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That Paper Criticizing Sunstein:

Via Prawfsblawgs, I discover that the paper authored by several "progressive" law professors criticizing Cass Sunstein contains the following extraordinary statement, defending the precautionary principle: "It is difficult to think of a single public health or environmental threat that with the benefit of additional research has not proven even more dangerous over time."

Now that's a fun game! Let's see, off the top of my head, here are some things that turned out to be a lot less threatening than many, including at least some "experts," thought:

Mercury in vaccines; Bendectin; Silicone breast implants (and medical grade silicone in general); PCBs; Asbestos in buildings; Flouride in water; Birth control pills; Occasional marijuana use; High fat diets; Exposure to low level nuclear radiation; New carpet fumes; "Toxic waste dumps"/Superfund sites; Moderate overweightedness; Moderate alcohol consumption; Spermicides; Metal fillings (for teeth); Cancer from physical trauma; Masturbation; Predictions in the 1970s of worldwide food shortages; "Overpopulation"; Global Warming (the predictions of the level of man-made warming have decreased dramatically, even among strong advocates of the theory); Miscarriage from video display monitors; Cancer from electromagnetic field radiation; Radon; Dioxin; Pesticides commonly used on fruits and vegetables causing cancer to "eaters";

Feel free to add more, below.

Soronel Haetir (mail):
How about the Alar scare of the late 80s?
1.28.2009 10:02pm
CDU (mail) (www):
1.28.2009 10:05pm
Curt Fischer:
Nicotine use. (Not crude tobacco products, but nicotine.) Drinking coffee after a night of boozing.
1.28.2009 10:14pm
1Ler:
DDT. Somehow I'm sure Ms. Carson never remotely wanted millions of Africans to die from malaria, but that's been the Silent Spring legacy.
1.28.2009 10:21pm
Perseus (mail):
Saccharin.
1.28.2009 10:33pm
Richard Riley (mail):
I realize David Bernstein is no particular fan of the Iraq war or the GWOT generally, but it's interesting that these lefty law professors' "precautionary principle," requiring strict regulation of things they don't like, is a pretty close analogue to the "1% principle" attributed to Dick Cheney (and I think discussed in a recent book by Posner): if there's just a 1% chance of some catastrophic terrorist attack, we need to attack the people behind it, torture the suspects, whatever it takes, to stop it. All these people, left and right, find "principles" that support their domestic or geopolitical policy preferences.
1.28.2009 10:34pm
Arturito:
Black death, evil eye, leprosy, smallpox, syphilis, demonic posession.
1.28.2009 10:36pm
David McCourt (mail):
The authors advocate the so-called "precautionary principle," which they say "embodies a 'better safe than sorry' approach to environmental, health, and safety risks when there is uncertainty about the causes or effects of those risks." They claim that this principle "directs policymakers to err on the side of caution when uncertainty makes it impossible to know exactly how to respond to a perceived risk."

What they really mean is that policy makers should always respond with the most extreme and coercive regulatory measures available to them. This has nothing to do with caution, and everything to do with arrogance combined with hysteria. It really ought to be called the "chicken little principle," as it directs that government always should adopt the most dire view, and take the most drastic steps, even when based on the thinnest information and most conclusory analysis. This is the opposite of a real cautionary, if not "precautionary," principle, and it bespeaks a deep ignorance of the ways in which, throughout history, people -- including especially people in government -- have so often done great, if unintended, harm by getting things exactly wrong.
1.28.2009 10:47pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
Saddam Hussein and Iraq.
1.28.2009 10:47pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
Oh, I guess Richard Riley kind of beat me to it, but I wasn't trying to make a point other than that Iraq &Saddam did not turn out to be the threat we were sold on -- just like the stuff that DB notes.

Also, Arturito, the black death turned out to be pretty bad.
1.28.2009 10:49pm
TomHynes (mail):
law school
1.28.2009 10:55pm
Raționalitate (www):
1.28.2009 10:59pm
Jmaie (mail):
The coming ice age, circa 1970.
1.28.2009 10:59pm
Fungible Billing Unit:
The Cranberry Scare of 1959 and the Delaney Clause.
1.28.2009 10:59pm
Prosecutorial Indiscretion:
I remember when they predicted that by 2000, we'd have to carry around special umbrellas to protect us from the ravages of acid rain.
1.28.2009 11:00pm
glangston (mail):
Offshore oil drilling. Nuclear power.
1.28.2009 11:16pm
giovanni da procida (mail):

DDT. Somehow I'm sure Ms. Carson never remotely wanted millions of Africans to die from malaria, but that's been the Silent Spring legacy


AFAIK the point of Silent Spring was that spraying DDT indiscriminately over agricultural lands was a bad idea for a number of reasons. For example: "Spray as little as you possibly can" rather than "Spray to the limit of your capacity."

