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Communicating risk and scientific uncertainty to the public and policy-makers

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We all have to juggle ‘rational’ and ‘emotional’ responses to risk and uncertainty, and good communication should mean that audiences are more immune to misleading anecdotes. When we are fairly happy about putting numbers on risks, then there are established methods for using words, numbers and graphics, and I shall briefly look at recent work in various fields, including communicating the benefits and harms of cancer screening.

Things get trickier when we acknowledge we don’t really understand what is going on, and have qualms about a formal analysis. I will compare about how different groups – in security, toxicology, health care, climate change, finance and so on – have come up with different strategies for communicating these deeper uncertainties, and consider proposed ‘scales’ for uncertainty.

This talk is part of the Zangwill Club series.

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