Thursday, April 24, 2008

Journal #24: Precautionary Principle, Risk Assessment Systems

There was a ton of confusion in class today about what the Precautionary Principle actually was, but I felt pretty clear on it from the reading. Before I start, lemme give a little definition so as not to confuse myself as I continue on through this post, and I hope I'm somewhat right here. The Precautionary Principle is a method that allows for the prevention of possibly harmful acts or actions based on portions, but not concrete evidence that has associated uncertainty. So there is a controversy whether laws should be enacted based on absolute final evidence, that could have resulted in damage that cannot be reversed, or some uncertain evidence, where evidence could be proven wrong in the future.

The most important point that was brought up was that a system should be put in place to try and limit the uncertainty. This way, when a potential act is being reviewed, a review board or something can quantify the uncertainty. So if an energy company's review board is looking at a new material that could be used as fuel, they could have an Life Cycle Analysis system to base their decision on. Obviously all risk is not going to be able to be found, but performing proper risk assessment through a predefined system that has been proven to work often.

Also, since there is no way that all uncertainty can be accounted for, the discussion came down to deciding what to design for. This is constantly a common theme, and guess what, happens to be the subject of my first and a few other of my journal entries. Sounds like it will constantly be a decision wrestled with in engineering.

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