This started out as a response to Roger Pielke’s comment about my comment about post-normal science. My response got a little lengthy so I decided to turn it into a posting.
I basically asked just what is a post normal ‘situation’. Roger was not clear on the distinction between situation and science. Here’s Rogers reponse: ‘According to Funtowicz and Ravetz a post-normal situation (science) occurs when "facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent." Normal science would thus be when fact are certain or values in agreement or the decision stakes are low. I'd elaborate this to say it is not simply the presence of uncertainty, but the managability of uncertainty and the presence of ignorance (where uncertainties themselves are ‘uncertain).Building an airplane or developing a vaccine is normal science. An oil spill is not,’
I know 'THE' definition of post-normal science. But, as Roger demonstrates, lately science and situation seem to have become interchangeable. And, just for the record, building an airplane is technology and an oil spill is an accident (in this case) not science. Developing a vaccine I would have thought contained all of the necessary qualities, especially during times of impending epidemics.
Bet’s first take a look at his criteria for post normal whatever:
1. ...fact are uncertain
For climate science, - are they? I have heard many claims that the 'science is in', and 'there is a consensus'. But I think it would be safe to say that in ANY science there is never 100% certainty. But more to the point, but their very nature, facts cannot be uncertain, if they are, they are not facts. (For the oil spill, it seems pretty certain there was indeed an oil spill.)
2. ... values in dispute
This is nothing unique for any branch of science. What we need to distinguish is whose values about what. I am never sure, are we talking personal values of scientists, political values of scientists,, social values of scientists, values of external politics, values of external interest groups? I'm not sure but I would think personal values of scientists have always had a considerable role in science (see STS). (Social values of the general populations, with a few exceptions, seem recently to tend towards apathy concerning global warming - is this a decline of the post-normal whatever?)
3. ... stakes are high
In climate science I would hazard to say that this statement itself is now in dispute. Who are they high for? But in science, at a personal level (career) stakes are often high. However, offering the benefit of the doubt I assume this to mean the stakes are high for some large portion of society (global, national, whatever). Who has decided this and where is there clear evidence? On the matter of logic, isn’t there some conflict. First, the facts are uncertain (a high level of uncertainty if I remember F & R). Then the values are in dispute. So how can we pronounce high stakes?
4. ... decisions urgent
In climate science, like high stakes, isn’t this urgency also now a matter of dispute? And who declares the urgency and, given the other defining qualities of PN Whatever, with what authority?
Now let’s look at a few other conundrums.
During the age of atomic exploration, facts were uncertain, values were in dispute, stakes were high and decisions were urgent. Was this post-normal science? Did it revert to normal science after Hiroshima?
During the more recent scares of SARs, bird flu, swine flu etc, claims were made that facts were uncertain, values were in dispute, stakes were high and decisions were urgent - were these cases of post normal science? If so, what are they now?
Values are still in dispute in the creationism - intelligent design - evolution debate. Depending on your perspective, there is also a lot of uncertainty. Stakes are high too, especially if you are religious. But, granted, there is not much urgency for a resolution. Can we have degrees of post normal whatever?
So, my questions are:
1. What are the unique features defining post normal (and I will limit myself to simply) science for fear of suggesting post-normality (cf. post modernity). Do we really need a new noun?
2. What are the dynamics of science that could return a situation to 'normal' or is it the case of once post-normal always post-normal?
3. Are we destined to see the number of cases of PN (so defined) science increase? Claims of high risks, high stakes, scary stories are quite fashionable. Persuasive success is profitable in many currencies.
But if we are going to talk about post-normal science we should confine ourselves to the tenets of science and not include the resulting politics if we are to limit the discussion to ‘science’. Therefore the question is how to provide a comprehensive account of the characteristics of the science. Some of these characteristics might include:
1. Tangibility: Tangibility refers to how ‘close’ we are to the phenomenon. For example, string theory would not be tangible whereas climate change would be. It could also be measured on the level of abstractedness or whether the phenomenon is observable, measurable and if the time frame is past, present, future or of no consequence (natural law).
2. Costs: This is (all) costs in terms of what a failure of scientific resolution will herald and whether or not they are reasonably calculable. It could also incur human costs versus economic costs, or any other currency.
3. Time frame: This refers to the time frame we attribute to the phenomenon, when it occurred or when it will likely occur, or time is a relevant factor. It is relevant in epidemiology but not in particle physics.
4. Scientific assumptions: This refers to assumptions made in reaching a scientific conclusion.
5. Perceived risk: This is risk associated by science to the failure of the science to resolve an issue.
6. Risk assumptions: This is the assumptions by which science infers risk. High risk assumptions would logically result in polarized science but polarized science is not necessarily related to any measure of risk. It might simply be academic.
7. Perception of immediacy of resolution demands: This refers the urgency assigned to resolve the science. SARS for example would be more urgent than climate change.
Of course these would need to be refined and a metric established.
Is PN science simply an issues that involve a confluence of science, politics and society - i.e. PN science is science in a PN situation. And is a confluence of science, politics and society really anything new or unexpected - is it really post anything - (especially in the days of rapid and mass communications)?
Finally, does relabeling - from science to post normal science - really achieve anything? Is basic science conducted any different under conditions of so called post normal science? Perhaps the morals and ethics of some scientists are different, but I don't doubt that many similar cases could be found throughout history. Perhaps it simply refers to the politicization of science, but then again, I am sure history would provide many more examples. Has ontology changed? Has epistemology changed? Does being PN have any effect whatsoever on underlying scientific questions? Perhaps we simply have post-normal SCIENTISTS? (We definitely have some abnormal ones, so why not?)