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Reconciling Top-Down and
Bottom-Up Uncertainties in
Knowledge, with Power and
Conflicts of Purpose or Interest
Brian Wynne...
Risks and - possibilities… Research science and
“sound science” for policy (Wynne, 1992)
 RISK – know harm, and know prob...
Stirling, 1998
For me, one key point connects across all
these fancy distinctions….
All knowledge – all knowledge, bar none! – is
conditi...
IPCC advice to its scientific authors about the
perils of prevailing paradigms
Be aware of:
“the tendency for a group to c...
FIGURE 3-1. US NAS (2004): Estimated degree of scientific ignorance likely , for different crop-breeding technologies,
Uncertainty as Disagreement - Relevance
of Minority Scientific Views
• Science does not require majority rule
• “Minority/...
The Main Reason for all the Fuss about
“Uncertainties”?
• “Authority, stupid!” - Failing credibility in public
domain
• Th...
Public Authority Failures of Expert
Knowledge – Why?
• Many opinions amongst experts – variants of “the
public is ignorant...
This further scientisation of “the issue”
reinforces the intensification of the
scientific power of the knowledge -
and vi...
Does SCIENCE KNOW ITS OWN UNCERTAINTIES… ??
“[ AEBC]: Do you think people are reasonable to have concerns
about possible ‘...
Tacit Embedded Agenda here…
“we are not allowed to admit lack of control -
because this would induce social disorder..”
Th...
Social unravelling is also difficult to
address, and is scary
• It was a central element of Beck’s Risk Society
thesis – o...
The Control Myth is ‘normal science’ !
• David Milliband letter to BW, as chief of No.10
Downing St (Prime Minister’s) Pol...
Global Carbon-Trading
• Top-Down and Bottom-Up Uncertainties!
• Includes global ‘free market’ in ‘carbon-sinks’..
• How do...
Development Dialogue (2006) quoted a
leading global carbon-market designer for
the UN FCCC, defending the all-round
benefi...
There is a necessary conceptual shift
tacitly pointed to here:
I call this a shift from framing concerns about epistemic
r...
Uncertainties, Purposes, Propositional
Knowledge
• Uncertainties as problems for good decisions,
are about limits in salie...
Of course we need to identify,
understand and address all salient
uncertainties – epistemic (in influential
knowledges) an...
Rohan’s question-point to Krishna, about the
differences it makes if model-uncertainties are being
analysed between climat...
One important benefit of this further focus would
be that a far richer, multiple meaning of “climate
change” or (other) hu...
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Brian Wynne - Reconciling top-down and bottom-up uncertainties in knowledge, with power and conflicts of purpose or interest

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Workshop on climate change and uncertainty from below and above, Delhi. http://steps-centre.org/2016/blog/climate-change-and-uncertainty-from-above-and-below/

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Brian Wynne - Reconciling top-down and bottom-up uncertainties in knowledge, with power and conflicts of purpose or interest

  1. 1. Reconciling Top-Down and Bottom-Up Uncertainties in Knowledge, with Power and Conflicts of Purpose or Interest Brian Wynne STEPS-CSDS Workshop, Climate Change and Uncertainty from Above and Below, Jan 27th-28th 2016, New Delhi
  2. 2. Risks and - possibilities… Research science and “sound science” for policy (Wynne, 1992)  RISK – know harm, and know probabilities  UNCERTAINTY – may know possible harm-effects, but don’t know probabilities  IGNORANCE – don’t know possible effects (don’t know which questions to ask)  INDETERMINACY – different outcomes from same starting-points; inherent unpredictability  AMBIGUITY – what is the meaning ? (eg, how is harm defined? what are we trying to protect? from what?) Often A, I and U are confused (by experts) with “Risk” Research science may deal with U, I, A, but “sound science” does not; it typically claims that risk knowledge covers all the questions, but it does not and can not do that
  3. 3. Stirling, 1998
  4. 4. For me, one key point connects across all these fancy distinctions…. All knowledge – all knowledge, bar none! – is conditional (a function of its always situated production) BUT: We don’t ever properly and thoroughly- enough examine or question the conditions of validity of the knowledges claiming authority This could provide a great levelling device, in the project to give standing to knowledges from below