This is because overuse of DDT causes resistance to DDT in mosquitos. This makes it less useful in preventing malaria.

DDT is currently used to prevent the spread of malaria in many parts of the world. There is no total "ban" on DDT.
1.28.2009 11:19pm
Thoughtful (mail):
Frankly, the only things I can think of for sure that turned out to be MORE dangerous than initially expected are the predictions of experts...
1.28.2009 11:20pm
one of many:
cell phone induced brain cancer


AIDS from touching the homosexuals

Pluto not being a planet (OK, but the whole saga of Pluto's planetness (planeticity?) shows that even in a field which has minimal impact on humanity politics can change the "science")
1.28.2009 11:23pm
Frater Plotter:
If Pluto is a planet, then Eris is, too.

And you can't invite her to the party ...
1.28.2009 11:32pm
Jerry F:
It makes sense for hardcore leftists to criticize Sunstein. With the most liberal President in history in the White House, the most liberal Congress in history, and the most partisan media that I can remember, the hard Left can expect someone even farther Left than Sunstein to be nominated. Similarly, if Republicans had control of Congress and the White House, I would not be satisfied with another John Roberts and would want to make sure that we appoint another Scalia/Thomas.
1.28.2009 11:33pm
Curt Fischer:
We should also note, I think, areas which did turn out to be big dangers but which experts (for the most part) missed. These are harder for me to think of; here's a few initial ideas:

credit default swaps
mortgage backed securities
thalidomide
sulfate (emissions from power plants)
red #2 food dye
1.28.2009 11:36pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Curt Fisher: In Re thalidomide, it depends on which "experts" you're criticizing. It was never approved by the FDA for use in pregnant women, the off-label use that resulted in birth defects.

It was approved by European "experts" and generally purchased in Europe for use in the US.
1.28.2009 11:40pm
wagnert in atlanta (mail):
Spray adhesives. Reagan's welfare reforms. Any of the multifarous substances known by the State of California to cause harm. (I just installed a light fixture containing a substance [not specified] "known to the State of California to cause cancer." In my opinion, if I have someone in my household who chews on light fixtures, cancer would be well down my list of concerns.)
1.29.2009 12:01am
ARS:
Wait, what? "Asbestos in buildings" turned out to be less threatening than people once thought?!
1.29.2009 12:10am
DiversityHire:
Cyclamates
Absinthe
Pornography
AR-15s
Mysogenation
Cell Phone Cameras that don't produce an audible "Click"
1.29.2009 12:16am
methodact:
I am concerned that on page 147 of the new bailout bill that the following provision might be used to pay into the war on sex as behavioral coercion and surveillance schemes:

not less than $335,000,000 shall be used as an additional amount to carry out domestic HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis, sexually-transmitted diseases, and tuberculosis prevention programs, as jointly determined by the Secretary and the Director;
1.29.2009 12:26am
David M. Nieporent (www):
I agree with the precautionary principle; I just think it ought to be applied to government, rather than private individuals. No government action ought to be taken unless we're 100% sure it's safe.
1.29.2009 12:32am
David Warner:
"It is difficult to think of a single public health or environmental threat that with the benefit of additional research has not proven even more dangerous over time."

Alright, who wants to break it to these Profs that they got old, and thus conservative, before they died? Did they also suggest that we get the hell off their lawn?
1.29.2009 12:34am
Shelby (mail):
ARS: "Asbestos in buildings" turned out to be less threatening than people once thought?!

