Re: [SystemSafety] Saying the Wrong Thing

From: Matthew Squair < >
Date: Sat, 30 Mar 2013 18:25:59 +1100


There's quite a body of literature on risk communication in circumstances of high risk and low trust (such as Fukushima). And I wish Sir John had read some of it, in fact I wish it was mandatory reading for anyone who has to communicate in that sort of situation.

In this case he asserted a degree of accuracy in a response which was unwarranted, and in doing so he broke one of the cardinal rules of risk communication, never, ever lie. Leaving aside the ethics of that, there's the pragmatic reason that it's about the easiest way to destroy trust, and once trust is lost it's practically impossible to regain. Trust is the primary discriminator in risk communication, strangely.

I'd recommend the works of Dr Vince Covello for anyone further interested in the subject.

Matthew Squair

On 29/03/2013, at 7:52 AM, Peter Bernard Ladkin <ladkin_at_xxxxxx

> Chris,
> On 3/28/13 5:32 PM, Chris Hills wrote:
>> In your comments you say: "Sir John, a population biologist and not a safety
>> engineer, was inadvertently misleading his audience on a matter concerning
>> danger."
>> Yes and no. Factually he may have been misleading but panic often kills
>> more than the original threat..........
>> ... it was probably the right thing to say for the overall good of the
>> UK population.
> I think it would have been fine to say that if you're not within a couple of hundred kilometers of the incident location, there is little chance you have any immediate reason to worry.
> On the other hand, he didn't even know that at the time. Three cores had been fully melted for four days and nobody had any idea of what that would have meant at that time. If he'd said "well, we have three full core melts, and a leaking, structurally damaged spent fuel pool containing more than a core's worth of fuel rods, four stories up in a structurally significantly weakened building, which needs constant water supply at the utmost limits of what we can pump to keep it at a moderate temperature, but you probably don't need to be further away than 30km" he would probably have been considered crazy.
> Someone pointed out to me that this comment may have derived from a conversation he had with British Embassy staff in Tokyo. If so, it would have derived from earnest advice given to people who understand how to evaluate danger, and thus for whom panic control was unimportant. And the advice was wrong.
> Prof. Peter Bernard Ladkin, Faculty of Technology, University of Bielefeld, 33594 Bielefeld, Germany
> Tel+msg +49 (0)521 880 7319
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