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A Critical Summary of Witches, Floods and Wonder Drugs by William C. Clark


Write a critical summary of the points made by Clarke in the provided paper by Clarke (Witches, 1 Floods and Wonder Drugs). Clarke bases his points on three stories, but there is an overall set of ideas that he is using these stories to illustrate. What are the ideas he is presenting? A critical summary is not a point-by-point paraphrasing of the content, it is a higher level interpretation of the content and it includes your views on this.


Introduction: Risk, coping risk and trying to manage the risk or I should say controlling risk has been a struggling part for the humans since time in memorial. From birth till death everyone tries to control and avoid risk. What is being done is just the opposite of what should be done. In this critical summary, it will be evaluated that what the old civilizations did and what they should have done vis-à-vis three examples exemplified by William C. Clark. It will also critically evaluate all the three examples namely witch, floods and wonder drugs. Over the period of while assessing the risks and understanding the knowledge, it has come to surface that all of us need to understand policy analysis rather than science. It must be understood that feasibility in risk management assessment is a better option. The important part is that everyone needs to appreciate that the time has come and it is the need of the hour to increase our risk coping capabilities and need to work on our risk-taking abilities.

A Critical Summary of Witches, Floods and Wonder Drugs an essay by William C. Clark
William C Clark is of the opinion that the concept or the issue of risk revolves around two entities firstly people, and secondly their fears. No one would hesitate in agreeing with the author on this point that it is the fear of the unknown, unimaginable and the incomprehensible which makes people adopt various unlawful strategies. In our society rather than understanding and evaluating the uncontrollable we fear what cannot be controlled. It has lead to the development of a new approach where people run away from the problems. However, if one tries to critically examine the paper provided by William C. Clark, it would be found that there is an overall set of ideas which the author is trying to illustrate through these stories in the paper. After thoughtful analysis of the paper, it can be deduced that the central point of discussion according to the author is that whether it is the case of witches, floods or wonder drugs vs. social risk assessment, whenever the humans have tried to “control” the fear, nature and medicine regulation, humans as a whole have suffered at their own hands. To begin with the first point, in the early centuries societal risk assessment implied witches hunting. It meant when no other reason could be found for the rotting of the fields, dying of the sheep and human diseases everything was blamed on witches. What could not be understood was confused and cashed upon. It became a new profession and earning source. The burden of the work was so much that it lead to the birth of a new institution called Inquisition. It was responsible for burning more and more witches. People have found a scapegoat mechanism in the form of witches. What they cannot explain or justify was blamed on witches. Gradually the witchcraft became an individual affair and the church was out of it. Social risk assessment and witchcraft both were followed blindfolded and anyone who raised voice against the witchcraft was dealt in a similar fashion. Both the cases required shreds of evidence to prove or punish anyone. In many cases, it was found that evidence cannot be provided or if in any case bleak evidence in nature was adduced it was ignored. Alonso Salazar y Frias in 1610 ordered the Spanish Inquisition that without proof no torture will be done on the witches. The author tries to establish similarities between the Inquisition and social risk assessment scientists on the grounds of opportunistic careerism, clergy vs. the scientists for their own account and thirdly on the financial gains of the clergy and the elite scientific institutions which gained out of this social risk assessment spree. It can also be believed that both the institutions i.e. inquisition and scientific foundations fulfilled their selfish motives.

The second point discussed by William C Clark lays emphasis on the human being’s attempt to manage or regulate the natural resources. Here also, the double faceted risk analysis comes into play again. Nature also is a dual personality. It provides us with rivers, good food, oxygen, animals and many more benefits. Contrarily floods, pests, diseases are also part of nature. The latter ones are the direct repercussions of human intervention with nature. The humans risk their own existence by fiddling with the Mother Nature. They have stopped coping or adjusting according to nature. Rather environment and nature have been molded according to their own needs which have proved to be the biggest mistake of humankind. For the short term benefits, people are compromising and risking the long-term benefits. So as to control the problem of flooding temporarily, transient arrangements were made but it has severely affected in inappropriate proportions. Same has been the case with the use of insecticides and budworms or the prevention of the conflagrations or the diseases or the prevention of the disaster in case of the genetically modified corn crop. Till date, no one has been able to assess that how much risk humans as a race should take or must take. Every time when there is a question about taking the risk the first approach is to avoid it and follow a temporary or short-term solution as seen earlier also.

Last but not the least is the relationship between the medical advancement and the risk assessment profession. The medicine development always puts the tests in risky situations. It can be said that the risks and the medical benefits go hand in hand. The doctors have to assess all the time the risks/side effects associated with the medicines if they are launched without proper testing or the benefits of early launches as people are suffering because of the non-availability. Minimal testing is certainly required but after that, it is for the scientists to decide that if they want the humans to be their guinea pigs? Such dilemmas are the most prevalent in case of the risk assessment situations. There are presently two approaches The US and The UK practice out of which whole of the fraternity has unanimously decided that the United Kingdom’s approach is more practical as it promotes the early release of medicines and does extensive post-marketing observation. Now the time has come when it needs to be decided that whether we want to risk the cost factor or the susceptibility of the human beings to the medicines while launching of the medicines. Accordingly, if all the three cases are combined that is witchcraft, environment factors and drug expansion vis-à-vis the societal risk assessment one single solution that emerges out of the total discussion is that “Our appetite for the risk-taking abilities must increase”. Everyone will have to bring themselves to the concept of adaptive risk management i.e. how much calculative risk one should take? Another approach which exists is not to take any risk and stay safe but in this case, no one will gain anything. They have to start making a strategy for coping. Willingness to take risks must increase. They should start acting on the grounds of respect for the known and should not abandon on the grounds of fear of unknown or uncontrollable. In adaptive risk management the incompleteness, theories their interruptions and fallibility of the knowledge makes no difference. It could be felt that when the author draws a comparison between a politician and a scientist, he wants to emphasize on a balanced view of an uncertain and complex issue. Both the scientists and politicians can make errors. But the author is of the opinion that learning from the errors in the modern policy analysis. As actual performance depends upon the facts and contingencies, rationality becomes retrospective but a highly regarded concept. My views regarding the societal risk assessment after the analysis of the essay and the comparisons drawn by the author are that the risk-taking attitude and ability of the society from the beginning has been negative and avoidable. It is the need of the hour that we should start making efforts towards generating a pro risk-taking attitude as it is the only preferred solution.

Conclusion: In the above critical summary and the comparison drawn between the witchcraft, floods, wonder drugs and the societal risk assessment it can be concluded that we cannot save ourselves and have to cope the world around us adequately. This means that we must have a better understanding of the development of the nature of risks. We should try to acknowledge the problem we are facing, make efforts to solve it and learn how to use the past experiences to steer into the future. We must create a beneficial perspective thus eliminating one of the most troubling parts thereon which is avoiding the risk. By establishing better science policies we can evolve and produce new values of methodical rigor which are suitable and helpful in nature for the encouraging early warnings and formulating policy decisions. The trademark of a good policy is that it not only analyses and recognizes the truth which may be hidden or unknown but also it evaluates the little knowledge so that it allows in taking decisions. Policies focusing on regulation, controls etc are not required. We must lay emphasis on the “scale” to which our risk management institutions and arrangements should work so that there could be optimal regulation for every fear and unknown.

References: Sehwing, RC and Alber W.A. (1980) Societal risk Assessment Plenum Press, New York

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