have a professional stake in the results that can bias their interpretation. 17 These all point to the very social nature of scientific activity and how even scientific scrutiny changes once the spotlight is focused on it.
Modern technology simply does not reduce uncertainty or eliminate risk; it makes them less likely but more serious. Therefore, whether a risk is worth taking should not be based primarily on elitist, cost-benefit analyses alone; it must include public debate and some acceptable degree of political consensus. Risking the lives of 400 people on a 747 is acceptable if people can make unconstrained decisions to fly in them. In contrast, decisions to fly in 747s are constrained if people must ride them because they have no alternative choices for getting to important destinations.
Another problem related to technology and risk assessment is the fact that technology changes so quickly. The reality is that obtaining political consensus takes far more time than performing cost-benefit analyses. By the time people have decided that the risk of something is acceptable, the technology could be obsolete. In the scenario I am proposing this means that there must be some way of slowing the implementation of technology in order to test it and determine whether people are willing to accept its risks. We are seeing this to a greater extent in medicine where, under the auspices of the Food and Drug Administration, new procedures and technologies have to be tested for safety and efficacy before they can be used on the general patient population. We also see this in terms of the Human Genome Project, where 3 percent of the research budget has been allocated to study the social and ethical implications of the research.