inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #51 of 112: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 21 Oct 07 05:31
> We're so used to this kind of crappy, content-free, disrespectful
> public 'conversation' that we just turn it off.

That's how we respond to broadcast media, a response conditioned by
top-down information flows via radio and television in the last half of
the last century. The Internet has created a more open, robust,
many-to-many communication environment where so much more detailed data
and so many more perspectives and arguments are accessible. Does that
change the picture? Or is it too amorphous to have an effect? 

(I was thinking I heard you say initially that we should involve the
public as much as possible, and I was envisioning a broad network of
deliberative bodies talking through and assessing risks ... but then
you also say "the discussion is an official risk assessment, done by
some governmental or government-affiliated organization, as a
prerequisite to passing a regulation. So John and Jane Q don't have to
be interested in the results per se.")
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #52 of 112: Denise Caruso (denisecaruso) Sun 21 Oct 07 06:47
Ah, I see ... In the absence of regulatory acceptance of these
methods, which I guarantee will be a long time coming, there
could/should be as many deliberative stakeholder processes as there are
decisions that need to be taken, talking through and assessing risks.

Of course, and I'm just thinking out loud here, haven't thought of
this before, it would be great if all that effort didn't need to be
duplicated from scratch every time. I suspect it would be possible to
take a decision from a previous risk deliberation and tweak it for the
related problem in my community.

And that's why, yes, the Internet is such an important aspect to the
success of the campaign to get these processes accepted and adopted.
The Internet is only as amorphous as you make it, imho. Once someone
has published the proceedings and the supporting data from a risk
deliberation, the network of people who will be looking for that kind
of information won't have any trouble finding it -- even if there's no
publicity about it at all. 

Global online dissemination is a critical piece of the puzzle that the
Understanding Risk committee was too early on the timeline to be able
to consider. 
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #53 of 112: Robert C. Flink (robertflink) Sun 21 Oct 07 10:22
Is there a dimension to this wherein we are seeking some authority in
a world that has moved in significant part to rational discourse?

Rational discourse has been described as having the attribute that no
appeal to authority is made.  Rather, there is a laying out of premises
as well as the thinking behind a position. There is also the idea that
compulsion is to be avoided.

Such a process may be useful in decision making but if the decision
will require government, as the only source of legitimate force, the
game gets more serious.  This force element, IMHO, changes the
deliberations as well as the framing, staffing and implementation. 
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #54 of 112: Tell your piteous heart there's no harm done. (krome) Sun 21 Oct 07 13:22
I think the web has done it's most productive work over the last 6
years as it became highly politicized.  Colbert appeals to it
constantly and tweaks it as well in an effort, I think, to remind
people that it can be false as well as true.  But you might be
surprised at how many here in SF don't have computers or use them only
for email.  

My brother is on the web and as liberal as I am(maybe more so), but
when once I told him that I basically keep up with the BIG news via the
web he said something like, "but anyone can say anything there". Well,
that is true and it turns alot of people off who don't already feel a
need to investigate.  They may be convinced to read a pdf online that
addresses an issue already dear to their heart(gay marriage, the dump
next to their house) but for everything else they have their trusted
news sources, local and national.  These have the imprimatur of

As long as you can write stuff in impenetrable legalese or science you
can let the salesmen hand out as many copies as they want as they tout
the proposed benefits as fact and the stakeholders will likely not be
inclined to act if there is already some deliberative body already
charged with the process.  If they are inlinced to participate they may
be publically and officially shutout.

Eg.  I lived in Austin for more than a decade and during, say, the
last 5-8 years there was a battle going on over proposed development of
some land that backed up to and drained into a beloved creek.  The
developer was Freeport/McMoRan(google 'em.  One of the most rapacious
mining companies ever) which was then headed by Jim Bob Moffat who had
gotten his degree at UT and gave the Geo Dept tons of money.

When the proposal came up for vote at the City Council, hundreds maybe
thousands of people showed up to give their opinions during the five
minutes speaking time everyone was allowed.  That meeting lasted til 3
or 4 in the morning.  Not everyone was eloquent but the popular will
was in evidence.  Not long after the Council voted to change the public
input rules so that you had to show up during some time window(I seem
to remember 4:30-5:00 on the tuesday night of the meeting, when most
people are still at work).

From what I hear, they are(and I haven't lived there in 12 years)still
fighting the development.  But right before I left they did put up a
new biochemistry building named after Moffat and his wife.
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #55 of 112: Denise Caruso (denisecaruso) Sun 21 Oct 07 15:25
Robert writes, "Rational discourse ... no appeal to authority is
made... if the decision will require government, as the only source of
legitimate force ... this ... changes the deliberations as well as the
framing, staffing and implementation."

