Sunday, March 25, 2012

Hippie Newws & Stuff: Taken Precautions


Mebbe in the last little while you saw this cartoon? It reminded me again of the "Precautionary Principle." Why do we take "precautions?" To forestall any possible, foreseeable, but in principle, anyway, preventable consequences to acts which could have profound, life-altering consequences.

Like pregnancy.

Or eliminating genetic diversity in food stocks.

Humans, unlike pretty much all other species, do just plain silly things, because we CAN DO them. And what we AND Do can cause immense, immeasurable, and irreversible DAMAGE, with genetic engineering, chemicals, weapons, and diseases. When a vagrant gene or microbe could colonize the whole world in a matter of weeks at most, via global transportation corridors, the silly things we CAN DO potentially have vast implications

Recognizing this, about 20 years ago, a bunch of biologists and ehticists had a conference, in Rio, and cobbled together a rule which they thought, if it were honored even a little, could possibly mitigate the effects of unbridled, unthinking "can-doism."

They called it "the Precautionary Principle." Just to review: Precaution is "caution in advance," "caution practised in the context of uncertainty," or maybe informed prudence. Just like in the back seat of that Chevy...The idea itself has several iterations: There are two key elements in all of 'em:
1) It constitutes a REQUIREMENT that so-called "decision-makers" to try to recognize and anticipate harm before it occurs; under the precautionary principle it is the responsibility of an activity proponent to establish that the proposed activity will NOT (or is very unlikely to) result in significant harm before proceeding.

Secondly, if the level of harm may be high, it creates conditions of positive obligation, for action to prevent or minimise potential harm
even when the absence of scientific certainty makes it difficult to predict the likelihood of harm occurring, or the level of harm should it occur. The need for control measures increases with both the level of possible harm and the degree of uncertainty.

Despite it being just about the epitome of common sense in a crowded, technology-laden, polluted, and dangerous world, the precautionary principle is just about unknown.

I view it as the technological equivalent, on the social scale of the physicians' Hippocratic oath to their individual patients: First, do no harm.

You wouldn't let a doctor work on you who didn't believe they had a positive obligation to try not to hurt you. Why do you/we let companies dealing in life-changing technologies get away with less?

There'll be a test when I see you at the beach...

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