Principle 7

Communication of scientific information for decision support outside the scientific community is more effective when professional means of communication are employed.


Effective communication is best targeted using means of communication which have been demonstrated to be effective. There are long literatures in social science and psychology about the interpretation of numerical and descriptive statements and whether these match up with the intended interpretation. The best way to communicate the same insight to different target audiences is expected to differ, as is the best way to communicate different scientific insights to the same audience. 


The IPCC have attempted to standardise communication about uncertainty ranges using a quantitative scale of likelihood and qualitative scale of confidence in that likelihood assessment (e.g. “likely (high confidence)”). The scale itself is not totally coherent, and its use in practice is patchy, inconsistent, and confusing to many readers. In addition, the statements to which the uncertainty language is attached need to be unambiguous in content and refer to a real-world variable (see Principle 4).

We would like to see greater use made of evidence from the literature in social science and psychology to inform design of more effective communication methods. Professional communicators (as opposed to professional scientists) may also have useful insights to share.

References and further reading

Budescu, D. V., Por, H. H., Broomell, S. B., & Smithson, M. (2014). The interpretation of IPCC probabilistic statements around the world. Nature Climate Change, 4(6), 508.

Bradley, R., Helgeson, C., & Hill, B. (2017). Climate change assessments: Confidence, probability, and decision. Philosophy of Science, 84(3), 500-522. 

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Comments on Principle 7

Luke Bevan - P07-2307
(also kind of applicable to 6 & 8) There is currently a decent literature about how people interpret risk-based or probabilistic information and how best to communicate this. There are also beneficial spillovers from other fields where risks must be communicated (e.g. medicine). What there is less of, is an understanding more generally about the communication of uncertain (non-risk) information. There have been some calls to professionalise/streamline the communication of climate information for lay audiences by using these risk-based techniques. However, this approach may run afoul of where people try to shoe-horn all uncertainties into being a form of 'risk' and leaving out deeper uncertainties.