Sunday, March 13, 2005


The precautionary principle has been on the rise since its very first appearance in the 1980s in Germany, where a committee of experts were asked to study the means to ensure the environmental protection of the North sea. Since then, the Kyoto Protocol has been ratified and the principle even has been included in the European Constitution project. But its success is scary if you understand the nature of this principle. It in no way removes risk, but rather increases the level of risk to individual prosperity.

What is the true nature of this principle? The precautionary principle is nothing but a modern tool for social engineering aimed at reducing certain types of risks through state intervention. It can be explained in two different ways. On the one hand, it means that -- in its name -- it is necessary to prove that an activity does not imply any risk for the environment in order to be allowed. On the other hand, it requires no demonstration (i.e. scientific proof) that an activity implies a risk for individuals or for the environment in order to ban it. This is what Hubert Reeves underlines in a recent article in Le Monde. As he puts it, "waiting for the scientific certainty stage to be reached in order to change the evolution of things could be suicidal."

The precautionary principle reverses the burden of proof. From now on, any activity will be guilty of damaging the environment and subject to prohibition unless it has been proven that it is of no danger.

This is dangerous because the principle forgets that risks and uncertainties are inherent features in human action, always have been and always will be. We are fortunate that throughout history individuals did not wait for approval from social engineers before they confronted risks. The progression of knowledge and achievement has allowed us to go ahead cautiously in the development of human activities, without forbidding this or that activity.

This is, however, what the precautionary principle proposes to do. In order to remove the risk linked to an activity, the easiest way is to cancel the activity itself. Nevertheless, purely and simply forbidding an activity, a production, an enterprise, also puts an end to the trial-and-error process necessary for the development of our knowledge. It also means reducing the level of our savings as well as limiting the spontaneous development of social institutions able to manage the risk.

Precaution as a principle does not attempt to reduce the risk linked to an activity, but rather to remove it. This could well destroy the potential beneficial consequences of innovation as well as market mechanisms, which have allowed man to reduce the risks he inexorably faces.

Used by politicians, this authoritative and centralized means of managing risks, forces all the members of a society to take the risk associated with prohibiting a certain activity. We can only fear disastrous consequences.

There's also an inherent contradiction: as the precautionary principle cannot remove all risks, but only suppress some of them while forcing us into taking others, it should submit to its own test. Its proponents should have to prove that its implementation does not imply any irreversible or damaging risks for the population. This is impossible; so, just to be safe, the principle should be banned.

More here


A federal appellate judge is being accused of a conflict of interest in a ruling against an Indiana woman who lost her teaching job at a United Methodist university for passing out Christian magazines in her classroom. A three-judge panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals recently overturned a jury verdict in favor of DePauw University education program coordinator Janis Price. The panel rejected the jury's finding that DePauw officials discriminated against the university employee by creating a hostile work environment and violating her free-speech rights.

In January, the panel tossed out the jury verdict that awarded the Christian administrative officer more than $10,000 in lost wages. The university had cut Price's pay, stripped her of all her titles, suspended her teaching duties, and placed her on probation, all for passing out Christian literature in class -- material that a university official construed as "anti-gay literature" in violation of the school's anti-harassment policy.

A jury agreed with Price that the Indiana school officials had treated the plaintiff unfairly and violated her rights. But even before the three-judge panel announced it was setting aside the jury's decision, the reprimanded employee says the December 7 online edition of the DePauw newspaper was already reporting that her favorable verdict had been overturned. "The document that I received -- and that my lawyer received -- that was stamped by the court was dated December 14," Price points out. "So I think you don't have to be too intelligent to connect the dots and to see that there was communication between Judge Crone and the university a week before the document was actually stamped."

But that is only one of the improprieties the Christian administrator sees in the handling of her case. Price also notes that one of the panel members, Judge Terry Crone, is a DePauw alumnus, a fact she feels should have forced the jurist to recuse himself from the proceedings. And, she adds, "He also is well-acquainted with John Neighbors, who is the DePauw lawyer and a 1971 graduate of DePauw University." In light of the judge's influential role in the matter and in authoring the panel's ruling, Price feels his connections to the school and others involved with the case could be viewed as conflicts of interest. "The other two district judges merely concurred," she notes. "Their names are listed at the end that they concur; but the person who actually wrote the documentation, Terry Crone, is a '74 graduate of DePauw."

Price says the fact that there was apparent communication between Judge Crone and the DePauw University media before the ruling was announced is a strong indicator that the American judicial system is "in big trouble." She is filing an appeal with the Indiana Supreme Court.


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