Online risk numbers -helpful, meaningless or simply wrong? - Reflections on online risk calculators
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Among the instruments offered to citizens via digital media are risk calculators, aiming at identifying individuals at high risk of various diseases. These calculators present us with both epistemological and socioethical challenges. Tracking the history of individual risk models, this article provides an analysis looking into their content, construction, use and functions. Epistemologically, the notion of risk factor epidemiology frames an approach to public health that goes through the identification of high-risk individuals, providing a way of making public health doable without involving social, cultural and economical factors in the risk assessments. Instead, ethnicity is included in many calculators, serving as boundary objects that enable epidemiologist to avoid addressing its inherent epistemological challenges. Through this notion of individual risk, a discourse is created that provides us with the narrative of the empowered vulnerable global citizen, which is given room to look after her or his risky self, while ignoring the structural and political factors influencing it. In doing so, flawed calculator construction provides ample risk of getting the wrong number.