Indeed, for asbestos that remains in situ. It's only when it is disturbed so that particles get airborne that it becomes hazardous.
1.29.2009 1:04am
LM (mail):
1.29.2009 1:49am
Vermando (mail) (www):
Why would anyone write such a thing in a paper meant to be read by law professors? Don't they know that their colleagues take on these kinds of claims for a living?
1.29.2009 2:07am
24AheadDotCom (mail) (www):
Flouride in water

Actually, as time goes on the Birchers are starting to look quite prescient. There were a small number of people opposed to that when it was started, but they were shouted down via industry propaganda. Now, it turns out that the studies favoring it were weak, and new studies show problems with its use. Here are some links in random order:

lewrockwell.com/miller/miller17.html
guardian.co.uk/science/2008/feb/09/medicalresearch.health
garynull.com/documents/Dental/Fluoride/fluoride2.htm
fluoridealert.org
1.29.2009 2:32am
one of many:
Why would anyone write such a thing in a paper meant to be read by law professors? Don't they know that their colleagues take on these kinds of claims for a living?

it's not intended to read critically by law professors, it is a policy paper put out by the no-partisan Center For Progressive Reform and was a paper ment to be read by those on the left.
1.29.2009 2:33am
24AheadDotCom (mail) (www):
We should also note, I think, areas which did turn out to be big dangers but which experts (for the most part) missed.

Or, a current area that "experts"/politicians are paid to ignore/downplay.
1.29.2009 2:35am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Mercury and lead tjrn out to have been much more dangerous than originally thought.

Also, MTBE.

Coal dust.

Mismanaged levee districts.

Sassafras.

Just bein' ornery. I take your point about the precautionary principal, Professor.
1.29.2009 3:08am
Sean Gleeson (mail):
Here are a few more erstwhile public menaces you did not mention: comic books, cranberries, killer bees, the ozone hole, Satanic day care sex rings, and the Y2K bug.
1.29.2009 3:11am
Foobarista:
The "precautionary principle" is reactionary nonsense. Basically, it says: "Don't take a step - you might die".

It's hard to see how anyone who'd call themselves a "progressive" would ever buy into this "principle".
1.29.2009 4:01am
DiversityHire:
Rock n' Roll:

…the beat was "very seductive and even addictive with those exposed to the beat craving more of it even as it makes them weaker."

In [Soviet] Russia doctors came to the conclusion that rock and roll had a "tremendously harmful psychic effect." …
1.29.2009 4:07am
DiversityHire:
Rap:

TABLE 2—Unadjusted and Adjusted Analyses Measuring the Association Between Exposure
to Rap Music Videos and Adolescents'Health at 12-Month Follow-Up: Birmingham,Ala,
1999--2000
Bivariate Analyses
High Low Multivariate Analyses
Adolescents'Healtha Exposure Exposure PRb(90% CI) P ORc(90% CI) P
Violence
Hit a teacher 7.1 2.4 3.0 (1.1,8.1) .02 3.0 (1.2,7.3) .04
Compared with adolescents who had
less exposure to rap music videos, adolescents
who had greater exposure to rap music videos
were 3 times more likely to have hit a teacher;
more than 2.5 times as likely to have been ar-
rested; 2 times as likely to have had multiple
sexual partners; and more than 1.5 times as
likely to have acquired a new sexually trans-
mitted disease, used drugs, and used alcohol
over the 12-month follow-up period (Table2).
1.29.2009 4:13am
Jane (mail):
Taking a bath while menstruating.
Going out in cold whether with wet hair.
Eating chocolate causes zits.
Ulcers caused by stress.
Painkillers for childbirth bad (ugh)
Sitting close to a TV
Margarine is healthier than butter.
Don't go out in the sun without being slathered with sunscreen.
No swimming until 1 hour after eating.
Freon.
The ridiculous amount of water we are told to drink.
The food pyramid
Going blind from reading in dim light.
1.29.2009 5:11am
lonetown (mail):
Great list!

Its amazing how pernicious our tort system is, isn't it?
1.29.2009 5:24am
lonetown (mail):
Oh I thought of one:

Letting lawyers advertise on radio and tv would ruin our legal system!


hmmmmmm, nevermind.
1.29.2009 5:31am
LM (mail):
Some of the things listed in this thread actually are bad for you.
1.29.2009 6:33am
Crimso:
Iben Browning.
1.29.2009 6:54am
Brian Mac:
Barack Obama?
1.29.2009 6:59am
Baby M (mail):
The Chevrolet Corvair--the NTSB found it was no less safe than any contemporary design.
1.29.2009 7:00am
Pat Patterson (mail):
Masturbation is OK? That would have been nice to know during junior high!
1.29.2009 7:33am
edh (mail):
Warnings for and against circumcision.

