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Philosophy, Technology, and the Environment$
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David M. Kaplan

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780262035668

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262035668.001.0001

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Resistance to Risky Technology: When Are Our Environmental Fears Justified?

Resistance to Risky Technology: When Are Our Environmental Fears Justified?

(p.63) 4 Resistance to Risky Technology: When Are Our Environmental Fears Justified?
Philosophy, Technology, and the Environment

Paul B. Thompson

The MIT Press

Paul B. Thompson argues that defenders and critics of novel technologies share the same fundamental assumption that technological innovation is the key source of greater efficiency in production. Although they question how social institutions incentivize innovation and distribute benefits, innovation as such is always seen as a good thing -- except when it comes to certain emerging technologies: agricultural biotechnologies, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology. Then public perception is skeptical, negative, even outraged. Thompson turns to risk assessment to figure out what makes some technologies more disturbing than others. He examines the “social amplification of risk,” the cognitive and social phenomena that distort perception and cause people to see a situation as more risky that it is, other times as less risky. Thompson identifies two different approaches to the risk amplification: purification and hybridization. The former excludes irrational social fears, outrage, and distrust from a risk assessment; the latter takes these motivating influences seriously and incorporates them into a risk assessment. Thompson warns that purification can engender the suspicion that powerful actors are indifferent to social perceptions, and suggests that hybridization can be an effective response to the perception of environmental harms.

Keywords:   Technological innovation, Novel technologies, Emerging technologies, Risk, Social amplification of risk, Risk management, Risk assessment, Hybridization

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