Posted February 28th, 2010 by admin

Who We Are

Controversial public policy decisions that affect many people are unlikely to be accepted unless they are justified, somehow, by those who make them. Often, this is done by invoking some form of authority. For example, James Watt – former US Secretary of the Interior – is notorious for having invoked the rapture in a Senate hearing, when he said “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns” as a factor to be considered in deciding how much should be left for future generations. Presumably, this was also the reason for the policies for which he was eventually forced out of office, which include the dismantling of the department, and the give away of public assets at firesale prices.* Others invoke science, which is at its best when, like Galileo, it challenges existing beliefs, and debunks myths, and, also like Galileo, gets corrected when wrong, as was his theory of the tides. At its worst, science provides support for decisions that have already been made, resting on hubris and on myths that must also be debunked, such as the delusion – also attributed to Galileo – that given enough resources, it can explain all things and provide certainty. It is also important to recognize that science is just one of many ways of understanding a world in which changes are increasingly a consequence of human beliefs and behavior. The capacity to respond to complex problems rests on an understanding of this changing context, without which scientific explanations and technical solutions are likely to be irrelevant no matter how precise.

Clarifying various forms of uncertainty is critical to managing public expectations, and to maintaining or re-establishing public trust in science. It is also expected to better engage the public, as citizens, in democratic decision-making processes, in which a major area of uncertainty is whether their participation will even make any difference in the final outcome. When science supports high stakes policy commitments, this kind of broader engagement is also what makes it possible to detect and correct errors.

The Post-Normal Times is dedicated to improving the quality of public participation in science-based policy decisions related to the conundrums presented by problems of environmentally sustainable development, by providing multiple and constructive perspectives on complex and controversial science and policy issues. A central focus will be on justifications provided for controversial high-stakes decisions that pertain to complex problems such as climate change, in which the disadvantages of making trade-offs fall disproportionately on those excluded from the decision-making process. But we will also cover post-normal aspects of culture and politics that are the context of science. We particularly seek out the kinds of information often missed in formal reports and normal news sources, for failure to fit into standard categories and established story lines.

Special themes preliminarily identified for coverage include:

• Demythification of science used to support specific and selected policy decisions.
• “Ignorance of ignorance” – i.e., blindspots
• Uses and abuses of uncertainty in decision-making, such as the use of science to avoid actually making a decision
• Paradox and contradiction in existing policies
• Living in Post-Normal Times- a space for reports and commentary on the social and cultural context of science and policy.

This may include essays, reviews of selected books, movies and artists that present emerging perspectives, and scenarios of the future.

* An earlier version of this text was retracted, for reasons explained here.

Editors, Contributors and Members of the Advisory Board

Sylvia S. Tognetti, founder and editor of The Post-Normal Times, is an environmental science and policy consultant based in Silver Spring, from where she has a bird’s eye view of Washington D.C. She has worked with several international organizations and has published several reports and articles on subjects of land, water, and issues of governance related to the provision of ecosystem services. In the late 1980s/early 1990s, as staff for several scientific committees of the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council, she witnessed first hand the limitations of normal science as a basis for policy decisions regarding complex and controversial environmental problems, and the ongoing conflicts between science and policy. Since then, she has been in search of a more constructive approach, and managed to complete an M.A. in geography in 2000, at the University of Maryland. However, she found that what is often the most relevant information, never quite fits into formal science and policy reports. The Post-Normal Times was created to fill that gap. For more information.

2 Responses to “About”

  1. Steve Taylor says:

    Jerry Ravetz.

    The link to Post-Normal Science

    is broken

  2. Sylvia S Tognetti says:

    Fixed – thanks.

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