If post-normal science is the solution, what is the problem? The politics of activist environmental science

A. Wesselink, Robertus Hoppe

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Post-normal science (PNS) is presented by its proponents as a new way of doing science that deals with uncertainties, value diversity or antagonism, and high decision stakes and urgency, with the ultimate goal of remedying the pathologies of the global industrial system for which, according to Funtowicz and Ravetz, existing science forms the basis. The authors critically examine whether PNS can fulfill this claim in the light of empirical and theoretical work on politics and policy making. The authors credit PNS as an innovative frontrunner in raising important issues regarding the limited problem-solving capacity of ‘normal science’ and ‘professional consultancy.’ Yet, the authors notice that PNS lacks important considerations about the governance of problems and aspects of participatory and deliberative democracy. PNS in effect implies that methodological ‘ratiocination’ would prevail over political deliberation and democratic interaction and that merely changing scientific input in public policy making would have the power to change its outcomes. This scientistic hubris can be traced back to PNS’s origin in concerned scientists’ activism, which in effect accessed the political arena through the scientific entrance. The authors conclude that the art of politics needs to come back into the discussion on environmental problems if societal change is to occur.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-412
Number of pages24
JournalScience, technology & human values
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • IR-84537
  • METIS-273421


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