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Acceptable EvidenceScience and Values in Risk Management$
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Deborah G. Mayo and Rachelle D. Hollander

Print publication date: 1994

Print ISBN-13: 9780195089295

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195089295.001.0001

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Acceptable Evidence in a Pluralistic Society

Acceptable Evidence in a Pluralistic Society

2 (p.29) Acceptable Evidence in a Pluralistic Society
Acceptable Evidence

Sheila Jasanoff

Oxford University Press

In recent years policy analysts have come to recognize cross-national comparison as a technique for illuminating noteworthy or desirable elements of decisions in particular national contexts (Heidenheimer, Heclo, and Adams 1975). This approach has proved especially fruitful in studies of science-based regulation. Comparisons between countries have helped identify institutional, political, and cultural factors that condition decision makers’ use of scientific knowledge. This research has demonstrated, for example, that the analysis of evidence, especially in fields characterized by high uncertainty, can be influenced by the participation of differing classes of professionals in the administrative process, the composition and powers of scientific advisory committees, and the legal and political processes by which regulators are held accountable to the public (Brickman, Jasanoff, and Ilgen 1985; Gillespie, Eva, and Johnston 1979; McCrea and Markle 1984; Jasanoff 1986, 1987). As a result, it is by no means uncommon to find decision makers interpreting the same scientific information in different ways in different countries. Cultural variation appears to influence not only the way decision makers select among competing interpretations of data but also their methods of regulatory analysis and their techniques for coping with scientific uncertainty. For instance, in assessing both environmental and economic impacts, U.S. regulators place a higher value on formal analytical methods, whose validity can be publicly tested and verified, than do regulators in most European countries (Jasanoff 1983; Vogel 1986). One result of such methodological divergence is that evidence considered sufficient to trigger action in one country may fail to do so in another. These findings should not be surprising to anyone familiar with the problems of policy-relevant science. When knowledge is uncertain or ambiguous, as is often the case in science bearing on policy, facts alone are inadequate to compel a choice. Any selection inevitably blends scientific with policy considerations, and policymakers accordingly are forced to look beyond science to legitimate their preferred reading of the evidence. In this quest, cross-national divergences can be expected to appear as policymakers fall back on established, possibly nation-specific, repertoires of institutional and procedural approaches to securing political legitimacy.

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