Title: Reflexively Dealing with Uncertainty and Complexity in Policy Related Knowledge: What Can it Mean?
Publisher: Greenleaf Publishing
Publication Year: 2006
JRC N°: JRC35213
URI: http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC35213
Type: Articles in periodicals and books
Abstract: Complex issues, such as those of the environment and human health, often prove to be the subject of intractable policy controversies. Uncertainty in the available knowledge base on such issues is then often pointed at as a major cause of dispute. Following the experience of such conflicts, both scientific and policy making communities have suggested that dealing more explicitly with uncertainty could lead to better practices in the science-policy interface (CEC 2001). Assessments would prove to be epistemologically sounder; no false precision; and would form a better basis for protecting human health and the environment ; policy making would become more effective and the role of science in it less controversial. There would be less intractable disputes about "what are the certain facts". Until now, these promising developments have failed to happen in a decisive way. Today's state of affairs in dealing with scientific uncertainty presents a more troublesome picture, which is greeted with growing scepticism. It turned out that "taking uncertainty seriously can be exploited in a politicized way, as part of strategic interest-defending moves, stirring even more controversy" (Michaels 2005). In less adversarial contexts, institutional and methodological responses to uncertainty far from unequivocally reflect recent insights in its nature and in the processes through which it has become a salient issue (Levidow 2001). In this chapter, we interpret these evolutions as a consequence of attempts to normalize uncertainty through integrating it, as non-conclusive evidence, in an established model of the nature of scientific knowledge, as truth revealing, and of its relation with public policy making, as sound science based decision making. We argue there is a need for alternative approaches and illustrate how the following chapters provide us with elements for developing a reflexive framework to deal with uncertainty in policy related knowledge.
JRC Directorate:Space, Security and Migration

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