Volcano Revisionism Erupts

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Was Chicken Little right? European conservatives and libertarians are asking pointed questions about the extent of the air traffic shutdown. There's a good summary of that point of view, with links, in the blog of the Telegraph's Brussels correspondent, Bruno Waterfield.

What's at stake is the concept of the Precautionary Principle. A pro-Government editorial in the Independent defends the decision, with some good comments.

Watch the expert post-mortems on Eyjafjallajökull. This isn't only about volcanoes and aircraft. It's about dealing with all uncertain risk, including nuclear power, anti-terrorism measures, earthquake and tsunami predictions, and vaccines and quarantines during epidemics. In Germany, homeland of the Precautionary Principle, Der Spiegel recently blasted "the Swine Flu Panic of 2009," praising Poland's health minister, Ewa Kopacz, for resisting international calls for mass vaccination -- ironically, on grounds of "first do no harm."

Scientific and engineering organizations will be studying the response to
Eyjafjallajökull for years. Whatever the outcome, their findings will help shape how governments deal with future uncertain risks. Already at least one respected NGO voice, the director of the Carnegie Endowment's European Center in Brussels, shares his second thoughts:

"Europe is the victim of the precautionary principle," Mr.[Fabrice] Pothier said, of "an uncoordinated overreaction to possible risk." That led to a huge oversupply in swine flu vaccine, for instance, and, as Mr. Quatremer noted, the European aversion to genetically modified grain.

"It's the same principle for the ash cloud," he said. "We fear everything and want maximum safety for our citizens," just like the way in the United States, he said, the society will go to extremes to protect citizens from terrorism. "No one can argue with security," he said.
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Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center and holds a Ph.D in European history. More

Edward Tenner is an independent writer and speaker on the history of technology and the unintended consequences of innovation. He holds a Ph.D. in European history from the University of Chicago and was executive editor for physical science and history at Princeton University Press. A former member of the Harvard Society of Fellows and John Simon Guggenheim fellow, he has been a visiting lecturer at Princeton and has held visiting research positions at the Institute for Advanced Study, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy. He is now an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center, where he remains a senior research associate.

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