Thoughts on Roth (2009)

I found this paper by Roth (2009) fascinating for multiple reasons. Firstly, my undergraduate thesis research involved making a map of sediment distribution in water ways, which I collected with a sonar and dGPS. There were multiple layers of uncertainty, mainly relating to error potential in the data collection (from the sonar and the dGPS), and then related to interpolation. Like the focus group participants, it was difficult to communicate the error potential to the stakeholders, and at times counterproductive for policy change to stress the error potential. That being said, I reported the uncertainty as best I could, and reading the results of this paper and the fact that this was commonplace in watershed management (at least in the limited number of participants, though I suspect extends far beyond) was deeply troubling, as it is important for the uncertainty to be known, otherwise, in my mind, it reduces the credibility of the study (if only to those in the know).

Secondly, I found this paper interesting because of the methods, as I mostly read about uncertainty (particularly error, accuracy and precision) quantitatively, so it was a useful change in perspective to read about this in qualitative way (and therefore read about focus groups methods at length).

Finally, this paper was interesting to me because of the uncertainty involved with UAVs, which range from the relatively innocuous error in digital terrain model creation, to the more serious, and even fatal murder of civilians in military drone strikes (never mind the overall ethics). To what extent is the precision and accuracy of drone strike location known before strikes are called, and how accurate is the actual missile? Just in the last few days the New York Times has published articles highlighting some of the discrepancies between what the American-led coalition fighting ISIS says about “precision air strikes” and the reality which is not always so precise or accurate. In some cases, these are airplane strikes and not drone strikes, but the fact remains that uncertainty can be deadly, and must be acknowledged.

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