Tuesday, April 30, 2013

#120 / Precaution Meets Democracy

On April 19th, I referenced an article by Mariachiara Tallacchini, pictured, who teaches Bioethics at the Faculty of Biotechnology of the State University of Milan (Italy). The article I mentioned in that posting focused on the "precautionary principle." 

I have since had an opportunity to read another one of Professor Tallacchini's articles, not yet available generally, but destined to appear, soon, as a chapter in an upcoming book. She continues to explore an area that I find not only fascinating, but of great importance, the relationship of science to society. 

How that relationship should be defined is at least one of the major (if unspoken) issues that is raised by the public hearing taking place today, in Monterey, on proposed fracking regulations. As our technical abilities make it increasingly possible for us to destroy the Natural World upon which we ultimately depend, we need to decide how technical knowledge, and our technical abilities, should be governed within the framework of human society.

Tallacchini notes that, "increasingly, the relationship between science and society has moved towards a situation where uncertain knowledge is the rule." She points us to something beyond the "precautionary principle," however. She says that there is a "better foundation of precaution, based on a more democratic and participatory approach to science policy." This is the "Extended Participatory Model." In essence, this model says that "technique" and scientific knowledge should be deployed only after democratic debate and discussion, and that citizen participation must guide how those with access to technical means (the oil companies, for instance) are allowed to deploy them.

In other words, Tallacchini is encouraging us (to use one timely example) to demand full citizen oversight and understanding of "fracking," before the oil companies are allowed to utilize these techniques to transform the natural environment on which our civilization depends. 

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