Nirvana Fallacy

4/11/19

Nothing to do with Kurt Cobain, the Nirvana Fallacy is otherwise known as the Perfect Solution Fallacy. It's the idea that unless something is perfect then it is not worth pursuing. its espoused by opponents of a thing as a door to unreasonably (but sometimes very effectively) criticise a current or proposed public policy. It is an argument you will hear very often from anti-vaccination proponents, climate change denialists, cancer quacks, anti 5G campaigners and vocal critics of science based public policy.

Often citing the precautionary principle as the overriding reason, critics of new technology - such as 5G - will demand that it be proven 100% safe before it is 'tested on the public'. They will cite smoking and the tobacco companies subsequent denial and cover-up of the link to cancer as prima facie evidence that the principal must always be paramount and big business or governments cannot ever be trusted. For them the new tech must not be 'imposed' on an unwilling public no matter how safe or beneficial it actually is. The same fallacy is used by Anti-Vax campaigners who cite the very rare occurrence of vaccine reactions to demonise vaccination as a whole, ignoring the massive benefits in general public health and to the vast majority of those individuals who have been vaccinated.

We saw it with the criticism of Greta Thunberg who was asked by a US senator why the US should do anything about climate change when countries like China continue to pollute with impunity. As she pointed out, Swedes use the same argument but with the US as the grand culprit. Another place where it is seen is when people criticise social welfare policy because some users can or will take advantage of the system, ignoring of course the absolute need for policies to help vulnerable people in society in the first place. Of course, the idea that we should not do something because it will not be 100% effective and without detrimental side-effects is obviously ridiculous and unreasonable. There is almost no perfect solution to any political, economic, or social problem. It is always messy and will always have some winners and losers. Public policy should be the most effective, evidence driven, realistic solution and continually reassesed in the light of new evidence.

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