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Knowledge, uncertainty and physical geography: towards the development of methodologies for questioning belief

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Although it is widely acknowledged that our understanding of environmental systems cannot be reduced to single predictions and unique explanations, determinism remains a common strategy in physical geography. This paper argues for explicit assessments of uncertainty in environmental data and models as a necessary, although not a sufficient, condition for balancing uncertain scientific arguments against uncertain social, ethical, moral and legal arguments in managing environmental systems. In particular, this paper aims to: (1) demonstrate the importance of assessing uncertainty within a realist research framework; (2) consider the nature of scientific uncertainty as the basis for developing methodologies that question belief; and (3) explore some important aspects of a methodology for evaluating uncertainties in environmental research.

Keywords: closure; critical realism; imperfect knowledge; uncertainty

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, Universiteit van Amsterdam, 1018 WV Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Email:

Publication date: September 1, 2004

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