Exploring and exploiting loopholes in STEM

Merriam-Webster (Frank Merrick's favorite dictionary) defines a loophole as "a small opening through which small arms may be fired."


In this article, we discuss some famous loopholes from science, math, and engineering history.

Accidental authoritarianism
In 1947, while preparing his application for US citizenship, famous Austrian mathematician Kurt Gödel claimed to have found a deeply unnerving logical contradiction within the US Constitution. The loophole "might transform our existing constitutional democracy (in which political power is divided among different branches of government) into a legalistic or military dictatorship."  Gödel's discovery remains "one of the great unsolved problems of constitutional law."

Equivalence creep
In the US, the sale of medical devices is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The approval process for some moderate-risk devices (Class II of three risk classes) involves making a comparison to already-approved devices. If a manufacturer can claim "substantial equivalence" between the new device and existing devices, then the requirement for expensive and time-intensive clinical studies can be waived. "This practice has been labeled 'piggybacking' or, alternatively, 'equivalence creep,'" resulting in a long chain of devices that are linked by claims of equivalence. In 2017, researchers found that of 61 transvaginal mesh devices making up "a ‘family tree’ of device equivalence," clinical trials had been conducted on only two original devices-- early examples which were materially different than their modern versions.

The new vs used dodge
Since the 1990 passing of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), much of the designed environment in the US has become far more accessible for people with disabilities.  However, taxis have remained pretty much the same. For disability rights advocates the explanation is a "gaping loophole" in ADA provisions: as long as the cab companies continue to buy used vans, they don't have to implement the expensive accessibility measures that would be required if the vans were purchased new. Whether you "call it poor draftsmanship or a genuinely unforeseeable consequence," the result is that "only a very small percentage of taxis nationwide are accessible."

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