Risk And Risktaking

Is it, or should it be, 'risk' or 'risk-taking'? This highlights a key problem for collaboration between psychology and law. The emphasis, in recent research within the psychology and law discipline (e.g. Monahan et al., 2001; Quinsey et al., 1998; Lyon, Hart and Webster, 2001, and references therein), has been on informing risk prediction rather than risk-taking, in the sense of the total process. The paradigm research has involved seeking more powerfully predictive knowledge, usually in the form of risk factors, of different outcomes. It has been valuable for practitioners who, because they need to take a decision, want to know how likely it is that a particular child, for example, will be injured. Indeed it is common for people to refer to 'the risk', assuming it is proper to reify and objectify it. But there is much more to taking a risk decision, or risk-taking, than an assessment of likelihood. If harm results from a risk decision, a court or other form of inquiry is not limited to examining whether the likelihood of the harm occurring was assessed competently. Much more can, and arguably should, be examined. (If and when lawyers are educated about these points they must be expected to ask more penetrating and appropriate questions about these other aspects of risk-taking.) Even if his or her prediction of the harm was competent a psychologist, or other professional, may be criticised and sued for poor practice in other parts of the decision-making process. Many of the problems, it is submitted, for interdisciplinary collaboration arise from the distinction between analysing a risk, per se, and making decisions about the risk in a particular context, or for a particular purpose. In part it is the distinction between 'risk assessment' and 'risk management'. Unfortunately the two are often conflated or the importance of the latter ignored or downgraded.

Dowie (1999) argues passionately against use of'risk'. He believes it confuses rather than elucidates. It is too narrow. He would prefer that the focus was on decision-making.

A decision—a choice between available options/strategies/policies—will be better to the extent it incorporates:

• better structured modelling of the scenarios which follow from adoption of each option;

• better assessments of the chances (probabilities) of the events and outcomes which are contained in those scenarios;

• better assessment of the un/desirability (utilities, preferences, valuations) for the outcomes, including, very importantly, intertemporal preferences;

• better ways of integrating the probabilities and utilities into an overall evaluation of each option. (pp. 45-46)

Hopefully the following, necessarily summary, analysis is consistent with the thrust of Dowie's arguments. However, it continues to use the terminology of 'risk' on the grounds that it is so embedded in the literature and practice.

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