  5. 5. IPCC advice to its scientific authors about the perils of prevailing paradigms Be aware of: “the tendency for a group to converge on an expressed view and become over confident in it. Views and estimates can also become anchored on previous versions, or values, to a greater extent than is justified”. (Guidance Note on Uncertainty to its 4th Assessment authors, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2005)
  6. 6. FIGURE 3-1. US NAS (2004): Estimated degree of scientific ignorance likely , for different crop-breeding technologies,
  7. 7. Uncertainty as Disagreement - Relevance of Minority Scientific Views • Science does not require majority rule • “Minority/divergent views must be taken into account: but they must be about more than a “theoretical” risk” (EC Communication on PP; ECJ 2000) • “ Risk Assessments can be based on a Respectable minority view” (WTO, Appellate Body, 2008)
  8. 8. The Main Reason for all the Fuss about “Uncertainties”? • “Authority, stupid!” - Failing credibility in public domain • The automatic reflex response of scientists? • “Make the scientific knowledge “more scientific” (hence, it is assumed, more credible) • Rephrased – “reduce the (scientific) uncertainties” • No attempt to understand why its credibility might be failing – for example, is it addressing the same problem(s) as most ordinary people are? No interest in meanings, and differences
  9. 9. Public Authority Failures of Expert Knowledge – Why? • Many opinions amongst experts – variants of “the public is ignorant”; or worse, “anti-science” • Ample social science research, since the 1980s. This shows (inter alia) that: – experts fail to ask, what are the problems people face? They redefine these as the experts’ problem – experts rarely recognise thus exclude salient public knowledges – experts never own up to mistakes, untested assumptions, differences, contingencies (lack of control) – They compound problem by responding with – more science! ( “to solve our credibility problem, make the existing science more scientific” !!!) – top-down meets bottom-up by exerting more top-down
  10. 10. This further scientisation of “the issue” reinforces the intensification of the scientific power of the knowledge - and vice-versa - More evidence; more accuracy and precision; more scope and power (but no reframing!) of the knowledge, is expected to rectify the failing, but craved public and policy authority of that science. But this expectation is based on misunderstanding of that public refusal…
  11. 11. Does SCIENCE KNOW ITS OWN UNCERTAINTIES… ?? “[ AEBC]: Do you think people are reasonable to have concerns about possible ‘unknown unknowns’ where GM plants are concerned? [ACRE Chair]: Which unknowns? [AEBC]: That’s precisely the point. They aren’t possible to specify in advance. Possibly they could be surprises arising from unforeseen synergistic effects, or from unanticipated social interventions. All people have to go on is analogous experience with other technologies.… [ACRE]: I’m afraid it’s impossible for me to respond unless you can give me a clear indication of the unknowns you are speaking about. [AEBC]: In that case don’t you think you should add health warnings to the advice you’re giving ministers, indicating that there may be ‘unknown unknowns’ which you can’t address? [ACRE]: No, as scientists, we have to be specific. We can’t proceed on the basis of imaginings from some fevered brow….” [AEBC public meeting, London, 2001]
  12. 12. Tacit Embedded Agenda here… “we are not allowed to admit lack of control - because this would induce social disorder..” There is an unspoken but widely sensed further agenda, behind that of “Uncertainty”, from above or below. I suggest we need to trace the connections. This further issue was identified by a Lancaster colleague, John Foster (After Sustainability, 2014): “uncertainty may come to be overtaken by (social) unravelling…” ? ? ?
  13. 13. Social unravelling is also difficult to address, and is scary • It was a central element of Beck’s Risk Society thesis – organised irresponsibility of institutions dissolves them from the inside; and not just institutions involved in governance and innovation of technologies and their risks. • Have the routine legitimatory myths of modernity become dysfunctional, under newly emergent cultural-social conditions?
