Geography Conference Abstracts
College of Liberal Arts
1250 Bellflower Boulevard
California State University
Long Beach, CA 90840-1101 USA
Dr. Christine M. Rodrigue
- "Katrina/Rita and risk communication within FEMA," to the Association of American Geographers, Chicago, during March 2006.
- Technological accidents, terrorist incidents, and natural disasters are characterized by the embedding of risk assessment and risk management in complex public organizations. Risk assessment communication moves up an organizational hierarchy toward socially and spatially more concentrated hubs of decision-makers, each of which makes risk management decisions in politicized contexts peculiar to its own scale. Risk management communication moves down an organizational hierarchy, where it sets a tone at each lower level of decision-making for receptiveness towards risk analytic communications coming up from below and beyond. These contexts affect the outcome of a given risk assessment communication: Is the risk managed by an active and effective decision-maker at that level? Is the communication passed upward in search of an effective decision-maker or delegated downward? Or is the risk assessment suppressed with either no decision taken to alter risk or with sanctions applied to the messengers of risk? An earlier presentation traced risk assessment communication flows along NASA and FBI hierarchies during the Columbia crash and the lead-up to 9/11, respectively, to establish a managerialist theory of risk assessment and risk management in public organizations. This paper will extend the analysis to the Katrina/Rita hurricane disasters and risk communications along the FEMA hierarchy. This case study will utilize content analysis of newspaper coverage of this disaster to relate it to the earlier NASA and FBI case comparisons.
Dr. Rodrigue gave:
- "The state of geography and its cognate disciplines in the California State Universities," to the California Geographical Society, Yosemite, during April 2005.
- Using data from the California State Universities Chancellor's Office, I tracked undergraduate fall enrollments in geography and in the cognate disciplines of geology, environmental studies and science, and anthropology from Fall 1992 through Fall 2004. The number of earth and environment focussed undergraduates has declined 15% from its 1992 peak enrollment. Within that shrinking pie, however, environmental studies and science have increased 29%. This increase has come at the expense of geography, which has declined 18% from its 1992 high, and more especially from geology, which has lost fully 43% of its 1994 peak enrollments.
Comparing geography and anthropology, the combined enrollments have been essentially flat for the thirteen years. Anthropology, however, has been growing as geography has declined.
The news is not uniformly bleak. Of the seventeen CSU geography programs, four have been growing for the last five years: Long Beach (70%), Humboldt (12%), Los Angeles (9%), and Sacramento (1%). Conversations among the chairs suggest some common elements among the growing programs: a great deal of faculty engagement with undergraduate students as mentors and research partners, a relatively new faculty with a lot of research energy and enthusiasm, a lack of strife among the faculty, a few lower-division instructors with "cult" followings transmitted by word-of-mouth, student club or departmental activities, an entrepreneurial chair, and excellent relations with the dean and other administrators.
Geography departments need to learn to market geography as an environmental and earth discipline and as a discipline concerned with the diversity of human cultures and livelihoods. Rather than fight with our colleagues in cognate disciplines over dwindling students, we need to reach out to them to work on the common agenda of growing the overall number of students interested in the earth and its human stewards. To achieve these, we need to share success stories and cautionary tales among ourselves, to create a community of interlinked geography departments in the CSU, the community colleges, and the doctoral institutions.
Dr. Rodrigue presented:
- "The construction of Mediterranean scrub in biogeography and ecology," to the Association of American Geographers, in Denver, during April 2005.
- There is a marked difference in the representation of Mediterranean scrub vegetation (e.g., chaparral, maquis) in North American and European literature in biogeography and ecology. Authors discussing this vegetation in the California context accept that it is a natural response to the summer drought climate and steep terrain and is adapted to and may exploit its late summer and fall fires. Debate here focusses on the extent to which humans have modified or, indeed, can modify "natural" fire regimes. European authors frame this vegetation instead as a secondary successional formation in a landscape that "should" be dominated by oak woodland and forest. The widespread presence of Mediterranean scrub is seen as an artifact of human disturbance over thousands of years, mediated through overgrazing, deforestation, accelerated erosion, and anthropogenic fire. This paper will present a content analysis of the Mediterranean scrub literature, in order to engage both traditions in the construction of a unified framework for these pyrogenic formations.
