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Communicating the Character of Climate Change Uncertainty

This project, led by Dr David Stainforth|, is supported by HEIF5 knowledge exchange funds at the LSE. It runs from January 2013 to June 2014.

The aim of the project is to encourage wider and more informed public discourse around the challenges of understanding and responding to the problems of climate change. To do so it will build on two pillars. The first is the unique research expertise within LSE relating to the understanding and characterisation of climate change uncertainty. This is exemplified by the discussions of the multi-disciplinary Climate Change Decision Theory Group which is organised by Dr Stainforth and includes economists, philosophers, statisticians, operations researchers and physicists. The second is the experience of communicating these issues to the public and policy makers through online and hands-on exhibits developed for the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2011|.

The project will develop and expand the information and communication tools produced for the Royal Society exhibit, to make them accessible to a wider audience. These tools focus on the communication of risk and model uncertainty through a variety of interactive games based on: online statistical demonstrations, practical statistical demonstrations with a Galton board/bean machine, specially manufactured dice (some weighted, some not), and sampling from large climate model ensembles.

This project will develop a series of web pages and leaflets to explain the relationship between confidence and uncertainty in climate prediction, construct videos to demonstrate the hands-on material, and refine the online games into more effective communication tools.

A perhaps unusual aspect of the proposal is how the materials will be focused. Learning from the experience of engaging with both the public and policy makers at the Royal Society, the ESRC Festival of Social Science and the Brighton Science Festival, it is clear that aiming material at children provides a powerful means of communication across all age groups and expertise. Such a focus encourages interest in key areas of new understanding amongst the next generation of researchers. It also, however, provides a way of stimulating dialogue with professionals and policy makers through debates not only about the research but about how it is communicated and used. In the best of circumstances discussions develop across all age groups. This was certainly the case at the Royal Society where fruitful and fascinating three-way discussions based on the exhibit were held between LSE presenters, primary school children and Government Officials, providing a type of engagement and familiarity which cannot be achieved through more conventional methods.

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