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Uncertainty communication in environmental assessments: views from the Dutch science-policy interface

By J. Arjan Wardekker, Jeroen P. van der Sluijs, Peter H.M. Janssen, Penny Kloprogge and Arthur C. Petersen


AbstractScientific assessments of environmental problems, and policy responses to those problems, involve uncertainties of many sorts. Meanwhile, potential impacts of wrong decisions can be far-reaching. This article explores views on uncertainty and uncertainty communication in the Dutch science-policy interface and studies several issues concerning presentation of uncertainty information. Respondents considered uncertainty communication to be important, but it should be concise and policy relevant. Several factors influence policy relevance, including the place of an issue in the policy cycle, and its novelty, topicality and controversiality. Respondents held particular interest in explicit communication on the implications of uncertainty. Related to this, they appreciated information on different sources and types of uncertainty and qualitative aspects of uncertainty (e.g. pedigree charts). The article also studies probability terms, particularly for IPCC's 33–66% probability interval (‘about as likely as not’). Several terms worked reasonably well, with a median interpretation of 40–60%. Finally, as various target groups have different information needs and different amounts of attention for various parts of a report or communication process, it is important to progressively disclose uncertainty information throughout the communication. Improved communication of uncertainty information leads to a deeper understanding and increased awareness of the phenomenon of uncertainty and its policy implications

Publisher: Elsevier Ltd.
Year: 2008
DOI identifier: 10.1016/j.envsci.2008.05.005
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