Risk perception

With modern technologies, experts and lay people often differ in risk perception. This difference may lead to miscommunication. Experts emphasizing information which does not fit the perceptions of lay people can in turn lead to misunderstanding of risk and social unrest [30].

Public perception of risk

In trying to understand people's perception of risk, it is important to distinguish between a health hazard and a health risk. A hazard can be an object or a set of circumstances that could potentially harm a person's health. Risk is the likelihood, or probability, that a person will be harmed by a particular hazard [1].

The perception of health risk is quite different between scientists and the public. Such divergence is crucial in the debates and controversies about EM fields; it is significant that the International EMF project of the WHO includes, along with traditional research areas, studies on the mechanisms of risk perception and communication [31]. The public will likely consider other factors in addition to the technical ones considered for a scientific assessment. While they may include probability of harm in their view of risk, they will also incorporate the social, political, economic, and cultural consequences. The psychometric approach [32] expands upon the technical approach and attempts to identify the cognitive, emotional, and social-demographic aspects of public perceptions of risk. This broader and more meaningful approach to risk evaluation (termed risk perception) enables an assessment of why public assessment of risk differs from the technical assessment, and can help explain the public outrage often associated with new technologies.

Risk assessment and risk perception both provide valuable insights into risk management. Traditionally, risk assessment has played a greater role in this process because committees established to deal with this issue are made up of scientific experts. However, poor communication of these risks to the general public has led to a call for the development of a new model for risk management. Approaches to risk differ considerably between technical experts and the general public. Technical experts focus on the quantifiable level of risk and view reasonable risk-taking and technological innovation as necessary aspects of social progress. The general public focuses on the safety issues surrounding a particular project and any associated community health risks.

Major causes of different perception among people are undoubtedly the limited ability of experts to communicate risks to the public, and an attitude of the media to privilege sensationalism rather than a correct transfer of information. People's perceptions of a risk depend on several factors including personal, external, and the nature of the risk. Personal factors include age, sex, and cultural or educational backgrounds, while external factors include the media and other forms of information propagation, the political and economic situation, opinion movements, and the structure of the regulatory and policy decision-making.

Regardless of how much scientific evidence there is, authorities need to consider the degree of public concern, even if low, about possible risk of EM exposure and how that compares with expert assessment. The challenge of risk analysis will not be resolved by scientific knowledge only. Reaching beyond a technical assessment of risk and moving towards a more psychometric approach is necessary if the legitimate concerns of the public are to be recognized. However, difficulties in scientific communication have objective causes in the quality of data that are still controversial, sometimes contradictory, and in any case difficult to read and interpret. Therefore, risk assessment faces two main problems: on one side, the correct analysis of scientific data, on the other, the understanding of mechanisms of risk communication and perception [31].

Factors relevant to electromagnetic fields

There are many factors that shape an individual's perception of risks, including age, sex, and cultural and educational backgrounds. In addition, specific characteristics of the risk such as familiarity with the agent, understanding of the mechanism, voluntarity of exposure, fairness, controllability of risk, uncertainty of knowledge, effect on children, effect on future generations, trust in institutions, attention of media, previous accidents, clarity of benefits, and scientific evidence can influence risk perception.

Most of the above factors are of special importance for EM fields. Emotional impact of risks for children is probably the most relevant, but involuntarity, uncertainty in knowledge, and limited understanding of interaction mechanisms are likely to play a significant role. Other factors specific to EM exposure must be added, including imperceptibility, visual impact of power lines and antennas, and use of the term "nonionizing radiation" that may lead to erroneous analogies and extrapolations [31].

