Unraveling Controversy on Vexed Environmental Risks
Seminar | September 26 | 4-5 p.m. | 1011 Evans Hall
Jeroen P. van der Sluijs, University of Bergen and Utrecht University
Scientific assessment of many contemporary risks is plagued by controversy, persistent uncertainty, and polarized societal contexts. Decision makers often become mired in contested evidence, beset by uncertainties and contradictions. This leads to inaction on early warnings, paralysis-by-analysis, and erodes trust in science and its institutions. But why do controversies persist?
A new conceptualisation of controversy seeks to unraveling its underlying sources and mechanisms. A new analytical framework maps the interpretive space in scientific assessment stemming from: (1) the multitude of ways in which risk issues can be translated into technical problems (translational diversity); (2) the multitude of tenable styles of scientific reasoning in interpreting evidence (argumentative flexibility) and (3) the existence of deep uncertainty (manufactured and actual) in the science.
This new framework enables to unravel the interplay of scientific complexity, institutionalized practices of risk appraisal and societal discourses: Societal conflicts and interests co-shape the ways in which evidence is produced, communicated and used and how uncertainty is dealt with, in often hidden ways. Regulatory institutional settings co-define whose evidence counts and what style of scientific reasoning dominates. By integrating perspectives from 4 fields into an interdisciplinary analytical model, the interplay of scientific assessment with its polarised contexts can by analysed more systematically. Examples in the talk will draw on the controversy on neonicotinoids and pesticides.