Mad cow Korea: Social amplification of risk, Internet style

One of the most influential papers I ever read was in a 1988 issue of the journal, Risk Analysis, entitled, The Social Amplification of Risk: A Conceptual Framework, by Roger E. Kasperson, Ortwin Renn, Paul Slovic, Halina S. Brown, Jacque Emel, Robert Goble, Jeanne X. Kasperson and Samuel Ratick. Today the paper seems particularly prescient for the events going on today, 20 years later,  in South Korea, where riot police were bracing for what could be the largest anti-government protest during weeks of rallies against an agreement to resume imports of U.S. beef.

Some 2,500 people gathered at a protest site in central Seoul, with thousands more expected to join them after a separate rally. Police estimated the total turnout would be about 20,000, the biggest in weeks of anti-U.S. beef protests.

Other reports said up to 100,000 protesters were present.

About a dozen farmers in traditional funeral clothes marched Saturday on a downtown street on the way to the main protest site, carrying signs with anti-government slogans. They also carried the severed head of a cow (right).

South Korea agreed last month to reopen what was formerly the third-largest overseas market for U.S. beef. It had been shut for most of the past 4 1/2 years following the first U.S. case of mad cow disease in a Canadian-born cow in Washington state in 2003.

That deal, coupled with some sensational media reports, sparked fears of mad cow disease and triggered weeks of near-daily street protests calling for scrapping and renegotiating the agreement (left, protesters carry a sign symbolizing U.S. beef infected by mad cow disease, from Reuters).

The abstract from the Kasperson, et al., paper, is below.

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. This article sets forth a conceptual framework that seeks to link systematically the technical assessment of risk with psychological, sociological, and cultural perspectives of risk perception and risk-related behavior. The main thesis 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. A structural description of the social amplification of risk is now possible. Amplification occurs at two stages: in the transfer of information about the risk, and in the response mechanisms of society. Signals about risk are processed by individual and social amplification stations, including the scientist who communicates the risk assessment, the news media, cultural groups, interpersonal networks, and others. Key steps of amplifications can be identified at each stage. The amplified risk leads to behavioral responses, which, in turn, result in secondary impacts. Models are presented that portray the elements and linkages in the proposed conceptual framework.