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Risk Anal. 2011 Oct;31(10):1515-25. doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2011.01612.x. Epub 2011 Apr 7.

On different types of uncertainties in the context of the precautionary principle.

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University of Stavanger, Norway.


Few policies for risk management have created more controversy than the precautionary principle. A main problem is the extreme number of different definitions and interpretations. Almost all definitions of the precautionary principle identify "scientific uncertainties" as the trigger or criterion for its invocation; however, the meaning of this concept is not clear. For applying the precautionary principle it is not sufficient that the threats or hazards are uncertain. A stronger requirement is needed. This article provides an in-depth analysis of this issue. We question how the scientific uncertainties are linked to the interpretation of the probability concept, expected values, the results from probabilistic risk assessments, the common distinction between aleatory uncertainties and epistemic uncertainties, and the problem of establishing an accurate prediction model (cause-effect relationship). A new classification structure is suggested to define what scientific uncertainties mean.

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