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"Trial Without Error" [Letter to the Editor of The American Scientist]

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Letter to the Editor of American Scientist Aaron WildavsIq7 Trial Without Error Does the breakdown at the Three xile Island reactor in Pennsylvania - - ..--.---_-__ - - ----. --.- _~ .___ --__ .- ..- --- -._ invalidate the thesis that "No Risk is the Highest Risk of All"? I think not. The article is about recent reluctance to face risks in almstall realqs ofhman life,wbetherthese mbylandor sea or air. Ehergy is only part of it. 73oxqhrisksmaybe real in scme respects, risk is unlikely to ha* risen rapidly in so many so soon. Bance thehypothesisthatperceptionof risk shouldbe sought not so much in what is out there but rather more in what is in us. The revelation that mistakes occur and accidents happen suggests that risk is part of life ratherthanths reverse. Nevertheless, my suggestion that the effort to eliminate risk is not only futilebut counterproductive maybe challenge~onthe gromdsthat insufficient effort to rermve risk was evidently made, for otherwise the reactorwouldnothave overheatedand spewedout radioactive gases. Sine what is self-evident to sort-e people is not to me, Iwelcxmetba oppo~~itY to =Y WhY I reject "trial without error" as a criterion of *ision. - - ---- -_ .I .._-- -. With332 error there is no learningi -. ._ science, its historians say, is mre about rejecting than accepting -theses. Knowledge growsby criticizing the failure of existing theory to explain or predict events in its domain of applicability. Dm-ocracy says little about what one does in offioe but rmc3-1 n-ore about getting officials out of office. "Throwing the rascals out," eliminating error, is the essenceofdemcracy. -- -2- +------ Similarly2in social life, it is not the ability to avoid error (even Goncharov's Oblornx, who spends his life in bed, cannot do that), butleamingbowtooveraoene itthatisprized. Thisn~& oflearninghas seeped so far into collective consciousness thatithasbecxxnz a stockphrase

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