Warnings against putting your tongue in a moving oscillating fan. Oh, wait, that warning did pan-out. I'm sowwrey.
1.29.2009 7:47am
RickTom:
Bird Flu, West Nile Virus, SARS, Killer Bees
1.29.2009 7:58am
bornyesterday (mail) (www):
That violent video games, music, movies and television shows make kids more likely to commit violent crimes.
1.29.2009 8:18am
Soronel Haetir (mail):
LM,

The question is not whether the item is dangerous but how congruent the actual danger is with the prior preditions.
1.29.2009 8:31am
ghh:
nutrisweet
concealed carry
Malthusian population disasters (via Erlich)
getting drunk and jumping balcony to balcony in Fort Lauderdale
1.29.2009 8:48am
Dave_ (mail):
GIANT ASTEROID (by the way, what is the black shadow forming over my head?)
1.29.2009 8:51am
JB:
The problem with the precautionary principle, as has been noted in this thread, is that doing nothing is itself an action. By the precautionary principle, if there is a 1% chance that doing nothing will fail to prevent a bad outcome, we must do something. But if there's a 1% chance that that something will lead to a bad outcome...

and so on until you reinvent cost-benefit analysis.
1.29.2009 9:21am
JK:
I love the way people mix in actual instances of overestimated risk with instances where they hope the risk is overestimated. I'm pretty sure "high fat" diets are still considered unhealthy, and that it is still considered advisable to wear sunscreen.
1.29.2009 9:36am
Closet Libertarian (www):
An interesting corollary would be things not as beneficial as claimed initially:

Margarine
Gun Control
Public Education
1.29.2009 9:52am
Brian Mac:
A guide to criticising the precautionary principle:

Step 1: Acknowledge that it has lots of formulations.

Step 2: Take the most extreme formulation.

(It's unimportant whether anyone has actually advocated following it)

Step 3: Show that putting that extreme formulation into action would lead to bad decisions.

Step 4: Conclude that the precautionary principle is dangerous or paralysing.
1.29.2009 10:03am
Assistant Village Idiot (mail) (www):
I take the point on degree of risk as applied to foreign policy, specifically Iraq, but the situation is a little different. It may have been an overestimated danger, but not no danger; similar to JK's examples just above. Saddam actually had killed lots of people, for example. The question was his ability to kill us and our allies, or aid those who would.
1.29.2009 10:04am
glangston (mail):
They are not only distinguished law professors but science nerds too.

From the same paper.

Our Response. We recognize that climate change has the potential to be the single most
destructive act that humankind has ever visited upon itself and upon the planet on which
humankind depends. We are convinced, as are the vast majority of the world's scientists, that
the individuals and the environment that will suffer irreparable harm as a result of even modest
climate change effects have an extraordinary value that cannot be reduced to dollars and cents.
1.29.2009 10:15am
jc:
Didn't the world run out of landfill space over a decade ago?
1.29.2009 10:18am
Erick:
Even ignoring that silly quote, that's quite a terrible paper.
1.29.2009 10:29am
AndrewK (mail):
I'm pretty sure a recent study showed that frequent sex and/or masturbation from 20-40 increased the likelihood of prostate cancer later in life. Take this to be the radical claim that the evidentiary burden here is NEVER discharged-- HEY, who knows? Down the line these things MIGHT turn out to be dangerous!
1.29.2009 10:31am
Abandon:
I'm pretty sure a recent study showed that frequent sex and/or masturbation from 20-40 increased the likelihood of prostate cancer later in life. Take this to be the radical claim that the evidentiary burden here is NEVER discharged-- HEY, who knows? Down the line these things MIGHT turn out to be dangerous!

It simply is a matter of odds: the more sexual encouters you have in your life, the greater your chances to get an STD, which are proven to increase the likelyhood of prostatic/cervical cancer, among other diseases.
1.29.2009 10:51am
Tom K:
John Burgess wrote;
It (thalidomide) was never approved by the FDA for use in pregnant women, the off-label use that resulted in birth defects.


Thalidomide was never approved by the US FDA for any indication/use. Dr. Frances Kelsey at FDA held up approval because of her concerns about peripheral neuropathy. She did the right thing, thank goodness, but for the wrong reason. She received a medal. As I recall, the attractiveness of thalidomide was that you could not kill yourself with it by overdosing.
1.29.2009 11:17am
George Smith:
Baby M - I had a Corvair Monza Spyder convertible. Tremendous fun. It was only dangerous when driven by liberals who couldn't work a clutch.
1.29.2009 11:41am
Gordo:
EMF transmissions from cell telephone towers
1.29.2009 12:09pm
guy in the veal calf office (mail) (www):
Yeah, but besides the foregoing, it is difficult to think of a single public health or environmental threat that with the benefit of additional research has not proven even more dangerous over time.
1.29.2009 12:14pm
Dan H. (mail):
Thalidomide was never approved by the US FDA for any indication/use

I believe it was approved later for the treatment of Leprosy.

