Uncertainty, Ignorance and Decision-Making

Looking Through the Lens of Modelling the Covid-19 Pandemic


  • Ting Xu




A great deal of decision-making during crises is about coping with uncertainty. For rulemakers, this poses a fundamental challenge, as there has been a lack of a rigorous framework for understanding and analysing the nature and function of uncertainty in the context of rulemaking. In coping with crises, modelling has become a governance tool to navigate and tame uncertainty and justify decisions. This is because models, in particular mathematical models, can be useful to produce precise answers in numbers. This article examines the challenges rulemakers are facing in an uncertain world and argues that one of the most important challenges lies in rulemakers’ failures to understand the nature of uncertainty and ignorance in the contested arena of science for decision-making. It focuses on the relationship between uncertainty, ignorance and decisionmaking through a case study of the interaction between modelling and rulemaking in the Covid-19 pandemic. In so doing, this article provides an alternative strategy to number- and model-based rulemaking in an uncertain world. It provokes a rethinking of using science to measure and govern human affairs and the impact of numbers and quantification on law.

Keywords: uncertainty; ignorance; decision-making; rulemaking; models; mathematical modelling; quantification; Covid-19.


Download data is not yet available.






Special Section: Law, Public Policy and the Covid Crisis—Part One