Skip to main content

Novelty, Ignorance and the Unknown: Uncertain Science and the Frontiers of Science Doctrine

Kathleen Garnett

elni Review 2021, pp. 11-24. https://doi.org/10.46850/elni.2021.002

This paper examines the historical boundaries of relying upon risk assessment as the bedrock of environmental law. It does so by revisiting a number of historical environmental and public health cases that illustrate the ebbs and flows of judicial and regulatory insights into uncertain science. The paper concludes that the current approach to dealing with scientific uncertainty and doubt based on risk and quantification in environmental law is flawed.  A fresh look at the frontiers of science doctrine which developed the link between, novelty, uncertain science and ignorance requires fresh appraisal. Without this key doctrine in place neither a precautionary approach nor the EU’s precautionary principle can function as a driver for key environmental protection.

Access full article

References

  1. Anderson, C. (2017): Evolving Concepts of Science and Legitimacy: Insights from American Administrative Law, in Weimer & De Ruijter Regulating Risks in the European Union: The Co-production of Expert and Executive Power (Hart Publishing). DOI: http://doi.org/10.5040/9781509912650.ch-010
  2. Asselt van M. & E. Vos (2006), The Precautionary Principle and the Uncertainty Paradox, Journal of Risk Research, 9/4.
  3. Bilott R. (2020): Exposure, (Simon & Schuster).
  4. Black J. (2004): The Role of Risk in Regulatory Processes, in Robert Baldwin, Martin Cave, and Martin Lodge (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Regulation  (OUP 2010); J. Steele, Risks and Legal Theory  (Hart Publishing).
  5. Boehmer-Christiansen S. (1994): The Precautionary Principle in Germany: Enabling Government, in Timothy O’Riordan and James Cameron (eds), Interpreting the Precautionary Principle (Earthscan Publications).
  6. Cameron J. and Abouchar J. (1991): The Precautionary Principle: A Fundamental Principle of Law and Policy for the Protection of the Global Environment, Boston College International and Comparative Law Review, Volume 14/1.
  7. Carney L (1983): Radon Problem Dates to ‘30s, New York Times, 18 December 1983, available here (last accessed 8 July 2021).
  8. Carson R. (1962): Silent Spring, Houghton Mifflin.
  9. Ceballos G. et al (2020): Vertebrates on the brink as indicators of biological annihilation and the sixth mass extinction, (2020) 117/24, PNAS 13596.
  10. COM (2000)1, Commission Communication on the Precautionary Principle, 2 February 2000.
  11. COM (2019) 640 final: Communication from the European Commission on the European Green Deal, Brussels, and 11 December 2019.
  12. COM (2021) 44, Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, 3 February 2021.
  13. Cousins et al. (2019): The Concept of Essential Use for Determining When Uses of PFASs Can Be Phased Out, Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts, 21/11.
  14. Crutzen, P. (2002): Geology of Mankind, Nature, 451, 3 January 2002.
  15. DEFRA (2021): The Regulation of Genetic Technologies: A Consultation on the regulation of genetic technologies, January 2021.
  16. Douglas M. & Wildavsky A. (1983): Risk and Culture, (University of California Press).
  17. EFSA (2015): Conclusion on the peer review of the pesticide risk assessment of the active substance glyphosate, EFSA Journal 13/11, 4302.
  18. Ethyl Corp. v. Environmental Protection Agency, 541 F.2d 1 (D.C. Cir. 1976).
  19. European Chemical Agency (ECHA) (2017): Opinion proposing harmonised classification and labelling at EU level of glyphosate (ISO); N-(phosphonomethyl) glycine, CLH-O- 0000001412-86-149/F, Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) 15 March 2017.
  20. European Environment Agency (2001): Late Lessons from Early Warnings: The precautionary principle 1896-2000 (2001 Copenhagen).
