Comment on “Social studies of volcanology: knowledge generation and expert advice on active volcanoes” by Amy Donovan, Clive Oppenheimer and Michael Bravo [Bull Volcanol (2012) 74:677-689]
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The paper by Donovan et al. (2012) makes an interesting contribution to the debate about the social role of volcanology. However, at least one of their assertions needs to be challenged. In their conclusions, Donovan et al. state: “In response to this, volcanologists on Montserrat began to use statistical elicitation models to estimate the probabilities of particular events …. While this is highly subjective [emphasis added], it offers a methodology for synthesizing consensus—and it is an example of experience-based expertise”. The writers can’t have it both ways – genuine experienced-based expertise, by its very nature, entails a predominant element of objectivity, and eliciting this in a structured procedure is, in my view, far from subjective.
Of course it can depend on what one means by “subjective”– Donovan et al. do not provide a social science definition, so the adjective has to be taken to have its usual linguistic meaning. In the context of scientific advice,...