Exposure to EM fields can be considered voluntary among cell phone users and involuntary among non-users. As a result, cell phone users will likely perceive the exposure risk from base stations as lower than nonusers. In addition, the non-users will consider EM exposure as unfair and this will also alter their perception. The risk will also be perceived as higher by the public if power lines or base stations are installed in their community without prior discussion or consultation. EM technology is new, difficult to understand, and the potential health effects are not well-defined. This unfamiliarity of EM technology serves to increase the perceived risk. Consideration of these factors may explain local concerns, possible biases, or assumptions about the technology. Careful attention to the nontechnical risk dimensions of any project allows policy-makers and managers to make informed decisions as part of a thorough risk management program [1].

Perceptions of EM fields risk associated with high-voltage transmission lines and other sources of EM fields have been examined in several studies [33-35]. Read and Morgan [34] confirmed an earlier finding that most people believe that any high-voltage power line they can see is exposing them to strong fields. The authors explored a number of strategies that might be used in risk communications to correct this misperception.

Health consequences of risk perception

One of the most perplexing problems in risk analysis is why some relatively minor risks or risk events, as assessed by technical experts, often elicit strong public concerns and result in substantial impacts upon society and economy. The main reason is that hazards interact with psychological, social, institutional, and cultural processes in ways that may amplify or attenuate public responses to the risk or risk event [36]. A distorted perception of risks is not just a social issue. It strongly affects the psychological attitude of non-experts toward EM fields. This aspect was made clear in the final report [37] of a study group set up by the European Commission to investigate subjective symptoms (for example, psychological and neurovegetative disturbances) attributed to EM field exposure. Several medical reports were reviewed for symptoms such as headache, asthenia, weakness, and irritability that patients or physicians attributed to EM fields. The study group concluded that most symptoms, if not all, were of psychosomatic origin. In controlled tests, the symptoms turned out to be statistically correlated to the degree of worry of patients, while no significant association with exposure was found. The suffering of these patients is true and sometimes even intolerable. This confirms a hypothesis put forward by several social scientists and medical doctors: a distorted perception of risk may cause excessive or unjustified worries, which in turn may lead to real health effects [30].

Risk management

Today, risk assessment methods are widely applied in industrial and government regulatory applications involving new and existing technologies. These contribute to the development of risk management policies and strategies focusing on technological change [5].

Risk management is fundamentally a societal decision [4]. It includes not only the outcome of risk assessment expressed in characterized risk, but also numerous other parameters, such as cost-benefit and risk-benefit analyses, views of stakeholders, sociopolitical factors, and other nonscien- tific judgments [38, 39].

Anticipatory ethics

Today, more than ever, people are in critical need of their best minds to come together to create solutions for a wiser technology path forward. The power of technology and the wisdom of humans for how to manage the technology are needed to investigate ways in which the new EM technologies will impact quality of life, positively by providing better life services or negatively through health, environmental and social injustices mainly caused by EM technologies, and the corresponding e-waste and other related pollutants.

As society continues to explore the benefits and risks associated with emerging EM technologies, attention to transparency and the ethics of these systems' use needs special consideration. The mechanisms that enforce ethical EM agenda need to be relevant to an ecosystem that includes humans and the evolving physical environment. With more ethical challenges, the industry must take a hard look at what it may have to do to promote positive applications of the technology, discourage negative ones, maintain transparency with end users, build health safety into systems from the beginning, and answer some challenging questions; for example, how to develop a moral code into emerging technologies.

In a risk management model, the design is seen as an "ethical factor" because it is built to empower and entitle users to frame their ethical choices. The concept of ethical design in the EM domain shares some similarities with the concept of "anticipatory ethics" which involves early consequence anticipation of future applications, probably at the R&D and introduction stages of technology development. This concept should become a major component in the design of emerging technologies and lead to better ethical outcomes and health responsible technologies.

Quality of experience (QoE) of a user is an important metric to quantify how well a technology, in particular an EM-related one, performs; hence, its overall acceptability and usability can be assessed. QoE is defined as the degree of delight or annoyance of the users of an application or service.

Ethically, QoE evaluates as 5G and corresponding IoT technologies are impacting human health and comprises work-life quality, positively or negatively.

 
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