The Science of a Vanishing Planet, by Raúl Ilargi Meijer

Insect populations are plunging, and while we may not like them, they’re essential for life on earth. From Raúl Ilargi Meijer at theautomaticearth.com:

There are numerous ways to define the Precautionary Principle. It’s something we can all intuitively understand, but which many parties seek ways to confuse since it has the potential to stand in the way of profits. Still, in the end it should all be about proof, not profits. That is exactly what the Principle addresses. Because if you first need to deliver scientific proof that some action or product can be harmful to mankind and/or the natural world, you run the risk of inflicting irreversible damage before that proof can be delivered.

In one of many definitions, the 1998 Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle says: “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”

Needless to say, that doesn’t easily fly in our age of science and money. Cigarette makers, car manufacturers and oil companies, just to name a few among a huge number of industries, are all literally making a killing while the Precautionary Principle is being ignored. Even as it is being cited in many international treaties. Lip service “R” us. Are these industries to blame when they sell us our products, or are we for buying them? That’s where governments must come in to educate us about risks. Which they obviously do not.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb -of Black Swan and Antifragile fame- has made the case, in his usual strong fashion, for applying the Precautionary Principle when it comes to GMOs. His argument is that allowing genetically modified organisms in our eco- and foodsystems carries unknown risks that we have no way of overseeing, and that these risks may cause irreversible damage to the very systems mankind relies on for survival.

Taleb is not popular among GMO producers. Who all insist there is no evidence that their products cause harm. But that is not the point. The Precautionary Principle, if it is to be applied, must turn the burden of proof on its head. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Monsanto et al must prove that their products do no harm. They can not. Which is why they have, and need, huge lobbying, PR and legal departments.

To continue reading: The Science of a Vanishing Planet

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5 responses to “The Science of a Vanishing Planet, by Raúl Ilargi Meijer

  1. “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
    I first read the above sentence in a CDC weekly newletter many years ago but as:
    “The absence of evidence of intent, is not evidence of the absence of intent” relative to the topic–suicide. Fits nicely here?

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  2. “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

    A shibboleth strictly applied without context is the strict application of ignorance, stupidity, and insanity. To wit,

    “The Precautionary Principle, if it is to be applied, must turn the burden of proof on its head.”

    Abandon science, reason, and logic. It’s the only way to be sure.

    I could argue further, … but what would be the point?

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    • You make an excellent point. Requiring proof that an innovation will cause no harm, strictly applied, would stop all innovation, requiring as it would proof of a negative. I hesitated posting this article for that very reason, but I’m involved with drone agricultural pesticide spraying and I thought the data on insects and the food chains of which they are a part was both interesting and disturbing. I figured SLL readers would get through the topsy-turvy philosophy of science, as you did. If I only posted guests articles whose premises were entirely logical and consistent, I’d go days, probably weeks, without posting guest articles.

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  3. “If I only posted guests articles whose premises were entirely logical and consistent, I’d go days, probably weeks, without posting guest articles. ”

    I’m glad you posted it. My comment (especially the last sentence) was not intended as a jab at you, Robert. Sorry if it appeared that way.

    If I only perused websites where all articles were logical and consistent, I’d have no need for the internet whatsoever. That point seems to get closer by the day; but you and this site help stave it off, and I thank you.

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    • Like I said, I though you made an excellent point, and I didn’t see it as a personal jab at all. If I did, I’m too sensitive to run a blog. Keep up the good work.

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