Conceptualizing Numbers at the Science–Policy Interface

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    © The Author(s) 2018. Quantitative information is one of the means used to interface science with policy. As a consequence, much effort is invested in producing quantitative information for policy and much criticism is directed toward the use of numbers in policy. In this paper, I analyze five approaches drawn from such criticisms and propose alternative uses of quantitative information for governance: (i) valuation of ecosystem services, (ii) social multicriteria evaluation, (iii) quantification of uncertainty through the Numeral, Unit, Spread, Assessment, Pedigree approach, (iv) Quantitative Story-Telling, and (v) the heuristic use of statistics. The analysis shows the varied ways that numbers are conceptualized and how different conceptualizations matter for the science–policy interface. Alternative conceptualizations of numbers are used to challenge the model of science-speaking truth to power. Uncertainty, complexity, pluralism, malpractice, and values are mobilized to redefine the relations between science and policy. Alternative quantification may produce alternative facts, but reflexive approaches that use numbers to discuss the relevance of equity, positionality, and quality in science for policy may offer a remedy.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1039-1065
    JournalScience Technology and Human Values
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018


    • complexity
    • governance
    • heuristics
    • participation
    • science–policy
    • uncertainty


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