Understanding The Precautionary Principle

Progressives believe that it is better to destroy the economy making pointless token gestures, than to do nothing in the face of a 0.0001 mole fraction increase of a harmless, essential trace gas. This is called “The Precautionary Principle

Let’s apply that same principle to a real event from 35 years ago. In the mid-1980s, it was discovered that millions of members of a particular group of people in the US carried a 100% deadly virus, and it was unknown if this virus was transmissible by mosquitoes or other forms of common physical contact. The Precautionary Principle would have required that [—– you fill in the blank ——]

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48 Responses to Understanding The Precautionary Principle

  1. I don’t think your analogy works because the primary confusion of the Precautionary Principle is that there is little or no harm or cost involved in preventing an action. In your example there would be a considerable immediate cost in quarantining AIDS suffers.

    The main problem with the precautionary principle is it assumes that gradually shutting down the hydrocarbon energy industry will do little harm or less harm than what it believes it might prevent.

    • Thanks for pointing out that destroying the economy has “little or no harm or cost.”
      (Twilight Zone music.)

      • I think you read my post backwards. Anyhows, I think the point you were making is that one should not act out of ignorance or fear. But I don’t think that is capturing what PP is centrally about. (Although it’s an aspect of it.)

      • PJ London says:

        Steve your example is too complicated for Climate Scientists to grasp.
        Here is a simplified version.
        Rape with violence is bad.
        99% of such rapists are male.
        As a precaution, all male children should be killed at birth.
        There, I have solved the rape with violence problem.

    • DedaEda says:

      You are wrong, quarantining AIDS sufferers would have saved billions of dollars and saved thousands of lives and made sex fun again.
      As to shutting down hydrocarbon energy industry, just watch your electricity bill…

  2. tom0mason says:

    In the alarmists’ version of the precautionary principle there is no time to waste, action must be taken now. Don’t bother thoroughly investigating what is happening. No, just form a hypothesis first, and test later.
    Much the same as 17th century medicine, it has no logic, no real science, it has just a belief in a half baked idea (that CO2 is bad). They utterly believe that their medicine will work, even when the all symptoms are unaffected and the patient dies.

  3. philjourdan says:

    Was the bug liberalism? 😉

  4. pyromancer76 says:

    @philjourdan. The bug is more like a compulsion to sell one’s soul to the devil. For what, for way too many people? Absolute Certainty (government knows; takes care; after all, anyone who can predict and control the weather can do anything). Who is the devil? Authoritarians. No matter what they label themselves they are in it for wealth, power, and control. “Liberal”, Conservative”, these terms have little meaning today. The major political tradition that built America was “classical liberalism” — not freedom for “:robber baronism”. The major political traditions that are destroying these hard won freedoms are Marxism (under the guise of progressivism), Islamism (under the false umbrella of religious freedom), and crony corporatism (under the false belief that the “successful and best” are in control of destiny and government).

    This blog is a great antidote to the bug. One of the best.

    • Gail Combs says:

      pyromancer76, +1

      But please call it Cronyism. what is going on has NOTHING to do with capitalism which died decades ago. Actually what we have is a form of socalism and to hide its nasty side the MSM repeatedly calls it ‘Capitalism’. link

      Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.

      The recognition of individual rights entails the banishment of physical force from human relationships: basically, rights can be violated only by means of force. In a capitalist society, no man or group may initiate the use of physical force against others. The only function of the government, in such a society, is the task of protecting man’s rights, i.e., the task of protecting him from physical force; the government acts as the agent of man’s right of self-defense, and may use force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use; thus the government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of force under objective control.

      When I say “capitalism,” I mean a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism—with a separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.

      Do you see todays economic system, strangling in government red tape, bearing any resemblance to Capitalism? Or is it better called Socialism/Third Way Fascism?

      • DD More says:

        Gail, I like to go by Robert A. Heinlein’s Quote.

        “Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.”

        ― Robert A. Heinlein

      • cdquarles says:

        It is Fascism. There are only two ways to do socialism. Overt, aka the Soviet Union, or covert, aka Mussolini/China today/US today. If you can ‘take over’ Bayer or Monsanto or Wal-Mart by ‘making an offer they can’t refuse from the Government’ then you’ve simply turned the businesses into government agencies. You don’t have to directly subsume them into the government like the Politburo, but it helps if they’re functionally lesser ‘ministers’ :P.

        • Gail Combs says:

          Yes it is fascism. Clinton and Tony Blair and the LSU director Anthony Giddens are all “Third Way” advocates. The Third Way: Beyond the politics of extremes, social exclusion, isolation and despair (it is enough to make one sick)

          E. M. Smith (ChiefIO) who is an otherwise employed economist Nailed it in his nutshell description “Evil Socialism” vs “Evil Capitalism”

          He also nailed what is happening now:

          …Now we are nearing the end game.

