Unintended consequences

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

 
Jump to: navigation, search
An erosion gully in Australia caused by rabbits. The release of rabbits in Australia for hunting purposes has had serious unintended ecological consequences.

In the social sciences, unintended consequences (sometimes unanticipated consequences or unforeseen consequences) are outcomes that are not the ones intended by a purposeful action. The concept has long existed but was named and popularised in the 20th century by American sociologist Robert K. Merton.[1]

Unintended consequences can be roughly grouped into three types:

History[edit]

The idea of unintended consequences dates back at least to Adam Smith, the Scottish Enlightenment, and consequentialism (judging by results).[2] However, it was the sociologist Robert K. Merton who popularized this concept in the twentieth century.[1][3][4][5]

In his 1936 paper, "The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action", Merton tried to apply a systematic analysis to the problem of unintended consequences of deliberate acts intended to cause social change. He emphasized that his term "purposive action... [is exclusively] concerned with 'conduct' as distinct from 'behavior.' That is, with action that involves motives and consequently a choice between various alternatives".[5] Merton also stated that "no blanket statement categorically affirming or denying the practical feasibility of all social planning is warranted."[6]

More recently, the law of unintended consequences has come to be used as an adage or idiomatic warning that an intervention in a complex system tends to create unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes.[7][8][9][10] Akin to Murphy's law, it is commonly used as a wry or humorous warning against the hubristic belief that humans can fully control the world around them.

Causes[edit]

Possible causes of unintended consequences include the world's inherent complexity (parts of a system responding to changes in the environment), perverse incentives, human stupidity, self-deception, failure to account for human nature or other cognitive or emotional biases. As a sub-component of complexity (in the scientific sense), the chaotic nature of the universe—and especially its quality of having small, apparently insignificant changes with far-reaching effects (e.g., the butterfly effect)—applies.

Robert K. Merton listed five possible causes of unanticipated consequences in 1936:[11]

  1. Ignorance (It is impossible to anticipate everything, thereby leading to incomplete analysis)
  2. Error (Incorrect analysis of the problem or following habits that worked in the past but may not apply to the current situation)
  3. Immediate interest, which may override long-term interests
  4. Basic values may require or prohibit certain actions even if the long-term result might be unfavorable (these long-term consequences may eventually cause changes in basic values)
  5. Self-defeating prophecy (Fear of some consequence drives people to find solutions before the problem occurs, thus the non-occurrence of the problem is not anticipated.)

In this paper, Merton announced that he would write a book on the history and analysis of unintended consequences - but this remained unfinished when he died in 2003.

Examples[edit]

Unexpected benefits[edit]

Unexpected drawbacks[edit]

Perverse results[edit]

Unintended consequences of environmental intervention[edit]

In ecology, deliberate changes to an ecosystem can have unintended consequences, when these effects escape the control of those who introduced them. Examples include:

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Robert K. Merton, Versatile Sociologist and Father of the Focus Group, Dies at 92, Michael T. Kaufman, The New York Times
  2. ^ Adam Smith The Theory of Moral Sentiments p. 93.
  3. ^ Renowned Columbia Sociologist and National Medal of Science Winner Robert K. Merton Dies at 92 Columbia News
  4. ^ Robert K. Merton Remembered Footnotes, American Sociological Association
  5. ^ a b Merton, Robert K. "The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action". American Sociological Review 1 (6): 895. Retrieved 2008-05-30. 
  6. ^ Merton, Robert K. "The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action". American Sociological Review 1 (6): 904. Retrieved 2008-05-30. 
  7. ^ Norton, Rob (2008). "Unintended Consequences". In David R. Henderson. Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (2nd ed.). Indianapolis: Library of Economics and Liberty. ISBN 978-0865976658. OCLC 237794267. 
  8. ^ "HeinOnline". HeinOnline. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  9. ^ "28 Florida State University Law Review 2000-2001 Mandatory Minimum Sentences: Exemplifying the Law of Unintended Consequences Comment". Heinonline.org. 1993-06-18. Retrieved 2012-11-21. 
  10. ^ "HeinOnline". HeinOnline. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  11. ^ Merton, Robert K (1996). "On Social Structure and Science". The University of Chicago Press. Retrieved 2012-11-21. 
  12. ^ "From Iron Curtain to Green Belt: How new life came to the death strip". London: Independent.co.uk. 2009-05-17. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  13. ^ Kate Connolly (2009-07-04). "From Iron Curtain to Green Belt". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  14. ^ "European Green Belt". European Green Belt. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  15. ^ "Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative Celebrates 1 Year Anniversary". Dnr.maryland.gov. 2008-02-07. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  16. ^ 4:00 p.m. ET (2007-05-25). "Sinking ships will boost tourism, group says – News – msnbc.com". MSNBC. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  17. ^ "Life after death on the ocean floor – The National Newspaper". Thenational.ae. 2009-09-21. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  18. ^ "Sea Life Flourishing On Vandenberg Wreck Off Keys". cbs4.com. 2009-10-15. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  19. ^ "CDNN :: Diver Wants to Sink Old Navy Ships off California Coast". Cdnn.info. 2006-12-27. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  20. ^ "BBC 15 February 2001, Aspirin heart warning". BBC News. 2001-02-15. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  21. ^ "Evaluating Head Injuries and Helmet Laws in Australia and New Zealand". 
  22. ^ Cameron, M; Cameron, M., Vulcan, A., Finch, C, and Newstead, S (June 1994). "Mandatory bicycle helmet use following a decade of helmet promotion in Victoria, Australia—an evaluation". Accident Analysis and Prevention 26 (3): 325–327. doi:10.1016/0001-4575(94)90006-X. PMID 8011045. 
  23. ^ "Evaluating the Health Benefit of Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Laws, Piet De Jong, Macquarie University – Actuarial Studies, 26 October 2009". Papers.ssrn.com. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  24. ^ Juan Forero, "Colombia's Coca Survives U.S. plan to uproot it", The New York Times, August 19, 2006
  25. ^ Don Podesta and Douglas Farah, "Drug Policy in Andes Called Failure," Washington Post, March 27, 1993
  26. ^ Dominic Streatfeild (June 2000). "Source Material for Cocaine: An Unauthorized Biography: Interview between Milton Friedman and Dominic Streatfeild". Dominicstratfeild. Retrieved 2012-11-21. 
  27. ^ "An open letter". Prohibition Costs. Retrieved 2008-02-20. 
  28. ^ *Huesemann, Michael H., and Joyce A. Huesemann (2011).Technofix: Why Technology Won’t Save Us or the Environment, Chapter 1, “The Inherent Unavoidability and Unpredictability of Unintended Consequences”, and Chapter 2, “Some Unintended Consequences of Modern Technology”, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada, ISBN 0865717044, 464 pp
  29. ^ [1][dead link]
  30. ^ "Blowback - 96.05". Theatlantic.com. Retrieved 2012-11-21. 
  31. ^ Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor. "Why 'blowback' is the hidden danger of war | World news". The Observer. Retrieved 2012-11-21. 
  32. ^ "The State Barrier Fence of Western Australia". The State Barrier Fence Project. Retrieved 2009-10-09. 
  33. ^ "Rabbits: Introduction into New Zealand". Christchurch City Libraries. Retrieved 2009-10-09. 
  34. ^ Molly McElroy (2005). "Fast-growing kudzu making inroads in Illinois, authorities warn". News Bureau, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved April 28, 2008. 
  35. ^ Richard J. Blaustein (2001). "Kudzu's invasion into Southern United States life and culture" (PDF). United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved August 20, 2007. 
  36. ^ Canton, David. "Today's Business Law: Attempt to suppress can backfire", London Free Press, November 5, 2005. Retrieved July 21, 2007. The "Streisand effect" is what happens when someone tries to suppress something and the opposite occurs. The act of suppressing it raises the profile, making it much more well known than it ever would have been".
  37. ^ "Etheromaniac". World Wide Words. 2006-09-09. Retrieved 2012-11-21. 
  38. ^ "Our innate ability to think of new ways to use energy" Professor Tadj Oreszczyn. Summer 2009 edition of ‘palette’, UCL’s journal of sustainable cities.
  39. ^ Andres, Von Brandt (1984) Fish catching methods of the world ISBN 978-0-685-63409-7.
  40. ^ Likens, G. E., R. F. Wright, J. N. Galloway and T. J. Butler. 1979. Acid rain. Sci. Amer. 241(4):43–51.
  41. ^ Likens, G. E. 1984. Acid rain: the smokestack is the “smoking gun.” Garden 8(4):12-18.
  42. ^ Joyce, Christopher. "How The Smokey Bear Effect Led To Raging Wildfires". npr.org. Retrieved 27 August 2012. 

References[edit]