Scientific Certainty Argumentation Methods (SCAMs): Science and the Politics of Doubt



At least since the time of Popper, scientists have understood that science provides falsification, but not “proof.” In the world of environmental and technological controversies, however, many observers continue to call precisely for “proof,” often under the guise of “scientific certainty.” Closer examination of real-world disputes suggests that such calls may reflect not just a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of science, but a clever and surprisingly effective political-economic tactic—“Scientific Certainty” Argumentation Methods, or SCAMs. Given that most scientific findings are inherently probabilistic and ambiguous, if agencies can be prevented from imposing any regulations until they are unambiguously “justified,” most regulations can be defeated or postponed, often for decades, allowing profitable but potentially risky activities to continue unabated. An exploratory examination of previously documented controversies suggests that SCAMs are more widespread than has been recognized in the past, and that they deserve greater attention in the future.