          Collapse of cultures and Empire moves slowly some times. It can take decades, or even centuries. But the end game tends to the same profile. The People discover they are in comfortable cages, but not being fed as well nor protected as well as they thought. The see a very few with untold power and wealth abusing their position. Folks are forgiving, and some are a bit slow, but eventually the day comes where they realize they are not getting all that good a deal. Well, that’s all it takes, really. Not some giant revolution. A few folks will make that happen. The major part of the collapse is hidden below the water line. That is the simple “failure to support” the power structure. Little things, like me talking to my son about volunteering for the military. Which way that conversation goes depends on the larger context. Or the willingness to get up and go to work every day. If, as a grunt, you get about the same ration of chow in the slop trough if you pull the plough or just lay around the pen, well, laying around the pen looks more pleasant. Like the conscripts in Italy who had a mediocre performance under Mussolini (and his “Bundle” / Fascist flavor of Socialism – with focus on labor unions (the ‘bundle’) and Central Control of businesses – the first “Third Way” or “Market Socialism” – currently being resurrected as the darling of The Left under a new name).

          Every day, someone has to make the machine we call civilization work. That works best as a “Self Organizing System”. A distributed set of independent actors. Private enterprise. FREE Markets (not ones regulated to death and under Central Control). Individual contributed welfare via things like churches. (not the bogus lie based ‘contributions’ that are forced from folks by law and taxes – any ‘contribution’ that is not voluntary is NOT a contribution, it is an extortion…) We simply must have those ‘bottom up’ self organizing systems or we will fail. Look at all of history. Central Authority grows until it fails, then it fails spectacularly. Every single time. Usually in wars, often with failure of food production and distribution, frequently with a great reduction in the “Elite”… (Remember the “French Haircut” of the French Revolution…) It takes a lot to reach that point, but well before then, folks just stop showing up to crank the machine. Or they work it only enough to avoid punishment; but well below what a free people will do. As Central Control grows, the regular folks struggle for a while, but then just adapt. It doesn’t take much to keep us happy, and we can do that for ourselves. Unlike power hungry Central Authoritarians, we don’t need admiration from anyone (above or below), nor vast wealth, nor power driven ego. We like things like chocolate chip cookies, beer, a bit of TV, maybe a video game, and some time in bed. Pretty easy to do that, even “all on your own”. Basically, we don’t need them. They need us. We can just walk away.


    • philjourdan says:

      You are correct that the dictionary definitions of the terms used today are virtually worthless. They are more like a greek fraternity the origins of which have long been lost in antiquity. But they are the labels of today, even though they bear no relationship to their definitions.

  5. mkelly says:

    If you truly believed in the PP you be a devout Christian. Just in case.

  6. Antonio says:

    The “Precautionary Principal” is religion, not science. Consider: Jesus said we would go to hell if we did not have faith in him. Now whether or not we can prove that hell exists, isn’t it prudent to believe in him to avoid going there?

    So, the fear mongers on the left are simply using an old religious argument in the guise of science.

  7. bit chilly says:

    gail combs ,i love reading your comments,they are always bang on the money.

    • _Jim says:

      Striking the lowest resonant chord is easy; the hard part is being rational, speaking clearly and without a ‘charged’ emotional tone such that those who are at the moment undecided might also be persuaded and to take up one’s cause.

      You have heard the term “Speaking to the choir” I presume? It is to the un-converted (and not just the choir) one needs to speak.


      • DEEBEE says:

        Again, _Jim — the snark might be justified, but justify it contemporaneously. Otherwise you come across as a loser and a sore one at that.

  8. DedaEda says:

    Well in the Forties of the last century, there was a Precautionary Principle applied to a certain part of the population, to prevent them from taking over the world. We all know how did this little experiment worked out…

  9. stpaulchuck says:

    The precautionary principle is the redoubt of panty wetters and scientific ignoramuses. It sits right up there with LNT (Linear, No Threshold) stupidity as an emotional safe haven for chicken littles and other buffoons.

    • Gail Combs says:

      Yes I just love the linear, no Threshold model. Think Potassium, Selenium, Zinc, Manganese, Copper, Molybdenum, Chromium…… All very necessary for human health but poison in large quantities.

