Enlarge / Imprecise (credit: Dean Calma / IAEA)
If there’s one thing everyone needs to understand about science, it’s that science is uncertain.
It’s a process of gradually getting closer to the truth, with self-correcting mechanisms built in. Unfortunately, communicating this uncertainty without undermining trust in science is tricky. People who hear that climate science has uncertainty often think “scientists aren’t so sure that climate change is happening,” when the reality is more like “climate scientists aren’t sure whether we’re looking at 2°C or 4°C of warming by 2100.”
If scientists understood better how people perceive uncertainty in science, they could do a better job of communicating their results and, perhaps, improving trust in science. With this in mind, Stephen Broomell and Patrick Bodilly Kane, two researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, have conducted a series of studies exploring how people understand scientific uncertainty.

Their findings suggest that precision in particular seems to matter to people and that Republicans in particular attach a field’s value (including how much funding it should get) to its perceived precision.
And it should come as no surprise that the same people have funny ideas about which sciences are precise.
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