I can give you an easy refutation of the 'Precautionary Principle' - opportunity cost. Keeping a necessary drug off the market 'just in case' dooms the people whose lives would have been saved or made better by that drug. Keeping a pesticide or fertilizer off the market 'just in case' it's dangerous raises the cost of vegetables and fruits, which decreases their consumption, and which can then increase cancer rates and obesity.

For example, the U.S. kept the first Beta Blockers off the market in the U.S. for several years after they were widely available in Europe. Beta Blockers are very effective in preventing death from secondary heart attacks for people who have already had a heart attack. After they were approved, it was determined that Beta Blockers save about 10,000 lives per year in the U.S. That means the 3.5 years they were kept off the market when they were available elsewhere caused 35,000 Americans to die needlessly. That dwarfs the human suffering avoided by keeping Thalidomide off the market.

DDT is another example. After DDT began to be heavily regulated, the number of malaria deaths worldwide skyrocketed from almost zero to millions per year.

The ban on CFC's made refrigeration more expensive. This wasn't too much of a burden for us in the west, but the number of food poisonings in the 3rd world increased, and perhaps also the incidence rates of stomach cancer due to improperly stored food.

The bottom line is that all human actions have costs, and they have benefits. The proper course of action is to do proper cost-benefit analysis and accept risk when outweighed by benefit. Simplistic rules like the Precautionary Principle are dangerous and counterproductive, of value only to the lazy, the stupid, and those with a political axe to grind.
1.29.2009 12:42pm
privatrecht:
"Mysogenation"?

Misogyny + miscegenation, no doubt.

Actually, that's kind of genius!

It is snarky to comment on picayune things like misspellings in blog comments, I know, but maybe I'm redeemed a bit because I truly think that the coinage is a bit of genius.
1.29.2009 12:47pm
LarryA (mail) (www):
concealed carry
Expanding that:
Concealed carry in [name of state] will turn fender-benders into firefights. (About two dozen predictions between the mid 1980s and now.)
Airline pilots that carry will shoot passengers.
If the "assault rifle" ban expires bodies will be stacked like cordwood. (This one is current again.)
Fifty caliber rifles are going to shoot down airliners.
Concealed carry in national parks will lead to poaching.
Off-duty law enforcement officers carrying will cost billions in liability.

Irony alert: HR 45 is the first gun control bill of the 111th Congress. This "gun registration/gun-owner licensing is the solution" bill is named after Blair Holt, a teenager murdered with a banned firearm in Chicago, the most heavily gun-controlled major city in the U.S., which is in Illinois, one of the few U.S. states that already requires firearm owner licensing.

At least the number will be easy to remember, since I carry a .45.
1.29.2009 12:57pm
LN (mail):
Brian Mac, people who support cost-benefit analysis would be OK with murdering 1 person so that his organs could save 4 other lives!
1.29.2009 12:58pm
Brian Mac:

Brian Mac, people who support cost-benefit analysis would be OK with murdering 1 person so that his organs could save 4 other lives!

It's like some evil genius has gone and turned my own rules against me! Luckily there's people like Dan H willing to fight the good fight...
1.29.2009 1:20pm
David Krinsky (mail):

Global Warming (the predictions of the level of man-made warming have decreased dramatically, even among strong advocates of the theory)


Can you back this statement up? It's news to me.

(I don't mean to start a global warming flamewar--I mean to speak only to the accuracy of the proposition that predictions about the level of likely man-made warming have decreased over time.)
1.29.2009 1:27pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
George, I had a Corvair Monza Spyder convertible. Wish I still did.

And a Corvair 500, which I'm glad I don't still have.

However, still being ornery, there are innumerable things that were sold as safe that turned out not to be, for one reason or another. My favorite example would be Jarts.
1.29.2009 1:28pm
SeaDrive:
Effects of crack on unborn babies, the NYT this week.
1.29.2009 1:35pm
bbartlog:

I'm pretty sure "high fat" diets are still considered unhealthy, and that it is still considered advisable to wear sunscreen.


