'The Journal of Transdisciplinary Environmental Studies' (TES)
Volume 2, Number 1, Nov. 2003

ISSN 1602-2297

Precautionary Limits to Environmental Science and Risk Management – Three Types of Errors

Hans Sanderson*1) & Keith R. Solomon*).
*) University of Guelph, Department for Environmental Biology, Centre for Toxicology, Bovey Blgd.,Gordon Street, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada.
1) E-mail: hsander@uoguelph.ca.

ABSTRACT: The twain, or interface, between public environmental policy making and environmental science does not facilitate each other in a constructive and cost-efficient way at present. The precautionary principle can be seen as an attempt to litigate and accelerate this situation. The role of science and uncertainties has been in the focus of the discussion - both for and against - the precautionary principle. Traditionally science, and unfortunately also environmental science, has focused on the reduction of risks for Type I errors (false positive rejection of the null hypothesis). Lately, the risk of Type II errors (false negative, failure to reject the null hypothesis) has been discussed in relation to managing the precautionary principle. However, both these approaches ignore the risk of Type III errors (accurate answer – wrong question), a qualitative estimate of the quality of the twain between science and public policy making. This paper, argues that the limitations of precautionary policy making might not solely be a result of uncertain science, but rather regulatory and scientific negligence of Type III errors, and lack of interdisciplinary perception from both the scientific as well as the regulatory communities. This can lead to non-precautionary decision-making.

Keywords: Type I, II & III errors, Precautionary principle, Role of science.

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