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Thursday, July 12, 2018

A Precautionary Strawman

Chances are if you've stuck around long enough, you've noticed a common theme amongst the Skeptic crowd - they aren't fans of the precautionary principle (PP).

David Zaruk waxes poetic on the PP.

The PP is a guideline for decision making when faced with scientific uncertainty. It has been described as having "four central components: taking preventive action in the face of uncertainty; shifting the burden of proof to the proponents of an activity; exploring a wide range of alternatives to possibly harmful actions; and increasing public participation in decision making."

The Wingspread Statement defines the principle: "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."

And yet, popular Skeptic bloggers and SciMoms Alison Bernstein aka Mommy PhD and Kavin Senapathy define the PP as something entirely different in the Forbes article, "How Marketers Use Fear Of Chemicals For Profit: 3 Easy Steps"

Their statement even goes so far to imply that the PP is somehow irrational, harkening back to Zaruk's string of ad hominem descriptors at the outset of this post.

Another popular Skeptic blogger, Michael Simpson aka Skeptical Raptor lists the PP under logical fallacies on his website.

His rationale for including it in the logical fallacy category? "Although the precautionary principle is not a formal logical fallacy, it is very dependent on the logical fallacy, argument from ignorance, which asserts that a proposition is true because it has not yet been proven false.

In addition to creating their own definitions of the PP, another popular tactic is proposing absurd strawman applications of the principle in order to undermine it.

Of course, none of their definitions or examples are accurate when you actually compare them with the PP. Their biases are on full display here, and unfortunately this type of misrepresentation is not beneficial to stakeholders who may be affected by decisions made without due consideration to the effects on the environment or human health. But they are beneficial to the industries who are happy to shift the burden of proof to the public to prove unequivocally that their products are toxic as they continue to pump them out into the air and water only to find decades later that long term harm has occurred.

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