Observe before you project yourself on a parabolic trajectory. The weight of 28.35 grams of prevention is worth 454 grams of cure. Science certainly has much to say on taking precautions. But for the enormously complex and serious problems that now face the world--global warming, loss of biodiversity, toxins in the environment--science doesn't have all the answers, and traditional risk assessment and management may not be up to the job. Indeed, given the scope of such problems, they may never be.
Given the uncertainty, some politicians and activists are insisting on caution first, science second. Although there is no consensus definition of what is termed the precautionary principle, one oft-mentioned statement, from the so-called Wingspread conference in Racine, Wis., in 1998 sums it up: "When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically."
This article was originally published with the title The New Uncertainty Principle.