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Jewish World Review May 11, 2001/ 18 Iyar, 5761

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports

Selective precaution -- PROFESSOR Gary Marchant of ASU law school questions the "precautionary principle," a nebulous standard that is the latest environmental blockade to development, logging, production and other tools of capitalism and comfort.

Intrigued myself by the purity of this folderol, I did some research. A sample article title, "The Siren Songs of Science: Toward a Taxonomy of Uncertainty for Decisionmakers," says it all. A common phrase in the literature is "institutionalizing caution." These scholars advocate sliding standards of proof as well as abandonment of our fundamental principle of justice - that the party bringing the case offers the proof. Under the precautionary principle, they just bring the case. The other side has to prove them wrong, which leaves businesses facing litigation from environmental groups and trying debunk junk science. Professor Harold Hill's scam was a lesser offense.

The precautionary principle comes to us via Germany where misguided attempts at intellectualism spring from entirely too much vacation time. This daft notion, called Vorsirgeprinzip: Vorsorge there, is the kind of brainstorm that comes when you are on holiday for four weeks on beaches of a continent where Lady Gillette hasn't made much headway. Dreaming up doctrines to slow the wheels of progress is a diversion from prison-guard-like women in swim suits the size of pup tents.

Already incorporated into the laws of Canada, Australia and most European countries, the precautionary principle requires tinkers in capitalism and other preventers of unemployment to "anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation."

In short, science be damned, if we believe it to be true, it must be so. All activity even potentially harmful to the environment can be enjoined. But the precautionary principle (P2) will not tarry long in environmentalism.

For where there are punitive damages (for which P2 provides), members of the bar and their contingent fees are never far behind. They are there for reparations and all of society's barbaric tobacco, asbestos, and implants debacles. And they will be there to expand P2.

Indeed P2 has already begun its inexorable march into product liability. Cell phones damage the environment only with rings that play "Camp Town Races" during lectures and operas, but the precautionaries are after them. No matter that the science on cell phones causing brain tumors is divided at best. This cellular citadel shall be conquered. Caution is thrown to the lawyers, not the wind.

I like P2 for it is codification of the old adage, "Better safe than sorry." However, selective precaution is madness. I am willing to protect the flora, fauna and Linda McCartney the white squirrel from the ravages of developers if my fellow cautionaries are willing to go universal.

Studies tie a higher rate of breast cancer to women who have had an abortion. P2 demands an end to abortion. Children with divorced parents are more likely to use drugs, alcohol, have premarital sex and eventually get divorced themselves. Precaution requires that we outlaw divorce or, at a minimum, restore the requirement of establishing a cause for a divorce other than irreconcilable differences. There is a direct causal connection between homosexuality and the transmission of HIV. Homosexuality should be illegal. A recent study shows that children who spend time in day care are more aggressive. Caution requires a mandate for mothers to stay home.

Under P2, the burden is on the party who has the science against them. So, those who want to retain day care, no-fault divorce, homosexuality and abortion have the burden of proving the studies invalid. Studies show that, for the most part, you are safer driving an SUV than a car. For those who would outlaw SUVs, they surely now realize that the SUV is the precautionary measure.

Nearly half of the fatal auto accidents in the country involve alcohol- or substance-impaired drivers. Some of the fatalities involved less-than-cautious moose. Mercy, how can we be so insensitive? Alcohol needs to go.