  21. European Environment Agency (2013): Late Lessons from Early Warnings: Science, Precaution and Innovation (ed) (2013 Copenhagen).
  22. European Environment Agency (2019): The European Environment- State and Outlook 2020: Knowledge for transition to a sustainable Europe (Luxembourg).
  23. European Environment Agency (2021), Chemicals, available here, last accessed 8 October 2021.
  24. European Environment Agency Scientific Committee Seminar (2017): Chemicals for a Sustainable Future, (Copenhagen).
  25. Fara P. (2009): Science: A Four Thousand Year History’ (OUP 2009).
  26. Fowler C. & Mooney P (1990): Shattering: Food, Politics and the Loss of Diversity, (University of Arizona Press).
  27. Fowler C. (1993) Unnatural Selection: Technology, Politics and Plant Evolution, (Gordon and Breach).
  28. Garnett K. & Van Calster G. (2021): The Concept of Essential Use (2021): A Novel Approach to Regulating Chemicals in the European Union, 10/1 Transnational Environmental Law.
  29. Gee D. & Greenberg M. (2001): Asbestos: From ‘magic’ to malevolent mineral, in European Environment Agency (eds) Late Lessons from Early Warmings: The Precautionary Principle 1896-2000 (Copenhagen).
  30. Graham J & Wiener J. (1995) (eds) Risk vs Risk: Trade-offs in Protecting Health and the Environment (Harvard University Press).
  31. Graham L. (1987): Cancer in the Courtroom: Risk Assessment in the post-Benzene era, 6/3, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.
  32. Greenwood V. (2014): My Great-Great-Aunt discovered francium. And it killed her, The New York Times Magazine, 3 December 2014.
  33. Grove P. (1980): The Billion Dollar Benzene Blunder: Supreme Court Scrutinizes OSHA standards in Industrial Union Department, AFL-CIO v American Petroleum Institute (1980) 16/2 Tulsa Law Review.
  34. Hallmann C. et al (2017): More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas, PLOS ONE 12(10).
  35. Hansen S. & Tickner J. (2013): The precautionary principle and false alarms — lessons learned, in European Environment Agency (ed) Late Lessons from Early Warnings: Science, Precaution and Innovation.
  36. Industrial Union Department, AFL-CIO v Hodgson, 499 F2D 467 (DC Cir 1974) (Hodgson).
  37. Infante P. (2001): Benzene: an historical perspective on the American and European Occupational setting, in EEA Late Lessons from Earl Warnings (Copenhagen).
  38. International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Some Organophosphate Insecticides and Herbicides - IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, Volume 112 (2015).
  39. IPBES (2018): Regional assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services for Europe and Central Asia.
  40. ISAAA (2018): Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2018: Biotech Crops Continue to Help Meet the Challenges of Increased Population and Climate Change. ISAAA Brief No. 54. (2018 Ithaca), NY: ISAAA, 5.
  41. Jacobssen, H. (2015): Regulators urged to promote trust in Europe’s food chain, EurActiv, available here, 11 May 2015, (last accessed, 4 June 2020).
  42. Jasanoff S. (1997), Science at the Bar: Law Science and Technology in America (Harvard University Press).
  43. Kaminska I. (2021): Bioterror: The dangers of garage scientists manipulating DNA, Financial Times, 21 September 2021.
  44. La Porte v United States Radium Corporation, 13 F, 263 (D.N.J.) 1935 Fae. (La Porte).
  45. Lambert B. (2001): Radiation: early warnings; late effects, in European Environment Agency (eds) Late Lessons from Early Warmings: The Precautionary Principle 1896-2000 (Copenhagen).
  46. Leibowitz M. et al (2021), Chromothripsis as an on-target consequence of CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing, Nat Genet. 53/6.
  47. Lewis S., M. Maslin (2015): Defining the Anthropocene, Nature 519.
  48. Macklis, R. (1993): The great radium scandal, Scientific American 269.
  49. Majone G. (2002): What Price Safety? The Precautionary Principle and its Policy Implications, 40/1, JCMS.
