EFSA proposes “uncertainty toolbox” for its scientific assessments

EFSA is calling for feedback on its draft guidance on uncertainty in scientific assessment. The consultation is aimed at the international scientific community, European and national risk assessors, risk communicators and risk managers, as well as EFSA’s stakeholders.

Identifying and describing scientific uncertainties, and explaining their implications for assessment conclusions, are crucial parts of EFSA’s responsibility to provide transparent scientific advice.

Scientists routinely strive to address the wide range of factors that can create uncertainties in their scientific assessments. These include, among others, possible limitations in the quality and representativeness of data, difficulties in comparing non-standardised data across countries or categories, the choice of one predictive modelling technique over another, and the use of default factors (such as the weight of an average adult). How scientists report them and how public bodies like EFSA communicate them to risk managers, stakeholders and the wider public can alter perceptions about the risks and benefits of assessments and related policy decisions or choices by individuals.

EFSA’s Scientific Committee has developed this guidance document to offer a tool-box of methodologies – both quantitative and qualitative – for analysing scientific uncertainties in all its scientific assessments. The approach aims to be sufficiently flexible to adapt to the circumstances of each assessment, e.g. from an urgent situation where advice could be needed in a matter of hours to longer-term comprehensive reviews of all available scientific knowledge, or from well-studied issues to those at the forefront of scientific knowledge where evidence may be lacking.

Through the application of these tools EFSA aims to give decision-makers a clearer picture of the scientific uncertainties affecting each assessment and, where possible, quantify their impact on the conclusions.

Following feedback from this public consultation and further revision of the draft, each EFSA Scientific Panel will test the guidance document during a pilot phase. EFSA’s experts will use the results to further refine the guidance document before its finalisation. In the meantime, EFSA will also carry out research on the best methods for communicating scientific uncertainties to various target audiences. Once approved, the guidance will be applied to all EFSA’s scientific assessments.

EFSA invites input on this draft from other scientific advisory bodies as well as academic or applied experts in uncertainty analysis, particularly on the proposed methods contained in the tool box. Input from European and national decision-makers, communicators and EFSA’s stakeholders will also be very welcome.

The deadline to submit your written comments is 10 September 2015.


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