Is Fire Policy Driven By Science? Should it be?

Presentation at Research Forum of the 2012 Bushfire CRC and AFAC Annual Conference.

Often, scientists and even practitioners assume that fire policy and management are or should be automatically responsive to science. In the discipline of public policy, this is termed "instrumental utilisation" of information, and is either rare or exceedingly hard to evidence as occurring. The problems with the expectation of direct influence are that science rarely provides unequivocal answers, other forms of knowledge are just as valid or at least politically important, the standards of proof in science differ from those in law, policy, and politics, and the world is annoyingly complex. Importantly, other forms of information use might be more common, such as conceptual, political and strategic utilisation, whether scientists and practitioners believe this is a good thing. This presentation will consider - and likely provoke - questions around the impact of fire research across all disciplines and how we might expect it to be incorporated into policy. I will select non-controversial matters to illustrate the arguments and issues, such as prescribed burning, tolerating loss in fire, how important fire is in comparison to other things, the dangerous vagueness of notions of "shared responsibility" and "resilient communities", and the usefulness of inquiries.

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