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Comparison of Bayesian-Utilitarian and Maximin Principle Approaches

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The Precautionary Principle implies the adoption of a set of rules aimed at avoiding possible future harm associated with suspected, but not ascertained, risk factors. Several philosophical, economical and societal questions are implied by precaution-based public health decision making. The purpose of the present paper is to specify the scope of the principle examining the notion of uncertainty involved, and the implication of different approaches to the decision making process. The Bayesian-utilitarian approach and the approach based on the maximin principle will be considered, and the different meaning of prudence in the two settings will be discussed. In a Bayesian-utilitarian approach the small number of attributable cases will end up in a low average expected value, easily regarded as acceptable in a cost-benefit analysis. In a maximin approach, on the other hand, the issue will be to consider the high etiologic fraction of a rare disease in the highest category of exposure. In the light of the aforementioned cautions in interpretation, the core difference between the two approaches has to do with the choice between averaging knowledge or equitably distributing technological risks.
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Keywords: Bayesian approach; Precautionary Principle; electromagnetic fields; maximin rôle

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: National Institute of Health, Rome, Italy 2: European Center for Environment and Health, WHO, Rome, Italy 3: Department of Philosophy and Social Sciences, University of Siena, Italy

Publication date: 01 February 2005

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