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How to Communicate Scientific Uncertainty

September 2016

Citation: 46 ELR 10731

Issue: 9

Author: Jay Austin, Sunshine Menezes, Jason Samenow, and Margaret Davidson

Scientific uncertainty is a component of many environmental and public health issues, such as climate change or the use of biotechnology. While some uncertainty is inevitable, the ways in which various professions communicate uncertainty also shape those debates, from the interpretation of scientific data to its dissemination for a mass audience to its use in advocacy and policymaking. Scientists, lawyers, and journalists all play different roles in addressing scientific uncertainty, in part due to differing professional norms and ethical standards. On April 15, 2016, the Environmental Law Institute convened a webinar featuring experts from each of these professions, who provided their perspectives on effectively communicating scientific information, practicing climate and weather journalism in a shifting media environment, and translating uncertainty into policy. Here, we present a transcript of the discussion, which has been edited for style, clarity, and space considerations.

Jay Austin (moderator) is a senior attorney at ELI and Editor-in-Chief of the Environmental Law Reporter. Dr. Sunshine Menezes is Executive Director of the Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting at the University of Rhode Island. Jason Samenow is weather editor for the Washington Post and founder of the Capital Weather Gang. Margaret Davidson is the senior leader for Coastal Inundation and Resilience Science and Services at NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

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