  10. wyoskeptic says:

    If you accept the precautionary principle in conjunction with religion and science (i.e. Galileo and the pope) what should have happened is the first global warming scientist should have been treated to the inquisition. Water boarding and time on the rack might have meant a major modification to that theory …

  11. B says:

    I’ve got a better one. GMO. GMO is of course the taking the DNA of one species and inserting it into another. Along for the ride come all sorts of unknowns. The new organism is intellectual property of giant corporations. It spreads into the crops of other farmers and then those other farmers have to pay royalties. We really don’t know how this is going to turn out over the long term both with regards to the crops, the people who eat the crops, and the economic issue of having a corporation own the intellectual property of nearly all food once very little doesn’t have the patented genes. If someone suggest that we apply “The Precautionary Principle“, he will be derided as being ignorant of science, a Luddite, etc and so on.

    • Gail Combs says:

      That was not failure of “The Precautionary Principle“ that was failure of the FDA to do its job!

      I just stumbled across this article to day which has the best summary of the collusion between Big Government and the Corporate Cartels.

      • B says:

        IME Those who believe in the faith of “science” believe in both CO2 man made global warming and GMO. They treat people who know better on either subject in the same demeaning way. Their “science”, their authorities, have spoken and they believe, everyone else is a fool or worse.

        As to the FDA, it did exactly what its job is to do. The FDA is there for the big corporations. It is not there to protect the people. It is there to preserve the cartels. No cartel can survive without government protection. The FDA is that protection for food and drugs.

        It forces food to be this mediocre industrialized thing where ever it can. It makes regulatory burden that only the bigs can cope with. It is part of the system that has been raiding small farms where people are going around the regulations for things like raw milk and organic veggies, fruit, and meat.

        The FDA does its job to protect the corporations unless the people raise a huge stink. We are better off with a free market where we just vote with our dollars. It’s a lot easier to choose to buy or not to buy than it is to apply political pressure.

    • Shazaam says:

      Well the GMO’s with the Bt toxins fail massively in terms of integrated pest management (IPM). The smart farmer rotates 2 or 3 pesticides to prevent the pests developing resistance to any one of them.

      Brazilian farmers are reporting that the corn ear-worm is now resistant to the toxin…. Oops. One trick pony GMO has failed.

      That doesn’t even address any possible issues due to foreign toxins or proteins in our food supply.

      Round-up Ready varieties yeild less, and now are becoming obsolete as that one-trick pony is past it’s prime. The weeds have developed resistance to glyphosate.

      Since the super weeds have developed resistance to Round-up / glyphosate the GMO producers (and their pet FDA regulators) now want permissions to use the herbicide 2,4-D. Yet 2,4-D aka Agent Orange has a rather questionable safety record. (How’s that for polite?)

      It’s all about the money. And the campaign contributions (bribes).

        • Gail Combs says:

          And that doesn’t even get into horizontal gene transfer.
          Horizontal Gene Transfer from GMOs Does Happen Recent evidence confirms that transgenic DNA does jump species to bacteria and even plant and animals, as some of us had predicted Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Prof. Joe Cummins

          And I hate to tell you but any farmer can buy 2-4-D from the farm store without a license. It is used on most pastures and hay fields since it kills weeds but not grasses.

      • mjc says:

        The best weed control I’ve found is a goat.

        • Gail Combs says:

          I use sheep and goats. They eat what my horses will not and provide fiber and meat (and milk if I was desperate) 2-4 D can not do that.

          I really do not like mono-culture farming integrated farming gives more food per acre but it is more labor intensive.

        • mjc says:

          I’m in the middle of research for a book on that exact subject. And was hung up on a problem with the generally accepted CO2 values, until you posted a couple of links, so thanks, Gail.

      • _Jim says:

        re: Shazaam says August 2, 2014 at 2:18 am
        That doesn’t even address any possible issues due to foreign toxins or proteins in our food supply.

        If these proteins are rendered largely inert during cooking (as many are; I can’t eat raw green beans or watermelon even without a reaction) then there is little to worry about; I will submit that there is little study on natural compounds in grown vegetables that could pose issues. As I wrote in the previous sentence, uncooked vegetables and I do not get along … and that was over 40 years ago, well before GMO crops!


        • DEEBEE says:

          See, _Jim, did that hurt? You seem to have your mojo back. Gail Kryptonite Combs is gone.

        • Gail Combs says:

          DEEBEE says….
          So _Jim is up to his old tricks again. Trying to get the last word in when he thinks I will not reappear with a rebuttal.

          As I said before I do not have a “religious’ distrust of GMOs, Mankind has been modifying his food sources since paleolithic times – even before settled farming according to the archeology papers I have read. My problem is the laws do not apply to the corporate cartels. And _Jim has never met an international corporate cartel he doesn’t love. He even defends the Federal Reserve and attacks Mises via strawmen ad Homs.

