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Discerning ExpertsThe Practices of Scientific Assessment for Environmental Policy$
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Michael Oppenheimer, Naomi Oreskes, Dale Jamieson, Keynyn Brysse, Jessica O'Reilly, Matthew Shindell, and Milena Wazeck

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226601960

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226602158.001.0001

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What Assessments Do

What Assessments Do

(p.195) Chapter Six What Assessments Do
Discerning Experts

Michael Oppenheimer

Naomi Oreskes

Dale Jamieson

Keynyn Brysse

Jessica O’Reilly

Matthew Shindell

Milena Wazeck

University of Chicago Press

Assessments are not independent overviews limited to evaluating peer-reviewed, decision-ready knowledge. They are the products of interactive processes continually shaping questions asked and answers given, where the assessors and those whose work is assessed overlap, and scientists work iteratively to redefine knowledge during and between assessments. Our case studies have shown that assessments often produce new knowledge, whether in finding new ways to reduce uncertainty (as in the IPCC Fourth Assessment’s struggle with predicting the dynamical ice sheet contribution to sea level rise); by adopting conventions (such as defining acid-damaged lakes as those whose pH is less than 5 or 6); in developing a novel method of analyzing data (as did the 1983 National Academy of Science report on the nonlinearity question in acid deposition); or in repurposing existing metrics (as ozone assessments did in using halocarbon metrics to project future ozone depletion). These and other decisions by assessment authors have epistemological consequences, including influencing research agendas and priorities by guiding researchers to fill gaps identified in past assessments, or through the marginalization of topics perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be unimportant (e.g., heterogeneous chemistry in ozone depletion) or uncertain (e.g., the dynamic ice sheet contribution to sea level rise).

Keywords:   knowledge production, negative learning, peer review, uncertainty, research agenda

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