30.6.04

PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE - What's wrong with the Precautionary Principle? What are the alternatives?

An article on Spiked-online examines the tragically ironic risks involved in living in a risk-averse culture. The Extropy Institute suggests a more progress-friendly alternative in the form of the Proactionary Principle

From the Spiked-online article: Professor Sir Colin Berry is not a big fan of the 'precautionary principle': 'If everything we did had to be absolutely safe, risk-free, proven to have no adverse outcomes for anyone or anything, we'd never get anywhere. Buildings wouldn't go up, planes wouldn't get off the ground, medical breakthrough would come to a standstill, science would be stifled…. Shall I go on?' Berry says that when he challenges 'our obsession with safety', some imagine that he is leading the charge for being reckless, for throwing caution to the wind, as the saying goes. He insists that isn't so. 'Precaution is a part of everyday life. It is sensible to do things that minimise risks to ourselves and to others. You shouldn't close your eyes when you cross the road; you should stub out your cigarette before going to sleep.' But, says Berry, problems arise when precaution is transformed into an abstract principle that we're expected to live our lives by. 'Safety is a description of an approach, rather than an absolute state', he says. 'We can never be absolutely safe and free from risk. Indeed, aspiring to such a state brings its own problems.'

Read on: More sorry than safe by Brendan O'Neill

A proactionary alternative to the Precautionary Principle emerged from the recent "Vital Progress Summit" organised by the Extropy Institute: "People's freedom to innovate technologically is highly valuable, even critical, to humanity. This implies several imperatives when restrictive measures are proposed: Assess risks and opportunities according to available science, not popular perception. Account for both the costs of the restrictions themselves, and those of opportunities foregone. Favor measures that are proportionate to the probability and magnitude of impacts, and that have a high expectation value. Protect people's freedom to experiment, innovate, and progress."

Read on: the Proactionary Principle


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