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Communicating Uncertainty by Sharon M. Friedman download in ePub, pdf, iPad

In reality, however, the precautionary principle is just one variant of essential risk assessment and it is an issue with which scientists should engage fully and openly. Get to know how journalists work and the constraints that they face. The lower the accuracy and precision of an instrument, the larger the measurement uncertainty is. Uncertainty is involved in every measurement, such as measuring a distance, a temperature, etc. It is also the case that journalists and broadcasters are rarely interested in covering research findings which simply confirm what we already knew.

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Ultimately, the issue is one of increasing trust. There are, however, other factors associated with the data that need to be stressed In many cases the risk of Y is not evenly distributed throughout a population. We have looked at all the evidence that has ever been done and our report is hopefully going to help doctors to assess these drugs.

There are substantial reference books, reports and articles advising on the best ways of communicating risks and benefits. Their experience can be invaluable when preparing material for popular dissemination and should be used at every opportunity. However, this method is correct only when the instrument is accurate. Some suggested that the only reason not to adopt the approach would be if one sought to put the interests of industry above those of the people.

This is a healthy process and illustrates, if such illustration is necessary, the extent to which science is embedded in society, rather than standing apart from it. In other cases, however, they may be less easy to quantify.

While such a perception has surfaced during the consultations to develop these guidelines it is, fortunately, very much a minority view. It has been endorsed by Janez Potocnik. Knightian uncertainty involves a situation that has unknown probabilities, while the estimated probabilities of possible outcomes need not add to unity. Simply refusing to be part of the debate does not.

The rejection of genetically modified crops and food products in Europe reflects this process. Catastrophe and dread Some consequences of a risk may be perceived as so severe that extreme anxieties are aroused even though the probability of the event occurring is very small. The numbers in parenthesis apply to the numeral left of themselves, and are not part of that number, but part of a notation of uncertainty. The popular media is a major channel for such communication and should be embraced rather than shunned. The simplest form is the standard deviation of a repeated observation.

This last figure comes from the assessment of risk posed by the collision of sub-atomic particles in a research facility in Italy some years ago. Much of science coverage in the European media is concerned with research reports that have been peer reviewed and published in respected journals.

In reality however the precautionary principle

This may be the case when your work focuses on, say, dietary issues, personal security, the state of the environment, etc. There may also be ethical and political issues that enter into the assessments. In this example the risks were quite precisely known. Not surprisingly, therefore, news reports and press articles that cover science developments involving perceived risk also refer to these issues.