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date: 17 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Strong political pressures mean that few issues in international governance of science and technology are more misunderstood than the precautionary principle. Often accused of being ‘anti-science’, precaution simply acknowledges that not all uncertainties can be artificially aggregated to ‘risk’. ‘Real-world’ imperatives for justification, acceptance, trust, and blame management unscientifically suppress the indeterminacies, complexities, and variabilities of the ‘real’ real world—and so reinforce attachments to whichever innovation trajectories are most powerfully backed by default. Resisting these pressures for circumscribed ‘risk assessment’, precaution explicitly emphasizes health and environment—and challenges pretence that technology choices can be value-free. Additionally, precaution points to a host of normally-excluded methods that allow greater rigour, balance, completeness, transparency, and accountability in evaluating priorities and interpreting evidence. This chapter reviews key associated issues in technology governance, and highlights practical ways to help more deliberate social steering of the directions taken by science and technology.

Keywords: risk assessment, uncertainty, precaution, technology governance, direction of innovation

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