EGU24-6518, updated on 08 Mar 2024
EGU General Assembly 2024
© Author(s) 2024. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Synergies Between the Storyline Approach and the Philosophy of Scientific Understanding

Hernán Bobadilla
Hernán Bobadilla
  • Politecnico di Milano, Department of Mathematics, Milano, Italy (

In the last decade, the “storyline” approach has been developed in the field of attribution and detection of extreme climate events. Despite its merits, the storyline approach has been met with harsh criticism, especially from advocates of probabilistic (or risk-based) approaches. This reaction is amplified by the conflicting conclusions to which storylines and probabilistic approaches often lead. However, this conflict is only apparent, given that probabilistic and storyline approaches typically pursue different research concerns. Accordingly, one way to foster the legitimation of the storyline approach is by conceptualizing its epistemic contributions as a distinctive form of genuine “scientific understanding” under deep uncertainty.

The burgeoning philosophical literature on scientific understanding affords promising resources to undertake the endeavour mentioned above. However, given the recency and diversity of this philosophical field, there is still broad dissent on elementary matters, such as the nature of scientific understanding, its value, and its varieties. Following the school of "philosophy of science in practice", an informative strategy to advance philosophical debates on scientific understanding is to attend to the scientific debates between advocates of probabilistic and storyline approaches, inspect their specific practices, and assess how they should advise philosophical accounts of scientific understanding.

In this sense, there is a twofold problem. On the one hand, storylines require legitimation as an approach that affords a distinct but genuine scientific understanding. On the other hand, the very notion of genuine scientific understanding requires further philosophical elaboration, informed by scientific practices. Accordingly, this paper aims to display the synergies between the storyline approach and the philosophy of scientific understanding to foster the legitimation of the former and advance internal philosophical debates in the latter.

Three axes for synergies are identified and briefly discussed. First, the “factivity” of storyline-based understanding: Philosophers of science disagree on whether scientific understanding is solely grounded on facts or may involve non-factive representations. Storylines are a relevant method to inform these debates as they are not intended to represent factual unfoldings of extreme events. Second, the “effectiveness” of storyline-based understanding: Some philosophers of science argue that scientific understanding is not grounded on particular epistemic credentials (whether factive or non-factive) but rather on its effectiveness. However, it is unclear how untethered the effectiveness of scientific understanding can be from its epistemic credentials. The employment of storylines for decision-making under deep uncertainty affords relevant cases in which to assess the relation effectiveness and factivity of scientific understanding. And third, the “transdisciplinarity” of storyline-based understanding: An overlooked subject in the philosophical literature on scientific understanding is its relations to non-academic epistemic endeavours. This subject is relevant because i) non-academic epistemic agents and endeavours may contribute to scientific understanding, and ii) the integration of non-academic epistemic agents and endeavours into scientific research advances epistemic justice, which is critical to warrant trust in scientists and legitimize scientific understanding across stakeholders. The storyline approach is tailor-made for pondering over local knowledge and experiences, reported qualitatively, thus offering valuable opportunities for civil society to contribute to the scientific understanding of climate uncertainties.

How to cite: Bobadilla, H.: Synergies Between the Storyline Approach and the Philosophy of Scientific Understanding, EGU General Assembly 2024, Vienna, Austria, 14–19 Apr 2024, EGU24-6518,, 2024.

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