  14. 14. The Control Myth is ‘normal science’ ! • David Milliband letter to BW, as chief of No.10 Downing St (Prime Minister’s) Policy Unit 1998 “We must base policy decisions on what we know. How could we base them on what we don’t know?” • Tacit buck-passing over uncertainties, btw science & policy – mutual construction • But my concern is less on reconciling uncertainties from above with those from below: More with conflicts, or masking of conflicts, between knowledge-quality questions, and tacit power and differences of interest, or purpose - Example of global climate policy of carbon-trading
  15. 15. Global Carbon-Trading • Top-Down and Bottom-Up Uncertainties! • Includes global ‘free market’ in ‘carbon-sinks’.. • How do we even measure carbon-sequestration eg by afforestation as offset? (Watson, 2001) What timescales are assumed? • Pretence of reliable knowledge (desperation to do something?) – “uncertainties” ? • Sustains a system of financial flows (the CDM) which has led perversely to resources and funds flowing from poor countries to rich ones (Dvlpmt Dialogue, 2006) • And virtually no effect on carbon-emissions
  16. 16. Development Dialogue (2006) quoted a leading global carbon-market designer for the UN FCCC, defending the all-round benefits of carbon-trading: “it is difficult to understand the criticisms of trading schemes for carbon emission designed to exploit market efficiencies to reduce overall carbon emissions, at lowest cost. What can be the problem with such schemes when oriented towards such a worthy common purpose?”
  17. 17. There is a necessary conceptual shift tacitly pointed to here: I call this a shift from framing concerns about epistemic robustness exclusively, to framing concerns with the very grounded problems of meaning. “a worthy common purpose” like reducing total carbon emissions is about meanings, and how we make sense of each-other. The problem with carbon-trading market as we know it is that it does not have a common purpose, let alone a worthy one – different and maybe conflicting meanings and purposes are embedded within it. To many traders and investors, the aim is to generate vast investment wealth which the UN CDM scheme allocates to promising projects; but the actual benefit of these for carbon emissions reductions is not evident – partly because it was a far more demanding technoscientific task than was envisaged or admitted. Such embedded meanings have to be rendered explicit, accountable, and collectively negotiable
  18. 18. Uncertainties, Purposes, Propositional Knowledge • Uncertainties as problems for good decisions, are about limits in salient knowledges – Saliency typically ignored, as multiple prior questions • including in wilfully ignorant key assumptions, eg that implementation of formal regulations will happen (Sabatier, Hawkins, et al 1970s: “implementation-gaps”), or that a market in carbon will operate neutrally, with no other purpose but carbon-emissions reductions. • Purposes are something else – & often hidden; often exclusive. About (whose?) meanings
  19. 19. Of course we need to identify, understand and address all salient uncertainties – epistemic (in influential knowledges) and ontological (in situations, and processes). But we also need to ask the question: does the – positivist - focus on “uncertainties” inadvertently mask a necessary additional focus, on purposes, and meanings?
  20. 20. Rohan’s question-point to Krishna, about the differences it makes if model-uncertainties are being analysed between climate scientists, in private as scientists; or if they are being analysed by scientists but for the different purposes of advice to policy- makers, ie for political authority. As with the carbon-market example, these different purposes embodied in knowledge-processes, and the important differences of meaning which the knowledge-outcome – and maybe practical outcome - has in each case, are subtle, unstated, implicit, and confused. They need to be deliberately identified, and debated for their implications
  21. 21. One important benefit of this further focus would be that a far richer, multiple meaning of “climate change” or (other) human environmental damage, would emerge (instead of the dominant carbon-only meaning). This would inevitably (??) include grounded local poor, disempowered, ignored peoples’ experiences, meanings, issues, knowledges – and these would include not only risk, impacts, vulnerability, etc., but also, for example: whose purposes prevail? Justice; Power; Exclusion

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