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Characterising bias in regulatory risk and decision analysis: An analysis of heuristics applied in health technology appraisal, chemicals regulation, and climate change governance

MacGillivray, Brian 2017. Characterising bias in regulatory risk and decision analysis: An analysis of heuristics applied in health technology appraisal, chemicals regulation, and climate change governance. Environment International 105 , pp. 20-33. 10.1016/j.envint.2017.05.002

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Abstract

In many environmental and public health domains, heuristic methods of risk and decision analysis must be relied upon, either because problem structures are ambiguous, reliable data is lacking, or decisions are urgent. This introduces an additional source of uncertainty beyond model and measurement error – uncertainty stemming from relying on inexact inference rules. Here we identify and analyse heuristics used to prioritise risk objects, to discriminate between signal and noise, to weight evidence, to construct models, to extrapolate beyond datasets, and to make policy. Some of these heuristics are based on causal generalisations, yet can misfire when these relationships are presumed rather than tested (e.g. surrogates in clinical trials). Others are conventions designed to confer stability to decision analysis, yet which may introduce serious error when applied ritualistically (e.g. significance testing). Some heuristics can be traced back to formal justifications, but only subject to strong assumptions that are often violated in practical applications. Heuristic decision rules (e.g. feasibility rules) in principle act as surrogates for utility maximisation or distributional concerns, yet in practice may neglect costs and benefits, be based on arbitrary thresholds, and be prone to gaming. We highlight the problem of rule-entrenchment, where analytical choices that are in principle contestable are arbitrarily fixed in practice, masking uncertainty and potentially introducing bias. Strategies for making risk and decision analysis more rigorous include: formalising the assumptions and scope conditions under which heuristics should be applied; testing rather than presuming their underlying empirical or theoretical justifications; using sensitivity analysis, simulations, multiple bias analysis, and deductive systems of inference (e.g. directed acyclic graphs) to characterise rule uncertainty and refine heuristics; adopting “recovery schemes” to correct for known biases; and basing decision rules on clearly articulated values and evidence, rather than convention.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Sustainable Places Research Institute (PLACES)
Subjects: Q Science > Q Science (General)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Risk regulation Risk analysis Clinical trials Statistical inference Model uncertainty Methodology
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 0160-4120
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 26 May 2017
Date of Acceptance: 3 May 2017
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 09:50
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/100771

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