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date: 20 October 2017

Framing, Modeling, and Managing Complexity in Environmental Health

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Framing and dealing with complexity is of crucial importance in environmental health science, policy, and practice. Complexity is a key feature of most environmental health issues, as they by definition include aspects of environmental and human health, both of which constitute complex phenomena. The factors that may play a role in an environmental health issue are many, and the issues also have a multitude of characteristics and consequences. Framing this complexity is crucial because it will involve key decisions about what to take into account when addressing environmental health issues and how to deal with these. This is not merely a technical process of scientific framing but also a methodological decision-making process with both scientific and societal implications. Mostly, the benefits and burdens related to such issues cannot be generalized or objectified and will be distributed unevenly, resulting in health inequalities. Even more generally, framing is crucial as it reflects cultural factors and historical contingencies, perceptions and mind-sets, and political processes and associated values and worldviews. Framing is at the core of how we relate to and deal with environmental health, as scientists, policymakers, and practitioners, with models, policies, or actions.