New guide to explain uncertainty in science

University of Reading scientists have contributed to a new guide on scientific uncertainty, launched today at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Helsinki. The guide from Sense about Science stresses that uncertainty is an inherent component of all science – and scientists understand this, however to policymakers, journalists and the wider public, uncertainty can be misinterpreted as “unreliable”.

The new guide, “Making Sense of Uncertainty“, focuses on:

  • How scientists use uncertainty to express their confidence on scientific results.
  • How uncertainty can be abused to undermine evidence, for example to suggest that greenhouse gases from human activity are not changing the atmosphere.
  • Why uncertainty is not a barrier to taking action.

University of Reading contributions came from Averil Macdonald, Professor of Science Engagement, Dr Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist with NCAS in the Department for Meteorology, and Kathy Maskell, communications manager at the Walker Institute for Climate System Research.

Maskell said “More dialogue is vital here, because I think scientists and the public have very different ideas about what uncertainty means. This excellent guide to uncertainty from Sense about Science is highly pertinent and I would recommend it to anyone grappling with the issue of uncertainty in topical scientific issues such as climate change, GM foods or human diseases.”

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