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Who Checks The Checkers?

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has the job of ensuring that the products and services we buy operate properly, at least to the extent that they are free of hazards. To that end, the CPSC operates, where people can report products that have dangerous design faults, and gain access to other citizens’ reports about unsafe products and services…

… though these reports may be completely useless. The CPSC posts a statement on the bottom of the web site warning that “CPSC does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the contents of the Publicly Available Consumer Product Safety Information Database on”.

safety not guaranteedIf the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s web site is supposed to keep people informed about which products are dangerous to them, but the reports on the web site are unreliable, doesn’t that make itself unsafe? I would report as an unsafe product on, but then, the accuracy, completeness and adequacy of my report there would not be guaranteed.

A paradox, a paradox, a most ingenious paradox…

2 thoughts on “Who Checks The Checkers?”

  1. Bill says:

    My first inclination was to file this article under “I’ll never get that 45 seconds back.” But, upon reflection, I think it presents a good teachable moment, because the article itself illustrates why such disclaimers are necessary in today’s world.

    Is it reasonable to expect a large, complex database to be accurate, complete, and adequate? Is it even possible? No, and no.

    Accurate, in this context, would mean that nowhere in the ongoing complex process of creating and maintaining this database were there any mistakes…for instance, no one typed ‘2’ when they meant ‘3’. That’s not how human beings work.

    Complete, in this context, would mean (among other possible interpretations) that this database lists every hazardous product on earth. That’s an obvious impossibility.

    Adequate, in this context, would mean…well, what the hell would it mean? Adequate to achieve the user’s goal. And because the user in question might be anyone, therefore that goal might be anything. So of course it is impossible to guarantee adequacy.

    I do understand that this article was written with some intention of humor, but still it raises the important point that people frequently have unreasonable expectations about information products. It’s the same mind-set that drives a toaster manufacturer to include with its product a safety warning that the product should not be used in the bathtub.

  2. J Clifford says:

    Fitter often comes off, at first, as flippant, but with a targeted point. Here, I think the point is, as you suggest, to call into question the regime of security, in our products and in our nation, that is so frequently presumed to be an entitlement. Of course we need government protection from dangerous products and people. The expectation of complete protection, however, leads to absurd results.

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