Dr Elisa Vecchione

ISRF Independent Scholar Fellow 2019

Dr Elisa Vecchione

ISRF Independent Scholar Fellow 2019

ISRF Elisa Vecchione

Elisa’s main research interest concerns the relation between science and democracy. She is particularly fond of looking into scientific methodologies – she did it with statistical analysis and risk assessment in the field of genetically modified products, she is doing it again with Integrated Assessment Modelling and impact assessment in the context of climate change – as she believes scientific methodologies provide an important lens for reading society, including its approach to knowledge, uncertainty, order and control. The pursuit of this interest was not an easy journey as it deeply touched upon her identity as a researcher and human being. Be aware, therefore, that the following lines may look like her story was linear, but in reality, it was full of discontinuities, bifurcation, turning back, jumps, accelerations, breaks, and of course, happy moments. This in which I am writing, is indeed a happy moment.

Elisa started her research path in the field of environmental economics and innovation policy at University of Turin. She later pursued her researches in the field of science governance. In 2009, she obtained a PhD in Law, Economics and Institutions at Collegio Carlo Alberto and University of Turin (Italy) with a dissertation on the governance of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the US and the EU. Her analysis centred on scientific, political and legal discourses over GMOs risks in the two countries as a way to determine their respective framing of technical evidence and regulatory legitimacy. During this time, Elisa was visiting scholar at the Law School at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY) and the Centre of Management Research at Ecole Polytechnique in Paris (France).

She later joined the Centre for Sustainable development at Sciences Po Paris, where she worked on the role of contested expertise in sustainable development and transnational environmental regulation. This time she focused on climate change and looked at contested expertise ‘from within’: she analysed scientific discourses of climate change as written in the language of Integrated Assessment Modelling. She used that language to extract their embedded values and derive policy-relevant conclusions. During this time, she also became Associate Researcher to the Groupe of Pragmatic and Reflexive Sociology at EHESS Paris.

She then moved to London at the end of 2013 and yet joined another project on the use of scientific knowledge in policy making. The GRIP-Health project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at the political and institutional factors shaping the use of evidence in health policies in different country settings. Elisa spent most of her time working on Ghana and Ethiopia and conducted fieldworks within. She is very much grateful for these two experiences, from both a human and professional perspective.

After her maternity leave, Elisa moved to UCL School of Public Policy as Teaching Fellow in 2017. In the meantime, she also became Distant Learning Tutor for two modules at LSHTM, MSc Public Health. In August 2018, she decided that the only way forward with her research career and professional happiness was to do what she wanted to do, with no compromise or surrogated projects. She worked non-stop for around ten days, putting together all the myriads of notes and unfinished papers she has been writing since the end of 2012, and applied for the ISRF Independent Scholar Fellowship.

The poetry of science: restoring the role of imagination in mathematical modelling

This project aims at moving forward the discussion about how to improve the use of mathematical models in policymaking. It takes on from the critiques and challenges associated with integrated assessment models of global change and raised in different disciplinary communities, to then gather as many diverse disciplinary positions and rethink the construction and use of models. This initial phase of the study aims to construct a platform of interdisciplinary collaboration. Given the immense potentialities but also risks involved in the use of this mathematical modelling and given the absence of a scientific community on the matter, it is urgent to establish a coherent discussion about how models can be at the same time scientifically sound and policy-relevant. A technical fix alone would not solve the problem: mathematical modelling cannot be fixed in the sense of getting the model right, nor getting the model right is the way to affect the preferences of its users. Therefore, this project proposes to debunk the valueleaden character of models by undertaking a more ‘poetic’ approach to science: the goal is to install a kind of ‘poietic’ process into modelling, so as to extract the hopes, values and meaning that the modeller engages when facing the inescapable limitations to her knowledge in modelling the future. To make poetry out of science, mathematical models will be interpreted as ‘stories’ of the future, and accordingly analysed as narratives. The reason behind this methodological choice lies in its contribution to knowledge. Building on Hayden White’s theory on history and narrativity, narrative analysis allows revealing the consciousness of the storyteller as well as the moral of her story. This project suggests that making the moral character of mathematical models explicit can greatly improve public discussion about the meaning and the urgency of policy action.

Contacting Fellows

If you would like to contact any of our Fellows to discuss their ISRF-funded work, please contact Dr Lars Cornelissen (Academic Editor) in the first instance, at lars.cornelissen@isrf.org.