Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
and even different operational characteristics to see the various impacts associated with
each scenario. Once stakeholders understand the full range of impacts associated with a
given dam-development project, they can begin to think more systematically about how to
select the best option or how to mitigate the most serious negative impacts of a project.
Each of the IDAM project investigators brought to the table his or her own disciplinary
background, complete with an inherited set of theories, research methods, and sometimes
unquestioned assumptions. The model was interdisciplinary from the beginning, requiring
a fair amount of flexibility and adaptability from the research team members, a process of
compromise that often proved humbling. During one meeting early in the research process,
project personnel discussed a schematic chart that showed how dams are related to ecolo-
gical and social changes. The causal flow of the diagram moved from top to bottom, with
arrows connecting boxes. The biophysical group wanted to put the dam itself at the top
of the diagram, arguing that it was a primary driver of change because it altered habitats,
changed water quality, and displaced human populations. The geopolitical group wanted to
put policy decisions at the top of the diagram, arguing that energy distribution and compre-
hensive river-basin planning were the major drivers. Meanwhile, the socioeconomic group,
myself included, argued for putting human factors such as rising energy demand and an-
thropocentric values at the top, arguing that these factors drove policy choices, which in
turn drove the biophysical reality. In the end, no single perspective is “correct”; well-inten-
tioned experts, approaching a common problem from different disciplinary perspectives,
can have widely divergent views.
One of our Chinese collaborators quoted an eight-character poetic couplet from classical
Chinese that aptly summed up each researcher's propensity to view his or her own piece of
the project as most important. In the couplet, a fruit vendor, competing with a dozen others
in a busy marketplace, boasts of the superiority of her product: “With every melon Mrs.
Wang sells, 'this one's the best,' her customers she tells” ( Wang po mai gua, zi mai zi kua ).
As we sought to resolve these differences, we faced a number of technical and epistemolo-
gical challenges.
Model Type
The first, and perhaps most obvious, obstacle we faced was selecting the type of model that
would best represent the complex interactions between the biophysical, socioeconomic,
and geopolitical aspects of dams. Several graduate students worked during the early phases
of the project on a literature survey that would help us understand the range of options
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