On The Reliability Of Humans

The controversies that followed the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 more often than not sprang from a misunderstanding of the true nature of her concerns. Most felt she was anti technology or innovation. However, those people missed the nuance in her remarks.

Her criticisms were not so much directed at technology itself as they were at the reliability of the human beings who install and operate the technology. Carson tried unsuccessfully to forestall misunderstandings with this passage at the end of the frist chapter:

It is not my contention that chemical insecticides must never be used. I do content that we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals indiscriminately into the hands of persons largely or wholly ignorant of their potentials for harm.

And that is the origin of many a problem. It’s not that the X is bad, it’s that we’re largely ignorant to the potentials for harm.

(Try reading the excerpt again with “collateralized debt obligation” in place of “chemical insecticides.”)