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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The causes of scientific disputes in impact assessment and management : the Utah mines case Martin, Brian Randall


This thesis identifies the causes of disputes between scientists who are involved in environmental impact assessment and management (EIAM), and suggests some critical elements of scientific dispute resolution processes, particularly peer review. It does this within the context of a case study, the environmental assessment, monitoring, and management of the Island Copper Mine marine tailings discharge into Rupert Inlet, B.C. The events of this case are analysed, drawing on literature on the scientist's role in impact assessment and management, and on the philosophy and sociology of science literature. The case study and literature review indicate that the causes of such scientific disputes are complex. The complexity and uncertainty of the physical and biological processes of a fjord system are one cause. Logistical failings in integrating scientists into the process are another: poor timing of scientists' efforts; failures of communication; and lack of accountability are examples. Poor methodology and inadequate research design also caused disputes. The transdisciplinary nature of the scientific problems common to EIAM causes disagreements of a different nature-- over the relevance of various disciplines' research foci to the problem at hand, and over what constitutes acceptable scientific practice. Value and interest conflicts between scientists, which influence both the trajectory of research and the interpretation of its results, complete the typology of the causes of disputes. The thesis recommends the elements of peer review processes necessary to resolve these disputes. Peer review should be pre-emptive, by focussing on research design where possible, and should be representative of the range of relevant scientific disciplines, and should facilitate constructive solutions rather than the defense of positions.

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