Uncertainty in floodplain mapping – Roth 2009

Roth (2009) presents the results of a focus group that was conducted to learn about the role of uncertainty in decision-making processes relating to floodplain mapping. Due to this focus on floodplain mapping, uncertainty was largely discussed in the context of knowledge communication. Such a cartographic focus often conflated abstraction with uncertainty and discussed ways that representations of reality can impact the knowledge that is being communicated. I am left wondering how uncertainty can be introduced into data beyond abstraction and choices of representation. For example, how is uncertainty introduced by processes of data collection?

Furthermore, I am unsatisfied with the author’s attempts to characterize uncertainty and find that this article presupposes knowledge of this subdomain that I do not have. Roth overviews previous typologies of uncertainty (including concepts of accuracy, precision, resolution, consistency, etc.), but puts little effort into describing the theoretical underpinnings of what uncertainty actually is. Roth may have acknowledged that a philosophical discussion of uncertainty is beyond the scope of this paper, but my comprehension would nevertheless have greatly benefited from a more in-depth overview of the concept.

In describing the results from focus group participants, the “FEMA uncertainty criteria” are briefly mentioned. I am curious what these criteria for uncertainty are, and how widespread the concept of uncertainty criteria is. Is the idea of “uncertainty criteria” linked to the concept of data standards? Both speak to the overall quality of data and address potential errors. While I am sure that uncertainty criteria would be very domain specific and difficult to generalize, such standards would be a good way to ensure that data is not misused.

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