2. Uncertainty and incomplete knowledge

STEPS Learning > Course: Pathways to Sustainability > 2. Uncertainty and Incomplete Knowledge

This is part 2 of our online course on Pathways to Sustainability.


Essential reading

Andy Stirling (2010) Keep it complex, 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 uncertainty and incomplete knowledge with issues of democratically legitimate decision-making?
  5. In what ways do you think these ideas relate to the Pathways Approach?

 Lecture: Prof Andy Stirling, Uncertainty & incomplete knowledge


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.

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

Sundqvist, T., P. Soderholm, and A. Stirling (2004) Electric power generation: valuation of environmental costs. Pages 229–243 in C. J. Cleveland, ed. 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”?

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