Dr. Rodrigue delivered a paper entitled:
- "Disaster by Management: The Columbia Accident and September 11th," to the Association of American Geographers, in Philadelphia, during March 2004.
- A key element in contemporary technological accidents and in the September 11th terrorist incidents is the interaction of risk assessment and risk management in complex public organizations. Risk assessment communication moves along the spokes of an organizational hierarchy toward socially and spatially more concentrated hubs of decision-makers, each of which makes risk management decisions in politicized contexts peculiar to its own scale. These contexts affect the outcome of a given risk assessment communication: Is the risk managed by an active and effective decision-maker at that level? Is the communication passed along yet another spoke to still another hub in search of an effective decision-maker? Or is the risk assessment suppressed with either no decision taken to alter risk or with sanctions applied to the messengers of risk? The purpose of this presentation is to trace risk assessment communication flows along NASA and FBI hierarchies, respectively, to establish whether a managerialist theory of risk assessment and risk management in public organizations adequately covers these two case studies. Data will consist of public documents concerning these two disasters and their representations in media, analyzed through literature content analytic methods.
Dr. Rodrigue was the first and presenting author, representing the Geoscience Diversity Enhancement Project team, delivering a paper entitled:
- "GDEP (Geoscience Diversity Enhancement Project): Hazards-Related Projects," to the 28th Annual Hazards Research and Applications Workshop, in Boulder, CO, during July 2003.
- GDEP is a three year program, which began in the fall of 2001, with funding from the National Science Foundation's Opportunities to Enhance Diversity in Geosciences program. The purpose of this $852,000 project is to attract NSF- defined Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math minorities in local community colleges and high schools into the geosciences through an intensive summer research experience at California State University, Long Beach. The geosciences are defined as phyrough an intensive summer research experience at California State University, Long Beach. The geosciences are defined as physical geography, geology, archaeology, and environmental science.
The GDEP team includes six geologists (Elizabeth L. Ambos, Richard Behl, Robert D. Francis, Greg Holk, James Sample, and Maria Teresa Ramirez- Herrera), three geographers (Christopher T. Lee, Christine M. Rodrigue, and Suzanne P. Wechsler), an archaeologist (Daniel O. Larson), a psychologist and assessment specialist (David J. Whitney), and a staff member from the CSULB Student Access to Science and Math program (Crisanne Hazen). This large interdisciplinary team designs summer research projects that can incorporate partners from five local community colleges and the Long Beach Unified School District and roughly ten students from underrepresented groups, whom partner faculty nominate. This research immersion experience is designed to give students enough outdoors field work and high technology laboratory work to influence their choice of majors towards the field and lab sciences of geology, geography, and geoarchaeology and the interdisciplinary environmental science and policy major. An additional goal is to increase CSULB GDEP faculty research output and involve community college and high school faculty in this research. This is meant to improve the level of geoscience education in all our classes and thereby increase the attractiveness of the geoscience majors to non-GDEP students in our courses.
All faculty commit five weeks of full-time work with GDEP, distributed over the eight weeks of full-time work for which the students are paid and held responsible. All student participants must prepare poster presentations of their research and give them at a culminating on-campus student research symposium (the campus holds a symposium for a number of somewhat similar research immersion programs in various science disciplines). They are encouraged to give posters at regional science conferences as well, for which travel and registration moneys are provided from GDEP.
Three of the projects this summer and last have dealt with hazards topics. Chris Lee and Chrys Rodrigue have projects working on specifying changes in live fuel moisture in the chaparral-covered suburban-wildland interface around Los Angeles. It is hoped that field collection of vegetation samples will enable these changes to be detectable through the use of AVIRIS imagery, with an eye toward improving rapid detection of increases in fire hazard conditions for firefighting agencies. For more information, please visit http://wildfire.geog.csulb.edu/ or contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Tere Ramirez's project entails analysis of sudden coseismic deformation related to subduction earthquakes; and long-term coastal tectonics and paleoseismology, with field areas in Jalisco, Mexico. Her team's work will
help establish the history of great earthquakes in Mexico and refine probabilistic risk estimates for such quakes in the next several decades. For more information, please visit http://www.csulb.edu/geography/gdep/ramirezconvergent.html or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan Francis' team is mapping the Palos Verdes Fault off the coast of Southern California, using shipboard seismic reflection. This is an active fault capable of generating Mm 7 earthquakes that would devastate the Los Angeles- Long Beach port and strongly affect much of Southern California. For more information, please visit http://seis.natsci.csulb.edu/dfrancis/pvgdep.htm or contact email@example.com.
