Profs: John Felleman (felleman@mailbox), Jim Palmer (zooey@mailbox)


Each period of our country's history has posed unique challenges and opportunities to the underlying scientific and moral foundations of modernism and democracy. In the nineteenth century the Jeffersonian ideal of well informed citizenry directly connected to representative democracy was severely tested by the advent of the industrial revolution. For most of the twentieth century, an overarching consensus on the primacy of economic development and national defense, coupled with the increasing complexities of technical analyses and the severe limitations of popular communications media justified a new "social contract" in which citizens and legislatures delegated the majority of environmental decisions to closed technocracies.

At the core of modern decision making is the analysis of expected outcomes from alternative courses of action. Over the past generation, these decisions which encompass public infrastructure, environmental permitting, and natural resources management have evolved to primarily rely on forecasts and predictions generated by computer modeling. In stark contrast to the increasing analytical sophistication of modeling, the traditional social contract which bundled economic development with centralized, closed technocracies has seriously eroded. Endemic issues including: ecological degradation, environmental justice, and re-inventing (downsizing and decentralizing) government have raised fundamental challenges to the role of modeling in decision making.

These challenges have frequently utilized the courts to stop or delay controversial decisions. Modeling issues play a central role in these adversarial proceedings. The underlying science and empiricism is challenged, data is contested as being ignorant of the "genius loci", the embedded implicit values are challenged, and in some situations such as hazardous waste cleanup and groundwater rights competing models portray widely differing futures. There is a growing consensus that wide-scale litigation is both a waste of scarce resources and an ineffective means for stewarding the environment.

From this history a revised contract embracing objectives of sustainability, social learning, and "meaningful participation/negotiation" has begun to emerge. Adaptive management which frames environmental decisions as continuing social and scientific experiments is gaining wide-spread acceptance. To remain a critical tool in this new decision making context, modeling must be re-conceptualized and re-legitimized. Diverse sets of actors and stakeholders need an understanding of and access to modeling. Model developers must be candid about the strengths and weakness of their information, methodologies, and results. Monitoring and feedback systems must be established to provide the basis for long-term learning from previously disjointed incremental decisions.

These dimensions constitute the foundation of a new arena, "Open Modeling". Serendipitously this arena coincides with a maturing stage of the information revolution in which major advances in information technology (IT) such as the Internet, desktop power, visualization, and object programming have essentially removed the underlying rationales of the traditional, closed system.

Open modeling represents a rich set of research and development issues. Environmental process cognition, effective communication of risk and uncertainty, and substantive electronic discourse are highly complex problems. It is unclear as to whether shifting empowerments will lead to wiser decisions or sound-byte polls and electronic anarchy. The purpose of this seminar is to explore some of these issues.



The semester is organized in three sections. The first three (or four ) weeks will be used to provide some common perspectives and descriptive schema for the open modeling topic. In the middle half or so of the term, invited faculty will discuss current research and developments. The final portion of the course will include presentations by students registered for more than one credit hour.

Jan 14 Introductions, Course overview

Jan 21 Modeling, Process Modeling

Feb. 4 Spatial Modeling

Feb.11 Open Modeling




The basic one credit hour seminar will involve active attendance and discussion participation. Two absences are permitted. Each week there will typically be some handout readings and some web sites to investigate/critique. An objective of the course is to help develop a public web resource site for open modeling. To receive a "B" in the 1 cr. seminar, each student will identify and briefly assess (10 total) existing external web sites covering at least two open modeling topics for inclusion in the resource site. Higher or lower grades will reflect class and assignment performance.