Uncertainty across disciplines

We, individuals and society, are, it is said, faced today with many important decisions involving radical degrees of uncertainty. How should governments decide in the face of the sorts of uncertainties involved in climate change, energy policy, genetically modified organisms or nanotechnologies, to take a few examples? And what role should scientist’s current state of knowledge and uncertainty play, and how can this uncertainty best be represented, communicated and incorporated into decisions?

Several disciplines have studied or been confronted with such normative questions, often in different contexts, from different backgrounds, and developing different approaches, methods, even languages.  Beyond scientific disciplines dedicated to the study of rational decision and the nature, representation or communication of uncertainty – from decision theory (a branch of economics) to philosophy, through the relevant parts of statistical theory – and those with descriptive approaches – such as behavioral economics and cognitive psychology – there are the scientists, engineers and experts seeking to convey uncertainty, as well as the policy makers, managers and decision analysts who take, aid or inform such decisions. And that’s to name just a few actors.

This panoply of areas bearing down on uncertainty and how to properly deal with it in decision brings an impressive richness. But it can be bewildering to anyone seeking to navigate these issues – even to someone working on the topics within a particular perspective. Different languages and literatures don’t necessarily help form a general view of positions and approaches, nor foster cross-discipline communication and interaction.

The aim of this project is to paint a portrait of the current state of the art in (several of) the disciplines mentioned, and others. Through a series of interviews, it presents the perspectives, results and positions in a range of fields, as well as the opinions of leading members or actors in them.