The precautionary principle and unintended consequences

Holmes E. Miller (Department of Accounting Business, Economics and Finance, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA)
Kurt J. Engemann (Hagan School of Business, Iona College, New Rochelle, New York, USA)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Publication date: 4 February 2019



All technologies have intended and unintended consequences, both favorable and unfavorable. Because the risks from implementing a technology may outweigh its rewards, the precautionary principle, illustrated by the maxim “better safe than sorry”, often is applied. Yet, the precautionary principle itself may have unintended consequences. This paper aims to discuss the precautionary principle and unintended consequences and present a model for analyzing the resulting implications.


A deficiency in applying the precautionary principle often is forgoing a quantitative analysis. In this paper, the authors apply decision analysis and decision analytic methodologies. Specifically, they present a decision model which can be used when analyzing the consequences of using the precautionary principle. The methodology incorporates decision-makers’ attitude in the determination of the preferred decision policy. The authors illustrate the methodology by determining a decision policy regarding the application of the precautionary principle in a situation with potential unintended consequences.


The findings indicate that a generic decision model structure for assessing the use of the precautionary principle, as illustrated in a decision tree, can be used when implementing a new technology. The results of the analysis indicate that a decision-maker’s attitude plays an important role in determining a preferred decision policy for this dynamic decision situation.


This research breaks new ground by proposing a decision analytic methodology where quantitative analysis can be applied to address problems where technologies are implemented with unintended consequences and where the precautionary principle is applied.



Miller, H. and Engemann, K. (2019), "The precautionary principle and unintended consequences", Kybernetes, Vol. 48 No. 2, pp. 265-286.

Download as .RIS



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

Please note you might not have access to this content

You may be able to access this content by login via Shibboleth, Open Athens or with your Emerald account.
If you would like to contact us about accessing this content, click the button and fill out the form.
To rent this content from Deepdyve, please click the button.