Tyndall Briefing Note No. 9 December 2002
Tyndall Briefing Note No. 9December 2003
Post-Normal Science andthe Tyndall Centre:some critical issues
Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Researchand School of Environmental SciencesUniversity of East AngliaNorwich, NR4 7TJ, UKTel: + 44-1603-593908Fax: + 44-1603-593901E-mail: email@example.com
A preliminary version of this briefing note waspresented at the 2003 Tyndall Assembly, in thebreakout session on “Interaction with Non-Academic Communities”. The insights from theensuing discussion have been written into thisdocument. It is intended first as a short overviewof ‘post-normal science’, and second as anexploration of exactly what this might mean for anacademic research organisation’s day-to-daypractices.
New Forms of Science
Responding to climate change covers issues of great complexity, involving many organisations,many spatial and time scales and many academicdisciplines. In traditional Western methods of research, understanding of the world is achieved bydivision into separate academic disciplines andtreating each with a ‘silver bullet’ peopled byspecialists in that narrow field. Science is seen asseparate from values and cultural context.However, when the world faces such overarchingcomplex issues as climate change, it is argued thata new sort of science is needed. So-called ‘Post-Normal Science’ (Funtowicz & Ravetz, 1993;Ravetz, 1999) is a label for issues where facts areuncertain, values in dispute and the stakes arehigh, and has been applied to different fields suchas ecological economics (Muller, 2003), food safety(Ravetz, 2002), medicine (Sweeney & Kernick, 2002,Laugharne & Laugharne, 2002) as well as climatescience (Bray & von Storch, 1999, Saloranta, 2001).In all these fields, action on issues depends on manyvalue-driven decisions made in the face of uncertainty.It moves beyond traditional research, where ‘truthfuloutput’ is everything, to a method where the quality of the process of research is paramount. Complexproblems will never be fully understood before action isneeded to address them; a ‘post-normal process’ includes enabling these actions through joint learningand research with those who will carry out the actions,through participation in research by stakeholders aswell as specialists. This ensures a ‘grounding’ orcontextualisation of research within the practical worldin which it is applied.
The Tyndall Centre
The Tyndall Centre was established in 2000 to pioneernew ways of carrying out research on climate change –research which would be shaped by both academiccreativity and the needs of those outside academia.This is known commonly as ‘policy-relevant’ research.Both the direction and content of research, andinstitutional structure, of the Tyndall Centre, have beencrafted to deliver this objective. Climate change is notsimply a subject (literally) of academic interest – weneed to enable actions to address climate change, andto do that we must engage well with thoseorganisations who will do this. Tyndall activities haveincluded large amounts of interaction with governmentand government agencies, the private sector, advocacygroups, charities and other bodies.However, this creates an obvious tension – and onethat was explicitly recognised in the Tyndall ResearchStrategy: “the Centre.....sits towards the middle of a continuumbetween a purely science-driven agenda....and a purelypolicy-driven agenda......The Centre will thereforemake creative use of this tension and orient itself towards a policy-relevant and scientifically-innovativeresearch agenda” [Tyndall Centre Research Strategy,p. 5]
New Forms of Science and the Tyndall Centre
Hunt & Shackley (1999) draw distinction between threemain types of knowledge. Traditional academic