Dr. Rodrigue was the third and presenting author, representing the Geoscience Diversity Enhancement Project team, delivering a paper entitled:
- "General Education Student Perceptions of the Geosciences," to the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers, in San Bernardino during September 2002.
- Eight faculty in the departments of geography, geology, and anthropology at California State University, Long Beach, received an NSF Geoscience Diversity Enhancement Project grant for 2001-04. This project aims to increase the number of underrepresented minority and disabled students majoring in the geosciences by involving local community college and, eventually, high school students and their nominating faculty in research collaborations with the CSULB co-PIs. Assessment of GDEP's success in altering student perceptions of the geosciences is central to the project. The project's assessment specialist and co-PIs surveyed introductory classes in the three departments at the beginning and end of the Spring 2002 semester as a baseline study for measuring the eventual impact of GDEP. This paper reports on the results of the pre-test surveys, comparing CSULB student perceptions of geography, geology, and geoarchaeology with one another at the beginning of the semester. It also reports on the results of the post-test, to assess the changes in these perceptions induced by the classroom experience, again comparing the three geosciences.
Dr. Rodrigue was the second author in the Geoscience Diversity Enhancement Project team, in a paper delivered by Dr. Suzanne P. Wechsler, entitled:
- "GDEP (Geoscience Diversity Enhancement Program): An Interdisciplinary Summer Research Program to Increase the Diversity of Geography, Geology, and Archaeology Majors <http://www.csulb.edu/geography/gdep/>," to the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers, in San Bernardino during September 2002.
- Click here for abstract.
Dr. Rodrigue is the sixth author in the Geoscience Diversity Enhancement Project team, in a paper delivered by Dr. Beth Ambos of the Geological Sciences Department, entitled:
- "The Geoscience Diversity Enhancement Program (GDEP): Building an Earth System Science Centered Research, Education, and Outreach Effort in Urban Long Beach, California," to the American Geophysical Union, in San Francisco in December 2002.
- Click here for abstract.
Dr. Rodrigue was the seventh author in the Geoscience Diversity Enhancement Project team, in a paper delivered by Dr. Dan Francis of the Geological Sciences Department, entitled:
- "GDEP (Geoscience Diversity Enhancement Program): Creating a Community-Based Summer Geoscience Research Program," to the Geological Society of America, in Denver during October 2002.
- Click here for abstract.
Dr. Rodrigue was the second author (with Dr. Suzanne P. Wechsler) presenting:
- "GIS Articulation: Addressing the Issue, Sharing Experiences and Moving Forward" to the Twenty-second Annual ESRI International User's Conference, in San Diego during July 2002.
- Click here for abstract.
Dr. Rodrigue also presented a paper:
- "Assessment of an Experiment in Teaching Geography Online," to the California Geographical Society, Lone Pine, CA, 3-5 May 2002.
- In Fall of 2000, I volunteered to teach the first completely online geography course at CSULB, an introductory physical geography section. In Spring 2001, I offered one section of the class online and another in the traditional lecture/lab format and decided to do a pre-test/post-test study of the two sections to assess the differences in outcomes. The pre-test consisted of 30 questions drawn from the four exams given in the class, which I sprung on the students in their first meetings. The results were predictably terrible, but, more importantly, there was no statistically significant difference between the two groups of students. At the end of the semester, I evaluated the overall class means and standard deviations. The online class scored less than the lecture/lab section, but the difference was not statistically meaningful.
Dr. Rodrigue presented a progress report on her Quick Response grant:
- "Patterns of Media Coverage of the Terrorist Attacks on the United States in September of 2001," to the New York University's Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems' World Trade Center Workshop, New York, 11-13 December 2001.
