Modelling the Environment: Participation, Trust and Legitimacy in Urban Air-Quality Models

  • Steven Yearley


Many of the aspects of expert knowledge that today touch the public most deeply involve some aspect of modelling, whether that be of the dispersion of pollutants, the spread of infection or projections of the impact of currency harmonisation within the European Union. Though models can be of various sorts, it is clear that more and more of these models are run on computers. In turn, this development may raise new obstacles to public acceptance of, and participation in, the modelling exercises. For example, perceived difficulties with the public’s ability to grasp technical issues may be aggravated because of limited physical access to the computer models or because the assumptions underlying the model are ‘buried’ within the models themselves. The availability of increasing computer power at declining cost makes the possibility of modelling all the greater; recently local authorities and other regional executive bodies as well as lobby groups have been able to join governments and leading research agencies in carrying out their own modelling activities. At the same time, the increased availability of computing power could be offered as grounds for anticipating the heightened democratisation (or at least accountability) of modelling precisely because ‘consumer’ groups may be able to offer their competing modelled knowledge. Accordingly, this case-study analysis is offered as an indication of the value of examining the use of environmental models from a ‘public understanding of science’ (PUS) perspective (see also Shackley 1997).


Local Authority Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy Public Understanding Increase Computer Power Expert Conception 
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Copyright information

© Steven Yearley 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven Yearley
    • 1
  1. 1.University of YorkUK

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