Case Study: the Precautionary Principle Versus Risk Benefit Analysis

Case Study: The Precautionary Principle Versus Risk Benefit Analysis

Technology in Society

Jane Overmoe

University of South Dakota

The first duty of government is to protect the powerless against the powerful.

The Code of Hammurabi, The World’s Oldest Legal Code 1700B.C.

Well, it use to be.

Jane Overmoe 2004

“Ho-o-o-ow does it fe-e-e-el?”

Bob Dylan 1965

1. At one point in the discussion, Ambassador Iogu comments, “Malaria is not a problem in most of the developing world, although that may be changing.” This comment is not followed up in the case study. What changes could the ambassador be referring to? How can this comment be related to the West Nile virus problem troubling parts of the northeastern United States?

“2.5 billion people now live within the reach of malaria-transmitting mosquitoes (potential transmission zone) worldwide” ( Hjorth et al, 440). In a living human being, if the disease of malaria is not treated, the spleen and the liver become enlarged, anemia develops, and jaundice appears. Death may occur from general debility, anemia, or clogging of the vessels of cerebral tissues by affected red blood cells. Dying from malaria is not a pretty death. Now because of the statistic reaching 2.5 billion, a person must re-consider the option to use DDT or another type of insecticide and how it save lives and not just wreck the environment and not just destroy genetic codes among homo sapiens. 2.5 billion human beings with the potential to suffer malaria exist on the planet today. We need to look closely at this statistic, and not the just 8 people who died in the US from malaria in 2002 (Center for Disease Control). 2.5 billion human beings suffering? The ambassador could be referring to the changes that the leaders must make in order to prevent a very sick world. Malaria with the numbers reaching 2.5 million is a not a direct threat to the developing countries, but it could in time create more than a health-related death threat. It could be a war issue. In the past, many times disease would incur bloodbaths. Desperate nations fight to stay alive with any means available to them. John Stuart Mill once said “No great improvement in the lot of mankind is possible until a great change takes place in fundamental constitution of their modes of thought” (Hjorth et al 442). During the past, wartime effort saw a surge in the outbreak of malaria. 19, 000 US soldiers during WWI and half a million soldiers during WWII contracted the disease. Iraq and malaria? Malaria and Iraq? Does the storyline change? Does the shoe fit?

Change is inherent here. Are all people created equally? Who decides?

The ambassador could be referring to other diseases like malaria and the containment and treatment for them. West Nile virus affects certain areas of the developing world for sure. West Nile is here. The ambassador may know things he is not sharing and therefore the mystery remains. In an age of information, to share information is leading edge. On the other hand, if the information is unclear or misleading, why share it? Especially with scientific advances. I think we realize the scope of the problem here. With a problem narrowed affecting a few people only, its focus is minimalized. Malaria still exists. That is a major point in his statement. So what? It exists and safeguards must be realized by politicians and scholars around the world. With such a smart world, the coming plague coughs quietly on the horizon, doesn’t it?

2. What are the strengths, weaknesses, and implications of the precautionary principle as a method for deciding whether a technology should be used?

Strengths:Better Safe Than Sorry

According to the text a definition for the precautionary principle is that the principle exists so that the burden of proof of safety should be on those who wish to introduce a new chemical, not on those who claim to have been injured by it (Hjorth et al 229). As inventors of DDT, the human race carries the responsibility of usage and aftermath that it incurs. Humanity does possess powerful weapons with scientific know-how and how to treat diseases.Chloroquine and quinine are effective malaria treatments and stop cases within days (Garrett 47).

Man made. Pure and simple it is not. As the physician-congressman-poet Dr. Almus Pickerbaugh in Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith recites:

Germs come by stealth

And ruin health,

So listen, pard,

Just drop a card

To a man who’ll clean up your yard

And that will hit the old germs hard.

Weaknesses: Safety means guarded conditions will exist before implementation occurs, even life threatening to millions of malaria stricken areas of the world. The Precautionary Principle will have its leaders to promote DDT as a solution to the malaria issue. “With the backing of the business community and the Bush administration---House former whip and presently House MAJORITY leader designate Tom DeLay-also known as “the Hammer” and “Tom DeReg”- hasn’t found a government regulation he liked since he gave up killing bugs in Sugar Land. In fact, the former exterminator still stands foursquare for bringing back DDT” (Ivins 65).

Political agendas of leaders relate to the dismal failures and successes of diseases worldwide. Let us watch and see what the former whip whips up before he becomes House Majority Leader and is indicted before the campaign contribution laws are changed.

Implications: Someone is imposing a solution upon a situation a world away.

What if the precautionary principle did not exist? Where would we be if the notion to be careful was not part of the vernacular with scientific studies? A strength of science is that boundaries exist for a reason. On the other hand, what if there were no boundaries? Could cures be found faster? Would the FDA exist? Would the drug companies be making so much money? When does strength become a weakness? For decision making with technology, we need to be safe. On the other hand, what is safety within means for cures or for an end to human suffering? Can we experiment knowing full well we do not know where we are going? In this age of uncertainty, how does a decision stand with merit?This case study’s first question stymied me. How would I know what the ambassador referring to? Am I inside his brain? There is not enough in that statement to draw a conclusion. But, there is enough in his statement where the precautionary principle could breed and breed and breed, just like the Anopheles quadrimaculatus in the east An freeborni in the west. (CDC).