- This paper presents a progress report on my literature content analysis of media coverage of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. The progress report covers the first six weeks of home page coverage on the online edition of the Los Angeles Times. The dominant concerns of the Times' stories fall into three main categories: military reporting, investigation updates, and reactions to the disastrous attacks, categories expected of a war story, a crime story, and a disaster story, respectively. The first three weeks emphasize the disaster story, while the next three weeks shift to the war story. The early shift to the military response to these horrific events may lead to a deprioritization of the needs of New Yorkers, Washingtonians, and Americans as they struggle to recover from this disaster. The geopolitical context of the events is poorly drawn out in front screen coverage, and there is evidence of media sensationalism. To its credit, however, the Los Angeles Times' front screen coverage did evenly cover the impacts on businesses and workers. A few recommendations on interacting with the media are provided.
Dr. Rodrigue presented an invited paper:
- "Risk Representation in the Space Program: The Internet and the Social Amplification of Risk," at Jet Propulsion Lab for a JPL/NASA Headquarters teleconference.
- This paper summarized the results of a study of activist use of the Internet to debate the risks involved in the use of ceramicized plutonium dioxide RTGs on the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft. While the majority of UseNet participants were supporters of the mission, the opponents were far more vocal and far more likely to pass on the the messages of others in framing their own contributions to the debate. A large number of them brought countercultural values into the discourse. The forwarded messages trace back to about eleven individuals, who created a very powerful opposition movement to the Cassini-Huygens mission and generated a great deal of pressure on Congressional risk management decision-makers. The paper ended with a discussion of the three probable axes of controversy in an upcoming mission now in the planning stages (the Mars Sample Return) and a list of suggestions for risk communication and incorporation of public input into the decision- making process.
Dr. Rodrigue will present a paper in a special panel she is organizing:
- "Media and Hazards," at the Association of American Geographers, Los Angeles, 19-23 March 2002.
- Media are a major influence on perception of a hazard or disaster. Hazard assessment experts and activists both have trouble getting their messages to the public through traditional print and broadcast media, which have very high costs of entry and are dominated by interests with very different agendas than experts and activists. Media coverage of a hazardous situation or a disaster tends to be more sensational than informative and often undercovers the vulnerability of the most marginalized in society. The Internet promises to alter this situation. It has a very low cost of entry and has begun to displace or augment traditional media as a source of information. Initial analyses suggest, soberingly, that the Internet has increased the social amplification and attenuation of risks. On the positive side, cellular technology and the Internet have also been used to increase the efficiency of disaster response and can disseminate public education information to new audiences. Similarly, popular fiction (e.g., radio novellas) can get hazard mitigation and preparation information out to vulnerable and socially marginalized people, embedded in dramas of interest to them. Video can also be used by activists to document the complicated nuances that lead to heightened vulnerability among populations underserved by conventional media. This panel, then, will discuss both the positive and negative possibilities offered by a wide variety of media in shaping hazards perception and response to disaster.
She will also present a second paper in a special panel she just organized on the terrorist attack of 11 September:
- "Media and the Terrorist Attack of 11 September 2001," also at the AAG, Los Angeles, 19-23 March 2002.
- The terrorist attack on the United States on September 11th, 2001, was a disaster of a kind not previously experienced in the United States, neither a natural nor a technological disaster. It posed many of the same emergency management problems as a natural or technological disaster and can be expected to follow the classic response, restoration, reconstruction, and commemorative construction phases seen in any great disaster. More so than in natural disasters and more fiercely than in technological disasters, this catastrophe will entail assignment of blame, poor understanding of the context leading to these extreme events, demand for punishment of the guilty, and, for the first time, more than just punishment but retaliation. The stage of post-event mitigation may differ from other disasters, too, with perhaps a longer window of opportunity and troubling incursions on civil liberties for public safety. Media are constructing perception of this catastrophe, and it is the purpose of this panel to explore just how media are being used in this event. The panel will discuss print, online, cellular, and broadcast media representations of the events, their direct and collateral victims, their perpetrators, their context, and reaction to them.
Additionally, she will present a third paper, a poster:
- "Media Coverage of the Terrorist Attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon," also at the AAG, Los Angeles, 19-23 March 2002.
