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Osimani, Barbara (2013): The Precautionary Principle in the Pharmaceutical Domain: A Philosophical Enquiry into Probabilistic Reasoning and Risk Aversion. In: Health, Risk & Society, Vol. 15, No. 2: pp. 123-143

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Pharmaceutical decisions are affected by several forms of uncertainty, which are sharpened both by the high stakes at play and by the complexity of the epistemological procedures needed to provide the necessary information to make these decisions. The precautionary principle as applied to pharmaceutical decisions through the notion of ‘well-founded suspicion’ takes into account one special sort of these uncertainties: the uncertainty concerning the causal connection between observed adverse reactions and the drug suspected of causing these effects. Commentators have criticised the precautionary principle for its inhibitory action on innovation and research, for its unjustified imbalance towards the risk produced by human agency versus natural risks; and from a formal point of view, for its vagueness and unsystematic application. Their criticisms have generally been grounded in the supposed risk-aversive nature of the precautionary principle. The purpose of this article is to address these criticisms. In this article, Iengage in a discussion of the current methodological debate about epistemic asymmetries concerning standards of evidence for pharmaceutical harm and benefits to examine the rationale underpinning the logic of the precautionary principle. I show that the precautionary principle has been developed as a means of acknowledging uncertainty, and therefore, the basis of its implementation should be based on inductive rather than deductive approaches to scientific enquiry.

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