Communicating Scientific Uncertainty: Findings

Day 1: Challenges and Solutions Identified

In a series of breakout sessions on the first day of the meeting, the meeting participants explored challenges to and solutions for communicating scientific uncertainty as it related to one of three fields—climate change, hydraulic fracturing, and chemical exposure. While each breakout session explored these individual issues in detail, some overarching observations about challenges and potential solutions were identified. The following table summarizes these observations. 

  Rapporteurs from break-out session groups discuss key findings.



Lack of trust in the information being delivered

  • Employ a “trusted messenger” whom the audience trusts
  • Plan for long-term engagement
  • Start a dialogue, not one-way communication
  • Undertake crowd-sourcing data collection as a way to get people to understand and accept data

Uncertainty leads to inaction

  • Design solutions without perfect answers
  • Recognize that even if data aren’t perfect, they may contain important information. At the same time it is important to recognize utility and limitations of such data (e.g. downscaling climate models)

Too much uncertainty

  • Undertake additional data collection, research
  • Work with funding community to set appropriate priorities

Wrong kind of information being researched and shared, leading to uncertainty about risk

  • Develop new approaches to data collection and information-sharing requirements (e.g., chemical toxicity)

Scientists lack incentive to share data (within and beyond scientific community)

  • Develop legal incentives for information-sharing

Scientists are poor communicators

  • Make communication training part of the conditions for grants
  • Develop training programs
  • Give awards for good communication

Lack of connection between scientists, lawyers, and journalists

  • Develop annual gathering like this meeting—institutionalize this conversation
  • Reach communities at earlier stages in their careers (e.g., in law school/graduate school)
  • Expand interdisciplinary education
  • Host seminars at AAAS meetings and other gatherings

Trend away from neutral information

  • Design information-sharing systems that provide neutral information (e.g., rather than Google, “True-gle”)

Lawyers using uncertainty as tool in advocacy/litigation tool box

  • Focus on role of lawyers as advisors and civic leaders

Different cultural perceptions

  • Trusted messenger, messenger from community


Click here to go back to the "Findings" page.