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Thematic Guide to Integrated Assessment Modeling



A Difficult Craft, An Immature Discipline

This integrating activity is difficult, for reasons both obvious and subtle. Integrated assessment is costly, because it requires redirecting substantial intellectual resources from their normal pursuits. The field is relatively immature and lacks a well-established research community. Consequently, few established vehicles exist for its practitioners to interact and criticize each other's work. Moreover, because the main contribution of integrated assessment is not to advance understanding of component parts, tension can arise between project goals and the incentives of participating researchers seeking to advance in their fields. Possible related pathologies include relabeling of research and grudging participation by researchers who regard the integration activity as a disagreeable necessity to secure funding.

Perhaps the most serious consequence of the immaturity of the field is that there is no shared body of knowledge and standards of "best practice" for integrated assessment. Such knowledge is likely to develop with more thought and practice, but its present absence makes it ill-advised to pursue a single, authoritative vision of integrated assessment. On both intellectual and managerial dimensions, many plausible ways of addressing the most basic challenges of integrated assessment can be used. There is no single right way to do it.

For example, one of the most basic problems of integrated assessment is that coupling knowledge across domain boundaries is challenging for the domains being coupled. When models are linked, they must often be changed: Linking knowledge across fields requires thinking differently within the fields. The bulk of the intellectual contribution of integrated assessment will be made at the joints, through these processes of linking, sharing, and reconciling knowledge. Joints are also where friction occurs. As researchers working in their fields do not normally attend to borders of other fields, achieving this attention shift requires some form of authority in an integrated assessment project, at least a coordination mechanism. The problem of how loosely or tightly coupled the components of a project should be, closely related to the question of the centrality of a single integrating model, has no evident dominant solution. Each study must make a design choice, somehow balancing appropriate pressure to take integration seriously with respect for the outrage of component experts when their tolerance is stretched beyond the bounds of intellectual honesty.


The next section covers The Need for Multiple Parallel Projects.





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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