2.1: Uncertainty and incomplete knowledge

Essential reading

Stirling, A. (2010) Keep it complex (pdf), Nature, 468: 1029-1031 (OA)

Questions to guide reading
  1. Why does the author have a problem with uncertainty being reduced to measurable “risk”?
  2. How does the author characterise the differences between risk, ambiguity, uncertainty and ignorance?
  3. How does the author differentiate between the role of scientists/experts and the role of decision/policy makers?
  4. How does the author connect ideas of incomplete knowledge and uncertainty with issues of democratically legitimate decision-making?
  5. In what ways do you think these ideas relate to the Pathways Approach?

Lecture: Knowing, not knowing... and power

In this lecture, STEPS co-director Andy Stirling takes a close look at different kinds of uncertainty, and what understanding uncertainty means for decision making on sustainability.

Additional reading

Gee, D., P. Harremoes, J. Keys, M. MacGarvin, A. Stirling, S. Vaz, and B. Wynne, editors. 2001. Late lesson from early warnings: the precautionary principle 1898–2000. European Environment Agency (EEA), Copenhagen, Denmark (OA)

Stirling, A. and Scoones, I. (2009) From Risk Assessment to Knowledge Mapping: Science, Precaution, and Participation in Disease Ecology, Ecology and Society, 14(2): 14 (OA)

Sundqvist, T., P. Soderholm, and A. Stirling. 2004. Electric power generation: valuation of environmental costs. Pages 229–243 in C. J. Cleveland, editor. Encyclopedia of energy. Academic Press, San Diego, California, USA

Wynne, B. (1992) Uncertainty and Environmental Learning: reconceiving science and policy in the preventive paradigm, Global Environmental Change 2(2):111–127

Assessment activity

  1. Discuss, with reference to applied examples, the implications of uncertainty and incomplete knowledge for traditional, linear approaches to science and policy making. In what ways does the Pathways Approach claim to address these challenges?
  2. Why, as Stirling (2010) argues, do we need to “keep it complex”?
Last modified: Thursday, 2 February 2017, 2:34 PM