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Stanford research shows how uncertainty in scientific predictions can help and harm credibility

Digital illustration of 5 people in the foreground, all looking at mobile devices or laptops In the background is an illustration of industrial sites.
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Oct 14 2019
Fellow, Research, Stanford

The more specific climate scientists are about the uncertainties of global warming, the more the American public trusts their predictions, according to new research by Stanford scholars.

But scientists may want to tread carefully when talking about their predictions, the researchers say, because that trust falters when scientists acknowledge that other unknown factors could come into play.

In a new study publishing Oct. 14 in Nature Climate Change, researchers examined how Americans respond to climate scientists’ predictions about sea level rise. They found that when climate scientists include best-case and worst-case case scenarios in their statements, the American public is more trusting and accepting of their statements. But those messages may backfire when scientists also acknowledge they do not know exactly how climate change will unfold.

First author Lauren Howe is a 2014 Shaper Family Graduate Fellow, Psychology.

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