The Proactionary Principle is an answer to abuse of the precautionary principle at the hands of anti-biotech, luddite groups, and opponents of advances such stem cell therapies, regenerative medicine, and extended healthy longevity. It came together as an idea during the Extropy Institute's Vital Progress Summit back in February, and is expressed by Max More as follows:
People's freedom to innovate technologically is highly valuable, even critical, to humanity. This implies several imperatives when restrictive measures are proposed: Assess risks and opportunities according to available science, not popular perception. Account for both the costs of the restrictions themselves, and those of opportunities foregone. Favor measures that are proportionate to the probability and magnitude of impacts, and that have a high expectation value. Protect people's freedom to experiment, innovate, and progress.
It is very clear - at least to those of who support advancing medicine and scientific work towards healthier, longer lives - that the precautionary principle is used as a weapon by special interest groups attempting to halt scientific research for their own ideological reasons. To quote Max More again:
The precautionary principle has been used as a means of deciding whether to allow an activity (typically involving corporate activity and technological innovation) that might have undesirable side-effects on human health or the environment. In practice, that principle is strongly biased against the technological progress so vital to the continued survival and well-being of humanity.
Understanding that we need to develop and deploy new technologies to feed billions more people over the coming decades, to counter natural threats from pathogens to environmental changes, and to alleviate human suffering from disease, damage, and the ravages of aging, those involved in the VP Summit recognized two things: The importance of critically analyzing the precautionary principle, and the formation of an alternative, more sophisticated principle that incorporates more extensive and accurate assessment of options while protecting our fundamental responsibility and liberty to experiment and innovate.
The precautionary principle, while well-intended by many of its proponents, inherently biases decision making institutions toward the status quo, and reflects a reactive, excessively pessimistic view of technological progress. By contrast, the Proactionary Principle urges all parties to actively take into account all the consequences of an activity - good as well as bad - while apportioning precautionary measures to the real threats we face, in the context of an appreciation of the crucial role played by technological innovation and humanity's evolving ability to adapt to and remedy any undesirable side-effects.
Furthermore, the precautionary principle is inherently flawed. It serves us badly by:
- assuming worst-case scenarios
- distracting attention from established threats to health, especially natural risks
- assuming that the effects of regulation and restriction are all positive or neutral, never negative
- ignoring potential benefits of technology and inherently favoring nature over humanity
- illegitimately shifting the burden of proof and unfavorably positioning the proponent of the activity
- conflicting with more balanced, common-law approaches to risk and harm.
The Proactionary Principle is an important step forward: it is a concise, rational, to-the-point answer to the failures of the precautionary principle ... and it has a snappy name. It should go far. As people who recognize we are responsible for our own future - and supporting the bright future of medical science - we should make sure that the Proactionary Principle is heard by everyone!