Here in Albuquerque, we have a really big groundwater contamination problem under and adjacent to the Air Force base on the city’s south side. It is a textbook model of decision-making under scientific uncertainty: how long will it take to reach the nearest drinking water wells?
I’ve seen an increasing confusion among the public, politicians and policymakers as detailed modeling efforts come up with different answers to the question. In a story for this morning’s newspaper, I turned to Dan Sarewitz for help:
The public and decision-makers need to realize that the uncertainties are real, involving questions to which science cannot give crisp answers, said Daniel Sarewitz, an Arizona State University researcher who studies the use of science in political and public policy decision-making. “What they have to ask themselves is how much risk they are willing to put up with,” Sarewitz said.