The recent jail sentence handed out to Italian seismologists has provoked angry reactions from across a spectrum of commentators. Some of these seem to have been written in the heat of the moment. In good academic tradition it is perhaps better to analyse the issues at play, as dispassionately as possible. I have drafted a paper in which I try to provide an account of decision making under uncertainty in which scientific expertise has been used in a specific way by public authorities. I develop a typology which is inspired by Roger Pielke’s Honest Broker but goes beyond the analysis presented there. The typology will explore four exemplary cases, abortion politics, tornado politics, earthquake politics, and climate politics. An argument is developed about the modes of negotiation in each case, highlighting the irreducible uncertainty in climate and earthquake politics. The paper concludes by arguing that we need clear institutional safeguards for scientific experts acting in official advisory functions. These safeguards need to ensure the independent and critical role of scientific expertise.
While the paper makes no comment on Hurricane Sandy it is clear that this would be seen as an instance of tornado politics.
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