Arnold Williams (notebuyer) wrote,
Arnold Williams

A Worthwhile Alternative to the Precautionary Principle

Why do we need an alternative to the precautionary principle?

The precautionary principle has at least six major weak spots. It serves us badly by:

1. assuming worst-case scenarios
2. distracting attention from established threats to health, especially natural risks
3. assuming that the effects of regulation and restriction are all positive or neutral, never negative
4. ignoring potential benefits of technology and inherently favoring nature over humanity
5. illegitimately shifting the burden of proof and unfavorably positioning the proponent of the activity
6. conflicting with more balanced, common-law approaches to risk and harm.

So what's the alternative? How about this?

People’s freedom to innovate technologically is highly valuable, even critical, to humanity. This implies a range of responsibilities for those considering whether and how to develop, deploy, or restrict new technologies. Assess risks and opportunities using an objective, open, and comprehensive, yet simple decision process based on science rather than collective emotional reactions. Account for the costs of restrictions and lost opportunities as fully as direct effects. Favor measures that are proportionate to the probability and magnitude of impacts, and that have the highest payoff relative to their costs. Give a high priority to people’s freedom to learn, innovate, and advance.

It comes with a name barbarously formed: the "proactionary principle". I'd suggest a new name would be helpful in promoting it. I'm not sure that "expected value principle" is catchy, but it's closer to the meaning. Any suggestions?

Yes, I know that the reversibility principle also has advocates: but I don't know of any time that it would have worked. Here it is, though:

When considering the development or deployment of beneficial technologies with uncertain, but potentially significant, negative results, any decision should be made with a strong bias towards the ability to step back and reverse the decision should harmful outcomes become more likely. The determination of possible harmful results must be grounded in science but recognize the potential for people to use the technology in unintended ways, must include a consideration of benefits lost by choosing not to move forward with the technology, and must address the possibility of serious problems coming from the interaction of the new technology with existing systems and conditions. This consideration of reversibility should not cease upon the initial decision to go forward to hold back, but should be revisited as additional relevant information emerges.

Any thoughts?
Tags: philosophy

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