  50. Martin-Laffon J. et al (2019), Worldwide CRISPR patent landscape shows strong geographical biases, Nature Biotechnology 37.
  51. National Research Council (1983): Risk Assessment in the Federal Government: Managing the Process Washington, DC, (The National Academies Press).
  52. Oliver T. et al (2021): Knowledge architecture for the wise governance of sustainability transitions, Environmental Science & Policy 126/2021.
  53. Orci, T. (2013): How we realised putting radium in everything was not the answer, The Atlantic, available here (last accessed 18 February 2021).
  54. Pattberg P. and Zelli F. (2016): Environmental Politics and Governance in the Anthropocene: Institutions and Legitimacy in a Complex World (Routledge).
  55. Pearson A (2018): One in four historic German vegetables extinct, DW, 12 April 2018.
  56. Bundesanstalt für Landwirtschaft und Ernährung, Neue Datenbank online: Historisch genutztes Gemüse (Bonn), Available here (last accessed 18 February 2021).
  57. Peel J. (2010) Science and Risk Regulation in International Law (Cambridge University Press 2010.
  58. Ritcher A. et al (2018): Zurich Statement on future actions on Per-and Polyflouroalkyl Substances (PFASs), Environmental Health Perspectives, 126/
  59. Sadeleer N. (2017), The Risk of Risk Analysis, European Journal of Risk Regulation, 8 (2017).
  60. Sadeleer N. (2020): Environmental Principles: From Political Slogans to Legal Rules (2nd ed) (OUP). DOI: http://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780198844358.001.0001
  61. Sands P. & Peel J. (2019): Principles of International Environmental Law (4th ed) (CUP).
  62. Scott J. and Vos E. (2002): The Juridification of Uncertainty: Observations on the Ambivalence of the Precautionary Principle within the EU and the WTO, in C. Jörges & R. Dehousse, Good Governance in Europe’s Integrated Market, (OUP).
  63. Shapiro M. (1996): The Frontiers of Science Doctrine: American Experiences with the Judicial Control of science-Based Decision-Making, (1996).
  64. Sharma A. et al (2019): Worldwide pesticide usage and its impact on ecosystems, SN Applied Sciences.
  65. Stirling A. (2019): On Science and Precaution in the Management of Technological Risk (Institute for Prospective Technological Studies).
  66. Sunstein C (2002): Risk and Reason, Safety, Law and the Environment, (CUP).
  67. Sunstein C. (2005): Law of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle (Cambridge University Press).
  68. SWD (2020)249: Poly-and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) accompanying Chemical Strategy for Sustainability: Towards a Toxic-Free Environment, 14 October 2020.
  69. SWD (2021) 92, Study on the status of new genomic techniques under Union law and in light of the Court of Justice ruling in Case C-528/16, 29 April.
  70. The Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc v OSHA, 509 F2d 1301, 1308 (2d Cir 1975). (Society of Plastics).
  71. UNEP (2019): Handbook for the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, 13th Edition, Decision on Essential Use, Decision IV/25: Essential Uses, para. 1 (a).
  72. Vogel D. (2002): The Politics of Risk Regulation in Europe and the United States, The Yearbook of European Environmental Law.
  73. Weimer & De Ruijter (2017): Insights from American Administrative Law’ Regulating Risks in the European Union: The Co-production of Expert and Executive Power (Hart Publishing).
  74. Weiner M. (2019), Risk Regulation in the Internal Market: Lessons from Agricultural Biotechnology, (OUP).
  75. Wiener J. et al (2001), (eds) The Reality of Precaution: Comparing Risk Regulation in the United States and Europe (Routledge).
  76. Wiener, J (2020): Learning to Manage the Multi-Risk World’ Risk Analysis 40/1.
  77. World Health Organisation (no date), International Agency for Research on Cancer ‘Cancer Tomorrow’ available here.
  78. World Health Organization (2018): Noncommunicable diseases country profiles 2018.