One of the core aspects of scientific research is the constant interplay between known and unknown. Yet, this dance with uncertainty is often misunderstood when communicated to the public, primarily because the word 'uncertainty' holds different meanings in scientific and colloquial contexts. This blog will explore the challenges in communicating scientific uncertainty and propose strategies that scientists can use to improve audience comprehension.
Uncertainty in Science vs. Colloquial Use
In everyday language, 'uncertainty' often implies a lack of knowledge, hinting at indecisiveness or doubt. However, within the scientific realm, 'uncertainty' carries a different connotation. It refers to the inherent variability, ambiguity, or potential error that comes with any scientific measurement or prediction. It is an explicit acknowledgment of the limitations of our knowledge and methods.
For example, when a weather forecast predicts a 70% chance of rain, it doesn't mean that the meteorologist is unsure. Instead, it represents a quantified uncertainty, acknowledging that weather patterns are complex and that predictions cannot be 100% accurate.
The challenge lies in conveying this nuanced definition of scientific uncertainty without it being misconstrued as ignorance or unreliability.