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Availability Cascades and Risk Regulation

Timur Kuran and Cass R. Sunstein
Stanford Law Review
Vol. 51, No. 4 (Apr., 1999), pp. 683-768
Published by: Stanford Law Review
DOI: 10.2307/1229439
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1229439
Page Count: 86
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Availability Cascades and Risk Regulation
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Abstract

An availability cascade is a self-reinforcing process of collective belief formation by which an expressed perception triggers a chain reaction that gives the perception increasing plausibility through its rising availability in public discourse. The driving mechanism involves a combination of informational and reputational motives: Individuals endorse the perception partly by learning from the apparent beliefs of others and partly by distorting their public responses in the interest of maintaining social acceptance. Availability entrepreneurs-activists who manipulate the content of public discourse-strive to trigger availability cascades likely to advance their agendas. Their availability campaigns may yield social benefits, but sometimes they bring harm, which suggests a need for safeguards. Focusing on the role of mass pressures in the regulation of risks associated with production, consumption, and the environment, Professors Timur Kuran and Cass R. Sunstein analyze availability cascades and suggest reforms to alleviate their potential hazards. Their proposals include new governmental structures designed to give civil servants better insulation against mass demands for regulatory change and an easily accessible scientific database to reduce people's dependence on popular (mis)perceptions.

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