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9 December 2003 Post-Normal Science and the Tyndall Centre: some critical issues
Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and School of Environmental Sciences University of East Anglia Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK Tel: + 44-1603-593908 Fax: + 44-1603-593901 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Foreword A preliminary version of this briefing note was presented at the 2003 Tyndall Assembly, in the breakout session on “Interaction with NonAcademic Communities”. The insights from the ensuing discussion have been written into this document. It is intended first as a short overview of ‘post-normal science’, and second as an exploration of exactly what this might mean for an academic research organisation’s day-to-day practices. New Forms of Science Responding to climate change covers issues of great complexity, involving many organisations, many spatial and time scales and many academic disciplines. In traditional Western methods of research, understanding of the world is achieved by division into separate academic disciplines and treating each with a ‘silver bullet’ peopled by specialists in that narrow field. Science is seen as separate from values and cultural context. However, when the world faces such overarching complex issues as climate change, it is argued that a new sort of science is needed. So-called ‘PostNormal Science’ (Funtowicz & Ravetz, 1993; Ravetz, 1999) is a label for issues where facts are uncertain, values in dispute and the stakes are high, and has been applied to different fields such as ecological economics (Muller, 2003), food safety The Tyndall Centre The Tyndall Centre was established in 2000 to pioneer new ways of carrying out research on climate change – research which would be shaped by both academic creativity and the needs of those outside academia. This is known commonly as ‘policy-relevant’ research. Both the direction and content of research, and institutional structure, of the Tyndall Centre, have been crafted to deliver this objective. Climate change is not simply a subject (literally) of academic interest – we need to enable actions to address climate change, and to do that we must engage well with those organisations who will do this. Tyndall activities have included large amounts of interaction with government and government agencies, the private sector, advocacy groups, charities and other bodies. However, this creates an obvious tension – and one that was explicitly recognised in the Tyndall Research Strategy: “the Centre.....sits towards the middle of a continuum between a purely science-driven agenda....and a purely policy-driven agenda......The Centre will therefore make creative use of this tension and orient itself towards a policy-relevant and scientifically-innovative research agenda” [Tyndall Centre Research Strategy, p. 5] New Forms of Science and the Tyndall Centre Hunt & Shackley (1999) draw distinction between three main types of knowledge. Traditional academic (Ravetz, 2002), medicine (Sweeney & Kernick, 2002, Laugharne & Laugharne, 2002) as well as climate science (Bray & von Storch, 1999, Saloranta, 2001). In all these fields, action on issues depends on many value-driven decisions made in the face of uncertainty. It moves beyond traditional research, where ‘truthful output’ is everything, to a method where the quality of the process of research is paramount. Complex problems will never be fully understood before action is needed to address them; a ‘post-normal process’ includes enabling these actions through joint learning and research with those who will carry out the actions, through participation in research by stakeholders as well as specialists. This ensures a ‘grounding’ or contextualisation of research within the practical world in which it is applied.
Tyndall Briefing Note No. 9
research is rigorous, deep and thoroughly rooted in past research, based on peer review. It is also, mostly, independent – designed and carried out by specialists it is free to reach whatever conclusions it will. Two quite different types of research, increasingly a major part of the policy process, are fiducial and bureaucratic knowledge. Fiducial knowledge is produced as a service to users, and although frequently the basis for policymaking, it is often not peer-reviewed – the status of the authors is the most important validation. Bureaucratic knowledge actually involves the user in constructing the knowledge, which is generally a synthesis for a specific group and contexts. This synthesis is filtered – taken from approved sources, judged by ’what works’ for particular political situations. Fiducial and bureaucratic knowledge are often carried out by consultancies paid by those whose policies will be affected by it: as such, the work is driven by the funder with little opportunity for researcher autonomy. These studies are often (especially by academics) seen as ’inferior’ to academic research. However, this is often the research which has most influence in the policy process. The Tyndall Centre finds itself in the tension between these different approaches, with increasing pressure for academic research to be ‘useful’ – either economically or politically relevant – and yet remain scientifically rigorous. A good example is the case of policy-related research which does not get published in academic journals because of the nature of such research (eg. it is not sufficiently novel but synthesises and presents existing research in a new way). The academic system thus has a tendency to set sometimes arbitrary or contestable boundaries around itself as a source of its objective authority in the wider world. Another example is the process of producing a PhD: as a matter of course, PhD students try to find a balance between policy usefulness/new methods and the traditional demands of thesis production. Conclusion If we recognise and are to address the post-normal nature of climate change research, we must do two things: 1. Aim to integrate knowledge from a very wide range of sources, both academic and lay. The values inherent in the decision-making process must be emphasised in integrated assessment research. There is a need to build on traditional science and modelling and broaden research into issues such as the context, psychology, emotion and morality behind decisions.
