From 2003: A look at coming “post-normal” science

Recently, we have covered the war on falsifiability and objectivity. A friend points us to a back to a 2003 paper that gives us t he lowdown on “post-normal science,” where common-sense approaches need not make sense any more:

Post-Normal Science (PNS) is a new conception of the management of complex science-related issues. It focuses on aspects of problem solving that tend to be neglected in traditional accounts of scientific practice: uncertainty, value loading, and a plurality of legitimate perspectives. PNS considers these elements as integral to science. By their inclusion in the framing of complex issues, PNS is able to provide a coherent framework for an extended participation in decision-making, based on the new tasks of quality assurance.

The shift to a post-normal mode is a critical change. The approach used by normal science to manage complex social and biophysical systems as if they were simple scientific exercises has brought us to our present mixture of intellectual triumph and socio-ecological peril. The ideas and concepts belonging to the umbrella of PNS witness the emergence of new problem solving strategies in which the role of science is appreciated in its full context of the complexity and uncertainty of natural systems and the relevance of human commitments and values Ecological Economics provided the initial intellectual and personal setting in which PNS evolved.

The first conference in Ecological Economics was the first major appearance of the new problem-solving framework (Funtowicz and Ravetz 1991). The original ambition of Ecological Economics was to develop a scientifically-informed movement to face the epistemological and governance challenges presented by sustainability (see Joan MartinezAlier 2002, Martin O’Connor 2000, and Mario Giampietro 2000 & 2001). It should be noted, however, that very often the work done under the mantle of Ecological Economics is reduced to being a minor branch of mainstream economics, with all its pathologies of reductionism and pseudo-quantification. It is significant that some leading economists are now calling for the inclusion of the political and social contexts into their analyses and models (Laffont 2002, Stiglitz 2002). This would amount to a return to the great social science of Political Economy, which flourished until economists became seduced by the example of Victorian physics, with its promise of perfect accuracy and perfect predictability. – International Society for Ecological Economics Internet Encyclopaedia of Ecological Economics, Post-Normal Science, S.Funtowiczi and J. Ravetzii Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen (IPSC), EuropeanCommission – Joint Research Centre (EC-JRC), TP 268, 21020 Ispra (VA) – Italy. Research Methods Consultancy, London, England.February 2003 More.

This seems to be a roundabout way of saying that science should push ahead with politically popular and/or politically correct solutions without waiting for data (reductionism and pseudo-quantification).

The authors should dust this idea off now. They may well be able to market it more successfully now that many more governments will be sympathetic.

See also: Objectivity is sexist.

The war on falsifiability in science continues


Bill Nye would criminalize dissent from human-caused global warming claims.