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Climate scientists’ wide prediction intervals are more likely but perceived to be less certain

Løhre, Erik and Juanchich, Marie and Sirota, Miroslav and Teigen, Karl Halvor and Shepherd, Theodore G (2019) 'Climate scientists’ wide prediction intervals are more likely but perceived to be less certain.' Weather, Climate and Society, 11 (3). 565 - 575. ISSN 1948-8335

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Abstract

The use of interval forecasts allows climate scientists to issue predictions with high levels of certainty even for areas fraught with uncertainty, since wide intervals are objectively more likely to capture the truth than narrow intervals. However, wide intervals are also less informative about what the outcome will be than narrow intervals, implying a lack of knowledge or subjective uncertainty in the forecaster. In six experiments, we investigate how lay people perceive the (un)certainty associated with wide and narrow interval forecasts, and find that the preference for accuracy (seeing wide intervals as “objectively” certain) vs. informativeness (seeing wide intervals as indicating “subjective” uncertainty) is influenced by contextual cues (e.g., question formulation). Most importantly, we find that people more commonly and intuitively associate wide intervals with uncertainty than with certainty. Our research thus challenges the wisdom of using wide intervals to construct statements of high certainty in climate change reports.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: uncertainty, intervals, IPCC, climate change, communication
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Faculty of Science and Health > Psychology, Department of
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 10 Apr 2019 15:30
Last Modified: 10 Jul 2019 11:15
URI: http://repository.essex.ac.uk/id/eprint/24444

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