Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric, Theory and Culture (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Humanities

Advisor 1

Andrew Fiss

Advisor 2

Marika Seigel

Committee Member 1

Karla Saari Kitalong

Committee Member 2

Melissa F. Baird


Risk assessment, mitigation, and communication rely on data from multiple sources to form a complete understanding of hazards and how to manage them. Experts can use these data to make informed decisions about the nature and extent of risks and inform the public to protect health, the environment, and economic welfare. However, in an effort to objectively make decisions, technical experts and policymakers increasingly rely on quantitative data as the most important determiner of risk, which can alienate the public, limit risk understanding, and delay or miss obvious signals of impending catastrophe. I examine several cases based on my experiences practicing and researching traffic safety, public safety, and technical and professional communication (TPC). The cases include a look at the impact of limited quantitative data in addressing motor vehicle traffic injuries and death in American Indian and rural communities; the challenge of collecting accurate data by first responders and firefighters to better understand and respond to health and physical hazards; and a recent history of failures to prevent airline and aerospace disasters due to an overemphasis on quantifiable data and devaluation of certain kinds of expert knowledge. The results of this study call attention to the weaknesses resulting from a quantitative imperative in risk management and a proposal for renewed focus on risk assessment using rhetorical practices and qualitative data readily available from expert and non-expert perspectives.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License