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Methods for Communicating the Complexity and Uncertainty of Oil Spill Response Actions and Tradeoffs

Bostrom, Ann, Joslyn, Susan, Pavia, Robert, Walker, Ann Hayward, Starbird, Kate, Leschine, Thomas M.
Human and ecological risk assessment 2015 v.21 no.3 pp. 631-645
Internet, attitudes and opinions, climate change, oil spills, pandemic, people, risk, uncertainty
Complexity and uncertainty influence opinions, beliefs, and decisions about health, safety, and other kinds of risk, as demonstrated in research on health, climate change, storm forecasts, pandemic disease, and in other domains. Drawing from this research, this article summarizes insights into how people understand and process uncertain or complex information and explores key oil spill and oil spill response-relevant issues regarding the communication of complexity and uncertainty—from the presentation of uncertainties around forecast parameters to the deployment of online oil spill response simulation tools. Recommended practices from this article include (a) to continue to develop and evaluate interactive Web-based oil spill response simulations to help users explore tradeoffs in response decisions, (b) to take how people simplify information into account in designing communications processes and products (and evaluate), (c) to provide numbers along with verbal probability descriptions, and (d) if using graphics, to communicate probability or uncertainty, using simple graphics and testing them, as effects may not be predictable and some kinds of graphics are easier to understand than others, depending on context, numeracy, and graphicacy.