Selective application of the precautionary principle demonstrates its political and ideological leanings. It is subversive environmentalism for a heretofore-unseen assault on development via income for trial lawyers. Just the nature of the countries already subscribing to its sloppy reasoning and vague parameters speaks to its socialistic and controlling nature. As is usual with liberals possessed of a passing intellectual fad, they throw reason to the wind. Universal principles, including this new precautionary one, apply only when they say so.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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04/20/01: First, let's kill all the tests
04/13/01: The continuing mistake of underpricing electricity
04/06/01: That pill, Julia Roberts
03/29/01: If it weren't for the parents, we might accomplish something
03/23/01: The melt down of the academy
03/15/01: Columbine redux: Moral infants
03/09/01: The lessons of Tom and Nicole
03/01/01: Pardon the temporary outrage
02/23/01: In defense of homework
02/20/01: A Message for faith-based organizations: Don't take the money, just run
02/06/01: Enough already with the Clintoons
01/26/01: The challenge to be better than we have been
01/19/01: Where have you gone Frieda Pushnik?
12/29/00: The year that was
12/23/00: Litigation: It's the American way
12/15/00: In defense of rhetoric
12/06/00: The company we keep: Lawyers and elections
12/01/00: Liberals' art of trashing of women
11/20/00: Put me out of my misery
11/17/00: On being a statesman
11/13/00: When it's broke, fixing it wouldn't offend the Framers
11/08/00: ELECTION 2000: I SURRENDER
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10/20/00: Ten things the gay community should understand
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09/29/00: The capacity for truth
09/22/00: Charity with strings and an agenda
09/15/00: The taming of the shrew: Gloria Steinem takes a husband
09/09/00: Why rich folk don't bother me none
08/28/00: Survival of the not-so-fit but conniving
08/25/00: Conventions: A study in contrasts
08/18/00: Resenting the accusations of racial prejudice
08/04/00: Women: Their own worst enemy
07/21/00: Hillary: Our longshoreman First Lady
07/21/00: SUVs: The root of all evil
07/14/00: The basketball gene and white men not jumping so well
07/07/00: I wanna be around
06/23/00: The liberal conversion
06/14/00: Sex and the City: The shallow but vulgar female
06/08/00: No excuses schools
06/02/00: Oh, Canada: Our Nutty Neighbors to the North
05/23/00: The new mollycoddling coach
05/16/00: On adultery and leadership
05/12/00: Taking your lumps
05/02/00: Elian: There's never a liberal around when you need one
04/25/00: Life's circle and tenderness
04/18/00: Womyn who want it both ways
04/11/00: The monsters we're raising with the ergo proposition
04/05/00: Endowing the Hooters Chair for Literature Appreciation
03/28/00: Dr. Laura: The passive/aggressive kid's mom
03/21/00: Dough and campaigns
03/14/00: The volunteerism of conscription and pomp
03/07/00: Hope and pray that religion remains a force in politics
02/29/00: Ditzes in TV Land
02/22/00: Cranky nitpickers make writing a [sic] experience
02/15/00: Those chameleon 60s activists
02/08/00: McCandidate McCain: Flirting with principles
02/01/00: The demise of marriage
01/25/00: Stroke of the pen, law of the land: Clinton's Camelot
01/18/00: Off the Rocker Rorschach Test
01/11/00: Oprah's lemmings
01/04/00: Struggling mightily amidst the comfort
12/23/99: Confused fathers
12/14/99: Drop-kicking the homeless
12/07/99: Turtles and teamsters, side-by-side in Seattle
11/29/99: When conservatives behave badly
11/22/99: Compassionate conservative: Timing and targets
11/18/99: The elusive human spirit and accountability
11/11/99: Succumbing to the intellectual child within with the help of crackpots and screwballs
10/28/99: Live by litigation, die by litigation
10/22/99: Jesse, Warren, Cybill, Donald and Oprah
10/14/99: Inequality and injustice: It's the big one
10/05/99: Dan Quayle, morals and schoolyard bullies
09/30/99: The monsters of epidermal parenting
09/21/99: The Diversity Hoax
09/15/99: Waco Wackos
09/09/99: Selective censorship
09/01/99: The village, the children, judicial imperialism and abortion
08/24/99: Naughty Newt?
08/17/99: In defense of Boy Scouts and judgment
08/10/99: Ruining the finest health care system in the world
08/03/99: Nihilism and politics: ethics on the lam
07/26/99: Of women, soccer and removed jerseys
07/23/99: Not in despair, a mere mortal doing just fine
07/20/99: "Why me?" How about "Why us?"
07/13/99: Bunk, junk & juries
07/06/99: An Amish woman in a Victoria's Secret store
06/30/99: That intellectually embarrassing Second Amendment
06/24/99: Patricia Ireland eat your heart out --- but check out the recipe in 'women's mags' first
06/22/99: Dems and the Creator coup
06/17/99: True courage is more than just admitting troubles

© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings