"Precautionary principle" throws caution to the wind

The misapplication of the so-called "Precautionary Principle" is one of my pet peeves, because it is selectively invoked. It is routinely applied to the risk of environmental damage but never the risk of economic damage.

Rand Simberg takes a close look at the Precautionary Principle, which is problematic at best:

Those advocating that we upend the global (and particularly the U.S.) economy to stave off climate change resort to a concept called the "precautionary principle". Simply stated, it is that if there is some risk of an irreversible disaster in taking an action, then that action should be foregone.

In this formulation, the risk is climate change that will be disastrous for humanity, and the action to be foregone is continuing to add the carbon dioxide that is ostensibly causing it to the planetary atmosphere. The beautiful thing about the principle (at least for them) is that, because it doesn't assign any particular probability to the risk (i.e., it is uncertain), then it doesn't matter whether the science backing it up is known to be valid, because even if the science has only a small probability of being correct, the principle applies.

So even though "it doesn't matter whether the science backing it up is known to be valid," wrecking the economy is still seen as justified in the name of science.

Looking at uncertainty in the context of economic game theory, Simberg illustrates why the Precautionary Principle is being misapplied:

The problem is that, with the heretofore monomaniacal devotion to the flawed precautionary principle by the warm mongers, we haven't even defined the rows and columns, let alone attempted to come up with the numbers.
No wonder science has become political.

posted by Eric on 12.16.09 at 10:13 PM


Hmmm, now maybe I'm misunderstanding the "Precautionary Principle", but isn't that just Pascal's Wager with a pseudo-scientific veneer?

The reason I say that is because I've been pointing out to global warmmongers that they're using Pascal's Wager for their religion when it's really supposed to be used for another one.

"What if the Earth is warming and we don't do anything!"

Well, what if we're in an ice age and all our global warmering is keeping the glaciers at bay? Huh?

Veeshir   ·  December 17, 2009 11:08 AM

I probably should have read the link before commenting, but I have been abusing global warmmongers about Pascal's Wager for a long time.
They really don't think it's funny when you say, "Wrong religion dude."

Veeshir   ·  December 17, 2009 6:08 PM

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