Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Taking Our Medicine

Imagine you sit on a citizen panel that is responsible for approving a new drug, a pill. This pill is an antidote for a poison. Actually, it's reported to be an effective antidote for an innumerable variety of poisons, and we are told by the finest scientists in the land that we are surrounded by undetectable but lethal poisons. This is surprising to us because we do not feel ill, but the scientists tell us that nearly everyone in the community must now take this antidote, in varying doses prescribed for us, or we will all die. We have to live with this pill for the rest of our lives, and by the way, this pill is very expensive and has crippling side effects. All the same, we must take it. We have no choice.

As a caring member of the community, you accept the imperative to protect. You are, however, very concerned about the side effects of the antidote.  As a member of the approval panel, you focus all your efforts towards reducing the pill's side effects, if only marginally.  If you make palliative modifications, you feel heroic since you have approved a vital community-saving measure while reducing negative consequences.

Based on recent conversations, many members of our Council and Planning Commission seem to feel this way. They have accepted that we are sick (eco-hypochondriacs?). They have accepted that we need to take the miracle pill despite the terrible side effects. They believe the (buffer) pill is the only solution that can save us: there is no alternative or combination of alternatives that might be a substitute remedy. There is only one final solution, and it is worth everything. Our officials feel embattled, but heroic. As such, they are focused only on forcing us to swallow the pill, and to that end, they are trying to gain our grudging cooperation by reassuring us that the side effects will not be as bad as they are reported to be.

But the surest way to prevent side effects is not to take the pill in the first place. That said, hardly any of our public officials are seriously scrutinizing whether the pill is needed to begin with. For its advocates, though the evidence is scant, the pill represents science. Although we have lived an apparently healthy life without the scientific pill, "they" insist that we cannot go on living without the new drug.

This is how most of our public officials think of the CAO, its buffers, and the diagnosis of Dr. Adamus and others. The fact that our officials can think this way is the most difficult pill to swallow of all.

Previous posts raised questions about our diagnosis, the remedy (i.e., pill), and the methodology used to compute our dose. Upcoming posts will ask whether the proposed remedy has any active ingredients at all? Or, is it just a placebo with crippling side effects?


  1. ECK,

    My father-in-law was told the exact scenario you are laying out as your con argument. He died of cancer in less than 3 months after he began experiencing physical symptoms. All his life he felt in good health and his doctor records reflected this. So, just because you don't see or feel the things that can be killing you are no reason not to take preventative measures to ensure you live a long, healthy life.

    For argument sake, yes, I am not talking about someone dying from cancer but illustrating the point that dangerous and deadly things can occur without immediate evidence. That's actually how a lot of people die.

    Think about driving a car. Do you always think about how much danger your life is in? Isn't a requirement that you wear a seat belt? Do you know anyone who's life has been saved because that safety belt was worn? Or is that seat belt, "just a placebo with crippling side effects?"

  2. Think about undergoing chemo therapy if you actually have a heart condition instead. Think about what JFK said about the wrong argument at the wrong time, while our real problems grow and multiply, fostered by neglect. Think about Dick Cheney's 100% response to a 1% risk. "Precautions" have costs and unintended consequences, and as a result, they can (and often do) introduce risk in unintended ways, not just reduce risk. You cannot respond 100% to a 1% risk and expect to have any resources left over to respond to the other 99% of risk. Risk reductions must be related, at least probabilistically, to a problem and to measurable risk reduction.

    I suggest you read the paper by Ruckelsahus. You can find the link in the sidebar.