- The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001 was an unprecedented type of disaster in the United States. It imposed a toll in human life on a scale seen only in recent non-Western natural and technological disasters and the economic losses seen only in the disasters of developed countries. This catastrophe raised many of the same emergency management problems as natural or technological disasters, and recovery can be expected to move through similar stages of response, restoration, reconstruction, and commemorative reconstruction. More intensely than with conventional disasters, however, this incident entails assignment of blame, poor understanding of the forces behind the catastrophe, demand for punishment of the guilty, and, for the first time, more than just punishment but retaliation. The stage of post-event mitigation may differ from traditional disasters, too, with perhaps a longer window of opportunity for implementing safety measures and almost certainly incursions on American civil liberties for the sake of public safety. The media representation of these and related issues is the subject of this poster, which presents an inductive content analysis of a major online newspaper's coverage of the incident and its aftemath.
Dr. Rodrigue presented:
- "The Internet in Risk Communication and Hazards Activism," to the 26th Annual Hazards Research and Applications Workshop, Boulder, Co, 17 July 2001.
- Throughout the 1990s, the Internet has exploded into a medium that is competitive with television, radio, and print media. As with any medium, the Internet can be utilized for risk communication. More than any other medium, however, the Internet can also be used for recruitment of activists to generate political pressure on risk policy management decision-makers. It is thus altering the always uneasy relationship between risk assessment science and risk management policy.
Since 1997, I have been analyzing the use of the Internet in communicating about risk and in generating political pressure concerning hazards. As such, this is an extension of my long-standing interest in how print media represent hazards and disasters. My work on Internet risk communication has proceeded through a number of case studies, among them the plutonium on board the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, chaparral fire hazard in Southern California, and a landslide incident in Southern California.
In the case studies explored thus far, what emerges is the rôle of the Internet in social risk amplification and risk attenuation. That is, in some cases (e.g., Cassini), social concern about a risk is inflated far beyond the estimates of probability and consequences coming from the professional risk assessment community. In other cases (e.g., chaparral fire hazard), social concern about a hazard assessed as relatively large in probability of occurrence and in consequences is soothed to a level enabling risky behavior (e.g., buying view homes in pyrogenic vegetation). Very interestingly, the Internet is used precisely to contest the legitimacy of conventional risk assessment science, with an eye toward generating political activism to impact risk management policy. In most of these cases, there is an attempt to recruit credentialed scientists at odds with the majority opinion in the relevant field of assessment science, a tactic seen in many other social issues than just hazards.
Perhaps more interesting than the risk amplification and attenuation content of Internet risk communication is its mechanism. Because of the exponential expansion in communication that the forward button allows, a very small number of people can generate large-scale awareness and political activism in service of their take on a given hazard. Tracing forwarded UseNet messages on Cassini back to their originators, I found that the entire controversy started with a handful of activists (from 2 to 11, depending on definitions). These individuals amplified the risks of plutonium on spacecraft, which proved very costly to NASA's Cassini science budget and which may alter the nature of outer solar system exploration in the future. The attenuation of perceived risk in the case of chaparral fire hazards in the mountains of Southern California was initiated ultimately by a single Malibu realtor disgruntled over Mike Davis' popularization of that hazard in The Ecology of Fear.
The Internet also seems to vary in its effectiveness as a risk communication medium, depending on the specific "channel" used. The Web is certainly the glamorous part of the Internet, with its full-color displays and multimedia (sound, movies, text, graphics, animation) capabilities. Its effectiveness as a medium, however, is limited by its need for an audience actively searching for information or following links. Oddly enough, the most effective "channels" of the Internet in risk communication seem to be the relatively homely ones: e-mail, listservers, news groups, and chats. These channels are far more ubiquitously used by people to get information out than are web pages (which are more technically demanding). And they demand little initiative from their more passive audiences: You get messages by e-mail (whether you want them or not) from friends, associates, and spammers. If some message about a risk catches your eye, it is extremely easy to send it to 50 of your closest Internet friends, who may themselves pass it on to their address lists, listservers, news groups, and chat buddies.
While at the Boulder conference, Dr. Rodrigue also presented a poster:
- "The Internet in the Social Amplification and Attenuation of Risk."