Unpredictable consequences? My, that is a mouthful. How dare we not attend malaria-stricken children because of unpredictable consequences. So what? What is the fear? What are we afraid of? Doing something ethical, like protecting the powerless?

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...


3.What are the strengths, weaknesses and implications of risk/.benefit analysis as a method for deciding whether technology should be employed?


For the most part, a free democracy agrees to help others in a time of need. In the instance of malariologist Paul Russell in 1956 who worked to eradicate malaria totally, a few robust and energetic politicians joined his cause including Hubert Humphrey and John Kennedy, along with Dwight Eisenhower. To fix the suffering world was considered to be a US duty after winning WWII. So America shelled out funds through World Health Organization and eradication was beginning to take place worldwide.

Four things were needed.

  1. Political support.
  2. Money
  3. DDT
  4. Chloroquine

The problem? DDT resistant mosquitoes were started to show up in the evolutionary process.


Taking chances do not always mean that the solution to the risk will benefit. Gambles in science may incur heavy tolls. The irony with the malaria situation and anti-DDT solution is that in American agriculture DDT was used in a widespread manner, quite knowingly.


We are still on this planet because of freedoms, politics, and divine rights of man. If a course of action is taken that may hit a curve in the road, does the journey stop? Or take a moment to reflect, check the map over and re-design the trip itself? Why haven’t we invented another option? Or have we?

We live in a world in search of community (Jordan). But then let us shut off certain areas because it is not developing up to snuff. Up to par. Risk sometimes outweighs benefits. Does the risk taking stop? I hope not. Why do we have astronauts? Because the moon is there. Why do we climb Mt. Everest? Why is the ocean heavily polluted by cruise ships? Because we don’t live at the bottom of the sea, yet. But in systems thinking, one thing always leads to or is connected to another. Management of systematic approaches will weigh in as a factor. We have to care for other parts of the world just because we are in a stable environment. Because if we don’t, whooping cough will show up again, AIDS will roar its ugly echo, and other childhood diseases we thought were conquered will suddenly attack a neighbor’s child, from nowhere.

4. Compare risk/benefit analysis to the precautionary principle. Which of these methods do you feel would generally lead to better decisions on question involving potential applications of technology in society? On what reasoning is your conclusion-based?

Similarities between risk/benefit and precautionary principle. Both contain the following:

Humanitarian causes.

Scientific analysis.


The infamous “handlers” of truths or lies exist in abundance in the land of the free. The politics are so deeply entrenched in the process and the fallout so thick with scheming sludge, the answers may suffocate on the way to the surface.

Littlejohn's definition of a system appears appropriate at this time. The precautionary

principle versus risk analysis is not the end all. What must be considered for the human

sufferers is what will work for the society in which they live, and from stable situations to

unstable situations, the systems approach must be upheld.

An open system is a set of objects with attributes
that interrelate in an environment. The system
possesses qualities of wholeness, interdependence,
hierarchy, self-regulation, environmental interchange,
equilibrium, adaptability, and equifinality.
(Littlejohn, 1983, p. 32)

Preferred method involving potential applications of technology in society?

Risk benefit. I am a doer. I am comfortable with the application of what has worked before and the risks it may entail. But I am also creative and dare to venture forth with progress. Why not? Poet and playwright George Bernard Shaw’s famous quote utilized by both Robert and Edward Kennedy asks us, “Some people see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.” What are we waiting for? When we live in a world of human suffering, what is the rest of the world doing about it? Do we take a wait and see attitude and conform that the fittest will survive catastrophic events? Or do we take a risk and weigh the benefits of the risk? I realize each scenario is different and factors must be considered. But when we witness human suffering on a grand scale and offer no alternatives to remedy the plight of children, we lose our credibility as human beings. It boils down to the question, why are we here?

To understand and just wait and see is a marvelous, blinding path to take. But to balance the malaria situation globally at this time with take checks. Checks and balances. Flexibility Systems theory-based resolutions. What makes the world keep turning?




Environmental interchange,


and Equifinality .

5.How do you think that the question of using DDT for malaria control vs. banning its use worldwide will be resolved? Is your answer to this question the same as your view on how this matter should be resolved? Explain.

The banning of DDT use worldwide will continue. How dare we wait until something is foolproof while human beings suffer. That is the way of the world. Is it the way we want it to be? No for some of us. Yes for others. If we are capable to end human suffering, it is our duty, isn’t it? Does any leader dare to be responsible? A scientist does not have the power. A political leader may have the power to curb the suffering. “In tropical medicine the combined use of immunization and insecticides (to control disease-transmitting mosquitoes) has resulted in the vitural conquest of three major diseases of the tropics, malaria, yellow fever and leprosy…since all insecticides are toxic to human, and since they are accumulated in plant and animal tissue, they should be used very judiciously” (Capra 131).

Rachel Carson never completely opposed pesticide use. She wrote: “No responsible person contends that insect-borne disease should be ignored.” (Garrett 67).

But ignoring a situation where millions suffer on a daily basis is precisely what is going on. With a new global iatrogenic form of malaria forming and living within human hosts, the world sits and watches as a new scourge depletes cultures and with that, the hearts, the minds and the souls within those cultures. As Bob Dylan questions and as the world sits and watches malaria murdering small children, the powerful does not desire to know the answer to “How does it fe-e-e-el?”


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