Considered so by whom? I don't doubt that conventional wisdom agrees with your position, but both of these claims are under question. For a contrary opinion on the merits of a high fat diet, I would suggest this blog. For sunscreen try here.
1.29.2009 2:09pm
DonA:
Dungeons and Dragons

Voting rights for women and minorities

Hydrogen monoxide ;)
1.29.2009 2:37pm
Dan H. (mail):
Brian Mac, people who support cost-benefit analysis would be OK with murdering 1 person so that his organs could save 4 other lives!

Argument by reductio ad absurdum, eh? Okay, try this: "People who support the Precautionary Principle would be OK with forcing every pregnant woman to have an abortion, just in case her child grows up to be a murderer!"

Does that advance the debate? If not, how about keeping the discussion on the plane of the reasonable?
1.29.2009 2:41pm
LM (mail):
Pat Patterson:

Masturbation is OK? That would have been nice to know during junior high!

Then it would have been bad for you.
1.29.2009 2:48pm
LM (mail):
Dan H.:

Thalidomide was never approved by the US FDA for any indication/use

I believe it was approved later for the treatment of Leprosy.

At least in experimental programs, it's part of the chemo regimen for mutliple myeloma. Don't know if it's approved for such outside those programs.
1.29.2009 2:52pm
Brian Mac:

"People who support the Precautionary Principle would be OK with forcing every pregnant woman to have an abortion, just in case her child grows up to be a murderer!"

Funnily enough, that's the basic argument most critics of the principle use. They just don't use that particular example, because it'd force them to confront the fact that they're attacking a straw men.
1.29.2009 2:57pm
JK:

Considered so by whom? I don't doubt that conventional wisdom agrees with your position, but both of these claims are under question. For a contrary opinion on the merits of a high fat diet, I would suggest this blog. For sunscreen try here.

I think we really need to stick to peer reviewed articles if we're going to talk about anything resembling scientific consensus. You can't just claim that high fat diets are healthy, contrary to previous findings, because there is a random veterinarian who states it in a blog. There will always be dissenters from scientific consensus, and that's a good thing, but we shouldn't confuse dissenting with debunking.
1.29.2009 3:08pm
David McCourt (mail):
JK, Science doesn't operate by concensus; it operates by empirical evidence and verifiable results. This "scientific concensus" trope has grown legs since Gore resorted to it (a sort of reverse "no controlling legal authority") to try to squelch those who question the factual claims behind his alarmism over so-called man-made global warming.

Those who tried Galileo had "scientific concensus" on their side.
1.29.2009 3:33pm
DonA:
I have also seen reports that thalidomide is also being used to treat astrocytomas (glioblastoma multiforma) a particularly nasty form of brain tumor. Thalidomide works be blocking the formation of new blood vessels, which occurs in both developing limbs and tumors. I have not looked lately to see how well the studies have panned out.
1.29.2009 3:36pm
LN (mail):
Dan H, if you had bothered to read the comment I was responding (adding) to, you would have known what I meant. I am all for keeping the debate reasonable.

Another puzzle for cost-benefit analysis is how people value gains less than losses, so the results of any cost-benefit analysis depend on how the question is framed. If you ask New Yorkers how much they would need to be paid to get rid of Central Park, it will be a lot more than they would be willing to pay to create it if it wasn't already there.

This doesn't "refute" cost-benefit analysis of course. But out of the two of us, the only person who has said you can quickly settle this debate with a single example is you.
1.29.2009 3:40pm
LN (mail):

Those who tried Galileo had "scientific concensus" on their side.


They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.
1.29.2009 3:41pm
Bob Hawkins (mail):
Things like Y2K don't count because they were shown to be less dangerous by mere observation of the facts. The assertion, way up there at the top of the page, is that nothing is ever found to be less dangerous by further highly funded research.

See? A much tougher proposition to crack, eh?
1.29.2009 3:48pm
dearieme:
"Wait, what? "Asbestos in buildings" turned out to be less threatening than people once thought?!"

For white asbestos, yes - far less dangerous.
1.29.2009 3:50pm
bbartlog:
I think we really need to stick to peer reviewed articles if we're going to talk about anything resembling scientific consensus. You can't just claim that high fat diets are healthy, contrary to previous findings, because there is a random veterinarian who states it in a blog.


Well I suppose we are going offtopic a bit - but if you look at the front page of that blog there are 20+ links to peer-reviewed articles (notice the links that look like: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/...). Were you expecting a single, apocalyptic paper that demolished the conventional wisdom? That's not how science works either (in general). Also, since you like 'peer reviewed articles' and mention previous findings - would you care to cite the peer reviewed papers that you think lend support to the idea that a high fat diet is bad? The problem here is that you are sort of *assuming* that the CW is based on a vast edifice of peer review and experiment, when it's actually pretty damn flimsy (based largely on feeding rats large amounts of corn oil).
1.29.2009 4:03pm
DonA:
There are two types of hype, one where the toxicity/badness of the agent in question is over-rated. Silicone in breast implants would fall into this category, since silicone is a relatively innocuous agent. The other is where the toxicity of the agent is properly evaluated, but the overall health risks are exagerated. Thalidomide or mercury in vaccines would fit in this category. The chemicals are toxic, but the risks to the population as a whole are over-rated. AIDS in the heterosexual, non-IV drug abusing population would be another example of this.

I would also take exception to Bob Hawkins' comment about the real examples cited above not counting because "they were shown to be less dangerous by mere observation of the facts" and that "nothing is ever found to be less dangerous by further highly funded research". Research is "mere observation of the facts". Sometimes scientists manipulate the system that they are studying and sometimes they just observe/measure it, but it is all science.
1.29.2009 4:07pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
Mysogenation

Having sex with mushrooms?
1.29.2009 4:35pm
DiversityHire:
Dancing with Kevin Bacon:

Even if this was not a law, which it is, I'm afraid I would have a lot of difficulty endorsing an enterprise which is as fraught with genuine peril as I believe this one to be. Besides the liquor and the drugs which always seem to accompany such an event the thing that distresses me even more, Ren, is the spiritual corruption that can be involved. These dances and this kind of music can be destructive, and, uh, Ren, I'm afraid you're going to find most of the people in our community are gonna agree with me on this.
1.29.2009 4:40pm
DiversityHire:
1.29.2009 4:42pm
Hey Skipper (mail) (www):
1.29.2009 4:54pm
David McCourt (mail):
Re the high fat diet: do the inhabitants of the Perigord count as a peer reviewed study?
1.29.2009 5:21pm
Erick:
The high fat stuff reminded me. Eggs! Particularly egg yolks and dietary cholesterol in general.
1.29.2009 6:54pm
John A (mail):
I scanned a bit, but I may have failed to notice - the scientific consensus that railroads could never be practical because at speeds of thirty miles per hour people would find it difficult or even impossible to breathe.

Now, as usually put, the "Precautionary Principle" is not that caution is a good idea but that before something is unleashed for out-of-the lab use it must be shown to cause no harm. Which is why it is distinguished by having a capitalized name, rather than just being "care should be taken" as has been wise since the advent of the single-cell organism. Under the "Principle" aspirin would never make it even to doctors, never mind the gas station convenience store.
1.29.2009 7:26pm
David McCourt (mail):
John A,

I get your point, but the authors attacking Sunstein use this "principle" in quite the opposite way: that the regulatory state should shoot first and ask questions later whenever faced with the slightest indication that something - a new drug, a traditional food or customary practice of the sheep, er, citizens -- might pose some statistical harm to someone. It's essentially a calculus that's rigged always in favor of state intervention. But under the "precautionary principle" the state should never be cautious about the unintended consequences of its actions, or the collateral harms it imposes on its way to relieving the perceived harms it's taking "precautions" against. The regulatory medicine will be applied at full dose -- as a "precaution" -- without any regard for the patient's wishes, discomfort, or side effects. That the word "caution" appears in this "principle" is Orwellian.
1.29.2009 7:41pm
Brian Mac:
Also, the principle has nothing to do with how to handle uncertainty, or where the burden of proof should lie. It's all about encouraging regulatory action in the absence of scientific evidence.
1.29.2009 9:00pm
courtwatcher:

Global Warming (the predictions of the level of man-made warming have decreased dramatically, even among strong advocates of the theory);
What? Can you provide evidence to support this assertion? Agree or disagree with others' conclusions, but don't mischaracterize them.
1.30.2009 2:39am
methodact:
Ugh. I meant Stimulus Bill, previously in the thread, not Bailout Bill.
1.30.2009 1:22pm

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