- The advent of the Internet has fundamentally altered the dialogue between risk assessment science and risk management policy. This dialogue has always been highly politicized, with pressure brought to bear on it from various stakeholders. These actively interested stakeholders have often included the public, which exhibits varying levels of activity. The effectiveness of public input has also varied, depending on perception, commitment of a vanguard of the more activist, and the sophistication of the latter in snagging media coverage to propagate their perceptions and activate wider participation among the rest of the public.
All the players in a given hazardous situation depend on broadcast and print media to get their messages out to one another and to the general public. The problem for them is that they cannot control the representation of their messages in the media. The media have their own interests and needs, which do not necessarily dovetail with the communications needs of risk assessment scientists, risk management policymakers, emergency responders, activists, and the broader public.
The Internet changes everything. This new, highly interactive medium brings immediacy, duration, geographical reach, and exponential expansion of communications among individuals -- and all for a very small price. Mass communication is now in the hands of the masses. What does this mean for the hazards community and the varyingly active members of the public?
Early results have included an impressive empowerment of individual activists as a handful of them generate tremendous citizen pressure on risk management decision makers. This is a blade that cuts both ways, however, with the Internet introducing new opportunities for demagoguery and for hijacking the reference group trust by which most people make political decisions on issues far beyond their normal concerns. The consequences include the propagation of skewed perceptions of hazard, and the resulting misdirection of behavior towards it.
That is, the Internet heightens efficiency in the social amplification of risk and the social attenuation of risk. The Internet has been used to amplify public concern about a risk assessed with conventional methods as vanishingly tiny in probability and relatively trivial in consequences (the use of plutonium dioxide on the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft). It has also been used to blunt perceptions of a natural hazard with relatively high and temporally increasing risks of recurrence and magnitude (chaparral fire hazard in Southern California).
Risk amplification in the first case may result in the opportunity costs of knowledge about the outer solar system forgone and of diverted political energies. Risk attenuation in the second case encourages more people to seek view homes in the middle of pyrogenic vegetation, thereby putting themselves at risk and diverting social protection resources to an unnecessary hazard.
Dr. Rodrigue recently presented:
- "Construction of Hazard Perception and Activism on the Internet," to the Association of American Geographers, New York, February-March 2001.
- Social construction of hazard policy entails a risk assessment dialogue between technical experts and public interest activists and between each of these and elected risk management policy-makers. These dialogues have traditionally taken place in the frequently distorting presence of broadcast and print media, with varying effect on public perception, interest, and recruitment to political action. The advent of the Internet has fundamentally altered these discussions, with the immediacy, duration, geographical reach, and exponential expansion of communications among individuals it affords. Early results have included an impressive empowerment of individual activists vis à vis the corporate interests that dominate traditional media, as well as tremendous citizen pressure on risk management decision- makers. This is a blade that cuts both ways, however, with new opportunities for demagoguery and hijacking of the reference group trust by which most people make political decisions on issues far beyond their training. This paper illustrates these points with case studies involving both technological and natural hazards controversies played out on the Internet.
She also presented:
- "The Use of the Internet and Web-Based Technology for Space and Geoscience (Mis)Education: New Media in Natural and Technological Hazard Debates," to the American Geophysical Union, San Francisco, December 2000.
- Risk assessment science and risk management policy ideally inform one another in natural and technological hazard situations. The relationship between the two is, however, notoriously challenging. Policy toward any given hazard is forged in complex dialogues between risk assessment scientists (e.g., seismologists, biogeographers, and atomic scientists) and risk management decision-makers (many of them elected politicians subject to Type I and Type II risks to their own careers riding on these debates). Impinging on these two sets of players is citizen pressure generated by public interest activists, many of them quite sophisticated at educating the public about their take on issues and adroit in stimulating political activism among the newly-informed. Many especially contentious debates play out in the distorting presence of print and broadcast media. Media have been criticized for the sensationalism and systematic social biases they display in covering disasters and hazardous situations, and risk assessment scientists, risk management policy-makers, and lay activists have frequently noted their frustration in getting their messages out to the general public through the traditional media. Of growing importance, however, is the emerging use of Internet media in these discussions to generate awareness and political activism. These interactive media allow technical experts and activists to bypass media they do not control to get their messages out in forms they can control. This paper presents several case studies of natural and technological hazard controversies and the use of media in (mis)education about them. These case studies will be arranged along a continuum stretching from nearly exclusive reliance on traditional media to nearly exclusive debate within the Internet. The case studies will include two seismic hazards (the Northridge earthquake and the Anaheim Hills landslide), one biogeographical hazard (chaparral fire hazard in Southern California), and one technological hazard (the plutonium on board the Cassini-Huygens mission). The education and miseducation successes of the Cassini activists and the victim of the landslide on the Internet and those of the earthquake victims and fire victims in traditional media raise questions about the nature of hazard decision-making in a democratic but scientifically unevenly informed society and about the sources of uneven access to information. The contrasts between the Internet mediated and the print and broadcast mediated cases underscore the empowerment on the Internet of small but well-organized groups and raises the issue of potential demagoguery in cyberspace that will increasingly affect risk assessment and risk management in the future.
