Balancing positive treatment with negative side affects is one of the most difficult problems faced by our society of today. It would be nice if this was only in one realm of activity but because of the advances made in science these problems of balancing outcomes crops up in business, the environment, medical treatment, social programmes and certainly the over all economy as a whole.
From November until April and sometimes even into May the Department of Highways and our town public works dumps tonnes and tonnes of salt onto our streets and highways almost each and every day. It is almost impossible to evaluate the numbers of lives and injuries that this practice saves. We live in a automotive transported society and road safety needs every little bit of help that can be given. Ice is dangerous and salt is very effective in lowering the melting temperature and chemically breaking down the stuff the makes vehicular travel deadly.
At the same time that salt dissolves into the water around it runs down the ditches and into the puddles, ponds and streams. Some of the salinity is absorbed into those same ditches, fields and water ways. To most plants salt is a deadly poison and on the scale it can deliver to the areas over which it washes the damage can be terminal to the productivity of the soil. Clearly this is a bad thing.
The difficult we have to weigh involves the lives and injuries prevented balanced against the possible permanent damage the same treatment does to the soil. Though I have mentioned only the raised salinity in the soil as one of the negative factors there are a great many other things that the salt does, many of them really costly. Damage to the roadways themselves, the vehicles that use them are minor by comparison.
For more than two years I was prescribed a medication that studies have shown increases the chances of heart failure considerably. I talked to my doctor about this but he pointed out that it was a damned if I do and damned if I don't situation. The medication most certainly did the job it was intended to do but the side affect could kill me. The choice was take it and die or not take it and die. My new doctor agrees with me that the use of the drug with its bad side effects does not offset its positive affects.
The governments around the world are trying to figure out what to do about the economy conflagration produced by bad government in the United States. The citizens of the world are demanding that their government "do something" about the crisis. Since the extent of this problem has never been dealt with before the politicians are struggling to come up with reasonable treatments that will not hurt worse than the actual economic collapse. Bail out programmes, interest changes, various projects to treat the problem all have side affects. The United States has discovered that had it just paid off all the dumb mortgages that had been made would cost far less than propping up the stupid leadership in the banks who created the problem in the first place. But alas the money is going out the door and will affect the great grand children and perhaps beyond as the weight of the debt grows. Citibank has been bailed out not once but twice. The auto industry is a mess and despite all efforts the inevitable may happen anyway.
Unhappily there is no over all principle that can be applied to these issues of compromise. The environment is known to be in dire trouble and that is not just the issue of global warming but pollution that affects the lives of the six billion or so of us alive now and those who will be born into this world in the future. Perhaps the most pressing problem is that of time. Most politicians look only to the next election not the next generation. Perhaps carnage on the highways is better than yet another contributor to mass extinction.
Science is a powerful and flexible tool to our society we need so much to turn to scientist and provide them with the funds to search for solutions then have the guts as a society to take the solutions and put them in place to make this a better world. Sounds simple but this is really a tough problem.