Exploring ignorance

Posted April 23rd, 2008 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Ignorance of Ignorance

Via Inscights – a presentation given by Jeroen Van der Sluijs on the Changing relations between Science and Society: PNS and STS 1988-2008, reflecting on 20 years of the Science Technology and Society group at Utrecht University, in which he contrasts approaches to uncertainty under the different science and policy models. In one example that involves a decisions about protecting a strategic fresh-water resource, he asks how one might act, faced with 5 different answers from 5 different consultants, who were all asked the same question:

“which parts of this area are most vulnerable to nitrate pollution and need to be protected?”

Here are some possibilities:

  • Bayesian approach: 5 priors. Average and update likelihood of each (but oooops, there is no data and we need decision now)
  • IPCC approach: Lock the 5 consultants up in a room and don’t release them before they have consensus
  • Nihilist approach: Dump the science and decide on another basis
  • ‘Rita Verdonk’ approach: open a wiki site and let the people say and vote what they feel is the truth and take that as guidance
  • Precautionary approach: protect all grid-cells
  • Precaution light: protect those grid-cells that are red according to at least one consultant
  • Academic bureaucrat approach: Weigh by citation index (or H-factor) of consultant.
  • Select the consultant you trust most
  • Real life approach: Select the consultant that best fits your policy agenda
  • Normalized post normal: weigh them by pedigree score
  • Post normal: explore the relevance of our ignorance: working deliberatively within imperfections

I wonder what we might add to the list from first hand experience? Or better yet, by elaborating on examples of the last bullet. (perhaps to be continued…)

[Reference for figure: Refsgaard, J.C., van der Sluijs J, Brown J., and ven der Keur (2006) A framework for dealing with uncertainty due to model structure error. Advances in Water Resouces 29 1586-1597 doi link]

One Response to “Exploring ignorance”

  1. David Harley says:

    It is a maxim among the senior grades of the British civil service that one should never set up a Royal Commission unless one already knows what the answer to the question will be,

Leave a Reply