The precautionary principle

A good topic for blog posts in our general theme area of “probability” for this week might be the precautionary principle.  This idea, which has legal force in some countries, has several forms: one of them is that “if a proposed action is suspected of causing a risk to the environment, then  those proposing the action need to demonstrate that it does not propose a risk; those opposing the action do not need to demonstrate that it does pose a risk.”

Here is a basic scientific paper on the principle

Precautionary

and a link to an important early consensus statement

Wingspread Statement

The precautionary principle is appealing, but there are some obvious problems with it, for instance: What counts as “demonstrated” absence of harm?  What if our choice is not between “risk” and “safety” but between two courses of action both of which are “risky” in different ways?

You could post about the application of these ideas, and its relation to more probabilistic methods of risk assessment, in any one of several contexts: GMO foods, vaccines, cell phones and brain cancer, climate change…

 

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