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.
Advisory Board Members
Paul Baer [bio forthcoming]
Bruna De Marchi has a background in political science and sociology. She is now the co-ordinator of the Mass Emergencies Programme (PEM) at the Institute of International Sociology in Gorizia (ISIG). She has lectured extensively and has been a consultant for many public and private organisations in Europe and elsewhere. She has been appointed to several committees and consulting bodies, including the European Commission Advisory Group on Science and Society for the 6th Research Framework Programme. Her main research interests are in the human dimensions of environmental hazards, accidents, and disasters, particularly risk perception, governance and communication, the management of uncertainty, and participatory policy decision processes on health and safety issues. On such themes, she has been principal researcher in many international projects. She has considerable experience in fieldwork and is skilful in a number of different social science standard and non-standard methods and techniques. She has great expertise in focus group work, also in combination with ICT (information and communication technology).
Mario Giampietro is the Director of the Unit of Technological Assessment at the Italian National Institute of Research on Food and Nutrition (INRAN), and has also been a Visiting Scholar (1987 -1989; 1993 -1994) and Visiting Professor (1995) at Cornell University; a Visiting Fellow at Wageningen University (1997); a Visiting Scientist at the Joint Research Center of the European Commission of Ispra, Italy (1998); a Visiting Professor at the Ph.D. Program of Ecological Economics at the Universitat Autonoma Barcelona, Spain (1999 – 2000); Visiting Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (in 2002), and currently, a Visiting Scholar at Penn State University. He has bachelor degrees in Chemical Engineering and Biological Sciences, a Masters in Food System Economics, and a Ph.D. in social sciences obtained from Wageningen University on the topic of Science for Governance: the implications of the complexity revolution. He has published over 100 papers in refereed journals and book chapters in the fields of Ecological Economics, Energy Analysis, Sustainable Agriculture, Population and Development, and Complex Systems Theory applied to the process of Decision Making in view of Sustainability. In 2003 he wrote a book published by CRC Press entitled Multi-Scale Integrated Analysis of Agro-ecosystems. He also serves on the editorial board of Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment (Elsevier), Environment, Development and Sustainability (Kluwer), and the International Journal of Water (Inderscience). In addition, he is one of the organizers of the Biennial International Workshop “Advances in Energy Studies” held since 1996 in Portovenere (Italy); an elected member of the Management Committee of the European Society for Ecological Economics (ESEE) since its establishment in 1996; and the president of the scientific society liphe4.
Silvio Funtowicz taught mathematics, logic and research methodology in Buenos Aires, Argentina. During the decade of 1980 he was a Research Fellow at the University of Leeds, England. He is now Head of the Knowledge Assessment Methodologies Sector, Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen (IPSC), European Commission – Joint Research Centre (EC-JRC). He is the author of Uncertainty and Quality in Science for Policy (1990, Kluwer, Dordrecht) in collaboration with Jerry Ravetz, and numerous papers in the field of environmental and technological risks and policy-related research. He is a member of the editorial board of several publications and of the scientific committees of many international conferences, and has lectured extensively.
Gilberto Gallopin is a Regional Adviser on Environmental Policies, in the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean in Santiago, Chile. He is engaged in research and has contributed numerous publications on topics of ecological systems analysis, food chain and niche theory, global modeling, environmental modeling, environmental impact assessment, environmental and land use prospective, environment and development nexus, environment and quality of life, impoverishment and sustainable development, scenario analysis, policy dialogues, and science and sustainability.
Angela Guimarães Pereira, associate-editor of the Post-Normal Times, studied Environmental Engineering in the New University of Lisbon in Portugal, Acoustic Studies in the University of Southampton and earned a PhD in Environmental Impact Assessment with the same Portuguese university. In 1996 she started working at the European Commission Joint Research Centre where she worked to establish the Knowledge Assessment Methodologies sector in 1999, and is responsible for activities on science & society interfaces, that range from methodologies for knowledge quality assurance to social research and deployment of new information technologies for new governance in Europe. The applications have primarily addressed issues of sustainability in Europe, including water resources and climate change, with support from the European Framework Programmes of research. In 2003, she organized the International Workshop on Science & Society Interfaces in Milan Italy, which brought together over 150 professionals in the field.
Jerry Ravetz is an independent scholar who works on problems of uncertainty and policy-critical ignorance in contemporary science, with a focus on quantification, its uses and its abuses. With S.O. Funtowicz, he developed a notational system, “NUSAP”, for the representation of uncertainty in quantitative information; and the concept of Post-Normal Science, a mode of scientific problem-solving appropriate to policy issues where facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent. He is currently a Visiting Fellow at the James Martin Institute for Science & Civilization at the Saïd Business School at Oxford University, England.For more information.
Jeroen van der Sluijs graduated at Leiden University in Theoretical Ecology in 1990. Since 1991 he has been working at the Department of Science Technology and Society at Utrecht University on a number of projects related to uncertainties in climate risk assessment. In 1996 Jeroen participated in the IIASA Young Scientist Summer Program, working on uncertainty management in integrated assessment models. In 1997 he received his Ph.D. for a dissertation entitled “Anchoring Amid Uncertainty; On the Management of Uncertainties in Risk Assessment of Anthropogenic Climate Change”. At present Jeroen is associate professor and co-ordinates the research group “Environmental Risk Management”. Jeroen has been involved in several international projects on gloabl environmental risks such as Social Learning in the Management of Global Environmental Risks and the european ULYSSES project. He coordinates several projects on uncertainty management in science for policy in close collaboration with Dr. Silvio Funtowicz (JRC, Ispra) and dr. Jerry Ravetz (RMC London) and in projects around the themes Integrated Assessment, climate change and stakeholder participation in risk assessment. Recent projects included the development of a protocol for uncertainty assessment in emission monitoring for the RIVM and its application to the emissions of VOC from paint and a major NUSAP uncertainty assessment of the B1 scenario as produced with the IMAGE/TIMER energy model for the IPCC SRES process. For more information.
David Waltner-Toews is a poet, short story writer, essayist, veterinarian, and epidemiologist “specializing” in the epidemiology of zoonoses and food- and water-borne diseases, and in community-based ecosystem approaches to health. A full professor in the Department of Population Medicine at the University of Guelph, he is an author or co-author of more than 60 peer-reviewed papers, an equal number of conference presentations, six published books of poetry and four of nonfiction, including Ecosystem Sustainability and Health: a Practical Approach (Cambridge, 2004). As a principle collaborator on research and development projects in Canada, the Peruvian Amazon, Central America, Africa and Nepal, he is part of an international network of scholars working to integrate complex systems theories with practice to promote sustainable health and development. He is a member of the Writers’ Union of Canada, Pen Canada, The League of Canadian Poets, the College of Veterinarians of Ontario, the Canadian Public Health Association, the International Society for Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics, the Canadian Society for International Health, the Dirk Gently Gang and founding president of the Network for Ecosystem Sustainability and Health. He has been an advisor to a life partner and two children, who have occasionally listened to him. For more information.