Postnormal science, precautionary principle, and worst cases: The challenge of twenty-first century catastrophes
Abbreviated Journal Title
OPPOSITION; CRISIS; TRUST; RISK; Sociology
Considering the damage caused by the recent spate of catastrophic events (e.g., Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001, and the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004), it is increasingly clear that complex, large-scale environmental problems will characterize the twenty-first century. We contend that the ability of science to address these problems is attenuated by the ideological embrace of scientific-technical rationality. With scientific and technological pursuits increasingly marching to the drum beat of economic growth, is there a place for science to operate driven not by short-term profitability, but the long-term interests of the public and needs of the environment? Can the problems associated with complex, large-scale catastrophes be addressed adequately by science and technology alone, especially considering that technological failure may be the primary cause of the catastrophe? The purpose of this article is to provide answers to these questions and to offer a tenable solution to the challenges posed by recent catastrophes. First, we outline a framework to better understand the changing relationship between science, stakeholders, and environmental problems. Second, we make the case that recent catastrophes are qualitatively different from past disasters. As a result, we discuss (1) the reasons why dichotomizing disasters as natural or technological is increasingly problematic empirically; and (2) the inability of traditional science to effectively address issues, damages, and problems stemming from recent catastrophes. Finally, we suggest that the more participatory approach of postnormal science, strengthened by the precautionary principle and worst-case analysis, is a viable strategy for addressing complex, large-scale catastrophes.
"Postnormal science, precautionary principle, and worst cases: The challenge of twenty-first century catastrophes" (2008). Faculty Bibliography 2000s. 688.