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Opening the Pandora's box of public opinion

The latest edition of Risk&Regulation, magazine of LSE's Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation, explores society's role in shaping the policy agenda. This issue features such topics as the demise of self-regulation amongst professionals, the GM debate, volatility in the insurance industry, and the catastrophes leading to the tightening of pharmaceuticals' regulation in Europe

  • In Professionals, Politicians and the Strange Death of Self-regulation, Dr Robert Kaye argues that, under pressure from both government and the public, professional bodies are having to abandon 'genteel' self-regulation in favour of rigorous regulatory control over their members.

    Healthcare professionals, in particular, are being asked regularly to account for themselves. Politicians, however, are not; they are still allowed to regulate themselves. Kaye argues that this is a significant contradiction: doctors and teachers are consistently at the top of league tables in public trust, yet they are not necessarily trusted to regulate themselves. Politicians, by contrast, consistently rank with estate agents at the bottom end of such tables.
  • In Seeds of Discontent, Professor George Gaskell says the Government was not prepared for the negative outcomes following its public debate on GM agriculture in June 2003. From the outset, biotechnology has been controversial and public opinion on the subject is split because of people's perceptions. On the one hand, bio-medical use demonstrates clear benefits, so the public is more willing to put aside its fears and discount the risks; on the other hand, GM crops have limited directly perceptible benefit, so opposition mounts.

    Ultimately, according to Gaskell, the real questions in this debate are those of what sort of society is desirable, and of how new technology may help to achieve such goals. He argues that the public must be consulted in these matters, otherwise promoters run the risk of reliving the troubled and costly history of GM crops and foods.
  • In Catastrophes, Regulation and Interest Accommodation, Dr Jürgen Feick examines market entry regulation for pharmaceuticals within the EU and proposes that catastrophes, such as the Thalidomide debacle in the 60s, have been the most important causal factors for governmental intervention in drugs marketing. Feick suggests that public awareness is now too great to allow major regulatory problems to go unnoticed. Politicians fear losing voters' support, and companies risk damaging their public image. In such a context, full transparency is demanded by the public.
  • In Recognising and Managing Insurance Industry Risk, Dr Alan Punter explores the highly cyclical behaviour of the non-life insurance industry and its increasingly volatile performance. The challenges to insurance of new and global risks, such as biotechnology and climate change, are also investigated, in the article Challenging Insurability by Dr Michael Huber.

Professor George Gaskell is a CARR research associate and director of the Methodology Institute at LSE. Dr Robert Kaye is an ESRC research officer at CARR. Dr Jürgen Feick was a CARR visiting fellow and is a senior research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies. Dr Alan Punter is chief executive officer of Aon Capital Markets, Aon Limited's investment banking unit. Dr Michael Huber is Aon senior research fellow at CARR.

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Risk&Regulation, Issue no.6, Autumn 2003 (ISSN 1473-6004) is available in print and is posted online at Previous Editions of the Risk&Regulation Magazine|

If you wish to subscribe, please contact Sabrina Antâo, tel: 020 7849 4635

Risk&Regulation is the biannual magazine of the ESRC Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation (CARR). The magazine contains articles by leading scholars in the fields of risk and regulation and presents the latest research findings and commentary on risk and regulation related fields including managerial governance, financial control, utilities regulation, health, safety, and the environment.

The ESRC Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation (CARR) is an interdisciplinary research centre located at the London School of Economics and Political Science. CARR's research mission focuses on the comparative analysis of the organisational and institutional contexts of risk management and regulatory practice. In addition, CARR acts as a national and international hub for the field of risk and regulation studies through its 'outreach' and visitors' programmes.

8 December 2003

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