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Thematic Guide to Integrated Assessment Modeling



Source/feeder structure of integrated assessment

Integrated assessment modeling as currently practiced does not draw equally from all the disciplines it touches and incorporates. Integrated assessment practitioners and models draw more heavily from energy economics, biogeochemistry, and climatology than from say cultural anthropology and epidemiology. Some asymmetry is inevitable and not necessarily problematic per se. After all, disciplines are human constructs and there is no requirement that all disciplines contribute equally to the ability to understand interactions of natural and social systems. Assymetries become problematic when relevant insights from other disciplines are marginalized or ignored. We might describe the disciplinary asymmetry in IA in simple terms by denoting the more well represented disciplines as source disciplines because of their fundamental contributions to integrated assessment, and because of the movement of practitioners from these disciplines between the disciplines and the integrated assessment community. We denote the more marginalized disciplines as feeder disciplines because of the way information is adopted more piecemeal and without strong incorporation of disciplinary practitioners into the integrated assessment community.

Problems arise in practice when work from feeder disciplines is incorporated into integrated assessment models, and remains removed from the disciplinary practitioners that move research in that discipline forward. People come to represent their professions without the usual quality control, and without communicating the shared assumptions that capture the inherent humility of science to its practitioners, though this may not be apparent to outsiders (Fischhoff, personal communication). To be sure, this can also happen with fundamental contributions from source disciplines when disciplinary practitioners in the integrated assessment community are not representative of the diversity of opinion and methodology in their home disciplines. One might argue that this is true of economists doing integrated assessment at present for instance. IA economists typically hail from the energy economics paradigm, and are not as well steeped in the ecological economics paradigm (e.g. Arrow, 1995). An example of a feeder discipline that has been incorporated into integrated assessment modeling is cultural anthropology, which was discussed earlier.

If work drawn from outside disciplines does not maintain contact with the home disciplines, there is a danger that disciplinary developments may discredit the work at a later date, and these developments will not filter back to the integrated assessment community. In any healthy discipline, research will develop and refine understanding, and it is important to maintain links with the disciplines to incorporate these refinements. This provides another argument for the need to subject integrated assessment research to peer review by its outside source and feeder disciplines as a way to maintain the quality of the research.






Parson, E.A. and K. Fisher-Vanden, Searching for Integrated Assessment: A Preliminary Investigation of Methods, Models, and Projects in the Integrated Assessment of Global Climatic Change. Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). University Center, Mich. 1995.


Suggested Citation

Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). 1995. Thematic Guide to Integrated Assessment Modeling of Climate Change [online]. Palisades, NY: CIESIN. Available at [accessed DATE].



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