Ignorance is bliss: Or seven reasons not to use uncertainty analysis

F. Pappenberger*, K. J. Beven

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

427 Citations (Scopus)


Uncertainty analysis of models has received increasing attention over the last two decades in water resources research. However, a significant part of the community is still reluctant to embrace the estimation of uncertainty in hydrological and hydraulic modeling. In this paper, we summarize and explore seven common arguments: uncertainty analysis is not necessary given physically realistic models; uncertainty analysis cannot be used in hydrological and hydraulic hypothesis testing; uncertainty (probability) distributions cannot be understood by policy makers and the public; uncertainty analysis cannot be incorporated into the decision-making process; uncertainty analysis is too subjective; uncertainty analysis is too difficult to perform; uncertainty does not really matter in making the final decision. We will argue that none of the arguments against uncertainty analysis rehearsed are, in the end, tenable. Moreover, we suggest that one reason why the application of uncertainty analysis is not normal and expected part of modeling practice is that mature guidance on methods and applications does not exist. The paper concludes with suggesting that a Code of Practice is needed as a way of formalizing such guidance.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberW05302
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2006

Cite this