          I will not get into the twisting of the law where GMO pollen “Criminally trespasses” and “impregnates” common,organic and heirloom varieties yet the courts allow Pinkerton agents to trespass on farmers fields “Steal” samples and then allows Monsanto to prosecute based on the “Criminal Tresspass” and “Stolen” genetics. Is this twisted or is this twisted?

          Back to GMOs

          This is the reason I dislike GMOs

          Unlike ordinary drugs or pesticides, which have to be tested for three-months in three mammalian species, then with one mammalian species for one year, and yet another for 2 years, current regulation does not require such tests for ‘biopesticides’ produced continuously in open fields; nor for the herbicides and herbicide residues accumulated by herbicide-tolerant GM crops. The two traits, biopesticides and herbicide tolerance now account for practically all GM crops grown in the world today. – http://www.i-sis.org.uk/GMmaizeMON863toxic.php

          Warmwell has a round-up of studies and comments on GMOs such as this:

          One of the most alarming aspects of all this is a statement from 26 University Entomologists to the US Environmental Protection Agency dated August 2009, revealing that the GM industry will not allow independent research unless they “approve” it:

          “Technology/stewardship agreements required for the purchase of genetically modified seed explicitly prohibit research. These agreements inhibit public scientists from pursuing their mandated role on behalf of the public good unless the research is approved by industry. As a result of restricted access, no truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions regarding the technology, its performance, its management implications, IRM, and its interactions with insect biology. Consequently, data flowing to an EPA Scientific Advisory Panel from the public sector is unduly limited.”


          AND THIS:

          Dr. Don Huber, professor emeritus at Purdue University, – his letter to U. S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack warns of what looks like an entirely new pathogen caused by Monsanto’s Roundup and Roundup Ready crops
          Dear Secretary Vilsack:

          A team of senior plant and animal scientists have recently brought to my attention the discovery of an electron microscopic pathogen that appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals, and probably human beings. Based on a review of the data, it is widespread, very serious, and is in much higher concentrations in Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans and corn—suggesting a link with the RR gene or more likely the presence of Roundup. This organism appears NEW to science!

          This is highly sensitive information that could result in a collapse of US soy and corn export markets and significant disruption of domestic food and feed supplies. On the other hand, this new organism may already be responsible for significant harm (see below). My colleagues and I are therefore moving our investigation forward with speed and discretion, and seek assistance from the USDA and other entities to identify the pathogen’s source, prevalence, implications, and remedies.

          We are informing the USDA of our findings at this early stage, specifically due to your pending decision regarding approval of RR alfalfa. Naturally, if either the RR gene or Roundup itself is a promoter or co-factor of this pathogen, then such approval could be a calamity. Based on the current evidence, the only reasonable action at this time would be to delay deregulation at least until sufficient data has exonerated the RR system, if it does…..

          “The most important research finding in this area has recently come from Jena University in Germany. Researchers there have shown that a gene used in GM canola transferred to bacteria in the guts of bees. I believe this is the first publicly documented case of horizontal gene transfer from GM crops to bacteria within any animal. This discovery may have major implications for the future of GM crops. “ http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/03/10/HOG5FOH9VQ1.DTL

          “Gene fragments from the food are circulated and sometimes integrated into the chromosomes of the predator. “ http://www.saynotogmos.org/scientific_studies.htm

          _Jim forgets that our livestock eats GMO raw and there have not been studies comparing consumption of grass fed vs Factory farm raised cattle fed GMO corn, wheat, barley, soy and pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals. Mad Cow Disease proves heating doesn’t necessarily kill everything. Actually heating can cause its own problems.

          Also Cooking Meat can produce toxins:
          • Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs): These form when food is cooked at high temperatures, and they’re linked to cancer. In terms of HCA, the worst part of the meat is the blackened section, which is why you should always avoid charring your meat, and never eat blackened sections. (wwwDOT)ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15072585

          • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs): When fat drips onto the heat source, causing excess smoke, and the smoke surrounds your food, it can transfer cancer-causing PAHs to the meat. http://toxics.usgs.gov/definitions/pah.html and (wwwDOT)cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/cooked-meats

          • Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs): When food is cooked at high temperatures (including when it is pasteurized or sterilized), it increases the formation of AGEs in your food. When you eat the food, it transfers the AGEs into your body. AGEs build up in your body over time leading to oxidative stress, inflammation and an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease.: (wwwDOT)ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3704564/

          I could go on and on, as people here realize by now, but I have to get to sleep and get up at 3AM. – GACK

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