Using the metaphor of monsters, an analysis is made of the different ways in which the scientific community responds to uncertainties that are hard to tame. A monster is understood as a phenomenon that at the same moment fits into two categories that were considered to be mutually excluding, such as knowledge versus ignorance, objective versus subjective, facts versus values, prediction versus speculation, science versus policy. Four styles of coping with monsters in the science–policy interface can be distinguished with different degrees of tolerance towards the abnormal: monster-exorcism, monster-adaptation, monster-embracement, and monster-assimilation. Each of these responses can be observed in the learning process over the past decades and current practices of coping with uncertainties in the science policy interface on complex environmental problems. We might see this ongoing learning process of the scientific community of coping with complex systems as a dialectic process where one strategy tends to dominate the field until its limitations and shortcomings are recognized, followed by a rise of one of the other strategies. We now seem to find ourselves in a phase with growing focus on monster assimilation placing uncertainty at the heart of the science–policy and science–society interfaces.

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