On Ignorance and Apocalypse: A Brief Introduction To ‘Epistemic Accidents'

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Abstract

Environmental advocates invoked it as evidence of a narrowly averted apocalypse; painting dire portraits of a runaway, laboratory-born organism racing across the planet, leaving wastelands and famines in its wake. Accidents are complex phenomena, and any specific example of an Epistemic Accident will be contestable, yet the principle stands on its own logic. To recognise the existence of Epistemic Accidents is to acknowledge that no amount of organisational restructuring, application of intelligence or hard work will ever ‘solve’ the problem of accidents. If Epistemic Accidents are an emergent property of epistemological limitations then Normal Accidents are an emergent property of structure and probability. If a future bacterium ever destroys the world’s soils because regulators failed to test its effects on soil biota, then the resulting catastrophe would not be an Epistemic Accident. Environmental Protection Agency testing regimens that continued to mandate sterile soil, for example, would pose a hazard to soil biota every time the agency tested a new bacterium.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSafety Science Research
Subtitle of host publicationEvolution, Challenges and New Directions
EditorsJean-Christophe LeCoze
Place of PublicationBoca Raton
PublisherCRC Press
Chapter5
Number of pages11
Edition1
ISBN (Electronic)9781351190237
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Aug 2019

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