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In Search of a Scientific Research Programme for Addressing the Sustainable Management of the Environment

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Multiple Criteria Decision Making for Sustainable Development

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Abstract

Since its origin in the eighteenth century, in the forestry field, the concept of sustainability has evolved considerably by increasing its level of complexity. This increase in complexity is due mainly to the integration of the concept and measurement of the degree of sustainability of a natural system into a multifunctional context. Besides this, the degree of complexity has become higher due to the incorporation of the preferences of several segments of society towards the different functions or uses provided to it by the environment and its embedded resources. Following results given in a recent and extensive literature, it has been advocated that a fertile way of addressing the sustainability issue in this current context consists of characterizing the different functions supplied by the environment by a battery of indicators of different natures. After that, the “indicators approach” is embedded in the well-known and widely-used multiple criteria decision-making theory. Following in this direction in this paper it is analytically proposed that this merge could underpin the “hard core” of a “Scientific Research Programme” for successfully resolving these types of problems. The paper also highlights aspects related to the use, and sometimes abuse, of the “indicators approach”. It also discusses the potential connections between the so-called circular economy and the sustainability issue within an environmental management context.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to the members of the Research Group: “Economics for a Sustainable Environment” for their continuous discussion on the concept of sustainability and its linkage with the multiple criteria decision-making theory. Thanks are also given to Diana Badder for editing the English.

Funding

The financial support of Universidad Politécnica de Madrid under its “Programa Propio” is acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Luis Diaz-Balteiro .

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Appendix

Appendix

1.1 The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes: An Outline

The methodology of Scientific Research Programmes (henceforth SRP) was proposed by Imre Lakatos in 1968 with the main purpose of overcoming some potential insufficiencies detected in the Popperian approach to the measurement of scientific knowledge progress. It was problematic for Lakatos to measure scientific growth by resorting to Popper’s approach, which is based on facing a hypothesis with observational statements for its corroboration or refutation. For Lakatos that confrontation should be made among more complex entities than a single hypothesis, or even an articulated set of hypotheses (i.e., a theory). In this direction, this author proposes an epistemic structure by the name of SRP. Potential scientific growth would be established by comparing successive series of SRP. An old SRP would be surpassed by a new one, when the new SRP presented a corroborated excess of empirical content with respect to the previous one. Popperian hypothesis testing remains valid for the corroboration or refutation of the so-called auxiliary hypotheses, which conform an essential part of the SRP as explained below.

In other words, an SRP is an epistemological structure, which provides a set of guidelines for the advance of the scientific knowledge in a certain field. Very briefly, the main elements forming the structure of an SRP are:

1.1.1 The Hard Core

The hard core is the basic component of an SRP. This element defines the nature and purpose of the programme. Normally, it represents a set of general hypotheses which form the basis from which the programme will be developed in the near future. The hard core is considered unfalsifiable in a Popperian sense, which implies introducing a conventional element in a specific SRP. In other words, the hard core becomes unfalsifiable due to a decision from its proponents.

1.1.2 The Protective Belt

The protective belt represents a set of auxiliary hypotheses introduced into the programme with the purpose of protecting the hard core from potential refutations. The auxiliary hypotheses are not ad hoc hypotheses, since they have to be tested independently by following the classic Popperian framework of conjectures and refutations.

1.1.3 The Negative Heuristic

This component of an SRP tells us what is not permitted during the development of the programme. Basically, any type of manoeuvre against the structure of the hard core, like implementing empirical testings to its basic hypotheses is forbidden.

1.1.4 The Positive Heuristic

This last component of an SRP represents a set of guidelines which indicate how a specific SRP can be developed and extended. For instance, the positive heuristic can indicate the recruitment of specific mathematical techniques, the design of particular experiments, etc. In short, these guidelines aim to increase the progressive nature of the programme.

For Lakatos, an SRP is progressive if it leads to advances and discoveries implying a significant growth of knowledge. On the contrary, an SRP degenerates if it stagnates throughout the time. In other words, the SRP degenerates if, for a certain period of time, it has not provided any significant advances and new discoveries. When this happens, the SRP will be confronted and substituted by a new, more progressive one. In short, for Lakatos, the growth in scientific knowledge is not achieved by changing hypotheses or theories for new ones, but by replacing an old SRP for a more progressive one.

The seminal works by Lakatos presenting in detail the SRP methodology can be found in: Lakatos (1968, 1970). A good pedagogical extension of the material presented in this Appendix can be seen in Chalmers (1982, chapter 7). In order to appreciate the potentiality of this type of methodology for addressing economic problems, the following two books of readings are recommendable: Latsis (1976), and Marchi and Blaug (1991).

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Diaz-Balteiro, L., Romero, C. (2021). In Search of a Scientific Research Programme for Addressing the Sustainable Management of the Environment. In: Doumpos, M., Ferreira, F.A.F., Zopounidis, C. (eds) Multiple Criteria Decision Making for Sustainable Development. Multiple Criteria Decision Making. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-89277-7_1

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