By Pat Swords BE CEng FIChemE CEnv MIEMA
“He who can does; he who cannot, teaches.”
George Bernard Shaw (above) may have been harsh on academics, but as a professional working in risk management, I was appalled to read in the Irish Independent “We must completely eliminate coronavirus to return to normal, scientists warn”. To explain, as Voltaire phrased it “In his writings, a wise Italian says that the best is the enemy of good”. 20% of the effort may well get you 80% of the performance (Pareto principle), but perfection is solely an ideal. The plane designed never to crash could not lift into the air. While eliminating the circa 150 annual deaths on our roads, would require us to permit only walking.
Therefore, risk is inherently connected to a degree of reward. As the ISO and our legislation explains, safety is not zero risk, but where the residual risk is reduced to a level society accepts in a given context. The Lisbon Treaty does include the precautionary principle, but the Commission’s guidance on its application is very clear. It requires a strict adherence to risk management and “Measures (…) must not be disproportionate to the desired level of protection and must not aim at zero risk”.
Einstein is portrayed as an older wise man, but he was young and unknown when he published his theory of relativity, challenging the Newtonian physics established for centuries. Some considered him an upstart and a ‘scientific’ book was published ‘One Hundred Authors against Einstein’. Einstein’s alleged reply was one would not need the word of a hundred scientists, just one fact, which no one had produced.
Science is never about consensus, which is politics. Neither should ‘so called scientists’ seek to establish the ‘consensus of scientists’ to deliberately push the political process. Society alone decides the acceptability of risk; after all, if our mothers believed in ‘zero risk’, none of us would have been born.
Furthermore, what happens if the evidence emerges to show these ‘scientists’ are wrong. Are they prosecuted for negligence, as professionals involved in the practical application of science, such as doctors and engineers, are? Have they accurately informed, in the wider context of ‘teach’? For example, the data is readily available and the sums not hard, if you are under 65, you are as likely to die from a road accident as from COVID.
Regulation is required to be based on Regulatory Impact Analysis identifying the costs, benefits, uncertainties, etc., conducted in a transparent manner with public participation; not developed by ‘scientists’, who know what, is best for us