How much evidence is enough?

On June 22, a New Orleans federal judge lifted the ban President Barack Obama had placed on offshore drilling.  The six-month moratorium was put banning deepwater drilling like that of the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, killing 11 people and spilling thousands of gallons of oil daily into the Gulf.

In his decision, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman described the ban as “overbearing” and said the government does not have evidence to show that all deepwater drilling rigs are unsafe.  He also described the economic damage to the people of the region imposed by ban, concluding “the public interest weighs in favor of granting a preliminary injunction” (lifting the ban).

As scientists, we try to be impartial knowledge seekers.  But how do we weigh evidence against potential economic outcomes?  Results always fall within a confidence interval, and there can be outliers.  How much risk are we willing to accept, both in terms of lives and environmental impact, for economic gain?  As scientists, it is important to consider these questions, as well as the data-based ones.

If you’re interested in reading the decision, it can be found here.


One thought on “How much evidence is enough?

  1. Alex B. Berezow Post author

    I completely agree that scientists must consider the economic impacts of their positions. This is partially (if not mostly) why the global warming debate is so intense. Scientists and politicians that endorse cap-and-trade don’t seem to realize or care that this policy could have a very negative impact on the US economy— an economy which is barely out of recession, at 9.3% unemployment (with an underemployment rate at a mind-blowing 19.1%), and seemingly ready to plunge back down for a double-dip recession at any moment.

    Personally, I agree with the judge’s decision. The Gulf oil spill will destroy tourism and the fishing industry. If we take away their oil, too, then what will the Gulf region have left?


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