Guest talk May 16, 2014:

"Science for policy: why point estimates for TAC advice are misleading and what to do about it"

by Dorothy J. Dankel, Ph.D.

post-doctoral researcher at the Institute of Marine Research, Bergen, Norway

researcher at the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities, University of Bergen


The status quo for scientific fisheries advice are single numbers that represent a total allowable catch (TAC) for a certain stock in a certain area in a certain year. TACs are estimated from stock assessment models of varying complexity with variable data sources and of variable degrees and structures of uncertainty. When the TAC is formulated as a single number (sometimes with five significant digits), the propagation of uncertainties, and any instances of subjective expert opinions or decisions, is contained, at best, in the "Stock Annex" as supplemental information. The phenomenon of TAC advice as a single number often occurs when the clients expect more of science than science is able to deliver: assessment scientists in Europe have experienced being asked to find certainty that is not really there (Wilson, 2009; Kraak et al., 2010). Even when the uncertainties in science are presented in a stock annex, policy-makers have little choice but to take and use the uncertain numbers (Dankel et al. 2012). The task of delivering and communicating advice in the marine system is daunting and complex, but it is not unique: we have many colleagues all over the world who routinely give scientific advice to policy-makers on uncertain but urgent matters such as forest management, climate science, land use, etc. What lessons from our peers can we bring back to fisheries? In this talk, I introduce the term "post-normal science" as defined by Funtowicz and Ravetz (1993) as a remedial paradigm in which to place fisheries science for policy. The post-normal toolbox contains the concept of the "extended peer community" and the "numeral, unit, spread, assessment and pedigree" (NUSAP) framework for uncertainty communication. I finally outline a pilot project of applying the post-normal toolbox to the ICES Working Group North Atlantic Salmon as an example for other institutions delivering ecosystem-based science for advice.


References and background reading:

Dankel, D.J. et al. 2012. Advice under uncertainty in the marine system. ICES Journal of Marine Science (2012), 69(1), 3–7. doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsr179.

Funtowicz, S. O., and Ravetz, J. R. 1993. Science for the post-normal age. Futures, 25: 735–755.

Kraak, S., Kelly, C., Codling, E., and Rogan, E. 2010. On scientists’ discomfort in fisheries advisory science: the example of simulation-based fisheries management strategy evaluations. Fish and Fisheries, 11: 119–132.

Wilson, D. C. 2009. The Paradoxes of Transparency: Science and the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management in Europe. University of Amsterdam Press, Amsterdam. 303 pp.


Short Biography

Dorothy J. Dankel was raised in Indiana by newspaper reporters and graduated from Hillsdale College, a liberal arts school in Michigan. Since 2001, she has been living in Norway where she earned master's and doctorate degrees in fisheries management. Dorothy's research spans two areas: bio-socio-economic assessments of commercial fish stocks and the ethical, legal and social aspects of science and biotechnologies. Dorothy is married to Norway's expert on fat tissue and obesity who is currently a fellow at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. Together, they are preparing their two daughters, ages 3 and 1, for a changing world.