Departmental Papers (BE)

Document Type

Journal Article

Date of this Version

December 2002


The fact that technologies have unintended consequences is self-evident. But risk management - managing the adverse effects of technology - is both uncertain and politically contentious, since it entails making decisions about socially important issues in the face of scientific uncertainty. Originating in European environmental policy in the 1970s, the precautionary principle (PP) is embodied in adages such as "better safe than sorry" and "err on the side of caution". In practice, this means taking steps to avoid possible environmental or health damage, in the face of insufficient scientific evidence. The PP has achieved widespread political support, and - by the Treaty on European Union - it is the foundation of environmental policy in the European Union (EU). The PP is firmly established in international law, and a considerable body of case law is developing about its use in the EU. However, it has also generated immense controversy.


Copyright 2002 IEEE. Reprinted from IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, Volume 21, Issue 4, Winter 2002-2003, pages 8-13.
Publisher URL:

This material is posted here with permission of the IEEE. Such permission of the IEEE does not in any way imply IEEE endorsement of any of the University of Pennsylvania's products or services. Internal or personal use of this material is permitted. However, permission to reprint/republish this material for advertising or promotional purposes or for creating new collective works for resale or redistribution must be obtained from the IEEE by writing to By choosing to view this document, you agree to all provisions of the copyright laws protecting it.



Date Posted: 15 November 2004

This document has been peer reviewed.