Well, I would call this rational discourse, lower-case, as it is
definitely rational and also quite clearly discourse, but it's also not
what you describe. 

The raison d'etre of these risk deliberations as they were was laid
out in Understanding Risk is to inform government decision-makers, be
they regulators or legislators. They are neither rhetorical nor
theoretical -- they're wholly practical in nature, meant to be acted
upon by someone with the authority to take a decision. 

Can you explain why would that change any of the factors you mention
-- i.e., the nature of the deliberations as well as framing, staffing
and implementation? 
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #56 of 112: Cupido, Ergo Sum (robertflink) Mon 22 Oct 07 05:51
>Can you explain why would that change any of the factors you mention
-- i.e., the nature of the deliberations as well as framing, staffing
and implementation? <

If an advisory body develops a reputation for advice that the
government follows with few exceptions, the members will become aware
of the effective power they wield.  Positions of obvious (and less
obvious)power attract, among others, people that pursue power for its
own sake.  Those with power frame issues carefully so as to increase
the chances of preserving or increasing their power.  Deliberation in
groups with significant power may well be as much in the service of
continuing the power as to solving the problem at hand.  Power becomes
as much of a goal as the project at hand. 

Since the groups in question tend to address substantive problems,
their decisions will affect profits, reputations, political parties,
careers, history, ideologies, beliefs, etc..  All these considerations
will be in play in the minds of members of a group with  significant
power.  They (the considerations) cannot help but affect deliberations.

BTW, I don't consider rational discourse to assure right decisions but
it does tend to make deliberations more transparent. 
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #57 of 112: Denise Caruso (denisecaruso) Mon 22 Oct 07 08:59
You may want to look at how OTA was structured and operated. It seemed
to avoid the pitfalls you mention. 
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #58 of 112: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 22 Oct 07 10:10
Transparency is a significant factor. If a deliberative body's work is
both transparent and inclusive, that mitigates the potential for
political distortion. I recently reviewed the National Charrette
Institute's _Charrette Handbook_
(, and the charrette
process described there is an open deliberation, structured to give
ongoing visibility to the general public and include public input.
Perhaps risk management groups could adopt some of the charrette
structure, which is used quite a bit for urban planning.

If your process is transparent and inclusive, you can build public
support that could feed into effective grassroots efforts to influence
policy. Grassroots or bottom-up political activity is increasingly
effective using the Internet to organize, communicate, and to track and
contact legislators.

It seems to me that, as a next step, you could facilitate an
intervention network of deliberative groups and civic action groups...?
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #59 of 112: Denise Caruso (denisecaruso) Mon 22 Oct 07 11:02
The link below is to today's L.A. Times story on the next generation
of transgenic foods. (registration required, I think)

The question of risk comes up in the middle of the story and is
actually given some space -- this is highly unusual -- but even then,
doesn't raise what I think is the most important question:  how
credible was the process that decided they were safe in the first

And for those who are interested, here's a link to the white paper I
wrote for the Rockefeller Foundation about the history of risk
assessment, called "Risk: The Art and the Science of Choice."
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #60 of 112: Denise Caruso (denisecaruso) Mon 22 Oct 07 11:08
That is a GREAT idea, Jon. I just met a group of people this weekend
who do nothing but deliberations and dialog, and I've been cogitating
on how we could leverage our various expertise(s). I will approach them
about this.

And you're right, transparency is the key. OTA was very transparent.
They had to be -- one party or another would commission a report, and
the other side would be ultra-sensitive to skew and bias, so I believe
that all their deliberations were open to the public and their reports
were also public. (In fact, I think OTA was the first government office
to disseminate their reports online, but I may be making that up.) 

Their studies were created by assembling committees of relevant
stakeholders and experts industry and academia, similar to how the
National Academies studies work, only more transparent and, I think,
less susceptible to skew because Congressional scrutiny kept them in
such a fishbowl. 
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #61 of 112: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 22 Oct 07 14:06
Can you say who they are?
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #62 of 112: Robert C. Flink (robertflink) Mon 22 Oct 07 18:40
BTW, it may be useful to look at the sites that deal with the
precautionary principle and various reactions to it including the
proactionary principle.  

