Research / Trends

We’re good at complying with the Law of Unintended Consequences

Four examples of how good intentions can produce unexpected results:

Worldwide demand for ethanol biofuel is causing massive deforestation in Brazil to to grow sugarcane, the raw material for Brazilian ethanol. Brazil’s Cerrado region is being deforested at 7.4 million acres per year, a higher rate of clearing than in the Amazon. All of the remaining vegetation in Cerrado could be lost by 2030. — “Losing Forests to Fuel Cars,” The Washington Post (31 July 2007, registration required)

Clinical information technology systems — especially those known in the health care industry as computerized provider order entry (CPOE) systems — promise to improve health outcomes, reduce medical errors and increase cost efficiency. But a study found that hospitals adopting them must plan for “immense” workflow issues and a host of other unanticipated consequences. Doctors, for example, spent much more time at the computer inputting prescriptions and other orders. And system over-dependence created havoc during system failures. — Oregon Health & Science University / Science Daily (2 Aug. 2007)

Credit-card disclosure information intended to discourage consumers from overspending may have the opposite effect. The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 requires credit-card companies to provide scary details about high interest rates and long pay-off periods. But a study found that, for many shoppers, knowledge of mounting debt can be so depressing that it spurs them to binge shopping to alleviate the gloom. — The Wall Street Journal (18 July 2007, subscription required)

The new Massachusetts health care reform, which aims to rescue 550,000 residents from the ranks of the uninsured, has run into a snag: a shortage of doctors willing to take on new patients. — The Wall Street Journal (25 July 2007, subscription required)

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