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The role of transdisciplinarity for mineral economics and mineral resource management: coping with fallacies related to phosphorus in science and practice

Mineral economics is a genuine multidisciplinary field dealing with economic and policy matters related to the production, distribution, and consumption of mineral commodities.

We discuss why the increasing complexity, ambiguity, ambivalence, and social contestation of subjects of mineral economics promote the participation of mineral economists in transdisciplinary processes.

These processes relate (a) knowledge from targeted interdisciplinary processes and (b) mitigated discourses among different stakeholders to provide (c) a shared problem definition and to attain shared basic knowledge about problem transformation science and practice. We discuss known examples of misperceptions regarding minerals (phosphorus), such as an imminent scarcity threat, the incorrectly understood causations of the 2007/2008 price peak and present the phosphorus ore-grades increased by 3.2% between 1983 and 2013 fallacies (which is based on the Simpson’s paradox), and only few countries have mineable reserves fallacy.

Here, we also illuminate motivations underlying several mineral economics–related misunderstandings. We argue that societally relevant questions require an honest mineral economics knowledge brokership. The example of the Global TraPs project, which targeted sustainable phosphorus management, is presented. Honest brokership to attain a clearinghouse function of science requires trust formation in society.

We argue that this calls for increasing the understandability of relationships that are not well-understood, such as “if prices rise, so do stocks.” Wellmer and Becker-Platen’s feedback control cycle may be considered an example of how complex mineral economics can become and how challenging it is to be understandable to scientists from different disciplines and faculties as well as to practitioners whose knowledge may well be used to cope with the complexity of given problems.

Thus, the present paper represents a plea for mutual learning between science and practice in order to understand the complex social and economic challenges of mineral resource dynamics.

Gerald Steiner

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