Death before expense

March 21, 1997

Your article on the Royal Society's risk meeting (THES, March 14) quoted Ragnar Lofstedt as saying that communication between social scientists and engineers or natural scientists is effectively impossible. As members of a research centre combining work from different disciplines, we would like to comment.

The lack of communication need not be permanent. In a doctor of engineering programme in environmental technology we include modules on risk perception and social construction. Once the students are past the initial and too familiar engineers' antipathy to social science, they respond enthusiastically because they see that this brings an important and useful fresh perspective to their technological work.

The US National Research Council's study on risk management, Understanding Risk: Informing Decisions in a Democratic Society, concludes that public participation is needed through the risk management process. In the soon-to-be-launched Journal of Risk Research, not only is the editorial board interdisciplinary but the editor will seek contributions written jointly by engineers and social scientists.

Cross-disciplinary research always needs special effort. Professional ego can be the biggest barrier to communication between disciplines.

Ragnar Lofstedt, lecturer in social geography

Roland Clift, professor of environmental technology University of Surrey

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