Making Sense of Science: How to Deal with Complexity and Scientific Uncertainty

SAPEA’s most recent Evidence Review Report titled “Making sense of science for policy under conditions of complexity and uncertainty” seeks to tackle the challenge of delivering high-quality scientific policy advice under circumstances of social complexity and scientific uncertainty.

Science advice to today’s policymakers has become more prominent than ever, due primarily to the growing human impact on our world, and the ever-increasing complexity of the knowledge needed for coping with economic, social and environmental challenges. Yet how can we provide good science advice to European Commission policymakers based on available evidence under conditions of scientific complexity and  uncertainty?

This is the driving question of SAPEA’s latest report, which addresses the ever-present dilemma that the issues for which scientific input is most needed by policymakers are also the issues for which the science is most often complex, multidisciplinary and incomplete.

The report concludes, among other things, that:

  • Science advice can help to anticipate future challenges and assist in designing coping strategies or interventions.
  • The focus of science advice must be on a critical review of the available evidence and its implications for policymaking.
  • Scientific advice should not prescribe but inform policies.
  • The purpose and significance of scientific advice depend on the issue and the context.
  • The effectiveness of scientific advice depends on the right composition of advisors and the quality of the dialogue between advisors and policymakers.
  • Scientists, as well as policymakers, should be sensitive to various biases and interests when drawing inferences from data and information.

An Executive Summary of the report can be accessed here, while the full report is available here.

Making sense of science for policy under conditions of complexity and uncertainty is the fifth Evidence Review Report to be published by the SAPEA consortium, an integral part of the European Scientific Advice Mechanism.