Dr. Rodrigue also presented:
- "Public Perception and Hazard Policy Construction When Experts and Activists Clash in the Media," to the 25th Hazards Research and Applications Workshop, Boulder, Colorado, July 2000.
- This paper presents two case studies. One is about a technological risk controversy: the use of plutonium dioxide radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs) on board the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, in light of its gravity-assist swing by Earth in August 1999. The other is about a natural hazard controversy: the Anaheim Hills landslide of January 1993, which destroyed 32 luxury homes that had been built on the site with full knowledge of its ancient and modern landslide history. In both cases, attention is paid to the use of the Internet by parties to the controversy to generate awareness and to stimulate political activism out of that awareness.
For the Cassini case study, the data consist of Internet dialogues on the topic, specifically, UseNet postings from 1 April 1995 through 31 March 1999. They illustrate the exponential impact of a very small and well-organized opposition movement, which utilized the Internet to exert pressure to abort the launch and flyby. Though Cassini went on to Saturn, the resulting political pressure on NASA has created an atmosphere of public controversy in which new missions may be more difficult to authorize if their goals and design require RTGs.
For the Anaheim Hills case study, the data derive from a content analysis of a massive web site built by one of the victims of the landslide, building a forum for other victims to relate their individual stories, an activist bulletin board for victims seeking restitution and, increasingly, for potential victims in a growing series of other landslide-susceptible sites, and a site to warn potential buyers away from hazardous areas.
The successes of the anti-Cassini activists on the one hand and the victim of the landslide on the other raise questions about the nature of risk decision-making in a democratic but unevenly informed society and about the sources of uneven access to information. It underscores the empowerment of small but well-organized groups in the realm of natural and technological hazard policy and the potential of the Internet in heightening individual empowerment in such debates. It also raises less heartening issues of potential demagoguery in cyberspace.
Dr. Rodrigue also made a poster available about the Cassini project, an abridgement of the content of the AAAS paper (below):
- "Internet Recruitment and Activism in the Cassini Controversy," to the 25th Hazards Research and Applications Workshop, Boulder, Colorado, July 2000.
Dr. Rodrigue presented:
- "Internet Recruitment and Activism in Constructing Technological Risk," to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC, February 2000.
- Social construction of a technological risk policy entails a risk assessment dialogue between technical experts and public interest activists and between each of these and elected risk management policy-makers. These dialogues are conducted in the charged presence of media and take place in the contested terrain of public involvement and recruitment to political action.
This paper presents a case study of a recent technological risk controversy: the use of plutonium dioxide radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs) on board the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, in light of its gravity-assist swing by Earth in August 1999. The data consist of Internet dialogues on the topic, specifically, UseNet postings from 1 April 1995 through 31 March 1999. They illustrate the exponential impact of a very small and well-organized opposition movement, which utilized the Internet to exert pressure to abort the launch and flyby. Though Cassini went on to Saturn, the resulting political pressure on NASA has created an atmosphere of public controversy in which new missions may be very difficult to authorize if their goals and design require RTGs.
The success of the anti-Cassini activists raises questions about the nature of technological risk decision-making in a democratic but unevenly informed society. It underscores the empowerment of small but well-organized groups in the realm of natural and technological hazard policy and the potential of the Internet in heightening individual empowerment in such debates, particularly when science itself is under critical interrogation. It also raises less heartening issues of demagoguery in cyberspace.
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