Scientific Uncertainty, Complex Systems, and the Design ofCommon-Pool InstitutionsJames WilsonThis paper addresses the question of how we cope with scientific uncertainty in exploited, complex naturalsystems such as marine fisheries. Ocean ecosystems are complex and have been very difficult to manage, asevidenced by the collapses of many large-scale fisheries (Boreman et al. 1999; Ludwig et al., 1993: NationalResearch Council, 1999). A large part of the problem arises from scientific uncertainty and our understandingof the nature of that uncertainty. The difficulty of the scientific problem in a complex, quickly changing, andhighly adaptive environment such as the ocean should not be underestimated. It has created pervasiveuncertainty that has been magnified by the strategic behavior of the various human interests who play in thegame of fisheries management.This paper argues that in complex systems creates a more difficult conservation problem than necessarybecause (1) we have built into our governing institutions a very particular and inappropriate scientificconception of the ocean that assumes much more control over natural processes that we might hope to have(i.e., we assume we are dealing with an analog of simple physical systems), and (2) the individual incentivesthat result from this fiction, even in the best circumstances, are not aligned with social goals of sustainability.As a result, I believe we have slowed significantly the process of learning about the ocean, defined scientificuncertainty and precautionary acts in a way that may turn out to be highly risky, and created dysfunctionalmanagement institutions. This chapter suggests we are more likely to find ways to align individual incentiveswith ecosystem sustainability if we begin to view these systems as complex adaptive systems. This perspectivealters especially our sense of the extent and kind of control we might exercise in these systems and, as a result,has strong implications for the kinds of individual rights and collective governance structures that might work
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