Did the OTA have any thing to do with the group that conducted the
"Science Courts" with the idea of sorting out what the state of the
relevant arts were before the policy deliberations took place by the

Some information is available at:
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #63 of 112: Jamais Cascio (cascio) Mon 22 Oct 07 19:09
(here's a discussion from last year of the precautionary and the
proactionary principles, as well as an alternative of my own:
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #64 of 112: Denise Caruso (denisecaruso) Tue 23 Oct 07 10:16
Jon - they who? The people I met with, or the OTA studies? If the
former, I'd rather not just yet. Not that it's a secret, I just haven't
spoken to them about it and I'd rather wait. And if the latter -- I
can look around and see if I kept the book on the "active" bookshelf.
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #65 of 112: Paulina Borsook (loris) Tue 23 Oct 07 10:23
hi denise, jon

just wanting to butt in with a realworld realtime instantiation of what is
being discussed here (and i too remember the most excellent OTA):

i dont know if you folks know about what's going on here in the monterey bay
area with regard to spraying for the australian brown apple moth.

long story, but the calif dept of ag, aided and abetted by the epa, started
spraying for it last month in monterey, and will start in november here in
santa cruz.

huge fuss/fight: suterra, the company that makes the pheromone-based spray,
hasnt been willing to release what its Checkmate actually contains (the
santa cruz sentinel 'mistakenly' printed some of the ingredients, and then
got in the middle of a freedom-of-the-press vs intellectual property
lawsuit. according to what i could tell, the msds for one of the ingredients
said it was 'harmful', another was termed worse, as 'poisonous'. and i am
not a scientist).

the mayor of sc; the city councilmembers; the county supervisors; and even
some of the state reps keep saying

1) who says there is an emergency? according to local nursery owners, the
only emergency has been the costly monitoring of their plants by the cal ag
dept, with its insistence on spraying with chlorpyrifos (nasty
organophosphate). the nursery owners dont see any sign of crop damage
2) what is actually in the stuff that will be sprayed?
3) what are the short-term effects?
4) what are the long-term effects?
5) why havent other means (such as pheromone-baited traps) been used?

to which the response has been

'trust us'/'you have emotional issues'/

this stuff has never before been sprayed in residential areas; no one has
been able to find any long term studies on its us; the folks at the monterey
bay aquarium dont want it used;, etc etc.

only positive bit of news (there have been temporary injunctions) is that
the gubernator insisted that suterra actually publish what is Checkmate (as
we all know, the dispersants/excipients can be as toxic if not more so than
an 'active' ingredient)

was so struck in all this misery that

b) as a friend said, who used to be a staff scientist for audubon, and now
works as an in-house scientific expert for a toxic tort lawfirm, the model
in the u.s. is 'show us the stacked-up bodies, then we might do something
about it'. i.e. after the fact. and morbidity and mortality has to be 50
percent greater than the general pop.
c) long-term ecological effects dont get factored into this model, of

because as things have played out, the temporary injunction was lifted
because according to the law, the judge said the harm has to be demonstrated
first. but he did direct the county to set up a hotline for health
complaints (fat lot of good that will do, particularly for the ecosystem in

one could make vast right-wing conspiracies about this (everything from the
contributions suterra made to the gubernator's campaign to the fact suterra
has a large $ contract to do the spraying to suterra's parent company owning
lots of central valley ag, so wanting to protect its assets from the spread
of the moth). but really, i think it is a mindset of nuke'em/what's the big

chlorpyrifos, mentioned above, will be banned in a few yrs --- but not yet!

a classic example of tptb having their way with the locals...who are only
asking reasonable questions.


inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #66 of 112: Denise Caruso (denisecaruso) Tue 23 Oct 07 10:24
As for the precautionary principle -- I didn't mention it in the book
on purpose. I don't find the discussion of it useful and in fact, I
find it counterproductive. It's a tremendously polarizing concept in
the United States, at least, and everyone seems to have their own
definition of it. 

I think this is because, fairly or not, the very phrase precautionary
principle leads you to believe that a decision ("no") has been made
without looking at the evidence first. Once you bring it into a
conversation, everyone lines up on both sides of it and any discussion
from that point on seems more like a justification of position -- for
or against technology/progress/economic growth/etc/etc/etc/etc --
rather than encouraging and nurturing a conversation about the actual
risks and benefits of the technology or process at hand. 
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #67 of 112: Paulina Borsook (loris) Tue 23 Oct 07 10:25
response 65 hidden for length --- it;s a real-live
instantiation of this entire discussion!
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #68 of 112: Paulina Borsook (loris) Tue 23 Oct 07 10:44
hosts, i can unhide my post 65 --- i just thot maybe i should
because it is long, and rather concrete? your call...
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #69 of 112: Denise Caruso (denisecaruso) Tue 23 Oct 07 12:25
I am a fan of the concrete, personally. Jon? 
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #70 of 112: Paulina Borsook (loris) Tue 23 Oct 07 16:48
ok with denise's go-ahead, i'll unhide my response #65...
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #71 of 112: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 23 Oct 07 18:11
Denise: I was talking about the former.

