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Appraising the precautionary principle – a decision analysis perspective

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The public and regulators are naturally concerned about any decision that has uncertain but potentially serious health and environmental consequences. When facing such decisions, some individuals say we should resolve significant uncertainties before taking expensive action that may be unnecessary. Others support the precautionary principle, which says that policy makers should err on the side of caution by acting now to avoid or limit potentially detrimental consequences. This paper appraises the precautionary principle from a perspective decision analytic point of view. We argue that neither the 'resolve uncertainties before taking action' nor the 'act now on the side of caution' are appropriate as general policies for all environmental decision problems. Instead, we conclude that policy makers need to conduct sound, in-depth analyses to resolve the pros and cons of acting now versus conducting more research on a case-by-case basis.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2001

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