S4.1: Legal and ethical issues surrounding the provision of knowledge and advice during periods of volcanic unrest by scientists and agencies


Claire J. Horwell

Department of Earth Sciences, Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom

Fiona McDonald

Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia

Richard Bretton

Cabot Institute for the Environment, University of Bristol, United Kingdom

During periods of volcanic unrest, scientists and agencies (governmental and other) are expected to provide timely, trusted services that are risk-relevant,and comprehensible. These include scientific agencies, but also others e.g. health, civil protection or environment. These services are critical to the risk governance decisions required to promote the safety and well-being of vulnerable communities. Recently, these services have broadened from the provision of timely science-based knowledge (facts and data) to include advice about hazard/risk mitigation. Risk governance measures are heavily scrutinised. Recent court cases have shown that service providers will be held accountable if it is thought that they have been negligent (e.g. providing advice that is inaccurate, incomplete or unsupported by objective evidence). Service providers are likely to face detailed public scrutiny on the ethics of their decision making and legal and other consequences.A blurred boundary exists between the scientific characterisation of natural hazards and the political exercise of managing their societal risks. There are complex legal and ethical issues arising from the formulation and use of authoritative quality assurance standards for the processes and outputs of all stages of the risk-governance cycle.

This session invites papers that:

  • examine legal/ethical issues or case studies for periods of volcanic unrest orequivalent natural hazards that provide lessons for the volcanic context;
  • present examples of the practical challenges of producing and communicatingcontextualised science-based knowledge;
  • evaluate the scrutiny risks (including legal liability) faced by service providersand how they can be mitigated; and
  • analysis of existing governance frameworks/methodologies/quality assurancestandards and recommendations for reform.
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