Paulina: Glad you joined us! Perfectly okay to make long posts... we
have poetic license in Inkwell.

Howard Rheingold was telling me that Hillary Clinton wants to bring
the OTA back as part of her "comprehensive plan to reform government."
Her site says that "Hillary would work to restore the OTA and ensure
that we restore the role of evidence and facts, not partisanship and
ideology, to decision making."
( The OTA was taken
down during Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America," though I think the
claims at the time were that the OTA was redundant with other
resources and wasn't all that effective. How helpful would it be to get
another OTA? It sounds good on paper, but is a government agency going
to be the best source of evaluative data? Do we have other
alternatives, as Gingrich et al claimed?
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #72 of 112: Paulina Borsook (loris) Tue 23 Oct 07 21:23
hi jon

was musing reading all this about how with my locus
of trouble, initially the spraying took place
in monterey with relatively little notice. a fuss
was kicked up tjere afterwards; so when it
came time for sc spraying (and after one lawsuit
was filed), many many community meetings have been held.
these alas take the forms of
- citizens/consumers/victims of either the emotional/
frootbat/reasonable persuasion
- patronizing tptb saying 'there there not to worry'
and/or ducking all answers to pointed questions.

it's this sort of experience that has always made
me feel pessmistic skeptical and
'if we really could "come let us reason together"
then we wouldnt be in most of the messes we are in...'
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #73 of 112: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 24 Oct 07 13:10
This has interesting political implications. The
conservative/libertarian philosophy is that "too much government"
creates inefficiencies, but we too often find that the real intention
is to undermine precaution because it's a barrier to commerce. My
favorite analogy is the mayor, played by Murray Hamilton, in the film
"Jaws." We're gonna lose money if you close the beach. You wouldn't
think of him as a bad guy, necessarily, he just chooses to be in denial
of the obvious. He wants to ignore the shark and focus on revenues. 
Didn't Camus argue that what we call evil is really just this kind of
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #74 of 112: Paulina Borsook (loris) Wed 24 Oct 07 13:30
i was thinking of political implications today, actually:
latest news is the the city of sc is suing the state of
calif, because no EIR was done and the city sees no
state of emergecnct/clear and present danger (i.e.
the circumstances when an EIR can be done without).

the previous lawsuit in monterey county was dismissed.
but that was filed by an environmental nonproft.
i wonder if a lawsuit from a city, vs a dept
of the state of calif, has different standing.

yeah, commerce is for sure driving this issue (my local
congresscritter, sam farr, usually as earthmuffiny/lefty
as i would want him to be, has come out in favor
of the spraying. it;s clear he's drunk the koolaid
on the zazillion-dollar threat to ag...because
this is a startling position for hinm).

but fear, and ignoring larger consequences,
is also driving this...
inkwell.vue.310 : Denise Caruso, "Intervention"
permalink #75 of 112: Denise Caruso (denisecaruso) Wed 24 Oct 07 13:46
Whether a government agency is a good source of evaluative data
depends entirely on how they collect it and the methods they use to
analyze it, including the transparency of the process. 

OTA or not, I think it is absolutely necessary to have an unbiased
technology assessment function in government. Regulators are political
appointees, so they skew to whoever's in the White House -- this
administration has been particularly egregious in terms of protecting
corporate interests, but the Dems weren't always that much better. And
Congress serves these interests as well. 

According to study directors, even National Academy reports on
innovations are subject to political pressure from corporate interests.

If my memory serves me correctly, Gingrich's (unstated) political
reason for wanting to dump OTA was that it got in the way of being able
to skew assessments to presidential and/or Congressional whim. 

Here's a clear albeit biased explanation from a former OTA staffer,
Joel Hirschhorn:

"It had a budget of only about $22 million out of roughly $2 billion
in annual expenditures for all congressional activities. Obviously, it
was not about a major budget cutting objective. What conservatives
hated about OTA was its true independence from congressional
manipulation. Even more than the General Accountability Office, the
Congressional Budget Office, and the Congressional Research Service,
whose budgets were cut, OTA was designed to seek all perspectives on
difficult and contentious issues and all of its results were openly
published, except for a very few works that involved secret military
information. Members of congress might delay publication or put their
own spin on OTA report findings, but they could not prevent release of
OTA findings and reports."

You can read OTA's reports here:


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