advocate that when it comes to making the associate political decisions, the cost of inaction be taken into account too.

Download (free) the full text, in French, « La perception des risques”.