How scientific articles shape readers’ response to uncertainty

Environmental modelling researchers use a range of technical approaches to manage and characterise uncertainties in their models and in the conclusions they draw from them. In addition, researchers also communicate informally about uncertainty in the text of the journal articles in which they report their findings. This informal communication is a part the ‘craft’ of research, and shapes the way that readers — including referees, editors, researchers and decision makers — will perceive the work and judge its usefulness.

An interdisciplinary team of environmental modellers and philosophers has been studying this informal communication, and has developed a catalogue of different ways in which authors present, or ‘frame’, uncertainties in their work. The study, which also reports the frequencies of different uncertainty frames from a corpus of scientific abstracts, is forthcoming in the journal Water Resources Research: “Towards best practice framing of uncertainty in scientific publications: A review of Water Resources Research abstracts” Joseph Guillaume, Casey Helgeson, Sondoss Elsawah, Anthony Jakeman, and Matti Kummu.

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