Communicating Uncertainty Karen Akerlof, PhD Research Assistant Professor
Communicating Uncertainty Karen Akerlof, PhD Research Assistant Professor Center for Climate Change Communication George Mason University What are the social science fields that study decision-making under conditions of uncertainty? Most of these social Decisionare
sciences scientists Risk perception psychologists, or are in Human dimensions fields that use Communication (science psychological theories communication, health
communication) Public policy Risk technical The field risk perception Risk equalsof
probability times magnitude (psychometrics) has been driven by the question of Risk is a situation or event why
technical experts and where something of human value (includingview humans non-experts risks so themselves) has been put at differently
stake and where the outcome is uncertain emotional, value-based Baruch Fischhoff Daniel Kahneman Paul Slovic Decision Research Carnegie Mellon Princeton University of Oregon These fields are heavily
quantitative: modeling; experimental research Van der Linden, S. (2015). The social-psychological determinants of climate change risk perceptions: Towards a comprehensive model. Journal of Environmental Psychology, Social science frequently follows government priorities: nanotechnology, disaster recovery (Hurricane Sandy), climate change fisheries?
Goal To communicate the information that people need to make choices. * Social science can be used to inform decisions about WHAT to communicate and HOW to communicate it. People Can View Physical Reality Very Differently Factors that influence
communication about uncertainty 1) Social context (trust; values; what is at risk?) 2) Type of decision being informed (what types of technical information about uncertainty are needed) 3) Curse of expert knowledge 4) Heuristics and biases (that we all Social context 1) Risk is socially constructed by different groups. Facilitate stakeholder
self-identification with the decisionmaking group. 2) Trust highly influences how people process risk. Instead of asking for trust, demonstrate accountability: transparency, external oversight, audits, advisory panels, contractual agreements. Type of decision: how good are the
predictio ns of outcomes ? 1) Which option is best? Portray varied sources of uncertainty not just variability in data but biases from judgement, assumptions, and methodological practices. Develop protocols for reporting these sources.
Fischhoff, B., & Davis, A. L. (2014). Communicating scientific uncertainty. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(Supplement 4), 1366413671. Type of decision: how well known are the scientific processes shaping outcomes?
2) What options are possible? Decision makers need to understand scientific processes, and related uncertainties, in order to consider their options. Lay and expert mental models of scientific processes frequently differ. Identify problem areas and shape communication accordingly. Curse of expert knowledge
1) Lay interpretations of scientific terms may differ from experts. Use terms that are less likely to be confused. Instead of uncertainty use range; instead of error use difference from the estimate. 2) Members of the public may not have pre-existing cognitive frameworks that allow them to easily understand highly technical information. Use analogies, visualizations, diagrams,
Heuristics and biases (that we all have) People use heuristics to make decisions quickly and easily. Heuristics like availability, the examples we can easily recall, can strongly influence subsequent choices. If intuitions based on lay theories are wrong, recognize the reasonableness of the intuition, provide examples that are inconsistent with that view, and then
explain the scientific evidence. People Can View Physical Reality Very Differently But if we understand why, we may be able to move closer to agreement. Citations: Trust Akerlof, K., Rowan, K. E., Fitzgerald, D., & Cedeno,
A. Y. (2012). Communication of climate projections in US media amid politicization of model science. Nature Climate Change, 2(9), 648654. Priest, S. H., Bonfadelli, H., & Rusanen, M. (2003). The Trust Gap Hypothesis: Predicting Support for Biotechnology Across National Cultures as a Function of Trust in Actors. Risk Analysis, 23(4), 751766. Sandman, P. M. (1993). Responding to Community Outrage: Strategies for Effective Risk Communication. AIHA.
Communicating uncertainty for decisionmaking Fischhoff, B., & Davis, A. L. (2014). Communicating scientific uncertainty. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(Supplement 4), 13664 13671. Rowan, K. E., Botan, C. H., Kreps, G. L., Samoilenko, S., & Farnsworth, K. (2009). Risk communication education for local emergency managers: Using the CAUSE model for research, education, and outreach. Handbook of Risk and Crisis Communication, 168191. Sterman, J. D. (2008). Risk communication on
climate: mental models and mass balance. Science, Communication barriers Budescu, D. V., Broomell, S., & Por, H.-H. (2009). Improving Communication of Uncertainty in the Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Psychological Science, 20(3), 299308. Morss, R. E., Demuth, J. L., & Lazo, J. K. (2008). Communicating Uncertainty in Weather Forecasts: A Survey of the U.S. Public. Weather and Forecasting, 23(5), 974991. Somerville, R. C. J., & Hassol, S. J. (2011).
Communicating the science of climate change. Physics Today, 64(10), 4853. Contact: [email protected] u 703 993 6667
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