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American Journal of Bioethics.

Public Health Principlism: The Precautionary Principle and Beyond

The ?precautionary principle,? properly applied, forbids the precautionary principle. It is self-contradictory. The precautionary principle therefore cannot be spoken of in terms that are too harsh.
?Michael Crichton, State of Fear, 2004

In Michael Crichton?s 2004 novel, State of Fear, the author ridicules environmental concerns?and especially concerns about global warming?as overwrought, unsubstantiated, and dangerous. His arguments are layered (for example, he suggests quite strongly that scientists who study climate change are today?s version of eugenicists), but many hinge on his disdain for applications of the so-called, ?precautionary principle.? And though Dr. Crichton is not a politician, regulator, or climate change researcher, he is a best-selling author many times over and, more importantly, his sentiments appear to reflect those of a large and powerful segment of society. So his opinions matter. On the other hand, the precautionary principle is well-regarded in the public health community as an ethical point of departure for regulations. It also forms a legal basis for environmental and public-health regulation for all of Europe. So it may be worthwhile to explore the precautionary principle a bit more before speaking too harshly of it.

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Volume 5, Issue 3
May 2005