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Beware the Precautionary Principle

My book was only just published when Fast Company raised a sneaky question about its basic argument. In the section of the review “Things We Didn”t Like” someone said: “Many a garage inventor would argue that poorly designed, superfluous products are necessary by-products of the innovation process, not fundamental flaws in our design philosophy. Thackara deems it foolhardy, but maybe it’s Darwinian”.

This is a fair point and points to a dilemma. It won’t be easy to combine trial-and-error innovation, on the one hand, with consideration of the consequences of design actions before we take them, on the other. The precautionary principle requires scientists and designers to take “what if..” questions seriously – but trial-and-error is often the best way to approach innovation. I don’t know how to resolve the conundrum – but I don’t believe we can go on treating the planet, our only home, as a glorified crash-test rig.

FCS