By James Painter
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Extra info for Climate Change in the Media: Reporting Risk and Uncertainty
In Australia, the ABC’s Sarah Clarke says that translating scientific conclusions in terms of risks can be helpful and mentions doing this in terms of financial risk and through visual representations. On the other hand, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Ben Cubby feels ‘risk’ is often too imprecise a word to be useful in reporting on climate science. From Norway, Guro Tarjem, a reporter for Ekko, a science programme on NRK Radio, believes that ‘the risk concept does a better job of communicating the science to the listener than “uncertainty”, but uncertainty cannot be ignored.
The IPCC’s approach 18 It was the subjective nature of people’s interpretation of the word ‘likely’ that was a major driver of why the IPCC decided it had to find a better way of communicating the uncertainties around climate science. indd 18 24/07/2013 13:15 When uncertainty is certain makers in government could find useful (Schneider, 2009). As one leading advisor explained to Schneider, even scientific experts differed widely on what they thought the probability of ‘likely’ meant in the context of cancer risk.
Alister Doyle, the environment correspondent for Thomson Reuters, believes that, as people understand risk better than uncertainty, it’s a help if scientific reports go that way too. He uses the example of the phrase ‘there’s a 5 per cent risk that global warming will shut down the Gulf Stream’, which is easier to grasp when talking about something bad than ‘there’s a 95 per cent likelihood that the Gulf Stream will be unaffected by climate change’. 9 per cent chance that your house won’t burn down this year.