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What toxicologists and risk assessors think about hormesis: Results of a knowledge and opinion survey

Amy C Jones, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Hormesis is a nonlinear dose-response characterized by biological responses at low doses that are opposite to those observed at higher doses. Studies and review articles on hormesis are being published at an increasing rate by researchers from diverse disciplines and debate has emerged over the role hormesis in risk assessment. As a result, a survey was conducted to assess toxicologists and risk assessors knowledge and attitudes about the hormesis dose response. Study goals were to: (1) ascertain attitudes towards hormesis and other dose-response models, (2) identify whether acceptance or rejection of hormesis is based on knowledge of hormesis, predisposing values, or demographic characteristics, and (3) evaluate potential for response bias. The survey consisted of 44 questions pre-tested by 25 toxicologists and risk assessors. The survey was distributed via email to the membership of the Society of Toxicology and the Society for Risk Analysis, 9,500 potential respondents. The overall response rate was 17% (n= 1,463) with a completion rate over 87%. Major findings were that 50% of respondents indicated sufficient data exist to support the view hormesis occurs across a wide range of species and endpoints, 59% indicated evaluating potential benefits due to hormesis should be included in risk assessments, and 65% are in favor of modifying hazard assessment protocols to identify the presence of hormesis. Respondent characteristics such as: years of experience, society membership, education, residence, employment (excluding government and pharmaceutical companies), and political, economic or social views had little influence on opinion. One of the largest positive influences was experience with hormesis based on actual research; 79% of subjects who reported observing hormesis commonly in their studies agreed hormesis is broadly generalizable. The influence of non-response bias was evaluated through several internal and external measures. Despite a lower than hoped for response rate, but because of robust external validity measures, it is concluded that respondents’ opinions are likely a reasonable representation of the societies of which they are members. Because this is a baseline survey, a follow-up survey is in order. Future survey design should separately evaluate the science of dose-response from the regulatory approach to risk assessment.

Subject Area

Toxicology|Surgery|Environmental Health

Recommended Citation

Jones, Amy C, "What toxicologists and risk assessors think about hormesis: Results of a knowledge and opinion survey" (2010). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3397712.