The quality of scientific advice for policy: Insights from complexity

07 May 2019
Science for Policy
Semiotic process
Post-normal science
Mario Giampietro

Giampietro M (2019), 'The Quality of Scientific Advice for Policy: Insights from Complexity,' Report produced in the context of the Horizon2020 project MAGIC, Grant Agreement No. 689669, 07 May 2019.


This report uses insights from complexity science to analyze the factors affecting the quality of scientific advice for policy.   In particular it focuses on biosemiotics—the study of the mechanisms through which life carries out a systemic quality check on the information used for guiding action. Biosemiotics claims that in all living systems the decision-making process is based on purposes, meanings and provisional beliefs to be validated through action. In human societies the implementation of the semiotic process is complexified by the presence of consciousness, passions and reflexivity.  That is, when dealing with the sustainability of human societies there are many different concerns/purposes and narratives/beliefs that are relevant for different story-tellers.  Trying to consider all of them separately yet simultaneously and prioritizing them is a mission impossible (who should do that and how?). This implies that when looking at the functioning of the semiotic process in human systems we cannot assume that we can use “disenchanted passionless facts” removed from their original semiotic context to guide policy. In policy discussions, “facts” will be contested by default.  Policy making should acknowledge that any crisp framing of policy issues entails an unavoidable dose of both hypocognition—in relation to the relevant aspects of the problem to be considered—and hegemonization—in relation to the choice of a given set of concerns and beliefs.  Thus, chosen policy solutions can never be optimal. They are, at best, provisional solutions to reduce the stress experienced by society while fostering the process of learning how to do better in the future. Thus, the usefulness of “scientific evidence” depends on the specificity of each situation, the historical context and the affect associated with current social practices.


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