Futurepundit And Denbeste On Risk

In my getting back on the turnip cart this morning I’ve been perusing lots of things. Among the more intriguing are recent Futurepundit posts by Randall Parker, including this post on the role of choline in memory enhancement. The interesting thing about this finding is that it takes a month of high choline intake to have an effect, and researchers believe that this delay is due to the brain having to build up the acetylcholine neurotransmitter to make use of the additional choline. Good sources of choline include beef liver (gross) and eggs (yum!). So in addition to being full of good protein and not aggravating your cholesterol unless you are susceptible, yet another reason to eat your eggs.

But Randall’s comment that struck me the most this AM was in this post on the FDA blocking individual choice and doctor discretion to use an individual’s own stem cells to treat disease:

When people have heart disease that is going to kill them in a few months or a few years it is time for the government to butt out and let people choose what risks they want to take with their lives. This sort of report infuriates me. The FDA is insisting that the researchers spend a couiple of years on animal trials when groups in other countries are charging ahead of US researchers and getting promising results. …

In my very strongly held view anyone with a terminal illness should be free to try any experimental therapy that they can find a medical doctor to deliver. Will there be abuse? Sure. But do we own our own lives or not? Also, greater freedom to experiment will accelerate the rate of medical advance and more lives will be saved than will be lost by failed experimental therapies. Keep in mind that if the people allowed this exception are ones who have only a few years or months or weeks or days to live they may feel the gamble is worth it. Who are government bureaucrats to make a value judgement about such a decision?</em?

OK, let’s repeat for emphasis:

It is time for the government to butt out and let people choose what risks they want to take with their lives.

Well said.

Another post that deals with risk and the implications for how we handle it is this post by Stephen DenBeste on the precautionary principle, which is an enshrining of extreme risk aversion in public policy. He discusses a wide range of examples, from GM food to U.S. military policy.

Likewise, when it comes to things like genetically-modified foods, the standard isn’t perfection, it’s the alternative of widespread starvation worldwide as population continues to grow and food production can’t keep up. If the only way that food production can keep pace is through genetic modification, then even if doing so results in negative consequences it’s worth doing as long as those consequences are less severe than the world-wide famine which would take place without them.

He contrasts the precautionary approach with the courageous approach, and it makes for thought-provoking reading.

Ronald Bailey had an article on the precautionary principle in Reason in April 1999, which is a must read:

The heart of the Principle, of course, is the admonition that “precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.” As one biomedical researcher in the audience objected, all scientific conclusions are subject to revision, and none is ever “fully established.” Since that is the case, the researcher pointed out, the Precautionary Principle could logically apply to every conceivable activity, since their outcomes are always in some sense uncertain. Furthermore, David Murray, the director of the Statistical Assessment Service in Washington D.C., points out another possible–and disquieting–interpretation of the Principle. Anyone who merely raises “threats of harm” with no more evidence than their fearful imagination gets to invoke precautionary measures. Precautionists would not need to establish any empirical basis for their fears; they may simply posit that something might go wrong and thus stymie any proposed action.