The Flap over Butterflies

By Kellow, Aynsley | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, September 1999 | Go to article overview

The Flap over Butterflies


Kellow, Aynsley, Review - Institute of Public Affairs


The flap of a butterfly's wings may or may not lead to a tornado. But misuse of science for political effect can certainly lead to bad policy.

ON 24 June 1999, Greenpeace activists dressed as butterflies picketed a meeting of European Union environment ministers in Luxembourg with a banner reading `Give butterflies a chance-- Stop Genetix Crops'. They urged-successfully as it turned out-the ministers to take a precautionary approach and prevent the commercial growing of genetically modified (GM) crops.

The scientific basis for this demand was a piece of research published in a letter to the journal Nature which indicated that monarch butterfly larvae fed with milkweed dusted with pollen from GM maize suffered adverse reactions, including death. The case has become a notorious example of the misuse of both science and the precautionary principle for political effect. It also demonstrates the need for careful risk-analysis in the development of regulatory approaches to technologies such as GM.

The precautionary principle is subject to growing abuse by environmental groups, to the point that it is becoming a seriously debased maxim. While it appears in numerous versions, it makes a recommendation in favour of caution when the risks of environmental harm are serious or irreversible. This is sensible enough, although the principle cannot alone be operationalized, because it cannot tell us how much caution we should exercise.

The precautionary principle asks us to act with care under conditions of uncertainty, and not to allow the absence of scientific certainty to serve as a reason for deferring action. It is this aspect which, in the butterfly case, demonstrates the extent to which the principle is being abused by Greenpeace, since it is invoking the precautionary principle on the basis of a single piece of scientific research.

The precautionary principle talks about lack of certainty, and a single scientific paper is a very long way from that. All manner of scientific papers are published which turn out to be wrong, and were we to act in a precautionary manner on the basis of them all, our regulation would be confused, contradictory and very costly.

Greenpeace and other environmental groups were responsible for another example of this in the US. A single paper in Science, in June 1996, by scientists from Tulane University suggested that minute quantities of mixtures of endocrine-disrupting chemicals were up to 1,600 times more chemically active than the chemicals alone. Congress reacted with the passage of two new laws, the Safe Water Drinking Act and the Food Quality Protection Act, and a new mandate to the Environmental Protection Agency to develop new guidelines for endocrine disruptors, found not just in synthetic chemicals but also naturally in many foods.

Subsequent research was unable to reproduce the Tulane findings and in June 1997 the researchers acted responsibly by formally withdrawing their paper, admitting that they too had been unable to replicate their initial results. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Flap over Butterflies
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.