Differences in perceived sources of uncertainty in natural hazards science advice: lessons for cross-disciplinary communication

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Frontiers Media S.A.
(c) 2024 The Author/s
CC BY 4.0
Introduction: We conducted mental model interviews in Aotearoa NZ to understand perspectives of uncertainty associated with natural hazards science. Such science contains many layers of interacting uncertainties, and varied understandings about what these are and where they come from creates communication challenges, impacting the trust in, and use of, science. To improve effective communication, it is thus crucial to understand the many diverse perspectives of scientific uncertainty. Methods: Participants included hazard scientists (n = 11, e.g., geophysical, social, and other sciences), professionals with some scientific training (n = 10, e.g., planners, policy analysts, emergency managers), and lay public participants with no advanced training in science (n = 10, e.g., journalism, history, administration, art, or other domains). We present a comparative analysis of the mental model maps produced by participants, considering individuals’ levels of training and expertise in, and experience of, science. Results: A qualitative comparison identified increasing map organization with science literacy, suggesting greater science training in, experience with, or expertise in, science results in a more organized and structured mental model of uncertainty. There were also language differences, with lay public participants focused more on perceptions of control and safety, while scientists focused on formal models of risk and likelihood. Discussion: These findings are presented to enhance hazard, risk, and science communication. It is important to also identify ways to understand the tacit knowledge individuals already hold which may influence their interpretation of a message. The interview methodology we present here could also be adapted to understand different perspectives in participatory and co-development research.
uncertainty, science communication, mental models, natural hazards, expertise, tacit knowledge
Doyle EEH, Thompson J, Hill SR, Williams M, Paton D, Harrison SE, Bostrom A, Becker JS. (2024). Differences in perceived sources of uncertainty in natural hazards science advice: lessons for cross-disciplinary communication. Frontiers in Communication. 9. (pp. 1-18).