Uncertainty and Decision-Making

I really like the article by Hunter and Goodchild (1995) because it thoroughly addressed the different aspects of uncertainty in GIS. Further, the various diagrams were effective in conveying and summarizing the authors’ main points. I especially appreciate the discussion concerning the Variation in Impact of Spatial Databases upon Decision-Making. The authors argue that in order to assess how much impact uncertainty will affect the decisions-making process, one must consider the type of decisions to be made. Hunter and Goodchild conclude that uncertainty should be most critically assessed when decisions “carry political, high-risk, controversial or global implications” (58). Although this seem obvious, it is important to remember the consequences due to inability to handle uncertainty is often confounded by persuasive discourse in the aforementioned types of decisions. Because there is usually high stakes attached to these sorts of decisions, politician or advocates are tempted to play any uncertainty within the product in a way that will support their position. Foody (2003) also recognizes this danger and warns, “emotionally colored language is used in relation to issues associated with a large degree of risk” (114). Furthermore, I would be interested to know more about how and to what degree does uncertainty impact decisions. Is uncertainty the most influential when presented early on in the decision-making process or near the end of it? Finally, does the depiction of uncertainty actually lead actors to make better decisions? Under what circumstances does it lead to worse decision?

There are a few things in the article that I still need clarifying. For example, Figure 4 puzzles me — why does knowledge about uncertainty decrease when a person transitions from the Learning Phase into the Knowledgeable Phase? Also, with respect to uncertainty absorption, the author claim data producers are “preparing data quality statements from which users may make their own evaluation of the suitability of data for their purpose”. Is this just the metadata of how the data was collected? Does this force the decision of uncertainty absorption onto the users? The way in which producers vendors can absorb uncertainty is still vague to me.



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