Tag Archives: Trevor Charles

Response to review by Trevor Charles re: Precautionary Principle | NECSI

A few days ago, Trevor Charles posted a review of our paper entitled “The Precautionary Principle (with Application to the Genetic Modification of Organisms)”. Here we provide a response.

Thank you for the review of our paper. We will provide a point by point response below to your comments. Since you have focused on biological questions it is important for us to emphasize that we did not perform a “statistical analysis” (which is inherently evidentiary and data based and anchored in biological experiments). Instead we are engaged in a rigorous analysis of risk as it is derived from mathematical probability theory. Many of the citations you are asking for fall within the “carpenter fallacy” that we present in the text, i.e. that discussions about carpentry are not relevant to and distract from identifying the risks associated with gambling even though the construction of a roulette wheel involves carpentry. Mathematical probability-related arguments do not require biological citations. At the same time we have striven to explain how the biological context maps onto the risk analysis so that the connection between the two is more apparent to those who are focused on biology. For this reason we are providing the responses below. As a general comment, it would be very helpful for biologists who are contemplating or engaging in engineering strategies to read about the failures of systems engineering discussed in the text (Section VIII). This should lead to a better understanding about why the issue is not biology per se, but about the nature of engineering of complex systems in cases that carry high potential harm, for example as has been found in modernization of the Air Traffic Control system. Reading that discussion should establish a better context for a conversation about the risks in biological engineering.

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