2. Practically resolve the tensions outlined above. The Tyndall Centre was created to enhance capacity to deal with climate change, not just to do curiosity-driven research, and hence must be both academically rigorous and policy useful. This raises significant time and resource issues, as the effort involved in continual balancing of independence of research with frequent communication with outside organisations is large, as is the practicality of communicating with many different audiences. One important step is to persuade funding and supporting organisations to fully recognise nonpeer reviewed work, such as submissions to House of Commons Select Committees. A PhD on new forms of science and how these may work in practice would be a significant step towards understanding how this might resolve. Further Questions for Consideration To stimulate further thought and discussion, here are several open-ended questions for general debate: • • • • • • In the longer term, how far are researchers willing to go to change how research is done? How might these changes come about, and how long will it take? How do others perceive Tyndall’s approach, and what do we need to do to respond to this? Is academic research and all it represents losing influence in the policy process? What counts as ‘science’, and what ‘speculation’ or ‘advocacy’? Do we stand on the edge of a major transformation of human thought, or is this the ‘End of History’ phenomenon – that every generation believes they live at a hugely significant time? How can research be user driven and academically rigorous in a world where quick results are needed cheaply, to the order of the funder? If a quick consultancy scoping can give 75% of the necessary insight, what point is there in an academic study which will cost twice as much and take three times as long and produce perhaps only 10% more insight? Can policy-relevant research ever be something more than ‘consultancy’? Is this such a bad thing?
Acknowledgements Thanks to all who participated in the discussion at the Tyndall Assembly 2003, especially Simon Shackley who chaired the discussion, and to those who provided comments on this note.
Tyndall Briefing Note No. 5
REFERENCES Bray, D.; von Storch, H. (1999) Climate science: An empirical example of postnormal science. American Meteorological Society 80 (3), pp. 439-455 Funtowicz, S.O.; Ravetz, J.R. (1993) Science for the post-normal age. Futures 25 (7) pp. 739-755 Hunt, J.; Shackley, S. (1999) Reconceiving science and policy: academic, fiducial and bureaucratic knowledge. Minerva 37, pp. 141-164 Laugharne, R.; Laugharne, J. (2002) Psychiatry, postmodernism and postnormal science. Society of Medicine 95 (4), pp. 207-210 Journal of the Royal Bulletin of the
Muller, A. (2003) A flower in full blossom? Ecological economics at the crossroads between normal and post-normal science. Ecological Economics 45 (1), pp. 19-27 Ravetz, J.R. [ed.] (1999) Post-normal science. Futures 31 (7) Special issue pp. 641-757 Ravetz, J.R. (2002) Food safety, quality, and ethics - A post-normal perspective. Environmental Ethics 15 (3), pp. 255-265 Journal of Agricultural and
Saloranta, T.M. (2001) Post-normal science and the global climate change issue. Climatic Change 50 (4), pp. 395404 Sweeney, K.; Kernick, D. (2002) Clinical evaluation: constructing a new model for post-normal medicine. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice
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Tyndall Briefing Note No. 5
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