As law professor Cass Sunstein argues in Laws of Fear, the precautionary principle is more a feel-good sentiment than a principle that offers real guidance about regulating risks. Risks are everywhere, he notes, so we often face a risk in acting and a risk in not acting— and in these situations, the precautionary principle is no help.

Consider chlorine. Treat drinking water with it and it creates by-products that have been shown to cause cancer in lab animals in high doses and may increase the cancer risk of people who drink the water. There’s even some epidemiological evidence that suggests the risk is more than hypothetical. So the precautionary principle would suggest we stop putting chlorine in drinking water. But what happens if we do that? “If you take the chlorine out of the drinking water, as was done in South America, you end up with an epidemic of 2,000 cases of cholera,” says Daniel Krewski. And cholera is far from the only threat. There are many water-borne diseases, including typhoid fever, a common killer until the addition of chlorine to drinking water all but wiped it out in the developed world early in the twentieth century. So, presumably, the precautionary principle would say we must treat drinking water with chlorine. “Because risks are on all sides, the Precautionary Principle forbids action, inaction, and everything in between, ” writes Sunstein. It is “paralyzing; it forbids the very steps that it requires.”

(Risk, Dan Gardner. Sí, todavía estoy leyendo este libro. Ando de lectura lenta últimamente.)
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